By Per Bronco Karlsson
Water, a commodity free to capitalize on?
I have chosen to discuss World Water Day for two reasons. Personally, I think it would be a good development for Earth’s inhabitants that fresh water becomes a binding human right (Sveriges Radio 2010), instead of a commodity free to capitalize on, and World Water Day can influence. It is also an interesting use of theories of social movements and activism that World Water Day was instituted by the intergovernmental UN and was adopted in the action program Agenda 21 for sustainable development under the UN Conference on Environment and Development in 1992, a program that US Republicans are in opposition to.
Radical, revolutionary and in the interest of the nation state
A campaign instituted by the United Nations is not a grassroots movement, but it can be covered by Guobin Yang’s (2016) interpretation of activism: “It can mean both radical, revolutionary action and nonrevolutionary, community action; action in the service of the nation-state and in opposition to it ”(p. 1). In its focus on something as overlooked and fundamental as the importance of fresh water, World Water Day is a campaign that can be called radical, revolutionary and in the interest of the nation state.
The campaign takes the form of an annual theme day
How the problem highlighted by the campaign has been formulated by various actors is evident from the campaign’s history. The campaign takes the form of an annual theme day. March 22 every year, World Water Day is meant to focus on the importance of fresh water and promote sustainable water management. The day was formally adopted in the action program Agenda 21 (Archive.is 2008) for sustainable development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, and each year since the first World Water Day 1993 has a special theme (Wikipedia 2017). The theme of World Water Day 2017 was, for example, Water and Wastewater, with an emphasis on how the wastewater is perceived as a valuable resource in circular economies (Swedish Hydrological Council (SHR)).
The campaign is well organized and is based on a center
The campaign highlights the problem, disseminates information and collects resources on and near March 22. The English Word Water Day Wiki writes: “Events such as theatrical and musical celebrations, educational events, and campaigns to raise money for access to clean and affordable water are globally on or close to 22 March.” (Wikipedia 2017). The same page allows the reader to understand that the campaign is well organized and is based on a center: “UN-Water coordinates plans and programs for consultation with UN member organizations who share interest in that year’s theme.” (Wikipedia 2017). It is also written that organizations such as UNICEF and WaterAid work with activities to raise awareness, inspire and to get media attention for water issues.
The water issue in social media such as theater, music, education
McCurdy (2012) divides research on relationship between social movements and media into representational and assymetrical, where the first describes how movements are portrayed in and by mainstream media, and the other how movements have developed strategies to get media attention and to check how they are represented in media. The World Water Day campaign’s strategy of being seen and spoken in media gives the impression of being dominated by assymetrical relationship, where the dissemination of information originates from a center and spreads out in organizations that highlight the water issue in social media such as theater, music, education, and via activities by, for example, WaterAid in order to get media attention for water issues.
Can the audience interact on the individual level?
I think it is a strategy that seems to be organizationally functional in its way of working from a center and out into the periphery, but at the same time I wonder if they use the Internet in more ways than I encountered during my observation study; they seem to be content with presenting their campaign on different websites. Is there a presence on, for example, Twitter, where the audience can interact on the individual level by liking, retweeting and commenting?
UN member organizations and satellites
There is no room in this minimalist observation study for more than random samples and let them stand for themselves, a brief glimpse without claiming generalisability. The aforementioned organizations UNICEF and WaterAid have a number of Twitter accounts, I have observed UNICEF Water and WaterAid International. Charity Water and Water Org are non-profit organizations that can be perceived as satellites around the campaign in the sense that they are water issue organizations and disseminate information on World Water Day, both have Twitter accounts.
A good communication strategy in 1993 may need to be edited
In short, the “satellite” Charity Water stands out, with the number of followers over the million, as well as with retweets and likes in thousands. My study, which is certainly not a basis for drawing conclusions, still gives me the impression of a campaign that can be a bit of anachronism, a phenomenon from another time. What was a good communication strategy in 1993 may need to be edited from being organizationally functional to also becoming more direct-communicating at the individual level with technology that exists today.
The resistance from American Republicans
Finally, I would like to mention the resistance from American Republicans. The resistance concerns the Agenda 21 action program, and thus World Water Day indirectly. In Republican Platform 2012, the following is stated: “We strongly reject the U.N. Agenda 21 as erosive of American sovereignty, and we oppose any form of U.N. Global Tax.” (Republican Platform 2012). The text in the platform does not indicate much more than the resistance itself, but an article in The New York Times writes that it involves activists associated with the Tea Party movement who consider Agenda 21 as a “United Nations-led conspiracy to deny property rights” (Kaufman & Zernike 2012).
Non-revolutionary and in opposition to the nation state
Without going deeper into the Republican’s reason to be opposed to Agenda 21, the resistance and their political domicile on a left-right wing gives the resistance a capitalist, anti-environment-friendly activism, a little difficult to place in Guobin Yang’s (2016) interpretation of activism, but I would probably say non-revolutionary and in opposition to the nation state.
Archive.is (2008). Agenda 21. Agenda 21
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Guobin, Y. (2016). Activism. In Peters, B. Digital Keywords. Princeton: Princeton University Press, ss 1-17.
Kaufman, L & Zernike, K. – The New York Times (2012). Activists fight green projects, seeing UN plot. Activists fight green projects, seeing UN plot [2017-11-17]
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McCurdy, P. (2012). Social Movements, Protest and Mainstream Media. Sociology Compass, 6, ss 244-255.
Republican Platform (2012). Republican Platform. Republican Platform [2017-11-17]
Svenska hydrologiska rådet (SHR). Världsvattendagen. Världsvattendagen [2017-11-14]
Sveriges Radio (2010). FN: Rent vatten en mänsklig rättighet FN: Rent vatten en mänsklig rättighet [2017-11-12]
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Wikipedia (2017). Internationella vattendagen. Internationella vattendagen [2017-11-12]
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