Have you ever had the good fortune to witness a formative moment of something that seemed destined to go big? Well, I’m pretty sure I did last week, as the lone audience member at the Living Waters Rally 2014 press conference.
Surely, it lacked the thrill of seeing Beatles at the Cavern, the intensity of being at a Greensboro lunch counter sit-in, or the emotion of witnessing Terry Fox pass through Gambo, Newfoundland. And the individual speeches by Lindsay Telfer (Canadian Freshwater Alliance), Tony Maas (Forum for Leadership on Water), Danika Littlechild (lawyer from Ermineskin Cree Nation), Elizabeth Hendriks (WWF-Canada), Meredith Brown (Ottawa Riverkeeper), Andrew Stegemann (Mountain Equipment Co-op) were good, but not that good.
The momentous thing was what their words, as well as simply their presence, represented--the stirrings of a movement that should ultimately include the majority of Canadians and result in the protection and restoration of Canada’s lakes, rivers and streams.
That’s why I didn’t feel lonely sitting by myself in the National Press Gallery (groups holding press conferences there are limited to a seven-person posse, and I was the organizer of ours). We had all spent the previous three days visioning, capacity-building and networking at the second biennial Living Waters Rally 2014, with more than one hundred freshwater champions, representing recreational, indigenous, cottage association, faith, philanthropic, environmental, business, academic, and arts and culture groups.
The press conference marked the public debut, although it was never named, of an initiative called Our Living Waters (OLW), conceived in the aftermath of the first Rally in 2012 when it become abundantly clear that more coordination was needed to amplify the impact of Canada’s water community. The wheels were eventually set in motion for Tony Maas to guide a process aimed at identifying and bringing together the pieces needed to amplify the impact of the water movement and create a sustainable water future for Canada.
At this year’s Rally, delegates had the opportunity to review a draft strategic framework developed by an OLW working group and to participate in dialogues around the project’s strategic themes. The resulting enthusiasm and contributions of delegates exceeded expectations, so much so that by the morning of press conference, the Freshwater Alliance (which had organized the Rally) was able to issue this statement.
The press conference conveyed the essence of the statement. After Lindsay’s introduction, Tony stressed the need for accountable governments and partnerships with them, Liz made the case for increased knowledge and transparency, and Danika called for reconciliation and the recognition of indigenous rights. Also, Meredith exemplified the challenges facing local water groups across the country by describing how we are “flying by the seat of our pants” in managing our national waterway (Ottawa River), and Andrew shared why MEC is a key supporter of the Rally and strives to help build the capacity of freshwater organizations and connect them with recreationalists.
The press conference didn’t get much coverage (due in part to the hubbub that day around the proposed anti-ISIS air combat mission), yet what really matters right now is to put on record the collective intention to “build and strengthen the water movement to ensure that all our waters are in good health—swimmable, drinkable and fishable.”
Delegates at the Rally and others in the freshwater community are increasingly primed to work together and with government, business and the public to overcome the many challenges facing Canada’s freshwater (from microbeads to mega-disruption of our climate). This is what I was thinking during the press conference, how we are in the early days of something bound to have a profound and lasting impact. And how, like those at Living Waters Rally 2014 and many more to come in the near future, I will be able to say that I was there.
David Minkow is communications specialist for the Canadian Freshwater Alliance.