Changing Perspectives at Rivers for Life

Ian Elwood

Two-Way Radios and Painting Tiles
Two-Way Radios and Painting Tiles

At Rivers for Life 3, the people of Temacapulín were empowered to share their perspective and to organize against the threat of El Zapatillo Dam. As a participant at Rivers for Life 3, I witnessed how access to media and technology aided in this empowerment. Many times and in many languages we heard the refrain, "the Eyes of the World are on Temaca." As a technologist and media producer, my eyes tend to see the ways that our movement adapts and changes as new tools make us more visible and effective as actors on the world stage.

Two examples came into my field of view at Rivers for Life 3 this year. International Rivers arrived in Temaca equipped with an armada of Flip video cameras and a fleet of two-way radios. Our goal was to support the meeting and its participants in logistics and increasing the visibility of our struggle.

The role of video at the meeting was a sight to behold. International Rivers supplied Flip cameras and training in partnership with International Accountability Project and Adapting to Scarcity. We held two video workshops in Temaca, the first reviewed how to use video as an advocacy tool and the second was a hands-on training where participants used Flip cameras to practice the craft of doing a video interview – testimonial is an important component in making the case to protect rivers and rights to an international audience. Watching generations of Temaca residents and global delegates become empowered to produce media was truly inspiring. Through video, marginalized people entered a global discourse where they now have a chance to be heard. Though it isn't magic and comes with no guarantees of success, creating video and publishing it online is a concrete step that people at the meeting took to increase the effectiveness of their struggles. All of the trainings used at the meeting are available free online through the organization Witness.

Here is just one stunning example of such work, by Juan Jose Jesús, a boy who lives in Temaca:

The two-way radios also had a great impact on the meeting. After the radios were distributed to organizers, I saw that there was a larger consciousness coming into focus. Many of the organizers had never used two-way radios before, but it was astonishing to witness the ability of people to learn to use them to take on the challenges of hosting an international meeting in a small rural town in Mexico. On the first day, organizers noticed that there was some interference on our channel – it was the Mexican police.

los de Atenco
los de Atenco

After switching to another, less officious channel, we were able to overcome challenges such as the Internet connection to the town being disrupted, the chef needing more volunteers, and the machete-wielding activists, known as "los de Atenco," who needed a session space to organize an impromptu demonstration. Nothing could stop us!

The meeting was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and having the opportunity to document a cross-section of the events was indeed a privilege. I am now working on editing a video that will show yet another perspective of the global movement to protect rivers and fight dams. Stay tuned ...

Ian Elwood is the Web Producer for International Rivers, he blogs at:

More information: 
  • Keep an eye on our blogs for video updates. My video will show the town of Temaca, the Río Verde, and the proposed resettlement site alongside testimonials from activists who came to stop El Zapatillo Dam from destroying the town and displacing its inhabitants.
  • In the coming months we will be posting information on a documentary produced by Carla Pataky of SirenaFilms.