North Florida Water Warriors: Rhetorical strategies of Suwannee Basin water activists

Clark, Joseph S.
Conference Session: 
Session D
Conference Panel: 
23: Divides and interactions of communication, technology, and the nature-human relationship
Type of Presentation: 
Scholarly papers
Presentation Format: 
Live presentation
Surrounded by water, full of lakes and rivers, riddled with submerged caverns and gushing springs, and recipient of abundant rainfall, Florida might seem an unlikely place for battles over water rights. However, recent events in the state’s feast/famine experiences with extended drought and excessive storm runoff have highlighted a growing problem with pollution and overuse of both freshwater and marine habitats that not only degrade wild habitat but suppress opportunities for tourism and recreation and even threaten drinking water supplies. Although beaches and the Everglades may dominate Florida's image in popular imagination, the limestone karst topography in the hilly north, where the permeable bedrock houses vast crystal-clear underground rivers that have been explored by divers for miles, is critical to that region's agriculture and tourism industries as well as its basic survival. This paper presents an exploratory mixed-methods inquiry, combining semi-structured interviews with a small convenience sample of water activists and a brief case study of public messaging outlets on social media, against a background of prior research on the role of gender and place in environmentally responsible behavior. The study helps increase our understanding of the ways activists encode their place-based appreciation for these resources, grounds rhetorical criticism with the intentions and meanings of speakers, and, as a result, can help improve the messaging effectiveness of local water advocacy efforts.