Signs of Life :: Small Stories About Big Change
In observance of World Water Day on March 22, approximately 400 people took part in a March For Water on the streets of Los Angeles. The three-mile march was symbolic of the distance much of the world’s population walks on a daily basis for clean water to drink and to cook with.
Defending the Right to Water
More than 20 countries have signed a declaration recognizing water as a basic human right. The declaration was presented as an alternative to a weaker statement on water access issued at the 5th World Water Forum in Istanbul in March.
The World Water Forum, held every three years, is led by The World Water Council, an association dominated by private water corporations. Activists and many governments have argued that such industry involvement undermines the credibility of the meetings and has led to water policies that promote corporate profit over human health and access.
Hundreds of activists protested outside the Istanbul forum, shouting “water for life, not for profit.”
Sixteen countries have also signed a second statement calling on the United Nations to assume leadership of the international water meeting. Maude Barlow, Senior Advisor on Water to the President of the United Nations General Assembly, has backed this proposal.
“This creates terrific momentum in the U.N. to responsibly steward our water commons, to ensure that water is not a commodity and that people and nature receive their fair share,” says Barlow.
Worldwide, more than 1 billion people lack access to clean drinking water, and scientists predict global warming will lead to more frequent and severe water shortages in years to come.
—Daniel Moss lives in Mexico and co-coordinates Our Water Commons, www.onthecommons.org/water.
Interested? Watch an interview with the director of Flow: How do a handful of corporations steal our water?
Maine Towns Fight Back
Three towns in Maine—Shapleigh, Newman, and Wells—have passed ordinances that strip corporations of the rights of “personhood,” a legal concept that allows companies to claim the same rights as individual citizens.
The ordinances are aimed at stopping the extraction of local groundwater, which the Swiss food corporation Nestlé bottles and sells under the label Poland Springs. For years, Maine communities have fought the company’s efforts to expand its water bottling operations.
The towns also recognized the rights of ecosystems to exist and flourish and the rights of citizens to self-govern—including the right to protect their groundwater by placing it in a public trust.
—Brooke Jarvis is a freelance writer based in Maryville, Tennessee.
New Protection for 2 Million Acres of Wilderness
Two million acres of wilderness in nine states will receive new protection under a bill signed into law by President Obama on March 30. The measure has been called the most significant conservation victory in the last 15 years.
|Photo courtesy www.thesca.org|
On April 21, President Obama signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, before he and First Lady Michelle Obama rolled up their sleeves to join Student Conservation Association members for an afternoon of tree planting.
In his address, the President said, “We need your service, right now, at this moment in history … Years from now, you may remember it as the moment when your own story and the American story converged, when they came together, and we met the challenges of our new century.”
A Push for Public Health Care
Advocates are urging President Obama to end insurance industry domination over health care. But they are divided on how the new system should work.
One camp is campaigning for national single-payer health coverage. A second group is backing a proposal by the Obama administration that offers a hybrid of public and private coverage.
The single-payer plan resembles the Canadian health system, in which the government covers medical costs, but health services are provided mostly by private entities. Representative John Conyers (D-Mich.) has championed this proposal through the bill H.R. 676, which now has 75 cosponsors in the House.
The single-payer movement has support from a wide range of groups, including Physicians for a National Health Program and the California Nurses Association. A handful of state legislatures, including California, Colorado, and Pennsylvania, also are considering single-payer bills. Lawmakers in several states, such as Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, and New York, have passed resolutions urging Congress to adopt single-payer.
But former Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean warns that the single-payer system will “scare people,” who will be unwilling to give up their current health coverage.
Dean has been stumping for the Obama plan, which offers a choice between private insurance or public coverage. MoveOn.org? and Health Care for America NOW! also back the plan.
Single-payer supporters counter that the Obama plan is more costly, and that it capitulates to the insurance industry.
Meanwhile, insurance lobbyists oppose both proposals, favoring the Massachusetts approach, in which all but the state’s low-income residents must sign up for private coverage. The Massachusetts plan is considered a failure by many, plagued by escalating costs for both the state and health consumers. And advocates fear that private insurance companies will overcharge or exclude services, unless they are forced to compete with a more inclusive public plan.
The Obama administration has held several regional health care forums and a national summit, and is meeting with interest groups, gearing up for what will be the bigger battle: getting Congress to approve reform.
—Kim Eckart is associate editor at YES! Magazine.
|Photo courtesy Greenpeace|
Greenpeace activists hang a banner from a construction crane near the State Department in Washington, D.C., April 27.
The action coincided with the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, a gathering of 17 nations with large or rapidly growing economies.
Landmark Climate Change Bill
Congress has begun debate on what could become the first-ever federal legislation to regulate greenhouse gases. The House Energy and Commerce Committee began hearings on the American Clean Energy and Security Act on Earth Day, April 22. The bill was introduced by Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), who has pledged to move the bill out of committee by Memorial Day, so that discussions can begin on the House floor.
Activists have high hopes riding on the bill, which promises to cut emissions 80 percent by 2050, a target Obama has embraced, though he has stopped short of endorsing the bill. The bill would place the U.S. in a leadership role on climate change after years of inaction under the Bush administration, and green groups hope it could be a turning point, prompting global action at a major United Nations meeting on climate in Copenhagen later this year.
But climate activists also say the bill needs to go farther. For instance, it funds the development of technology that purports to capture and store carbon emitted by coal plants, even though the technology is unproven and may be ineffective.
Activists are campaigning heavily to improve the bill and gain support from members of Congress. The youth-led organization Focus the Nation is holding nationwide town hall meetings to discuss the legislation with business leaders, politicians, and public citizens.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has formally recognized carbon dioxide as a pollutant, following a two-year review mandated by the Supreme Court. The decision requires the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, and it may hasten Congressional action.
Lisa Jackson, head of the EPA, and Obama have said they would rather have regulations set by Congress than by EPA administrative action, which they say could be costly and vulnerable to lawsuits.
—Madeline Ostrander is senior editor at YES! Magzine.
“While a garden is a great idea, the thought of it being organic made [us] shudder.”
Bonnie McCarvel, Executive Director of the Mid-America Croplife Association
New Mexico Ends Capital Punishment
New Mexico abolished the death penalty in March, becoming the second state to do so since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976. New Jersey repealed the death penalty in 2007.
In signing the repeal, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson pointed out that over the past 10 years, four of his state’s death-row inmates (and more than 100 nationwide) were freed after courts determined they had been wrongly convicted.
This year, lawmakers in 10 other states took up bills to abolish the death penalty; as of press time, four remained active: Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois and New Hampshire.
“We will not continue to sacrifice our culture, our people, and our future for dirty energy.”
Activists Protest Drone Warfare
Fourteen peace activists were arrested on April 10 at Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nevada, during a 10-day vigil protesting unmanned aircraft strikes along the Afghan-Pakistan border. The activists, who were participants in an interfaith Sacred Peace Walk organized by the Nevada Desert Experience, sought to engage in dialogue with Air Force personnel operating Predator and Reaper drones from the base.
In addition to causing numerous civilian casualties, the strikes have contributed to a deepening humanitarian crisis in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province and Federally Administered Tribal Areas. According to UNICEF, over 860,000 displaced persons from those areas, including 325,000 children, are in dire need of water, nutrition, sanitation, education, and health care.
Despite warnings by Pakistani intelligence officials that ongoing strikes will further destabilize the country, the Obama administration has declared its intention to intensify drone attacks. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has announced he will seek $2 billion in additional funding for unmanned aircraft for the 2010 budget, including 50 more drones. This will represent a 62 percent increase in the military’s capability to carry out drone operations.
The activists view their June 9 arraignment in Las Vegas as an opportunity to build support for their “Ground the Drones…Lest We Reap the Whirlwind” campaign. In addition to holding a monthly vigil at Creech, the Nevada Desert Experience plans to draw further attention to the issue during its August Desert Witness, which commemorates the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
—Valerie Saturen is a freelance writer based in Tacoma, Washington.
|Photo by Alan Chan flickr.com/photos/alanchan|
Just married: Diane Finnerty (left) and Jill Jack at the county building in Iowa City, Iowa.
The Iowa Supreme Court overturned a ban on same-sex marriage on April 3.
Germany Mandates Paper-Trail Voting
|Photo by Colm MacCárthaigh www.stdlib.net|
Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court has ruled that the voting machines used in the country’s 2005 general election are unconstitutional. The 1,800 Dutch Nedap machines, on which about 2 million citizens cast their votes, are not in compliance with the right to public elections, the court says, because they do not leave a paper trail. By law, voters and election officials must be able to verify that ballots are recorded correctly.
In one German study, undergraduate computer science students were able to manipulate the machines within minutes. In the picture, a member of the Dutch anti e-voting group, Wij vertrouwen stemcomputers niet, opens a Nedap voting machine. The group acquired several Nedap machines in 2006 and then successfully hacked them.
—Lilja Otto is associate online editor at YES! Magazine.
That means, we rely on support from our readers.
Independent. Nonprofit. Subscriber-supported.