So much gratitude to Grassroots Global Justice Alliance (GGJ) and the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) for allowing me the opportunity to attend two separate but related water forums that occurred in Brasilia, Brasil. Governments, corporations, and large NGOs converge every three years to discuss various ways to manage, control and, exploit our water at The World Water Forum. Companies who actively privatize water globally, like Nestle and Coca Cola, sponsored this conference. This convention does not allow much space for those on the ground struggling to defend the water in their communities. To fill this void, a variety of social movements from across Brasil and the world organized the Alternative World Water Forum (FAMA). Their message to the world: water cannot be treated as a privately owned commodity; water is a human right and a common good of and for the people. At this gathering of people from different backgrounds, including indigenous peoples, fishermen, union members, people affected by dams, people without land, people without homes, and many fearless women shared their powerful accounts of resistance protecting our sacred waters.
I had the honor to meet an indigenous warrior named Alessandra Munduruku of the Amazonian Munduruku tribe who lives along the Tapajós River in the Brazilian state of Pará. She spoke about her people who bravely confront the many powerful and violent private interests that actively kill their river and people with dozens of dam projects, illegal mining, illegal logging, railways through their territory, and soy production contaminating the water. During her speech at FAMA, Alessandra powerfully underscored the necessity to protect water: “We need to preserve our river. We need to preserve our water. Because it is not just the poor who drink water. It is not just the rich who drink water. It is not just the Indian who drinks water. The whole world needs water. The water is sacred; the water is our mother who protects us and gives us life.” Water unites us. All the struggles represented at the forum (and in the world) are connected through water. We are protecting the same life giving substance that sustains all of our families and non-human relatives.
I participated in a panel called International Conflicts Involving the Water organized by the Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB - Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens). Andreia Neiva, an MAB militant, described her local fight against large farming companies who steal massive amounts of water in a city called Correntina in the Brazilian state of Bahia. Those who oppose big agriculture interests are met with extreme violence. Bounties are put on their leaders’ heads leading to their unsolved murders. In the face of such repression, they continue fighting back, and occupied a large farm 1,000 people strong. Speaking about this action, she said, “The fight that happened in Correntina must be replicated in all territories. Enough of the people being patient. Our patience has run out…We need concrete confrontations. They only fear the people organized. They do not fear anything else…they are killing us every day. Enough of waiting for our death doing nothing.” Life on earth is under attack. We can no longer wait for corrupt governments to act. It is up to each and every one of us to organize our communities and stand up in the face of danger so our relatives yet to come have a livable planet.
During this panel, I shared our struggle to protect the water and air from the ever expanding fossil fuel industry. Five refineries constantly spew pollution along the San Francisco Bay Area coast. Governor Jerry Brown recently extended a cap and trade scheme in California that gives these oil processing facilities the green light to expand production and infrastructure, and prohibits local governments from setting limits on carbon emitted. Phillips 66, a refinery in Rodeo, California, is currently attempting to expand their wharf terminal to import more tar sands crude from Alberta, Canada. This expansion seeks to double the number of oil tanker ships entering their port. Tar sands, the dirtiest and most dangerous crude oil, presents an extraordinary threat to our air and our water. Drinking water sources and agriculture are poisoned in First Nation territories downstream from tar sands strip mines. The pipelines to the coast put even more waterways at risk. When (not if) a spill occurs during ocean transport along the Pacific Coast to the Bay Area, it will be impossible to clean up due to the heavy bitumen (a component of tar sands) that sinks to the bottom of the water column. Refining more tar sands increases particulate matter in the air leading to increased death rates to those living on the front lines in sacrifice communities near the facility. For these reasons, members of Idle No More SF Bay, along with many allies, organize to defeat this expansion. Our local experience of corporate controlled government putting water and lives at risk to benefit a small number of wealthy people and corporations is similar to what is seen all over Latin America.
Nestle, an infamous multinational corporation that uses corrupt governments to take control of water sources to sell bottled water, was the target of a direct action on Tuesday, March 20th, 2018. A group of 600 Rural Landless Women (MST - Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra) connected to FAMA tore down the front gates and occupied the Nestle headquarters in Minas Gerais. They denounced the corporate takeover of public water facilitated by Brasil’s coup government led by President Michel Temer. MST’s director, Maria Gomes de Oliveira, sent this message: "Imagine you are being forced to buy all the water to quench your thirst during the day. No one can handle that. This is what the companies gathered at this moment in that [World Water] Forum want.” If multinational corporations like Nestle and Coca Cola succeed in their plans, only the wealthy will have the luxury to drink clean water.
A theme appears across these various struggles: multinational corporations, using corrupted governments, exploit every last natural resource with no regard for the systems that sustain life itself. So women all over Latin America and the world are standing up to violent private interests. Warriors put their lives on the line every day. These examples of resistance, massive direct action, and occupation can replicate in all of our communities to protect our water and future. If fossil fuel corporations, who threaten our water and climate, make any attempt to expand infrastructure and production, they must be met with continued direct action until their projects are eliminated. We must keep fossil fuels in the ground. Everything we love is at stake. Our children and grandchildren are depending on us to do everything in our power so the beautiful gift of life we see today continues for generations to come.
To read FAMA’s final declaration, follow this link