Over the last 4 years of gradually bringing Walking Water to life the pool of people responsible and holding its vision has grown tremendously. It is not a project of one person, one vision but instead a weaving of stories, dreams and realities touching many walks of life. We are people, human beings who witness what we have done to the waters, to the lands and the peoples traditionally most closely connected to both. We are people who know that the water cycle has been so severely affected by our design and way of living, ground waters sucked dry to never be replaced, and drinking water – a luxury that only 89% of the world population enjoys, being contaminated on a depressingly regular basis. And we are many people who have been working in and with community, with the waters, with conflict, with traditions for many years.
We do have an agenda – it is to put us back in the center, back in the knowing of what we collectively are doing, and back in the empowering position of knowing that we can change it. Water is one element that every one of us needs, regardless of wealth, social position, religion, age or gender and with that we have the chance to unite and be part of a solution or many. We have the chance to go beyond the boundaries of what we have imagined so far.
Walking Water is about water, people and place – restoring those relations using the most basic of forms – Pilgrimage. By connecting those 3 elements or aspects we create a path of social activism that touches our dreams and hopes for a sustainable planet where we ‘fit’.
Our experience of ourselves in Pilgrimage is shaped by moving through a landscape, crossing the threshold of different landscapes, and bearing witness to what is there. Our co-travellers become more than just people around us as they are also constantly being formed and in relation to me, the landscape, the waters, animals, stars and all that we can only imagine. Our community, our place then becomes bigger, wider, and more expansive than us. And it is at this point that we would no longer imagine that we don’t need each other, community, place, water.
The social activism of now is that which brings us all into the center, into a place of needing all of us to be responsible, to be in relation to and in response to the challenges we all face. Inclusivity then becomes the inspirer, that which makes it possible and that which counteracts the field of separation so many of us find ourselves in and which so much political strategy relies upon.
‘We don’t need people’ something I heard recently said by one who was working “for water management” – is still a too often held attitude in the water story of California and the water stories of many places in the US and around the world. Just as we didn’t need the Paiute peoples who originally lived the land. It’s an attitude that ignores us. Ignoring ‘us’ can no longer be a profitable strategy. Instead, ‘needing us’ allows us to truly grieve and face up to what has been done in our name, and to give gratitude that we have the opportunity to make amends.
Phase 2 of Walking Water will begin in late September at the Owens Lake, a lake that had much of its water drained in 1913 when the river was diverted for the Los Angeles Aqueduct. It is this water that provides roughly 30% of Los Angeles total water needs. And the Lake is now the largest single source of dust pollution in the United States.
We will again be 35 people – old and new walkers – who will include water activists, scientists, tribal members, community leaders, artists, musicians and policy makers both local and global – Bolivia, the Middle East, Kenya as well as the Owens Valley and Los Angeles.
The path this year will be roughly 200 miles and will take us through Inyo County, Red Rock Canyon, JawBone Canyon, the Mojave, through Green Valley, near to the site of the St. Francis Dam and into Santa Clarita, arriving to the Cascades in Sylmar after 3 weeks. We will see only one open body of water in those 3 weeks, only the pipe built in the early 1900’s that takes the water from the Owens River down to LA.
It will be a hugely moving journey for all of us walkers, to not be near water for 3 weeks, but to know it is there somewhere. It will be a time of grief for what we have done to the waters and to the original peoples.
And hopefully it will be a time of celebration that new times are coming- that new ways are being explored to manage water, that water is more valued, that there are new reasons to come together and make decisions together that will affect us all. We look to celebrate the people and projects that are working, creating and inspiring so many, in so many ways already – community is very much alive.
Walking Water is a community endeavor so please let us know if you wish to be involved by walking, by gifting others to walk, by sharing your story and contributing to what bigger story unfolding we are a part of.