This text is by Alyson Jones in her capacity and does not, necessarily, reflect the views of different infinite mile contributors, infinite mile co-founders, the author's employer and/or other author affiliations.
Thinking about the Struggle for Clean and Affordable Water
When you see water in a stream
you say: oh, this is stream
The poet Alice Walker reminds us that water has its own purpose and identity beyond the many places we find it. Water is a natural resource that sustains all life on Earth. One argument comes from the idea that market forces should allocate natural resources. Therefore, proponents of this view consider privatization as the optimal solution. The political Right, for example, argues that government is not an effective manager of natural resources. On the other side of the political spectrum, water is considered a human right and should be held and protected in the public trust for the people and the planet. I agree with citizens and organizations that maintain that water should be a basic human right and that everyone should have access to clean and affordable water.
Denise Hart, of the organization Save our Groundwater New Hampshire, asks us to think like water. I was drawn to this idea because I delight in teaching thinking skills to children. I wanted to know more about what it means to think like water. Maude Barlow, author of Blue Future recalls a conversation with Denise Hart. Hart told her that to think like water means:
Detroit water rights activist, Charity Hicks (fig. 1), opened my eyes.2 Maude Barlow captures Charity’s passion and voice in Blue Future: Protecting Water for People and the Planet Forever (The New Press: New York, NY. 2013). During a speaking engagement in Detroit, Barlow mentioned that Hicks knew the importance of water and she applauded her full engagement in the struggle for access to water. Charity worked to ensure that Detroit water remains in the public trust, free from privatization. Barlow referred to Charity’s conversation with writer Alexa Bradley in which she argues that government authorities need citizens to put pressure on their elected representatives in order to deal with the human and ecological implications of water management.3 Public pressure, as Hicks acknowledges, is critical for the equitable distribution of water in cities and other municipalities.
Water is important to human sustainability. Detroit is part of the Great Lakes Basin where there is an abundance of fresh water. The city is not running out of water like many other places. The struggle is for access to clean, affordable water. Water should not be taken out of public trust. It is one basic need that all people have in common. Those who are protesting on behalf of Detroit residents, those who are speaking and acting on behalf of those affected and organizations like the United Nations panel that are speaking from afar about human rights for Detroiters find common cause in the human right for water. In a sense, these groups are thinking like water. They understand that water flows irrespective of political boundaries. According to Charity Hicks, the fight for clean and affordable water in Detroit does not quit, but changes course all while making a way to achieve people-centered local government control of water.