Water: a cool beverage, a great source of fun and a high-priced commodity? Though the third characteristic may sound absurd to some, many experts believe that this is the direction in which water is heading.
The topic of the twenty-eighth annual MAYDAY! Peace Conference, which takes place on Monday, April 28, is the issue of “Troubled Water” and its social-justice implications.
The conference is named MAYDAY! “… [after] the traditional distress signal,” said Greg Mason, professor of English and co-chair of the MAYDAY! Committee.
“[This Conference is about] the fact that water, the great natural resource and source of life, is under threat. People have talked about water perhaps becoming the next oil, insofar as it’s going to be a scarce resource, there’s going to be competition to get a hold of it, it’s going to become very expensive and that kind of thing. We’re trying to look at the causes of the situation,” said Mason.
The topic encompasses many issues. “It is hopefully going to make people think about a variety of issues … like the cost of water, the availability of water and people’s access to water. [If] water becomes privatized … who has the right to determine who gets water and at what cost?” said Associate Professor of Political Science and Environmental Studies Richard Leitch, who is co-chair of the MAYDAY! Committee.
The Committee chose water as this year’s issue because of its rising importance on the world stage.
“It is a very timely topic. There have been many popular protests about water privatization. Even in our own country there is concern about water availability during droughts. Now we’re not thinking about farmers watering crops or people watering their lawns; now we’re thinking about people having water-availability from their tap to drink, things that we really haven’t thought about in this country unless there has been a natural disaster or something,” Leitch said.
The first keynote speaker, Aaron Wolf, is a professor of geology at Oregon State University. “He’s going to be talking about the global situation with water in terms of what’s happening in different continents, how land use is affecting water resources, how climate change is affecting water resources and why we have an emerging problem. He’ll be giving sort of an overview,” said Mason.
Wenonah Hauter, the second keynote speaker, is the Director of Food and Water Watch, a non-profit consumer group. “[Hauter] is going to be giving more of a social activist’s approach, looking at the way that water is becoming like an economic commodity, rather than a natural right,” Mason said.
“[Hauter] calls people to action,” said Director of Communication Services and Special Events Dean Wahlund. “The call to action has been near and dear to the founders of this conference, Raymond and Florence Sponberg, [since its start] 28 years ago. We always have that [social justice] element in every conference. It is about that call to action—how are we going to live what we learned today?”
There will also be other activities going on the day before, as well as the day of the conference.
“There is a great movie we’re showing the night before [the Conference]. It’s called Thirst, and it shows the water crisis from three different perspectives: from Bolivia, India and Stockton, California. Stockton decided to privatize its water, and the community was very concerned. It is a very powerful documentary,” said Leitch. “[There is also] an exhibit on the lower level of the library next week, and it’s going to show us all about the indigenous peoples’ uses of water and the spiritual elements of water.”
By setting up the Conference, the organizers hope to stress Gustavus’ commitment to social justice issues. “As a college we really need to be a community that not only learns but also serves … I think we are a very social-justice [-oriented] campus. I think the students and faculty are saying we’ve got to live in this world and we’ve got to keep this world safe and peaceful,” Wahlund said.
The Conference should provide something for everyone. “Water itself is such a huge issue, and there are hopefully enough different types of perspectives that we are taking that [something] will appeal to all people who are there,” said Leitch.