Thursday, November 5, 2009

Maine town wins victory against Nestle Corporation

by Jamilla El-Shafei

Once again, Maine voters said 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 with the direction of the Nestle 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 convincing testimony that a grassroots campaign cannot be replaced by slick marketing.

This was a 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 influence the vote in the small seaside community. However, their campaign backfired, as the townspeople were overwhelmed and annoyed by the barrage of ads and the appearance that Nestle was trying to "buy their vote."

Still, it was not enough that Nestle was pouring money like water into the campaign to play "spin the bottle," to convince people that they are good environmental stewards. Their 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 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 lost an important battle to a grassroots campaign fought by a handful of water warriors.

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 community water 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.