Water Hub Blog

The Color of Water: Building voice & visibility for BIPOC in the water movement

When I started my career as a reporter 20 years ago, I didn’t know the first thing about power and voice. I knew that I wanted to uncover truth and to share stories that might help people look at issues in a new way. I wanted to connect with people over their lived experiences and to share their journey with others — to build a bridge of understanding.

Two decades later, I’m still doing that work. Only now, I’m an advocate with more than a decade of equity and anti-racism training and have a clear bias toward amplifying the stories of marginalized communities. 

Within the water justice movement — as is the case in the greater climate and environmental movements — Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) are most often on the frontlines. They’re the Water Protectors standing up to Big Oil, putting their bodies and lives on the line to safeguard our most precious resources. And they’re also the ones living in sacrifice zones — breathing polluted air, living near toxic and industrial sites, and having their drinking water poisoned, polluted, or pumped from beneath them. 

Theirs are the voices we need to hear more of. 

That’s why the Water Hub is launching a new initiative to build a speakers bureau for those in the water movement, which centers people of color. 

Our whole premise is to uplift: a.) voices of color, b.) different types of expertise and ways of knowing, and relatedly, c.) people who do some water work but that are in intersecting fields — not just the traditional “water people” (aka engineers, utility workers, and academics …). In particular, I’m hoping to help reporters connect with people who have more varied expertise.

Additionally, we’re looking to help expand the definition of “expertise” to include lived experience, traditional and ancestral knowledge, etc. so that the “water experts” being quoted will be expanded to include Tribal members, people from frontline communities, and people who might not specialize in water but work in fields that intersect (health, farming, housing, forest management, urban development, etc.).

There are a couple of components to this overall project:

  • Building voice. We’re starting by reaching out to people in the water movement (particularly here in the Western U.S. to begin with) to be included. Filling out this form is the first step … and anyone can fill it out, but I’m asking specifically about self-identities so that I can highlight BIPOC, as well as womxn and LGBTQ+ folks of varying backgrounds when I do outreach. Eventually, we hope to have a dedicated page for reporters so they can connect directly with people who have the type of background and experience they’re looking for.
  • Building visibility. I kickstarted this in a smaller way earlier this year when I started the Western Water BIPOC Twitter list (inspired by Mary Heglar’s Green Voices of Color list). But this week the Water Hub is launching a #RepresentationMatters-style Twitter campaign that will essentially be the face of this overall initiative. Each week, we’ll highlight BIPOC/non-white water advocates and experts in the greater water movement. And since November is National Native American Heritage Month, we’ll be featuring Indigenous water protectors for the first few weekly posts. 

We hope you’ll join us in co-creating this vision. We know it’ll benefit reporters by connecting them to really great sources. It’ll benefit the greater water justice movement by ensuring that more voices and perspectives are included (including those who are being most impacted!). And it will benefit people of color whose voices have been drowned out — or overlooked or deemed to not have the right credentials, degrees, or “expertise” — for far too long.

Please share this form with your colleagues and email me at kmartinez (at) climatenexus.org if you’re interested in partnering deeper on this work.