Monday, July 5, 2010

creating a space for dissent

Today is filled with promise. The sun is shining, the wind is gently ruffling the leaves of the squash and tomato plants that are growing steadily on my rooftop and I'm polishing off the letter that will be sent to Concordia President Judith Woodsworth tomorrow, with over 30 faculty signatures of support, as part of the Better Beverage Contract and Bottled Water Free Concordia campaign. It seems as though everything is quietly and patiently on its way.

There is time for patience and there is time for action. There is a time for reflection, to consider how to achieve a balance between the two.

I've been drafting up a fact sheet to accompany the letter I will be submitting to our university President. The facts are clear: bottled water is bad, valuing water as a human and ecological right is good. No matter how you look at it, from an environmental perspective, a health perspective, a socio-economic perspective, bottled water is one of the worst products to ever be introduced and marketed to society. However, the bottled water industry cannot be held entirely accountable for all of the negative impacts of this product. We live in a society that is, for the most part, driven by consumption. We have been taught that cost is measured financially, in dollars, not in trees, or fresh water, or clean air. We, the consumers, are also to blame for the impacts of the products we consume, for buying them, for throwing 'away' the packaging without much concern as to where 'away' is and what it looks like, for not demanding stricter environmental guidelines or ethical purchasing policies on behalf of the institutions and organizations of which we belong. For not adopting ethical purchasing policies of our own.

But this too is changing. Alternatives to an apathetic lifestyle are growing quietly and patiently, with some outbursts, fast and full of noise. This past Thursday marked one such outburst, here in Montreal. Denouncing the actions of the police and the Canadian government against those who had come to protest the G20, hundreds of people gathered in Carré St-Louis on Canada's birthday and marched along Sherbrooke street, up St. Laurent, down Mont Royal... It was raucous, there was frustration and anger, but underlying everything was a strong sense of justice, solidarity and love. We demanded that our government protect the rights of its citizens. We demanded that they protect and respect the right to peaceful protest, to freedom of speech, to independent media. We demanded that the voices of dissent - those who deem to measure cost in social and environmental terms as well as economic, who dare to live by the precautionary principle, who fundamentally oppose a system that demands overconsumption and breeds inequality - be heard and not silenced.

There is a time for patience and a time for action. There is a time for reflection. As I stood in the crowd, listening to horror stories of hours spent in a tiny cell with one portapotty shared between 15 human beings, one glass of water over the course of an entire day, no phone call, no lawyers, journalists beaten by policemen, I began to reflect upon all of the injustices that I stand against, all of the beauty that I stand for. How far would I go to protect the things that I value and love? To fight for the things that I believe in? Would I spend 32 hours in a makeshift jail cell in hopes that the world might hear what I have to say?

In the case of creating a Bottled Water Free Concordia and ensuring the negotiation of a more environmentally and socially responsible beverage contract, I hope that a concerted educational awareness campaign and the support of students, staff and faculty will be enough to make our voices heard. The biggest barriers to a non-exlusive contract without the sale of bottled water are admittedly financial in nature. Bottled water makes money, and so does giving a multinational corporation the right to have only their products sold on campus. However, the dialogue surrounding environmental and social costs is growing, and the university, through its Strategic Plan and its Environmental Policy, has shown a deep committment to mitigating its impact on the environment and achieving a level of sustainability. Perhaps, with support, we can show the university that the environmental and social costs of selling bottled water through an exclusive contract with Pepsico far outweigh the financial gains. That there are other alternatives, local distributors, better products, a better choice to be made.

For now, I am patient, waiting to see how the administration will respond to the concerns of its students and members of faculty. Patient, and ready to make our voices heard.

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