A thinkery on water, anti-privatisation struggles and the commons

Expressed in slogans such as “water is a human right”, “water is life”, “we are water” and “defend the sacred”, throughout the globe a revolution is taking place as people organise to resist the privatisation of water. In a spirit of shared struggle against privatisation (in its many forms), this Thinkery explored differences in approach and attitude in anti-privatisation struggles mobilized around water in Ireland, Italy, Spain and Standing Rock in the USA.

For many, the privatisation of water is a contemporary enclosure of the commons, a continuation of a process of converting everything into property that began centuries ago with land enclosures. But the understanding and use of “the commons” varies in different anti-privatisation struggles. For some, to regard water as a commons is to see it as a publicly owned and managed resource, whereas for others it is a new way of living and governing, a way of people relating to each other and the natural world. Some talk of a commons of humankind, whereas for others commons are part and parcel of local territorial communities. Rather than flattening these and other differences, they will be the central focus of the Thinkery which aims to promote real and convivial dialogue and learning between people committed to anti-privatisation struggles, but with fundamentally different worldviews.

In addition to people directly involved in water anti-privatisation movements in Ireland and throughout Europe, speakers included

Chas Jewett, Standing Rock Water Protector
Miriam Planas, Aigua és Vida (Barcelona) and European Water Movement
Marco Iob, Italian Forum of Water Movements and European Water Movement

Please direct any queries you have to the organisers Mark Garavan (Mark.Garavan@gmit.ie), Patrick Bresnihan (bresnip@tcd.ie) or Órla O’Donovan (o.odonovan@ucc.ie).

This event was organised with funding support from the Community Development Journal.

Read Mark Garavan’s report on the Thinkery

About the Speakers

Patrick Bresnihan is a Lecturer in the Geography Department, Trinity College Dublin. He has published work on the politics of water, neoliberalism and the commons in the contexts of Bolivia and Ireland. He is a founder and regular contributor to the Provisional University, a scholar-activist project based in Dublin (provisionaluniversity.wordpress.com).

Mark Garavan lectures in Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology. He is the author of Compassionate Activism: An Exploration of Integral Social Care and edited Our Story: The Rossport 5, an account of the North Mayo anti-gas pipeline activists imprisoned in 2005. He is a Director of Feasta.

Marco Iob was among the founders of the Italian Committee for a World Water Contract in 2000, and was subsequently involved in the foundation of the Italian Forum of Water Movements and the European Water Movement. He has collaborated in the organization of the Alternative World Water Forums in Istanbul (2009) and Marseille (2012). He was also actively involved in the campaign for a national referendum against water privatization that took place in Italy in 2011.

Chas Jewett is a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. She grew up with her sisters on a cattle ranch along the Moreau River. She attended the College of St Benedict in Minnesota. She became an organizer for the Sierra Club in Rapid City, SD on a grasslands wilderness campaign in 2002. Since then, she has organized for national and local organizations on reproductive justice–two abortion bans in SD since 2006, for health care reform, for racial justice, for the Native Vote, and is working currently with the Rapid City Community Conversations, a Lakota led effort to improve relations with the city, and its police, www.rcconversations.org. She also manages the Facebook page No KXL Through Treaty Lands. She has served on several boards, and through her organizing work–was a field producer for a documentary about reproductive justice called Young Lakota.

Órla O’Donovan is a lecturer in the School of Applied Social Studies in University College Cork. Along with the dead body commons, she is interested in exploring with others what water commoning and water democracy in Ireland might entail. She co-edited a 2014 special supplement of the Community Development Journal on the commons, “Commons Sense. New Thinking about an Old Idea” (https://academic.oup.com/cdj/issue/49/suppl_1). She is a member of the Public Water Forum (http://www.publicwaterforum.ie/) as a domestic water user who participated in the mass campaign of non-payment of water charges.

Róisín O’Gorman is a lecturer in performance at UCC’s Department of Drama & Theatre Studies. She is a founding member of Bodies of Water (BoW). BoW is a transdisciplinary performance, research, and advocacy network that investigates how we access, understand, and respond to water through the human body, art, culture, and public deliberation. The network comprises of artists, community organizations, and a cohort of academics, performers and students from Ireland and the US. Together, this network seeks to build community with water and each other by exploring how this critical environmental resource exists beyond being merely subject to ownership or stewardship. Rather, BoW uses transdisciplinary performance and research to illuminate how water is us as much as it surrounds us. This June 24th BoW will present the Cork iteration of the international Global Water Dances event as part of the Cork Midsummer Festival, (see: http://globalwaterdances.org/performances/2017/cork-ireland/).

Miriam Planas is a member of Engineering without Borders Catalonia and Aigua és Vida. Engineering without Borders is an association working for development cooperation to guarantee universal access to basic services accompanying social change and empowerment of the population. She is also actively involved in the Aigua és Vida platform (http://www.aiguaesvida.org/ ), which started in 2010 as a citizens’ initiative in Catalonia. It consists of more than 50 organisations: neighbour associations, unions, environmentalists, social and solidarity groups, and individuals working for public, democratic and non-commercial water management. She is also actively involved in the European Water Movement (http://europeanwater.org/).

Note: Feasta is a forum for exchanging ideas. By posting on its site Feasta agrees that the ideas expressed by authors are worthy of consideration. However, there is no one ‘Feasta line’. The views of the article do not necessarily represent the views of all Feasta members.