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Video Highlights Water Rights and Energy Sovereignty as part of a Just Transition
By Sara Mersha
February 11th, 2014
Today, the Climate Justice Alliance (CJA) launches a new video describing Our Power Campaign: Communities United for a Just Transition. The video was shot during last year’s CJA “Our Power” camp and action, hosted by the Black Mesa Water Coalition, which organizes Navajo communities in Arizona. As a member of the CJA, Grassroots International was honored to play an active role in organizing toward this gathering, which brought together communities impacted by coal – as well as by the false solutions to coal – to share stories and lessons from local struggles, begin developing shared strategies, and take collective action.
In the video, Wahleah Johns of Black Mesa Water Coalition explains,
“For our people, water is central to our spirituality, our culture…A lot of our work as Black Mesa Water Coalition has been about how we protect our water from companies such as Peabody Coal Company. They still use about 1,400 acre-feet of water for their mining operations. We started to see the physical impact – springs were drying up….
“If we really want to continue to live in our communities, at some point, we have to show that it is possible. That’s why a Just Transition is important….The time is now. We’re at a crossroads, either continuing this business-as-usual path, or we can create solutions for future generations.”
For Grassroots International, the connections between what is happening in Black Mesa, Arizona and the experiences of our Global South partners are clear. On the broadest scale, climate disruption is creating critical conditions in the US and in the Global South – from severe droughts, to devastating floods, to increasing frequency and severity of storms. And at the same time, indigenous peoples, peasants and small-scale farmers, Black and Afro-descendent communities in the Global South and in the US are coming together to create the real solutions we need to both address the root causes of climate disruption and to make our communities more resilient in the face of current and future climate impacts.
Beyond these broad similarities, we also see specific connections between what is facing Navajo peoples in the Southwest and what our Global South partners are facing, particularly around water rights. I was personally struck by how similar the situation of the Navajo peoples seemed to the situation our Palestinian partners face. In both places, Navajo and Palestinian people often have no access to running water, even though their own land and territory provide the source of the largest aquifers in the region.
In Arizona, the Peabody Coal company and other large-scale developers in other parts of the state (such as in and around Phoenix) exploit the resources of the Navajo aquifer, while large segments of Navajo people living on their own reservation from where the water comes have no access to running water.
In Palestine, Israel exploits the West Bank aquifer for its own use in cities and in industrial agriculture, even while it restricts Palestinians’ own access to the water that comes from their own lands. Israel built the Separation Wall in a way that cuts Palestinians off from the West Bank aquifer, and the Israeli water company controls Palestinians’ access to water, cutting off West Bank residents’ water supply for days at a time.
In both places, those who control water show little restraint in their own use of this precious resource – grassy lawns, golf courses, and swimming pools in both Scottsdale, Arizona and in Israel and its illegal settlements in the West Bank demonstrate this reality – even though the Navajo and Palestinian communities which are the sources of water have been forced to find ways to live with very little water.
Grassroots was honored to have the opportunity to invite our Brazilian partner the Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB) to participate in the Our Power camp and action in Black Mesa, as a way of facilitating links between these movements for water rights, energy and climate justice. The Republic, an Arizona statewide newspaper, interviewed MAB delegate Leonardo Maggi, and included some of his analysis in their article reporting on the CJA Black Mesa action:
“We believe solar energy is a way of providing energy sovereignty not just for our country, but for the different communities across our country,” 33-year-old Leonardo Maggi of Brazil said through an interpreter.
His home country is affected by large hydropower dams. He said he was surprised by Scottsdale’s appearance.
“There is a lot of water from what I’ve seen,” he said. “That is unjust given how many people close to here don’t have water.”
Grassroots International looks forward to continuing to connect our social movement partners in the Global South with frontline communities here in the US that are organizing toward similar goals. These links hold the potential to unleash the kind of power and vision that can make climate justice a reality, from the ground up!