The organizers for the International Days of Prayer and Action with Standing Rock on October 8th-11th have noted an important distinction in their choice of prepositions. They speak not of standing for Standing Rock but standing with Standing Rock. They explain, “It’s one thing to inspire the world to rush to your aid. It’s another thing to inspire the world to stand up for their own water, their own air, their own climate and their own communities.”
As I prepare to travel to Flint tomorrow for a visit with local activists at Woodside Church, this comment struck an instant chord with me. In past conversations, I had heard the Rev. Deb Conrad of Woodside speak about the sacredness of water, so I started listening to a speech she gave in February of this year. Months before Standing Rock introduced slogans such as “Water Is Life” and “Water Is Sacred” into the lexicon of activists around the globe, Conrad used the phrase “water is life” as a rhetorical refrain and as a point upon which to expound. Consider this powerful and prophetic passage from her speech:
Water is life. How we people of faith have let it become the source of dickering and speculating and privatizing and profiteering is a mystery, and it is a sin. So no, we cannot talk about water without talking about oligarchy or racism or environmental injustice or colonialism. We cannot talk about water justice in Flint or around the world without chastising governments, including our own.
Whether it is in Flint, Standing Rock, or our own local communities, we can act to protect and defend our sacred, life-giving waters. We can defend waters that so often suffer not just from chemical toxins but from social toxins. We can defend waters that so often suffer not just from government neglect but a government beholden to the interests of the rich and powerful. May Flint and Standing Rock be an inspiration to us all wherever we might be.
The Rev. Dr. Brooks Berndt is the Minister for Environmental Justice for the United Church of Christ. He can be found on Twitter as @The_Green_Rev.