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Great Lakes Article:

Raining Profits
Corporations drool over our most basic resource.
Marshall Kirkpatrick
Eugene Weekly

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 important.

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

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 resumed.

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 Gold.

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




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