THE PEOPLE'S WATER CAMPAIGN 2020

The People’s Water Campaign is 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 right to water. Water is the foundation of entire ecosystems and the basis for the web of life itself.

But our relationship with water and each other is 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 takes 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 emergency. These require that people living on these lands imagine new relationships and authorities in governing water in order to ensure water justice for all.

The People’s Water Campaign involves 3 phases over 3 years. Launched in 2020, Phase 1 of the People’s Water Campaign involved the first 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 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 elevate 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 Water Watcher attendees estimated to have participated in these water webinars. Video recordings of the events are now openly available on Water Watchers Youtube and Facebook pages for the learning to continue.

Another component of Phase 1 was strategic outreach to organizations involved in or working adjacent to water protection in Ontario.

ull-day virtual convention to broaden community engagement in the PWC & water justice movement.

These engagements consisted of semi-structured interviews with over 30 organizations from small grassroots groups to national NGOs to learn more about the ways they relate to and work with water. In particular, these interviews helped identify the perceived root causes of water issues in Ontario, as well as areas of opportunity for collective action and movement building for the water. This outreach 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 strategic outreach will continue through Phase 2 of the PWC in 2021 to build on this momentum.

The educational and outreach activities of Phase 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 (Green PartyLeader) 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 200 attendees at the live event. A draft water justice declaration for Ontario was also presented and discussed at Watershed 2020, which will now be refined through Phase 2 to guide the vision for the rest of the People’s Water Campaign

The first phase of the People’s Water Campaign has given us a clear vision of the appetite for collective action on water, the need to do more work on water justice, and the grounds to forge ahead. The PWC will now move into the next phase centered on organizing & mobilizing collective action for water in Ontario ahead of the next provincial election, 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 work we’ve been able to do over the last 8 months has 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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View PWC: 2020 Water Webinars 

 

View Watershed 2020