The earth is a living, conscious being. In company with cultures of many different times and places, we name these things as sacred: air, fire, water and earth…
To call these things sacred is to say that they have a value beyond their usefulness for human ends, that they themselves become the standards by which our acts, our economics, our laws and our purposes must be judged. No one has the right to appropriate them or profit from them at the expense of others. Any government that fails to protect them forfeits its legitimacy…
“Declaration of the Four Sacred Things”, by Starhawk
I first read Starhawk’s The Fifth Sacred Thing over 20 years ago. It opens with the quote above, and it’s only recently that I’ve realized how much the concepts it expresses have fueled and informed my view of the world.
It came to mind recently over on Facebook, when the following screenshot came across my feed:
I grew up the kind of poor that people in the US don’t like to acknowledge exists here. For over a year, when I was around 12, my family didn’t have access to running water. We instead used a rolling trashcan with a lid that we filled up with water elsewhere and brought home.
Water Day was a big deal because it took some effort to coordinate. We’d load the trashcan in the back of a pickup truck, go to wherever the water was, fill up with a water hose, and my stepdad would do his best to strap it down so it wouldn’t fall over. As we drove home, the adults would sit in the front with the baby while my brother and I rode in the bed of the truck to try to keep the water from sloshing out before we could use it.
Then it was time to back the truck up to the porch, drop the tailgate, and muscle the trashcan into the house. We’d park it in the kitchen and carefully bail it out with a pitcher as needed, all working together to conserve water as much as possible to minimize trips for refills.
On good days we were able to fill the trashcan at a neighbor’s house or a relative’s place, using their water hose and an outside spigot. On bad days we had to “acquire” water elsewhere.
Most often that was a free-standing business with a dark parking lot. In the dead of night we’d sneak over, connect our own hose to their outdoor spigot, and fill up on water there. Then we’d carefully drive home and hope no one stopped us with inconvenient questions.
That was theft, any way you look at it. We were stealing water to live.
That was our drinking water. Our cooking water. We had to boil it to make it safe to consume – we certainly didn’t have any other way to keep it clean – but we made do. That water was how we did our dishes and cleaned our floors. If we had enough water we’d carefully fill a shower bag to wash our hair with the least amount of water possible, but otherwise we stuck to sponge baths. If it was a particularly hard week money-wise we’d skip the laundromat and use some of our precious water to hand wash the clothing we absolutely had to have clean.
It was awhile ago, so I might be off on the size, but I think our water container was in the 45 gallon range. For a family of five. We’d try to make that water last at least a week. That works out to just over a gallon per person per day. We were mostly ok during the school year, but it got dicey during the Texas summer.
It’s hard to understand how precious water is until you don’t have it. Twenty years later I still have anxiety around water, to the point that I always have contingency plans just in case my access is again disrupted.
As long as water is something we have to purchase there will be people who can’t afford it. Why do we treat water like an optional luxury when it’s not optional?
No government, especially that of the richest nation in the world, should allow people to profit off of water. Society shouldn’t condone it. Citizens shouldn’t accept it. If they do, then the entire system is broken and should be reevaluated. Or even rebuilt.
Both COVID and civil unrest have exposed some of the flaws in modern society. We’re rethinking a lot of different things right now about how things should work. Maybe, just maybe, we can reconsider this too.