Meet Brett Tolley

By Brett Tolley
NAMA's Community Organizer

For NAMA's Newsletter: November 20, 2009

Five years ago I met Ramon near the deadly Sonora desert in Nogales, Mexico.  Ramon was a sixth-generation corn farmer from Southern Chiapas.  In recent years multi-national corporate farm interests systematically pushed middle-class farmers, like Ramon, off the land.  Ramon, along with millions of others, was displaced from his livelihood and traveled North desperate for work.  Ramon was 54, the same age as my father.

My father is a third generation New England fisherman and although it may not appear at first glance, my fishing-family shares much in common with Ramon.  The farm industry’s concentration of wealth and power that forced Ramon from his land is the same threat that many fishing families and fishing communities face now.  And like Ramon, our challenges are large and complex.

My name is Brett Tolley and for the past six years I have lived and worked as an advocate and community organizer in both Mexico and Brooklyn, New York.  Community organizing is about building power from the bottom-up, something our local fishing communities and the ocean desperately need.  I join NAMA’s staff at a critical time of transition for both local fishing communities and the ocean.  My vision is that one-day a diverse fleet of local fishermen will again enjoy fishing and be able to make a decent living; that fish and the ocean will sustain through effective management that is genuinely participatory and inclusive; and that local fishing communities will thrive with the people connecting and supporting their food providers (the fishermen).

Our challenges, like Ramon’s, are not easy.  But as Ramon told me before leaving, “Para los hijos segimos adelante”.  "It is for our children (and future generations) that we must continue going forward”.  For that, I will fight.

Check out Brett's award-winning film Dying to Get In.