drool over our most basic resource.
All around America, a new kind of protest
is springing up. Long believed to be a characteristic
of First World exploitation of the Third World, water
privatization is coming on strong and is already being
resisted in a variety of ways. U.S. Senate Bill 1961,
"The Water Investment Act of 2002" would require all local
water providers to "consider" selling off their infrastructure
and water rights to private corporations — or else
lose vital federal funds for maintenance (EWEB is "publicly"
owned). The bill is being actively pushed by powerful
Florida Democrat Bob Graham and Oregon's own Sen. Gordon
Smith. It's bipartisan and the president likes it, too.
What more could we ask for?
Internationally admired scientist-activist
Vandana Shiva spoke at OSU on Wednesday, Nov. 20. Shiva's
newest book is titled Water Wars: Privatization, Pollution
and Profit (South End Press, Cambridge, Mass.). In
it she points out that privatization of water supplies
around the world has consistently lead to dramatic increases
in price rates, service shut-offs, unemployment and disease.
It's also incredibly profitable.
All around the world, a handful of giant
corporations from France, Spain and the U.S. are taking
advantage of governments in debt and their friendly relations
with the institutions of globalization, like the IMF and
the World Bank. While the elite in any country can afford
water (even for lawns and swimming pools), the poor everywhere
struggle to pay for privatized water or resort to drinking
outdoor sources often severely polluted by many of the
same corporations. As the world goes deeper into a global
clean water shortage crisis, this issue grows increasingly
Shiva goes to great lengths to discuss
privatization as just the next step in a devastating continuum
that includes industrial agriculture and giant water diversion
projects like dams. All three endeavors destroy vital
ecosystems, displace local people, and increase the power
held by the elite over every one else's lives. Imagine
having to stay on Monsanto's good side in order to get
water to drink! It's hard enough to keep EWEB happy.
In response to this looming attack
on our health, ecosystems and self-determination,
activists around the United States are protesting water
privatization. This summer, for example, a group called
The Sweetwater Alliance blockaded the facilities of a
Nestle Waters North America bottling plant in Michigan.
Nestle has been awarded a huge tax break to pump 200 million
gallons per year out of the Great Lakes for sale as bottled
water. The Sweetwater Alliance continues to organize across
Michigan and has an extensive web site at www.waterissweet.org
Last month in San Francisco, activists
blockaded the headquarters of the world's largest engineering
corporation, Bechtel, to protest the company's continued
effort to privatize the water supply of the South American
nation of Bolivia. The company won an IMF mandated contract
for exclusive water rights there two years ago. The Bolivian
government even made it illegal to catch rainwater without
a permit. In response, workers, teachers, students, farmers
and others from around the country shut down all major
commerce by blockading the nation's major highways for
three weeks. At least five people were killed by police
and soldiers trying to clear the streets of people, some
of whom threw rocks and molotov cocktails. Government
buildings were set on fire. After three weeks of uprisings,
water privatization was called off and still has not been
Suprisingly, perhaps, Shiva's otherwise
exhaustive book spends less than a page discussing Bolivia.
It's the most successful example of fighting water privatization
in the world; but it was a fight, and dogmatic advocates
of non-violence look very dishonest when they call it
anything else. The words of writers like Shiva, Canada's
Maude Barlow and others carry a lot of weight in the minds
of people putting their bodies between U.S. water and
privatization. You can hear it in their rhetoric, often
straight out of books like Water Wars or Blue
When those authors don't tell us the truth
about struggles against exploitation in the Global South,
we can't learn from those struggles to fight the same
treatment here in the Global North. The U.S. Senate will
discuss water privatization sometime very soon, and writing
them letters isn't going to do a damn thing to stop it.
Let's combine the holistic analysis of root causes offered
by writers like Shiva with an honest, thorough discussion
of our options for resistance.
Marshall Kirkpatrick is a member of Eugene's
Cascadia Media Collective. He can be reached via www.cascadiamedia.org