By Andrea Bachmann
Last weekend more than 17,000 people gathered at Bogota’s National University for the inaugural meeting of the Congreso de los Pueblos – the “Peoples’ Congress.” Known as the Minga in previous years, the event was originally established in 2008 to unite indigenous groups from different regions in a shared struggle for their cultural and traditional rights.
This year, organizers decided to expand, renaming the event to reflect a more diverse attendance. Indigenous groups joined Afro-Colombians and other ethnic groups, labor unions, students, and various social organizations from across the country to express their solidarity, discuss the mutual challenges they face, and develop proposals for the new Santos administration.
On Friday October 8th, participants arrived by the busload and marched to the university, transforming it from campus to small community. Cooking fires roared, drums and flutes sounded, soccer matches ensued, and even a few small stores emerged along rows of tents and buses.
Over the following three days, Congress attendees took part in round table discussions organized by problematic topic, by occupational sector, and by region of origin. All were given the opportunity to offer input on issues such as land and labor rights, institutional violence, education, economic development, and human rights. The conclusions reached at these meetings were then compiled into a proclamation, “Word of the Peoples’ Congress: The Country’s Proposal for a Life of Dignity.”
On its fifth and final day, the Peoples’ Congress culminated in a march from the National University to the Plaza Bolivar, a central plaza in downtown Bogota, where organizers formally presented the proclamation and musicians led the crowd in a final celebration of unity. The movement – now three years in the making – showed unprecedented growth that is only expected to continue in years to come.
Andrea Bachmann is a Witness for Peace intern based in Colombia.