“Let us wake up! Let us wake up, humankind! We’re out of time. We must shake our conscience free of the rapacious capitalism, racism and patriarchy that will only assure our own self-destruction. The Gualcarque River has called upon us, as have other gravely threatened rivers. We must answer their call.”
-Berta Cáceres, in her Goldman Award acceptance speech
As the 2016 Day of Action for Rivers Coordinator, I had the unique opportunity to connect with communities and organizations all over the globe dedicated to protecting humanity’s lifelines, the arteries of our earth – the world’s rivers! Unfortunately, the celebratory spirit that marked the commencement of preparations for this year’s Day of Action was dampened by the unjust and untimely death of fellow river activist and dear partner, Berta Cáceres. Her death was a reminder of the truly heinous nature of the forces – corporate, government, etc. – that we confront in our ongoing fight to save rivers and the communities that depend on them.
Yet, the outpouring of support and turnout of events on and around March 14 confirmed that river movements around the world are thriving. The numbers aren’t yet final, but at the moment we know that at least 120 actions took place across 37 different countries. Many of this year’s actions were specifically dedicated to Berta and the countless others who have sacrificed their lives to protect free-flowing rivers.
In Senegal, young women with the Bargny Coast Waterkeeper gathered along the banks of their local river and took photos holding posters that demanded justice for Berta. In Sylhet, Bangladesh, the Surma River Keepers organized a cultural and educational performance on a stage set up next to the Surma River. A portrait of Berta hung on the stage backdrop. In Chilean Patagonia, conservation groups from Puerto Aisen held posters of Berta as they demonstrated beside the Cochrane River.
I cannot go into detail about every celebration, but I will take a moment to recognize the efforts of the Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA) and Jatyo Nadi Rakkha Andolon (JNRA) in Bangladesh. BAPA is a community coalition of citizens and groups concerned about the environment of Bangladesh; JNRA is a BAPA member organization specifically concerned with rivers. The organizations under the BAPA coalition, led by the JNRA, sponsored 12 events in Dhaka and other cities across Bangladesh including a human chain, press conference, rallies, river cleanings, processions, and many more. The previously-mentioned program led by the Surma River Keepers was organized under these coordinated efforts in Bangladesh. We witnessed some of the day’s highest levels of engaged participation in Bangladesh, all thanks to BAPA and JNRA.
At the Berkeley, CA office of International Rivers, we all gathered in our conference room to take a moment to honor rivers and watch the amazing submissions to our ongoing “Let the River Sing” project. We watched and listened to beautiful performances of river music from India, Turkey, and more. Because of inclement weather, our March 12 river cleanup was rescheduled to this weekend on March 19. We’re looking forward to continuing our celebratory, and solemn, spirit of action for this day.
A handful of other groups that hosted events included: Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, Grand Riverkeeper Labrador of Canada, No to Jalaur River Mega Dam Project of the Philippines, Mpumalanga Environmental Youth Network in South Africa, Movimento Dos Antingidos por Barragens of Brazil, Community Car Washers and Conservation Group of Kenya, the Melbourne University Mountaineering Club of Australia, Dirtbag Paddler Magazine in the United States, Dibrugarh University of India, Lab Paisagem of Portugal, and so many more.
To the event organizers – I’m extremely grateful for your work and for the countless hours we spent coordinating together. From rallies and ceremonies to art contests and educational programs, the mosaic of events held in honor of this year’s Day of Action helped to show the world that free-flowing rivers are vital to humanity and the earth!
Even though March 14 has passed, our work to protect rivers continues. Please, if you are reading this, take a moment to sign our petition and take action to demand justice for Berta, ensure the safety of Gustavo Castro, and halt construction of the Agua Zarca Dam. As Berta stressed in her acceptance speech for the Goldman Environmental Prize, humanity must wake up to answer the calls of our rivers. On this shared earth, rivers – the arteries of our natural world – unite us all.