We Are All Downstream

By Mike Klein

The Peace Chronicle is excited to share this public sculpture created by Mike Klein, a PJSA member and Program Director of Justice and Peace Studies at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. This sculpture is part of Art on the River, an annual temporary art exhibit by the city of Dubuque, Iowa. The theme for this year’s exhibit is Resiliency Flows, and it will be up through late July 2022. The photographs in this article were taken by the artist, who also wrote the accompanying text below. To learn more about this sculpture, you can visit its page on the City of Dubuque website. (It’s also worth following the breadcrumbs back to the exhibit’s main page.)

To be downstream is to change our view, to consider our relations upstream of this time and place.

To be downstream is to wonder how people are treating the river as that water flows to us. We might realize our interdependence with people upstream and with the river.

To be downstream is also to realize we are upstream from others. They too might wonder about our respect for this river before it gets to them.

To be downstream is not just a matter of geography, it’s also a matter of chronology. If time is said to flow like a river, then we are downstream from the original people of this land; the Sauk and Meskwaki, the Kickapoo and Dakota. Their stories have been too often disregarded and submerged, but we can hear them today as they cry out: Mni Wiconi! – water is life!

Our upstream ancestors have treasured and used and abused this river. What kind of ancestors will we be to our downstream descendants in the flow of time? Will they shake their heads or nod in approval at the way that we have treated this river?

There is a third aspect to we are all downstream: As we grow in relationship to the river and to each other, we look upstream to the systems that influence and affect the water. We are individuals, yes, but also inter-dependent members of a larger community and of larger systems: food and energy, transportation and recreation…

Let’s go upstream from our individual places to see how our communities and our systems are either helping and sustaining this life-giving river – or how we need to go upstream to fix destructive systems through policy and legislation by imagining new approaches to the way we live our lives – to working together to create the future we want for our water, for ourselves, for our communities.

We are all downstream: what does it mean to you? What will you do for each other and for the river?


Mike Klein, Ed.D. is Associate Professor and Program Director of Justice and Peace Studies at the University of St. Thomas, Minnesota USA. He teaches undergraduate courses in Leadership for Social Justice, Active Nonviolence, Qualitative Research, and Art for Social Justice. He teaches graduate courses on critical education in social movements, and the pedagogy of Paulo Freire. His research, publishing, and consulting focus on democratizing leadership, critical pedagogy, racial justice, and developing creative capacity. He is also a public artist working in sculpture, murals, and photography. Klein was a 2007 Bush Foundation Fellow and completed the James P. Shannon Leadership Institute in 2011. He develops personal and collective agency for structural and cultural transformation to advance social justice. His art portfolio is available at his personal website: https://mikekleinedd.wixsite.com/artportfolio.