Pump Up the Volume: Voices from Rivers for Life 3

Lori Pottinger

Temaca Scene
Temaca Scene
Lori Pottinger
It’s an unreal feeling to be walking around the venerable town of Temaca, knowing its colorful homes and peaceful town plaza, its centuries-old cathedral could end up hundreds of feet under water. Would the old iron church bells still ring? Would the spirit it has nourished in people for generations flow out when the waters flowed in?

But for now, we try not to imagine such destructive forces unleashed upon this pretty town, one so full of life -- made even more lively by the 350 foreign visitors now tromping its cobbled streets. Our globally diverse group of river protectors is here for week-long meeting of solidarity and strategizing.

We begin each day with a morning mística – a ceremonial wake-up call that today ended with a stirring round of slogans in a dozen languages, a global shout-out for healthy rivers from the people who know them best.

We charge about in tight little groups, dashing from meeting to meeting, trying to choose from too many good options. Will it be the talk by a leading expert on greenhouse gas emissions from reservoirs, a demonstration of solar power by an expert on community energy solutions, or the video advocacy training?

The trainings give people new tools, but the affected-peoples’ forums ground us in a reality we hope to change. It is impossible not to be moved by the stories of immense courage in the face of overwhelming odds.

“Alcoa owns our river now, even though they closed the smelter 20 years ago,” says an indigenous activist from Suriname. “Their dam flooded one-third of my people’s territory, and we get no benefits from the dam. The company sells the hydropower back to our government at a profit.” He is now an environmental lawyer who sued his government in the International Court of Human Rights, to prevent future debacles like this one. Now his government must abide by the rule of “free, prior informed consent” when development projects will affect indigenous peoples’ lands. It’s a significant victory for people whose voices have too long been silenced on issues that directly, and negatively, affect them.

“Our lands, our road, our river will be flooded by this new dam, and where is all the energy going? To Brazil – all of it,” says a community leader from the Peruvian Amazon. “We have cleaner options, but there is too much corruption.”

Temaca Protest Banner
Temaca Protest Banner
Lori Pottinger
“I think we have to pump up the volume of our struggle,” a campesino from El Salvador urges us.  “If we really want to protect our rivers, we have to challenge the development models, and avoid the seduction of money as the top goal of life. We must be role models, and try to live responsibly.”

Finally someone states the obvious: we must never back down. “We can never take back our rivers, our lost forests, our lands, our cultures,” says an Indian woman who knows from first-hand experience what happens when the flood comes. “It is very important to not let the dams come. We must pray for living rivers.”

She sings a song for us, beautifully:

We all come from the forest
Unto her we shall return
Like a drop of rain
Flowing to the ocean

Before we return to that forest, to that ocean, you can be sure those of us gathered here in rural Mexico will be harnessing our collective strength to fight for rivers, and all that depend on them. It’s time to pump up the volume.

Join us. Write a letter, say a prayer, give a shout-out for healthy rivers.

Like your life depended on it.

More information: