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Jamilla El-Shafei

Jamilla El-Shafei is the co-founder and organizer for Save Our Water in Southern Maine

November 5th, 2009 10:13 PM

After McCloud, Nestle Gets a Thumpin' in Maine

Another community says NO to Nestle! Activists in the communities which surround the Branch Brook Aquifer, located in the southern part of the state handily defeated a water extraction ordinance on a referendum vote in the town of Wells. The ordinance, written under the direction of the Nestle Corporate lawyers, would have opened the door to large scale bottled water extractors. The vote was 3,194 against large scale extraction and 1,420 for, a 69.2% margin!!! This was a stunning defeat for the corporation who was ousted from McCloud, California and in Shapleigh and Newfield, Maine this year. This was convincing testimony that a grassroots campaign cannot be replaced by slick marketing and Greenwashing.

It was a classic David and Goliath battle. Activists were armed with photocopies to educate citizens about the dangers of corporate control of their groundwater resources but Nestle waged an unprecedented advertising blitz. They spent hundreds of thousands of advertising dollars to convince citizens that they were good environmental stewards and will offer jobs to the community. They employed an impressive campaign to influence the vote in the small seaside community.

However, the activists employed their "secret weapon" Terry Swier!

Terry came to Maine to speak at several venues about her community's experience with the Nestle Corporation. How could Nestle claim they were good environmental stewards and keep the Mecosta County citizens in court for nearly 9 years before they agreed to reduce their pumping? Terry's testimony was most effective and turned the opinion of the community. Even though not every voter would get an opportunity to hear her talk they read about it in the newspaper and identified with her story.

Still, Nestle continued to pour money like water into the campaign to play "spin the bottle," but it clearly was not enough to convince the citizens that they wanted to open the door and invite them into their community.

Fearing a loss, Nestle's PR firm resorted to employing many dirty tricks such as printing the WRONG POLLING HOURS on not just one advertising piece which they mailed to every household, but two! A mistake they said! but twice?! It is a tired old election trick the opposition employs when they are loosing.

Then their telemarketers lied to people about how to vote. Canvassers got testimony from several very unhappy people who were told by the callers to vote against their interests. The voters were furious when they realized they were duped.

In spite of the McCarthyist assault to discredit leadership some months ago, to the most recent dirty tricks, the largest multi-national food and beverage corporation in the world, who is well connected politically in the state house, lost an important battle to a grassroots campaign fought by a handful of water warriors in Southern Maine.

Activists in Maine are now looking forward to focusing their efforts on state legislation, in the hope of putting groundwater in the public trust and abolishing an antiquated law called "absolute dominion." The law states that what is under your land belongs to the landowner. It benefits the industrial polluters and water miners.

From Maine to McCloud California, Nestle's pursuit of groundwater has been met with successful resistance. These struggles are part of a bigger battle as a national and international water justice movement is bubbling up to fight the privatization of our water resources, and to insure access to clean drinking water for all. It is a fight to keep water in the commons for generations to come. A battle I am proud to wage.

Jamilla El-Shafei is co-founder and organizer for Save Our Water in Southern Maine

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