This post is written by Alexa Bradley, Program Director at On The Commons.
At her recent talk [on April 16th] on the Great Lakes at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee Maude Barlow urged the several hundred people gathered not to wait for the politicians to protect our waters, but to get involved ourselves "armed with the belief that we have the right to care." The facts she shared about declining water quality and quantity in the Lakes and beyond were alarming. "We have lost connection to water, divorced ourselves from the ecological, spiritual and place based nature of water. We see it as something to be conquered, as a means to produce a certain type of lifestyle." She suggested we need to wake up to the "myth of abundance" that allows us to treat "water as a resource to promote profit rather than a precious gift of nature."
She asked us to consider, "what would happen if we governed the Great Lakes on the First Nations principles of the Seventh Generation" considering the impact of our decisions many generations forward. We would "protect the bio-region as a commons," she offered, "something that belongs to all of us, equitably shared and governed for the public good." She described a vision of the Great Lakes Commons governed as one body, with "strict accountability, basin wide consistent planning and laws, collectively managed." She included in her hopeful vision for the Great Lakes Commons, a recognition not only of the much greater role of local communities in water decisions but also the rights of other species and even the water itself to well being.
The most remarkable aspect of the evening was the energy at the end of her talk. Despite all the painful news she shared on the state of the Lakes, she had galvanized a sense of urgency and willingness to act. She reminded us that the future is not written but depends on what we do next.