A chat with a 9-year-old water liberation activist

I met Luke Sekera-Flanders while interviewing his mother Nickie about her involvement with Burma activism a couple of years ago. He was 6 then and I knew him to be wonderfully smart, driven, and very funny.

I recently caught a video of Sekera-Flanders at the Maine Public Utilities Commission, where he was testifying against the proposed contract between Fryeburg Water Company and Nestle for corporate large-scale water extraction from the aquifer. Knowing Luke, and knowing that he has been around activism for pretty much the whole of his conscious life, I was not surprised to see this. I was, however, heartened to see a young person take a stand in the way that he did. I reached out to Sekera-Flanders and asked him about his interest in Nestle, Poland Spring, water extraction, and civic engagement.

For background on the issue, which Sekera-Flanders refers to as “the 45 year contract,”  see this MPBN story:

A proposal by Fryeburg Water Company to extend its contract with Nestle Waters to provide water for Poland Spring, drew supporters and opponents to a public hearing last night in the western Maine town.

The Bridgton News also ran detailed coverage of the hearing, which you can read here:

Standing before a packed house inside the American Legion Hall last Thursday night, Flanders pointed out to Maine Public Utilities Commissioners that the next time he might be able to speak on contract terms proposed by the Fryeburg Water Company and Nestlé, he could be a grandfather.

The two sides have proposed to enter into a 25-year agreement regarding the extraction of water for the Ward’s Brook aquifer that would also include five-year renewals to push the overall pact to 45 years.

Finally, Sekera-Flanders refers to the documentary Tapped, which turned him on to issues pertaining to the privatization of water. Here are some clips from that film:

And here is a link to the full film. Another film about the issue, A Bottled Life, was released last year.

I found out about the video of your testimony because a friend of mine posted it on Facebook, and then I started to see it all over social media. Can you talk about what that testimony was all about, and how you came to be a part of it?

I first started getting really into it when I watched the movie Tapped. Before that, my mom had told me about this whole Nestle issue and I heard about the 45 year contract a little while later. I thought, ‘Huh, this is interesting.’ So when I started getting intensely into this, we started going to meetings and stuff like that. Now I am really into it.

I have obviously known your mom for a couple of years, and she is an activist, and so you have been around activism for quite a while. Did that proximity have anything to do with why you are compelled to take action regarding this issue?

I am concerned because Nestle has made many places dry because they have taken too much water and didn’t leave any behind. If one day this 45 year contract goes through, that one day they might end up taking all of our water. I am fighting it because if they take all of the water in the world, this would affect my children and grandchildren. They will depend on this [action] too.

So you are worried that there is potential for Nestle to take this water, privatize its ownership, and selling it.

Yup.

Is this something you talk about with your friends at school?

Well, I have quite a few buddies who believe me. There are some people who literally say, “Poland Spring is good, they’re a Maine company.” In reality, Poland Spring is not on the Maine corporate list, only Nestle is on the corporate list. Whenever they say they promise to be a good, Maine company, they’re just exposing themselves.

So you are saying that they are using the Maine brand to justify what they are doing?

Yeah, pretty much.

I think this is really unique, because it took me until the age of 15 before I took on my first activist cause. It is really unique to see someone so young to be as interested as you are. Can you talk about how the opportunity for you to testify at the PUC came up?

At first, I was pretty scared. When I heard about the hearing and thought about speaking at it, I was kind of… Ugh… I was kind of scared because usually I am not too good at speaking in public, but I decided that if this is a good, big cause, that I should just grit my teeth and do it, I guess.

That’s a great call. That’s the only way to start, I guess.

You just gotta do it.

Why do you think this video was so well received on Facebook?

Nobody really expects a 9-year-old child to actually stand out against Nestle because a lot of kids like Poland Spring and Nestle. They see them giving money to our community and see them give little donations to our schools and paying some taxes, but while they are doing that, they are taking away hundreds of thousands of gallons of water from us a week. What’s up with that? People don’t know about the real situation. By the time they make it to their 80s, they are probably going to have only a tiny amount of water left.

The majority of young people don’t take action in the way that you have. Why do you think that is?

A lot of kids just care about the here and now. A lot like playing video games. Meanwhile, all of this stuff is going on in the world. They should get up, stop playing video games and speak out.

Do you think young people don’t participate because they are afraid they don’t think that they will be heard?

I haven’t discussed that with anyone yet, but I inform as many people as I can.

IMAGE SOURCE: Robin Farrin, care of Nickie Sekera’s Facebook page

Alex Steed

About Alex Steed

Alex Steed has written about and engaged in politics since he was an insufferable teenager. He has run for the Statehouse and produced a successful web series. He now runs a content firm called Knack Factory with two guys who are a lot more talented than himself.