We Are All Water Leaders: perspectives on power

At a recent freshwater gathering, participants used the terms 'water leaders' and 'water decision-makers' interchangeably. It seemed odd since Great Lakes Commons was founded on the need to create more water leaders who are currently outside the decision-making institutions and processes. Two different identities.

While everyone at this gathering was easily a 'water leader' because they work tirelessly to protect water across Turtle Island, we were certainly not making the Federal, Provincial, State or Municipal rules that impact water -- the 'decision-makers'. If we were, the waters would likely be much more clean than they are now. In fact, much of our strategic focus was directed toward the current water decision-makers instead of our own water leadership and the potential to create more leadership within our networks. So strange. 

Is this just a linguistic shuffle or a process of appealing to established power, while sacrificing the power we collectively already have? Does our power stem from our ability to influence the establishment and if so, does our power shrink when the establishment chooses to ignore our needs? What if we separated these 2 terms to clearly describe those who have the public's authority to make decisions and those who hold democratic, ancestral, inalienable, and even earthly power? 

Many social change campaigns rely on our power to influence outcomes based on or 'citizen' or 'consumer' power. We write letters to and vote for those who can represent us in the established decision-making forums. We use our spending power to support or deny markets that represent our values. Both are great strategies. But is that all?

Our efforts at GLC aim to energize our collective water leadership -- a power so beautiful and full of opportunity that today's decision-makers would be wise to follow (not lead). We collaborated for 2 years with water leaders to create the Great Lakes Commons Charter so we can petition ourselves for change under a shared vision. We designed a participatory map to crowdsource our collective worry and wisdom for the lakes through data, discussion, and stories. We partnered with over 10 people and organizations to host a Water Journey project that covered thousands of miles/kilometres sharing a diverse yet united vision of care. Lastly, we are working on a series of resources (bundles) to inform and inspire more water leadership around the Great Lakes.

We are also fluid. We want to respond to and be influenced by you -- our supporters. We are a network of healers, advocates, ecologists, protectors, researchers, organizers, and artists (to name a few). Below are two examples of what has inspired this blog post. John Trudell's words "We Are Power" and Ben Weaver's poem.

What sources fuel your power?

How are you expressing your water leadership and building power with others?

Share in the comments section or contact us to write a GLC blog post.

Photo of Ben Weaver by Sean O'Brien

Photo of Ben Weaver by Sean O'Brien

You could rake leaves while the glaciers melt
and horses stand somewhere in a field
with the sound of wind blowing rain into their manes
you could go to a job you don't love
and live in a house you don't want
and sit in traffic and feel trapped watching
the eagles dive above the light posts and power lines
or you could stop raking and lay down in the dirt
with the leaves scattering around you
smelling like the coming snow
and the rattling ghosts of summer lightning
you could pick up a river and hold it to your eye
watch a turtle crawl through it
the light turbulent out of the sky beyond the bluffs.

Instead of serving these mad corporations and law makers
oblivious to the dew on the pigs hindquarters at morning
or the effort it takes ducks to find food after such a wet summer
you could sit round a fire next to the lake and
listen as the water carries voices from a canoe
out somewhere near the middle
back to your camp along the stony shore
and as the fire licks at the red pines
you could uncover a memory that
smells like moose hooves and orchids
wild rice hulls and mallards
and helps you to remember the millions
of invisible miracles which must occur within the sky
so that a blizzard can become a blizzard

     This memory is what the mad kings and architects
of the anthropomorphic rivers want you to forget
because if you do not remember the smell or feel of the land
then you will believe anything they tell you about it
including that it is just another body to exploit
But if you remember the sound of waves
pulling back through the hair of beaches
or the ring of wind among icicles and sparrow caves
you have not forfeited all of your freedom and power
to the ruthlessness of modern convenience  
and if you remember otters sliding across the lake at dusk
or a bear rushing back into the alder  
then you also remember
that you are among the millions of tiny miracles within the sky
that allow a blizzard to become a blizzard
and if you can remember this
then you can speak, sing and dream, 
loud as thunder
for every quiet piece of land and water on this earth
because you have not forgotten, 
that you, not the mad kings, are the one with power.

This is a survival gathering and one of the things I hope you all learn while you're here is ... to appreciate the energy and power that the elements are, that of the sun, the rain and the wind. I hope you go away from here understanding that this is power, the only real, true power. This is the only real, true connection we will ever have to power, our relationship to Mother Earth. 
We must not become confused. We must not become confused and deceived by their illusions. There is no such thing as military power. There is only military terrorism. There is no such thing as economic power. There is only the economic within these illusions so we will believe they hold power in their hands. But they do not. All they know how to do is act in a repressive, brutal way. 
The power. We are a natural part of the earth. We are an extension of the earth; we are not separate from it. We are part of it. The earth is our mother. The earth is a spirit, and we are an extension of that spirit. We are spirit. We are power. They want us to believe that we have to believe in them, that we have to assume these consumer identities and these political identities, these religious identities and these racial identities. They want to separate us from our power. They want to separate us from who we are. Genocide. (selection from historyisaweapon.com)