Maine says no to Nestlé

By Jamilla El-Shafei

ONCE AGAIN, Maine voters said "No to Nestlé!"

Activists in the communities that 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 Nestlé lawyers, would have opened the door to large-scale bottled water extractors. The November vote was 3,194 against large-scale extraction and 1,420 in favor--a 69.2 percent 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 Nestlé spent hundreds of thousands of advertising dollars to influence the vote in the small seaside community. However, its campaign backfired, as the townspeople were overwhelmed and annoyed by the barrage of ads, and the appearance that Nestlé was trying to buy their vote.

It wasn't enough that Nestlé was pouring money into the campaign like water to convince people that they are good environmental stewards. The company's PR firm resorted to employing many dirty tricks, such as printing the wrong polling hours on not just one advertising piece mailed to every household, but two.

Then, Nestlé's 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 had been duped.

In spite of Nestlé's McCarthyist attempt to discredit opposition leaders some months ago and their most recent dirty tricks, the largest multinational food and beverage corporation in the world, which is well-connected in the statehouse, 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 industrial polluters and water miners.

From Maine to McCloud, Calif., Nestlé'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 insure access to clean drinking water for all--a fight to keep water in the commons.