A few days ago a story stopped me in my tracks. Berta Caceras, murdered in her home in Honduras for daring to defend a river from the building of a megadam. A video accompanied the news, showing Berta describing her connection with the river, her immersion in it and speaking to it, a connection which extended to the people and other creatures living by and on it, with it. Berta's story is one of defending the rights of people and of a river to exist, to flow, to interact... It's a truly amazing and inspiring story.
The murder of Berta, this act of extreme violence, feels symbolic. A domination of 'man' over nature (and I put man in inverted commas because I feel this has to do with energies rather than gender designations, an energy of violence, control and domination over). Symbolic comparisons between the feminine and nature are extensive in literature and artistic expressions. An example that springs to mind is Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'urbervilles wherein Tess represents the English countryside, despoiled by the encroachment of industrialisation. Ecofeminism at times connects experiences of womanhood to connection with environment, drawing upon the realities of domination and violence inflicted both on women and on the environment and finding solidarity in movements of feminism and environmentalism.
Violence in this case seems an attempt to put a full stop on something, to threaten and beat into submission. Of course, people will be scared. Everyone holds life dear to themselves. But Berta was part of a great ecology of life, and her murder does not put an end to anything. It is a call to others to carry on the fight. On this 'International Women's Day' the legacy of Berta and others lives on, as with the indigenous movement that Berta helped give voice to, and the people who this story reached, who have become outraged, whose sense of solidarity has been activated, and whose sense that the risks of violence and domination and control are not a reason to stop critiquing and acting but precisely the reason to do more, to be more of a thorn in the side of powerful interests...
This brings me back to the last lecture I gave, which focused on social movements in response to social and environmental issues and injustices. At the beginning of the session one of my students said 'It just feels hopeless. Big business and governments are too powerful and we can't change anything'. After hearing about some examples of how social movements had made changes, she said at the end 'I feel more hopeful now, there are things that can be done...' I was glad to have been able to plant that seed of hope, and though I followed with the caveat that it is always a difficult and arduous process, because of course she was right, there are very powerful interests at play, it is not futile.
I've debated a lot in the past with friends and colleagues what it is that we can actually do about what some might call social and environmental justice, or others, more harmonious relationships with our fellow inhabitants of this planet with whom we are all inextricably linked. At times I've thought change must come from politics, in the traditional sense. As I've gone on I've explored the great complexity of where changes come from, cultural, media, stories that capture the imagination and heart, people who are willing to stand up for what they believe in even when it puts them in potential danger... I've concluded that there is a place for all of these things.
I come back to another point that has come up before in discussions about taking care of our watery planet on which we are entirely dependent... that is, is it enough to love it? On this I've concluded that feeling a sense of love, wonder, awe, and appreciation for nature (including our own natural selves) is a necessary starting point. But it's not quite enough to compel action, and what does compel action is much more complicated of course. Whatever it is though feels like the thing we should be working towards. In some respects, looking at this story, I feel it's a sense of injustice and of anger that propels a movement, as well as a deep sense of connection and love. Indigenous people's and their relationships to their environments are often cited as being more in harmony, more ecological, understanding of the interconnectedness of all things. Most indigenous cultures have faced serious long-term violence in a wide variety of forms. In many cases this has resulted in oppression, fragmentation and brokenness which is difficult to overcome and move beyond. However, in some cases, and hopefully increasingly so, movements are springing up from indigenous groups which are starting to fight back, both for their communities and for the environment. There are many inspiring examples of this from around the world, particularly Latin America providing much writing in citizenship studies spheres. Indigenous citizenship is often intimately connected with land (and water) and movements by indigenous peoples are often focused on protecting these and protesting developments of oil and gas extraction, mining, clear-cutting of forests and other highly destructive practices...
But I started with Berta and I'd like to end with a musing again on the idea of motherhood and the feminine, something implied by the film below. Berta is a nurturing and strong figure, an archetypal mother. She and what she represents makes me think of how important women are to these debates, and also about how citizenship needs to be extracted from the definition afforded by states (still predominantly male institutions). I hope in our explorations into hydrocitizenship we don't lose sight of these issues and their significance to all of us.