Over the past year Great Lakes Commons has been working with partners to put together a Charter Toolkit to help communities and individuals protect water as a shared and sacred commons. The Commons Charter inspired the resources developed for the toolkit. The Charter’s themes of personal responsibility, commons governance, water protection, and Indigenous rights (just to name a few) are reflected in this collection of tools.
On March 2, 2017 GLC hosted a conversation to showcase and workshop some of the new resources for water commoning in the Great Lakes. We highlighted several tools and discussed how they can lead to better water protection in our Great Lakes communities.
The discussion began with a look at ourselves -- the human body and how it’s inextricable linked to water. Jen Pate has been working with GLC to put together a resource on the link between water bodies and human bodies and how plastic and toxics impact both. The Plastics Action Kit weaves the external (water bodies) and internal (human body) environments in a way that’s relatable and approachable. It demonstrates the inter-connections between human health and water quality. There is a lot of content and valuable information in this one resource than people seemed excited to dive into. There was also interest in using the the action kit in workshops and educational settings by those on the call.
We then turned to a resource in the toolkit that not only challenges users to reflect, but also invites inquiry. The issue of water commodification through bottled water seems to be ever present in the Great Lakes region. The Bottled Water-Commons Conversation resource offers critical questions highlighting the need for a cultural shift fighting for what we want rather than what we don’t -- while also protecting our communities and water presently from harm. Part activist tool, part awareness building, and part reflection driven, this resource will invite conversation and participation in communities.
What does a commons community look like? Could you be living in a future water commons city? Milwaukee provides an example of how a post-industrial Midwest community came together and built an grassroots water city agenda. Milwaukee Water Commons’ story can inspire communities across the Great Lakes to build a local water commons.
“We just start with the conversations...Start with the personal” as a entry point, recommends Alexa Bradley, a founder of Milwaukee Water Commons. Use water to frame the conversations, as it can bring people together and connect other issues facing the community. It's a unifying topic when holding meaningful conversations around it. But water is only a starting point. Bring in as many people at the beginning -- diversity (of all kinds) is essential for a commons. The community should lead the effort to envision the commons and bring change to their city -- not just the traditional political leaders. These are some of the themes and lessons shared by Alexa. They will soon be documented and included as one of the community organizing toolkit resources.
So, how can the Milwaukee example apply to other communities? The conversation lead to several observations including a process that invites leadership from within the community, showcases that leadership, and design plans for the future. Shifting the community conversation from ‘this is what we don’t want’ to ‘this is what we want’ is an important lesson for communities and individuals. Several examples of other Great Lakes communities came to mind by several participants on the call -- communities that could be water commons cities.
At its core, the Charter Toolkit is about engaging people to bring about change and care for our water commons. Focusing on personal connection and inspiration, Jen Pate sums up the conversation, we need to “shift the conversation from being helpless and powerless to becoming helpful and powerful.” Making people aware empowers them and can lead to action and change. GLC hopes these resources and themes can lead to instilling a duty of care for the water in individuals and communities across the Great Lakes.
If you want to follow the entire discussion with much more detail and nuance, you can watch our recording below.