For My people have done a twofold wrong:
They have foresaken Me, the Fount of living water,
And hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns,
Which cannot even hold water.

– Jeremiah 2:13

Couldn’t make it to this event on November 15th? You can still watch a recording of it here.

As the crisis in the global economy continues, those who control the wealth of our society are becoming more and more desperate for reliable sources of profit. In their desperation, they are taking measures that expose the total disregard for human life, especially the lives of poor people, as demanded by the current economic system. This disregard for human life finds especially clear expression in the denial of the human right to water to people all over the world. There is nothing more fundamental to life on this planet than water, and yet today more and more of us are finding ourselves cut off from access to clean water or any water at all.

In their desperation, those who own and control our economy are turning water away from its life-sustaining purpose and towards profit-making potential, with disastrous effects on the rest of us. Here are just some examples:

  • Big agribusiness demands and wastes incredible amounts of water globally and then pollutes rivers and other water sources through the heavy use of fertilizers and pesticides and other poisons.
  • Extractive industries like mining poison local water supplies with toxic waste and with the dangerous gases and toxins released by fracking.
  • Water privatization schemes turn water directly into a source of profit, which means denying water to poor people who can’t afford to pay for it.

The poor – from poor communities of color in Detroit struggling against water privatization and shut-offs, to poor white communities in Appalachia dealing with the environmental degradation caused by mining, to the rural poor of India fighting back against the advances of big agribusiness on their livelihood resources – are already taking action to secure our human right to water. On November 15th, we’re bringing together leaders from the struggles of the poor and dispossessed for the right to water, in order to hold up the importance of their work and to illustrate the necessity of building a common fight where the poor are taking action together. As we hear from these leaders, we are looking to connect the issue of water to other basic necessities like housing, land, and health, so as to build a basis of unity that crosses urban and rural divides, U.S. and global divides, and the many other ways that our communities are kept divided. We think this is a necessary effort as we move towards building a global Poor People’s Campaign for today. Below are profiles of a few of the leaders who will be joining us. As we get more details we’ll add them here.

Jill Carr-Harris has lived in India for more than 25 years and has been working with Ekta Parishad (more below) for nearly 15 years. She has a wide range of experiences – including working with the United Nations Development Program, Canadian International Development Agency, and numerous NGOs. Currently Jill is the Coordinator of International Initiatives, a platform of grassroots organizations and social movements mostly from the Global South, working to implement nonviolence within their struggles for land reform, women’s rights, peace education, environmental change, and community development. While she is based in India, she is also completing her doctorate on nonviolence in adult education at the University of Toronto. Jill has been very interested in solidarity between nonviolent actors as a way of exchanging lessons and experiences and in building development processes and leadership that are transformative.

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Ekta Parishad leaders participating in Jan Satyagraha, one of their major foot marches.

Ekta Parishad (Unity Forum) is an organization of the poor, especially the rural poor, in India. It evolved from a history of NGO community development work into a poor people’s movement to secure rights to key ‘livelihood resources’: land, forest, and water. In its early years, Ekta Parishad’s work was concentrated in adivasi (indigenous) communities who have experienced decades of displacement from their tribal lands and resources. Over the course of its 25-year history, the movement has expanded into broader sections of society to include the landless poor, bonded laborers, poor women, children, and the elderly, bringing them together in some of the largest non-violent actions of the poor in recent history. In 2007, Ekta Parishad organized a 350km march from Gwalior to the Indian capital, Delhi. They called the march Janadesh, or “Verdict of the People” and 25,000 poor men, women and children walked down the national highway, threatening a hunger strike in the middle of the capital to demand stronger agrarian reform for India. The march was repeated in 2012 in the Jan Satyagraha (“People’s March for Justice”) with 100,000 people. They are currently planning for Jai Jagat 2020, a 15-month march of more than 7500km from Delhi to Geneva, which intends to build the shared global struggle of the poor against dispossession and displacement.

Maureen Taylor and Marian Kramer have a long history of leadership in the fight for power, justice, and rights for poor people in Detroit and beyond. On November 15th, they’ll be joining us as members of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization (MWRO), to share their experiences in the effort to realize the human right to water in Detroit and the surrounding area.

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Maureen Taylor

Detroit is in the midst massive water shutoffs, sanitation health concerns and large-scale tax & bank foreclosures tied to widespread homelessness. Detroit and Highland Park, Michigan, have become the center of the struggle over access to water in the United States, with 40,000 to 45,000 families cut off water annually since 2001 and some of the highest water rates in the country. These grave problems have drawn international concerns about the crises affecting low income and poor people in Detroit. Victims of poverty across the state of Michigan are losing their very right to live. The Michigan Welfare Rights Organization—with roots dating back to the National Welfare Rights Movement of the 1960s—has become a leading organized expression of this opposition. The MWRO has built a broad coalition of local organizations. They have sponsored a wide array of tactics, all focused on uniting and organizing the low-income residents of Highland Park affected by the policies of dispossession and exposing the conditions that have resulted from these policies. They have sought help from all levels of government, non-profit organizations and the private sector but no one has stepped forward to stop these violations on the human right to water, sanitation and housing. In summer and fall 2014, they have brought the water crisis to the attention of the globe by calling on the UN Special Rapporteur on Water and Sanitation to respond to the crisis. This October, along with the Detroit People’s Water Board and Food and Water Watch, MWRO brought the United Nations Office of Human Rights to Detroit to hear testimony from residents and local organizations about these atrocities.

Cherri Foytlin is a freelance journalist, author, advocate, speaker and mother of six, who lives in South Louisiana – an area inundated with industrial pollution. Cherri is part of the core leadership team of the Bridge the Gulf Project, which brings together storytelling, community organizing, and new media to amplify Gulf Coast voices, stories, and perspective often overlooked by mainstream media. Her work has focused on the effects of the BP oil spill on communities throughout the Gulf Coast. She’s also the author of “Spill It! The Truth About the Deep Water Horizon Oil Rig Explosion,” and regularly contributes to the Huffington Post, Daily Kos, and several local newspapers.

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Cherri Foytlin at a rally to prevent the exporting of Liquid Natural Gas from U.S. coastlines.

Chesapeake Climate Action Network

Read some of Cherri’s stories from her work with the Bridge the Gulf Project.

Paul Corbit Brown is a humanitarian photographer, educator and currently serves as the Chair/President of Board for Keeper of the Mountains.  His work has carried him throughout the United States, Mexico, Jamaica, Russia, Israel, Palestine, Kurdistan (Northern Iraq), Kenya, Rwanda, Laos, Thailand, Indonesia, and most recently Haiti. Paul’s commitment to illustrating the horrific injustices that are taking place across the world and the connections that exist between these communities can be seen in exhibits like Toxic Water for a Thirty Planet.

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Paul Corbit Brown

As a native of West Virginia, Brown has expressed a particular commitment to ending mountaintop removal and has worked to document its effects on the people and land of Appalachia.  He was invited to testify in front of Amnesty International about this issue. “I told them, ‘We in the coalfields of Appalachia are suffering from a genocide… I don’t use the word genocide lightly. I’ve been to Rwanda five times, I’ve slept on the streets with kids who were orphaned by genocide. I know what genocide looks like.  The death of my people doesn’t come quickly and at the end of a gun, it comes slowly and from the simple act of drawing water from your kitchen sink. And we have a government who’s complicit in it.’”

Paul was recently part of a delegation of environmental activists from West Virginia who delivered more than 1,000 gallons of bottled water to residents of Detroit. West Virginia recently suffered its own water woes, with 300,000 people in its capital, Charleston, and surrounding areas told not to drink their water for several days after a January coal processing chemical spill.