Water Futures Manifesto: An Introduction

Simone Johnson
13 min readOct 20, 2021
Photo Credit: Polina West

This manifesto is for you if…

You are interested in and/or curious about developing inquiry and generating conversations around these keywords: water, waterways, ways of knowing, watersheds, land, power, agriculture, climate change, time, memory, futurisms, space-making, personal/lived/cultural experiences, guidance from the more than human world, multispecies collaborations, communication, social media, Indigenous Knowledge Systems, local knowledge, place-based identities and relationships, money, finances class, nervous system health, alternative and solidarity economies, mutual aid, capitalism, work, labor, Wall Street, New York Stock Exchange, predictions, neutrality, change, systems change, emergence, decision-making, astrology, stories, storytelling, words, language, worldviews, transformation, spirituality, ‘woo woo’, intersections, convergence, possibility

A long note on social media and making culture

I’ve always been hesitant to put myself out there. Sometimes I catch myself wanting to be seen and recognized for what I share, but many times I feel most comfortable underground, unseen, undetected and ephemeral. When I do put myself “out there” I am too much and too ‘woo woo’.

I like being woo woo.

I am honestly adding this note about making culture out of fear of how my writing will be received about the particular topics I’m focused on, as a way to protect myself in social media worlds of “cancel culture”, and as an avenue to touch on my experiences moving in and out of spaces that I feel are actively making culture. Instagram is a place where I observe constant culture-making, it is a place of deep power, whether it has to do with storing massive amounts of memory, our attention and nervous systems, knowledge shares and cosmic transmissions, many of our livelihoods, telling us all how to heal and maintain mental health, what red flags to look out for, or what a well lived life looks like. But what’s equally or even more powerful than the platform itself, are the mechanisms of social validation, and the strength of collective agreement that pushes culture in this direction or that direction.

Culture (how we ought to think, feel, react, believe, behave, live, heal-decolonize, dream ect) can exist, be made and change in so many places — places of work, education, recreation, worship and in digital multiverses. Who are the culture makers, shapers and shakers? Better yet, where are the spaces where culture making, storytelling-storyweaving and consciousness exploration is happening? Whose voices are we hearing, not hearing and whose voices do we not even know exist? Matter fact, in this day and age, what is culture and culture-making? Are any of the keywords mentioned above even connected to culture? Is there something else we could or should be talking about instead of making culture?

I like questions. I like practices of inquiry. I’m curious about questions in other languages, especially those coming from our actual human bodies (does our blood have questions? Do our stomachs have questions? What about our hearts and womb spaces? What about our throats?), more than human kin, water, algae, the moon . . . oh where oh where can we find questions?

I invite you to think about specific ways and examples culture is made, circulated and affirmed within social media contexts. I ask that you pay attention to the manifestation of creative power more than if what you are observing is ‘good’ or ‘bad’. I encourage you to take the rest of the year and onward to observe and witness various worlds on and off-line being created in real-time. I’m not sure I can or want to lay out how to do this. I’m curious how you or a group you are a part of find your way to seeing or sensing the very moments of creation, influence, change, shifts, death, rebirth.

So back to why I’m adding this note: I’m sharing this because when I started writing this manifesto it started to become mostly disclaimers and over-explanations. In the midst of all the astrological transits and energies, I kept thinking about how to collaborate with Pluto and Mercury to present this piece of writing. I noticed that at first, I was writing in a way to ensure people would still like me after reading this. I noticed I over-explained things so that there wouldn’t be any room to be misunderstood or judged, maybe like I’m doing a bit now. In the back of my mind I was ruminating on being agreed with and disagreed with. Sometimes I purposely write or interact in a way to encompass various perspectives as a way to protect myself and to make sure you know I know what you thought I wasn’t considering ;). I laid in bed having quiet anxiety about the social justice language and solidarity talking points that could possibly be left out. I wrung my hands about not including enough robust information about the contributions of Indigenous communities from around the world caring for and protecting land and water.

This is what I’m thinking about when I’m writing this. Could I throw a bunch of links together and share it here. . . I could. But, this part is an introduction and if I’m interested in change and transformation, what this manifesto is partly about, I feel that actual interest, learning and connection, and taking time to write about what movements I’m following is more important than performing online solidarity.

A robust water futures manifesto, especially collaboratively created and simultaneously functioning as a convergence space, with information, stories, data and visuals could take a year or even two if we factor in people getting to know each other and having conversations about their personal/communal experiences and visions for the future.

Please view this manifesto as a work-in progress, please give it space to be what it is and what it could be. I’m weening myself off of the pressures to be all knowing and to know and understand different identities, experiences, histories and geographies, especially when I’m still learning about myself, the lands and waters where I grew up and travel to, and my own cultural and ancestral backgrounds. It’s mostly social media that’s created a culture that tells you how all knowing and informed you need to be, when in actuality, the universe, our home galaxy the Milky Way, our solar system, and Earth, with its many peoples, places, plants, other animals, fungi, soil, you name it…are incredibly vast. I don’t know where you live, but I live in a pretty big place — teeming with simplicity, nuance, personality, complexity, diversity. All the things I don’t have words or language for!

In some ways I reject how informed I should be about xyz and embrace the sacredness and concentric circles of learning, which I feel are tied to decolonial futures. Of course, many people may not agree with me, and this statement can be twisted and misconstrued in all sorts of ways. I started this with the aim of meditating and reflecting on change and transformation, and now, Learning, confused and tricked away from its divinity, in a complicated relationship with Memory, enters the scene — except Learning is bruised and bloody and showing signs of PTSD. All those times people laughed and mocked that person who didn’t know. All the ways not knowing caused incredible harm and violence. It goes deeper. It seems with the climate crisis, we have only so much time for continual and looping surface conversations and action.

I notice that a lot of culture making consists of wanting to have influence or impact, one-uping each other during this process (not all the time), calling people out and calling people in and is entangled in language, among other things. I imagine that at some point someone may read this and do a workshop about why change and transformation are bad for the collective, or maybe there will be a workshop called “Beyond Transformation”. Or! Maybe one response will be to complicate ‘change’ and ‘transformation’ (I’m here for it) and proceed to analyze and disassemble what I’m sharing so that we can move in a perceived ‘better’ or ‘more radical’ direction.

Here I am projecting my fears, but also sharing similar real world examples when people propose ideas of social and environmental change, and these ideas go through, for example, the social media or academic wringers. Essentially I am talking about how different people, communities, organizations and businesses respond to said ideas.

In some ways this is both funny and nerve wracking— to see new, interesting and radical ideas take hold and then go through a process where after some time those same ideas (and especially words) are no longer captivating, celebrated or what people think we need for the paradigm shifts many are calling for today.

To be fair, I do believe it’s important to pay attention to what direction we are going in, whether individually or collectively. But do you see what I’m saying? I’ve come to realize and somewhat accept that making culture, which I’m sure is understood and experienced differently by people, can be messy, serious, comical and enjoyable. In many ways, across time and space, there are guidebooks out there with their own style and context on how to ‘make culture’, but I’m not sure there is a go-to specifically focused on making-forming-shaping-shaking up culture in the most polite, sensible and organized way. Is there?

Returning back to social media, I am first sharing a link to this introduction on my Instagram account, this is where I mostly share about my water art practice. I plan on sending out an email and will be starting a newsletter soon. I don’t have a large platform or a blue checkmark near my name, but it’s still nerve wracking to send something like this off in the world.

Who am I?

My name is Simone Johnson and I grew up in Munsee-Lenape lands in Lenapehoking — NYC area. I was born a mountain person, moved cross-country from Colorado Springs to Brooklyn, New York at the age of twelve, and then two years later started living in Staten Island, particularly the Rosebank and St. George neighborhoods, which both happened to be right near the water.

I think living in St. George for over fifteen years near the St. George Waterfront and taking the ferry to school and work almost every day of my life informed my relationship with water. The more I spend time at the waterfront, the more I spend time on the other side at Battery Park, I realize that of all the waters I could call home, it is the waters between Staten Island and lower Manhattan and the (personally) unexplored waters in and around Staten Island. The lands and waters that make up Far Rockaway, Queens also have my heart. Overall, I continue to identify my place in New York City’s ecosystems, which are very very diverse.

Between my initial, unexpected interest in water, living on an island, having two residencies in 2018 at Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden (where I made my first piece about water) and Works on Water, and doing various water projects in the months to follow, I started recognizing that I had a love for water. In October 2020, a few days before my 29th birthday, I decided to dedicate 70–75% of my art practice to water, and damn, it has been a year of amazing experiences, learning and connection. I am so grateful for this watery journey, grateful for Water as my ancestor and guide, Water as the Great Connector helping me meet and work with different people and places.

I now call myself a bicoastal interdisciplinary artist and researcher with roots in New York City, currently developing Blue Planet Free School, a forming, fluid free school for water and other earth education.

I would also like to share that I identify as African-American with Ghanaian heritage. Part of my family’s migration story is that my maternal lines come from Georgia and South Carolina in the southern part of the United States. My ancestors moved to Brooklyn, New York and then both my maternal grandparents moved out west in their 30s, making home in places like Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, with my grandfather making Colorado his long term home and my grandmother making Arizona her home after retirement. This early migration created more family clans out west and over the years there would be travel between New York City and these two states, as well as other western states.

I’m in Arizona now learning about the waterways here like the Salt River and Verde River, what territories constitute the Upper Basin and Lower Basin around the Colorado River, reading up on a major reservoir called Lake Mead and and getting familiar with a local canal. At the same time I wonder what it must be like to live up the Mahicantuck or Hudson River in upstate New York, and think about those living down river in New York City. I also have day dreams of visiting the South, especially the wetlands, beaches and islands, and one day crossing the Atlantic to visit Ghana, my father’s country.

In addition to all that, some other random information about myself is that I like learning, and the prospect of learning all sorts of things until I die makes life incredibly exciting and rich. I’m also really interested in taking swimming lessons, learning how to build really cool websites and studying Spanish again. I actually have reoccurring nudges and dreams that I need to learn Spanish fluently. I love films and secretly want to act, even though the idea scares the shit out of me. I want to read, sing and travel more and as much of a social butterfly I like being, alone time does absolute wonders.

My water art practice is fluid and relies a lot on intuition, curiosity and what is exciting to me. It is multidimensional, going in all directions like a prism. One refraction or reflection is my water futures practice which focuses on the future of water. I have my own understanding of time. It’s hard for me to understand someone telling me what time is or what it’s always been like, because I have my own understanding and intuitive communications about time. Sometimes I feel like people think I am super knowledgeable about water. I am in communication with Water but I have so so much to learn.

Why I am writing this manifesto:

I am writing this Water Futures Manifesto because I want to contribute my voice to conversations about water. I consider this piece of writing to be a part of my water futures practice (which I am still articulating) which currently and fluidly contemplates water at the intersection of various conceptions, perceptions and understandings of space and time/temporality/time continuums.

It was actually really synchronous when performance artist Noah Ortega asked me to be a part of a group performance-intervention on Wall Street. Months before, I kept thinking about investing, financial literacy, the stock market and water being commodified. I wondered about cooperative economics around water, investment in water infrastructure, especially outdated water infrastructure, water collectives and giving circles specifically for local water needs. Because I look out of a watery lens so often, I was imagining how alternative and solidarity economies could be shaped around the health and well-being of waterways and lands. What if most, if not all, economic, energy, urban planning and technological decisons were made thinking first about the health and wellbeing of water and the creatures living in the water and where water meets land?

Is clean, healthy water too utopian, and if so, why?

When I learned Wall Street started trading water like oil and gold, I reacted not really knowing the whole story — so now, after learning the Water Futures Market traces back to the state of water in California, I am researching more and kicking off a “Water in the West Conversation Series” talking with anyone working in gardening and agricultural spaces , researchers, artists and others interested in sharing their experiences and thoughts about water in western states in the US. I am especially interested in talking with farmers/growers, whether industrial, organic, bioregional and/or local, about water because in all my research of the California Water Futures Market, farmers and expensive water prices were mentioned quite often.

Learn more about the new Water Futures Market introduced by Chicago Mercantile Exchange Group.

I started “Water on Wall Street” on the East Coast, and just as I personally started experiencing significant change in my life and made the decision to split my time between two parts of the country, this project connected with going out west.

I’m listening to where this all wants to go.

“Water on Wall Street” is a public and digital performance commenting on water now being sold like oil and gold on the stock market. Simone contemplates the multiple, layered, intersectional timelines water is involved in, particularly Wall Street’s financial investment in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, the recent planting of the Water Futures Market spurred by drought and water scarcity in California, and the future of water and land locally and globally. In addition to the performance on Wall Street, Simone has also created a temporary website that shares more information on Wall Street’s Water Futures Market, an water futures manifesto, a specific page for water futures in Lenapehoking (mostly NYC area) and an emerging ‘Library for Transformative Water Stories’ which functions overall as inquiry and meditation on the practicality and spirituality of transformation.

Photo Credit: Polina West
Photo Credit: Polina West
Photo Credit: Polina West
Photo Credit: Polina West / Special Effects Makeup: AJ Stoogenke
Photo Credit: Polina West

Please check back for Part 1 on November 19, 2021

This ‘manifesto’ is a part of “Water on Wall Street” a public and digital performance by Simone Johnson which took place at the New York Stock Exchange on Sunday, September 25, 2021. This work is a part of a group show called “ Conditions and Possibilities” curated by performance artist Noah Ortega. Watch our post-intervention artist talk!



Simone Johnson

Simone is an interdisciplinary artist, researcher and cultural worker