In the ending to what ultimately became a white savior film, the Spanish opportunist-turned-protagonist in the 2010 feature Tambien la Lluvia (Even the Rain) holds a vial of water on his ride to the airport from a fractured but victorious Cochabamba, Bolivia, circa 2000. The film-within-a-film was set during the Indigenous-led uprising to stop municipal water company Sumapa from privatizing the city’s water supply, a fight which was won. He holds the vial, a gift from Daniel, a leader in the fight and star of his movie, for saving his daughter after she was caught in the struggle’s crossfire, and says, “yaku,” the Quechua word for water. After sitting in the theater and trembling somewhat violently for the duration of the film, (I actually ran to the bathroom midway to breathe and pace) this cheesy-ass ending had me in tears. In a scene set during one of the protests, Daniel shouts through a megaphone:
They sell our rivers against our will.
They sell our wells, our lakes…
and even the rain
that falls on our heads!
They don’t allow us to collect
the water that falls from the rain,
and who takes even the rain?
After my moms moved on up into a co-op where utilities were covered by a maintenance fee, she relished in letting the water run. After years of yelling at us every time a light was left on or even plugged in while off, her apartment is now always bright, with every TV on, and water running all over the place. When I’m there, I turn off everything I can—TVs in rooms no one’s in, water running over vegetables for too long. In my crust-punk days, I’d refuse to flush my pee because it takes five gallons of the world’s water with it, driving her mad. “Chut-cha!” She’d shout over the sound of flushing. I remember hiking across the crater of the Grand Canyon in the dead of August, dehydrated as hell, finally seeing some white people who so reluctantly filled my empty bottle with their supply, making that face like when I’d asked one to borrow his phone to make a call in the middle of Manhattan. The memory always makes me thirsty. Remember to drink water the top of my self-care list I write every night and forget every day reads. When I was living with my tía in Guayaquil a few years back, the power would go in and out, taking the water with it. I’d turn the one knob and stare at the nothing coming out, willing the water to drip out and wash my sticky hands. I asked mami how she got water in Guayaquil as a kid: her tías would have to wait for the water truck. I flush my pee now; I take long baths. But, I don’t know, I just can’t let the water run.
Don’t they understand that you’re a living being?
“Drop by drop, the world is ending,” spoke Nélida Ayay Chilón, the campesina lawyer and water rights activist (this term as I write this seems silly) at the center of the 2015 documentary Hija de la Laguna (Daughter of the Lake) last week at a protest in Quito, Ecuador. “A protest in Quito,” makes Resistencia Habitat lll, a collection of actions during the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development in Ecuador’s capital last week seem inconsequential, but protests in Quito are so common, it’s hard to leave your house sometimes and not walk right into one.
When they destroy the lakes, where will their owners go?
The spirit of the lakes?
The doc follows Chilón as she uses her powers both as a communicator with water spirits and a law student to defend her lake-studded land from being mined for gold. A Quechua woman who ran for Peruvian Congress earlier this year, she marched from her native Cajamarca to Quito with other Indigenous water protectors to speak to protesters against extractivism, environmental racism, and for the rights of La Pachamama in general, outside the tall fences keeping 45,000 UN delegates in the conference building and all of Quito out of it.
The purpose of their conference, Habitat lll, was to ratify a document called the New Urban Agenda, a sort of informal agreement creating standards for cities to be more “sustainable” and “inclusive,” the latter term printed on a huge sign hanging on one of the fences. This irony is what mobilized Resistencia Habitat lll to use the event as an opportunity to speak out on a variety of issues, from abortion rights to stopping new roads from being built through ancestral communities. But as riot police violently pushed them further and further away from the conference’s parameters, the word on many gatherers’s lips was yaku, spelled the same in Ecuadorian Kichwa. Chilón spoke to the crowds, saying, “Perhaps the day that they realize [what they’re doing], it will be too late, and there will be no more water,” before leading the chant, “El agua no se vende! El agua se defiende!” She did not win the congressional seat.
I’m afraid for my life
CONSTITUTION OF THE REPUBLIC OF ECUADOR
October 20, 2008
Article 71: Nature, or Pachamama, where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and evolutionary processes.
I was hunched over a cup of instant coffee, half-awake after pulling a night shift at the hotel, when I saw half the street in front of the breakfast spot fill with protesters marching, mostly elder campesinxs, Pachakutik flags in hand. Most foreigners confuse them with gay pride flags, since they both weave together the colors of the rainbow, but they’re the flag of the left-wing political party that many Indigenous Ecuadorians see as sellouts, though they can still be seen waving triumphantly across the country. Perhaps this is an ode to the time Pachakutik rallied to change the constitution in 1998, making Ecuador the first country in the world to recognize the Rights of Nature, or Pachamama, amongst other progressive wins. Being queer and mestizx, the Pachakutik flag hangs in my room as a testament to my both-and-neitherness.
Chapter 1, Article 6: All forms of privatization of water are prohibited, by virtue of its transcendence for life, the economy, and the environment; as such it cannot be the subject of any agreement with commerce, government, multilateral entity or private national or foreign business. Its management shall be exclusively public or communitarian.
The Walk for Water, Pride and People’s Freedom began in June 2014 in the Ecuadorian Amazon in protest of a just-passed “Water Law” that stole rights from Indigenous communities to their lands and granted them to private entities for natural resource extraction. Communities from provinces around the country joined them from the Amazon, through the colonial city of Cuenca, where the bishop held a mass for water, and arrived in Quito, marching down the street in front of me. They were calling for the Intercultural and Plurinational Water Council (IPWC) to secure Indigenous participation in decision-making processes, as, according to the president of the Indigenous organization Ecuarunari, Carlos Pérez Guartambel, the country’s one percent controls 64% of the country’s freshwater resources. While the Constitution recognizes the right for Indigenous groups to be consulted when moving for extractivism on their lands, it does not state that their consent is needed to make those decisions. Like many forms of legislation worldwide that claim to protect the elements of nature, the water law is written in important-sounding, flowery lyric, with biting footnote-like exceptions. You know shit is up when natural protection laws read like iTunes updates contracts.
Article 7: Exceptionally, private initiative and the popular and solidarity economy may participate in the following cases: a) Declaration of emergency adopted by the competent authority, pursuant to the legal system b) Development of subprocesses by the public service administration when the competent authority does not have the technical or financial conditions to do it.
The IPWC, like the UN’s New Urban Agenda, is more symbolic than anything, as neither actually bear the right to implement laws or consequences to their recommendations. The IPWC has a loud voice and no vote while the New Urban Agenda feels like a 24-page list of please-dos and no-nos. The way Article Seven of the Water Law is worded, Indigenous communities can be technically and financially deemed unfit to manage the water around them, giving the government the right to hand that power over to private corporations as they wish. As Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa continues to chip away at the Constitution and its Rights of Nature in favor of Chinese and Canadian industrial extractivist and developmental projects all over the country, resistance rises with quickness, making the situation in Ecuador feel whatever comes after super-fucking-intense with each passing day. The Pachakutik flag flies in the homeland and across the diaspora despite the party’s ineffectiveness because it represents a moment within the movement. As Guartambel put in perspective in an interview last year, “We’re coming from a period of 523 years of resistance to ecocide. The only other way is submission.”
CONSTITUTION OF THE REPUBLIC OF ECUADOR
Chapter Five, Article 318: Water…is a vital element for nature and human existence. Any form of water privatization is forbidden.