Mike Wilson’s persistent replacement of water sources in the desert for those who may be dying of thirst is part of his affirmation that we are all inextricably connected…the affirmation that our individual well-being cannot be separated from our collective well-being.
I carry two water bottles with me at all times, one for water and one for change – quarters, nickels, dimes, and pennies, as well as the occasional dollar bill. I carry the first bottle because, here in the U.S., I have the luxury of accessing potable drinking water, from which I am able to refill my reusable water bottle, almost everywhere I go. I don’t go anywhere without it. Even at a friend’s house or out to eat at a restaurant, when offered a glass of drinking water I simply pull out my water bottle and if needed refill it from the tap. No need to wash an extra cup. I especially find it necessary to have my water bottle with me when I am at conferences or business meetings where the default is to provide people with brand new single-use disposable water bottles that more often than not end up in the trash can instead of the recycling bin – which is often not even available. I carry my water bottle with me at all times.
Sadly (and, criminally, really), people in the U.S., 90% of whom have access to perfectly good drinking water from their tap, are the top consumers of store bought bottled water – and unnecessarily so. The great irony is that 40% of bottled water comes directly from public water supplies – from the city’s public works for which tax-payers are already paying. Meanwhile, in many parts of the world people are literally dying of thirst and access to fresh drinking water continues to be a growing crisis. Single-use bottled water makes me angry, for unless water is being bottled in order to be transported to people in places that have no access to it, buying bottled water is unnecessary, indulgent, and willfully uninformed.
This leads me to my second water bottle… Beside my refillable water bottle, I also carry a water bottle for change. It’s my fundraising bottle. Two years ago I met Mike Wilson, a human rights activist from the Tohono O’odham nation, who came to Boston to share about his work. Since 2002, Mike has maintained water stations in the desert of Arizona in an effort to decrease the number of migrant deaths that occur on his tribal land every year. He does this despite the opposition he receives and the counteraction done to thwart his efforts; frequently officials of the Tohono O’odham nation and the U.S. Border Patrol drain the water tank stations he refills weekly or remove the gallons of water he leaves along the well-known migration paths. Wilson believes that the deaths and the O’odham nation’s response amount to a “humanitarian crisis.” In contrast, he considers it our moral responsibility to offer a sister human a cup of water.
Wilson asks, “If you know there are deaths and we claim to be spiritual people, then don’t we have a moral obligation as human beings and Indigenous people to protect other equally sacred beings? To prevent suffering? To prevent death?”
One of Mike’s main objections is to the ways in which people, his nation included, refuse moral responsibility for one another. We find excuses to justify our refusal to see one another as sister human beings and to accord each other equal rights and protection under the law. This happened recently during the struggle to renew and expand the Violence Against Women Act – with some Republicans opposing the act because it extended protection to so-called ‘illegal’ immigrants, native Americans, and lesbian, transgender, and bisexual women. Our differences and legal statuses become easy excuses to not care for each other’s wellbeing. Mike Wilson’s actions refuse this logic. His persistent replacement of water sources in the desert for those who may be dying of thirst is part of his affirmation that we are all inextricably connected in the web of life; the affirmation that our individual wellbeing cannot be separated from our collective wellbeing.
Ever since I met Mike I knew I wanted to do something to support his work. He funds the water stations out of his own pocket, so I didn’t want my support to be a onetime thing. Like the spiritual practice of eating, I realized that my water drinking practices could also be part of my spiritual practice. So at the beginning of this month I finally came up with the idea to carry a second water bottle, a “Water for Change” bottle. With this bottle, I committed to making it my perpetual practice to be grateful for every drink of water I take and express that gratitude by simultaneously raising money to help provide water for others who do not have it. I will carry my two water bottles side by side in order to drink out of one and in the other collect money which I will send to Mike Wilson at the end of each month. This month, all the contributions people shared added up to $59 in the bottle that will get mailed out to Mike tomorrow. I’m so excited to do this. I hope to raise both money and awareness month to month – perhaps as we join in supporting Mike’s efforts the Tohono O’odham nation will be inspired to change its stance regarding the deaths that occur on its land.
How do you all show your gratitude? I know there are so many creative things people already do – let’s share them and inspire each other. And, if you don’t already keep a reusable water bottle, now is a great time to start. There are so many different kinds available, even compact collapsible ones. And if you are able, do something to help bring water to someone else – there really are people dying of thirst and of lack of clean drinkable water. Let’s not take our water sources for granted.
From the Border Action Network website: An accomplished advocate and guest lecturer, Mike speaks regularly throughout the country on human rights issues and immigration reform. He has been featured in numerous documentaries, including Crossing Arizona (2006) and The 800 Mile Wall (2009). He continues to provide water to those who risk their lives crossing the desert in search of a better life.
Xochitl Alvizo is a feminist Christian-identified woman and a Ph.D. candidate in Practical Theology at Boston University School of Theology. She loves all things feminist. Finding herself on the boundary of different social and cultural contexts, she works to develop her voice and to hear and encourage the voice of others. Her work is inspired by the conviction that all people are inextricably connected and what we do, down to the smallest thing, matters.