On Friday September 19, at the U.N. Church center, just two days before the scheduled Peoples March for Climate Justice, a conference entitled The Things That Make For Peace was held. Myself and Jaime Mariqueo took part as speakers and participants in the Water Rights workshop. The combination of testimonies was emotionally moving and inspiring.
Jaime Mariqueo began, with my interpretation into English, with a contextualization of the motive behind land struggles in Mapuche territories and why they were essential for preserving the watershed, biodiversity and health of the land in the face of extractive industries such as mining and massive timber monocultures. When a woman asked how the U.S. could have put in place policies that led to set backs and land loss among Mapuhes, Jaime reminded the audience that the coup d’état of Sept 11, 1973 that brought Pinochet to power, also brought the “Chicago Boys” to Chile, even before all the people who supported the overthrown Allende had been rounded up and murdered. These adherents to Milton Friedman brought shock doctrine and draconian new economic policies that included privatization of public services, the restoration of the copper industry to foreign hands (that Allende had nationalized), and an economic regime Darwinian in its thrust.
The powerful women from Detroit provided the lyrical strength to the session, from Tawana Petty (the moderator) to Monica Lewis Patrick. Monica informed us that tens of thousands of impoverished and marginalized Detroit residents have had their water cut off due to scheming that amounted to a “water grab”. The Detroit water system supplies a large portion of the water to the state of Michigan, yet this was the system that other interests wanted to dismantle and take over. Other motives discerned in the emergency management coup d’état of the Detroit city government were to drive people from neighborhoods developers are anxious to “redevelop” (read “gentrify”) and real estate speculators. Monica decried the brutal life threatening attacks on the poorest residents of Detroit as murderous and thanked the UN for declaring that this could amount to a violation of fundamental human rights. She said that the way Detroit residents are responding demonstrates a “beloved Detroit” of generosity, compassion and mutual support and said that with those values, the movement would surely overcome those who would deprive them of life and the right to stay in their homes. Following this we heard eye-opening testimonies from West Virginia by Dustin White and Paula Swearingin, walking us through the devastations of mountaintop removal, and its impact on the drinking water and living mountains of that region. This testimony brought tears to my eyes!
In the report back portion of the conference later, several participants in this workshop highlighted the courage of the speakers as inspirational. The demands of all of these people in struggle converged on the theme that the privatization of this common good of nature was immoral and that the companies who had profited from their despoilation of the land needed to pay reparations for the ecological and economic damage done. Water, we all agreed, must be declared a human right in the U.N.!
The UN respondent working on water and sanitation thanked the speakers for their messages and decried the lack of potable water for so many hundreds of millions of people in the world, noting that 1,400 children die each day due to contaminated water. When the closing session moderator asked people for proposals for next steps, many people shared their own personal efforts to reduce their own carbon foot prints and conserve water, etc… missing the central reason for the climate march, to hold those responsible for this to account. To remedy that, I spoke up and said that given all the agreement we had around the root causes of the calamities these communities are facing, wouldn’t it be a good next step for us to apply more pressure on the #1 obstacle to climate agreement of some worth, the U.S. government? But this appeared to be a relatively minority perspective among the people gathered there, if the lack of confirmation from others was representative.
I am too sleepy to write about today’s (Saturday’s) memorable events, including an incredible session with indigenous women defending their communities from extreme energy projects in Canada and the U.S. (more on that later!), so that Jaime and I can arise in time to reach Central Park by 6:00 a.m. for an indigenous sunrise ceremony, to prepare us for the day of march and the end of summer, spiritually speaking, and to strengthen us for whatever is to come in this time of planetary imbalance and climate crisis. Tomorrow we March!!