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What Would We Say to the River If We Thought It Would Listen?

July 31, 2014Patrick NunnallyFormer Featured PostsComments Off on What Would We Say to the River If We Thought It Would Listen?

Advocates working on Mississippi River issues sometimes say “We speak for the river.”  I always wonder “Did the river ask you to speak for it?  Can the river speak for itself?  How do you know it was asking you to say this?”

These questions can be taken as snarky or philosophical, or both.  So I’ll leave them alone and ask a different question: If you thought the river could hear you, what would you say?

This is one of the starting points for the project “Dear River,” from Works Progress.  There is presently a video series on Vimeo, and the link to a public television festival held in June; other developments are in the works.

“Dear River” promises to open the door to an innovative kind of community/citizen engagement with the Mississippi River.  It complements, and supplements, the River Citizen program from the Mississippi River Network in several important ways.  Make no mistake, we will always need the River Citizen model, where ordinary folks sign up for email alerts about important river policy issues and are invited to participate in policy matters by contacting elected officials.

“Dear River” though is about establishing a different kind of relationship between people and the river, one that works through emotions and empathy rather than the very rational act of engaging in policy debates (ideally rational, right?).  Not everyone cares about the Farm Bill, or new rules protecting the waters of the United States,though maybe we should.

Nearly everyone cares about their neighborhood, their block, the school their children attend, or their faith community.  These are the places we live our lives, spend the time that makes us most distinctly ourselves.  These places define home.

The point, I think, of projects like “Dear River” is to bring these two kinds of concerns together.  This is not a unique effort, by any means.  Lots of events like river cleanups work on the same basic principle: build care for a place/thing (a river is both, maybe?) by knowing it better and acting as a steward of it.

Another way of putting this, perhaps, is that we’re trying to get people who are close to the river to feel connected to the river.

Speaking of which…if you find yourself in/near Minneapolis this Saturday with some spare time, the Owamni: Falling Water Festival promises to be a great event.  Indigenous music in a variety of genres, food from several different local indigenous chefs, capped by a movie around sunset.  All free, Father Hennepin Bluffs Park (oh, the irony!) Saturday August 2.


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