THE PEOPLE'S WATER CAMPAIGN 2020 - SUMMARY
The People’s Water Campaign started as a broad-based initiative to restore environmental protections for water security and build the movement for water justice in Ontario.
People live in relationship with water – the source of life. Water is sacred to people of all faiths. Water is a common good and a public trust. All people have a human right to water. Indigenous communities in Canada have traditional and treaty rights to water. Water is the foundation of entire ecosystems and the basis for the web of life itself.
But our relationships with water and each other are under threat. In examining the state of our societal connection with water in Ontario, the multiple emergencies with climate, health, political power, and social inequities framed the need for a strategic campaign focused on water security & justice. The People’s Water Campaign was created to take steps to establish a long-term vision and declare concrete goals for water justice based on the historic need to effect reconciliation with Indigenous peoples on treaty rights to land and water, including a full reckoning of the future impact of the climate crisis. These require that people living on these lands imagine new relationships and authorities in governing water in order to ensure water justice for all.
Launched in 2020, the first year of the People’s Water Campaign encompassed the beginning steps in moving towards a just water future in Ontario using educational webinars on water, outreach to groups involved in water protection, and a full-day virtual convention to broaden community engagement in the PWC & water justice movement.
The Water Webinar series of the 2020 PWC invited water experts from across Ontario to share with the general public about water-related issues & provincially-relevant solutions. Webinar topics included plastic pollution & microplastics, resisting water privatization, large-scale water extraction, organizing social movements, addressing road salts impacts, and activating for the water in allyship with Indigenous communities. These webinars helped illuminate some of the numerous pressures facing water in Ontario and allowed participants to explore the policy, societal, and relational pathways to change for the water. There were over 600 attendees for these water webinars. Video recordings of the events are openly available on Water Watchers Youtube and Facebook pages for the learning to continue.
View PWC: 2020 Water Webinars
We also organized strategic outreach to organizations involved in water protection in Ontario. We interviewed about 35 organizations from small grassroots groups to national NGOs working in or adjacent to water protection to learn more about what they identified as root causes of water justice issues & where the opportunities lie for collective action to elevate water protection. These engagements enabled us to learn more about the ways they relate to and work with water and revealed the diverse and unique ways people across the province are supporting water on the land, in their communities, and online, yet also illuminated the appetite for avenues to systematically support and elevate water-related issues and protections. Many of these organizations are now active participants in the People’s Water Campaign alongside passionate individuals, ready for the next steps in the journey toward a just and secure water future. This research happened in collaboration with the University of Waterloo and University of Toronto - Mississauga, providing an important perspective into the various water priorities & concerns that exist across southern Ontario, particularly amongst environmental NGOs. This outreach and research also informed the creation of two discussion pieces by a group convened as the Water Justice Advisory Committee who asked hard questions about the environmental movement, root causes of systemic injustice, and the path forward.
The educational and outreach activities of PWC Year 1 culminated in a full-day virtual convention entitled, “Watershed 2020: Towards a Water Justice Agenda” on September 26, 2020. Watershed 2020 opened with a moving keynote on water justice from Dr. Kelsey Leonard, a water scholar, water protector, Shinnecock woman, and activist who called on each of us to start viewing water as a “who” rather than a “what” as water protectors ourselves. This notion of water having personhood - that water is life - framed the invitation to move towards water justice. In a later session, Members of Provincial Parliament from all four major parties spoke on their parties’ relationship to and with water, responding to 10 questions they received from the Water Watchers about key water protection issues in the province. Ian Arthur (NDP Environment critic), Lucille Collard (Liberal Environment critic) and Mike Schreiner (Ontario Green Party Leader) each opened their remarks recognizing water as a fundamental right for people and planet, while in contrast Jeff Yurek (Minister of Environment, Conservation, and Parks; Political Conservative) noted water as vital to quality of life - illustrating the ways the journey toward water justice cannot be apolitical.
Watershed 2020 also benefited from the perspectives of 18 workshop hosts who presented the ways they support, protect, and advocate for water, as well as musical performance from water-loving artists Alysha Brilla and Shane Philips. There were over 260 registrants and over 400 attendees at the live event. A draft water justice declaration for Ontario was also presented and discussed at Watershed 2020, which was refined in 2021 to guide the vision for the rest of the People’s Water Campaign.
View Watershed 2020
The first year of the People’s Water Campaign gave us a clear vision of the appetite for collective action on water, the need to do more work on water justice, and the mandate to forge ahead. The PWC continues each year to organize & mobilize collective action for water in Ontario in allyship with Indigenous peoples, environmental organizations, community groups, and other social justice movements.
This journey towards water justice is just beginning and we have our sights set on some big changes for Ontario in relation to water policy, protections, and community relationships with water & each other. Overall, the groundwork we were able to do in 2020 made us grow as an organization and inspired us to keep pursuing a place of quiet leadership in building this collective movement towards a more just and water secure future. With our community, we will keep working, keep forging ahead, and keep expanding what it means to be a Water Watcher.
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