discussion forum

Video: Thirsting for justice, Detroiters block corporation from shutting off their water

SCNCC, Jul 12 2014 - 06:15

Residents of Detroit, Michigan took steps to keep the H2O in their taps flowing on Thursday, physically blocking a private corporation from shutting off their water. 

Common Dreams reports

Carrying a banner that read "Stop the Water Shut-offs," ten city residents nonviolently obstructed the entrance to Homrich Inc.—the private company that was handed a $5.6 million deal from the city to shut off water services to residences that are behind on their bills, according to the protest organizers. They were surrounded during the civil disobedience by a crowd of over 40 supporters chanting "If the water don't flow, the trucks don't go."

The protesters held the entrance for more than an hour and a half before all ten were arrested, Bill Wylie-Kellermann, a Detroit pastor who was among the arrestees, told Common Dreams. "We feel that it's really time to intensify and escalate the resistance to the water shutoffs and emergency management," Wylie-Kellermann declared.

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) announced in June that it is escalating its disconnections of water services to residences that have fallen behind on their bills to 3,000 a month. In a city devastated by unemployment and foreclosure crises, nearly half of all residents are unable to pay, and the city's continual increase in water rates is not helping. Thousands of people have already had their water turned off, including many who were disconnected long before this June escalation, and tens of thousands more are next.

Concerned organizations say that the shut-offs have so far unleashed a human rights crisis that devastates low-income communities of color. UN experts agree: in response to a complaint from a coalition of organizations, a UN panel condemned the city last month for violating the "human right to water," with the UN expert on the right to adequate housing warning the shut-offs "may be discriminatory" against African Americans.

Sarah Coffey of the People's Water Board and Water Rights Hotline put it succinctly to in an interview with Common Dreams: "The only reason they are getting away with this is because this is a majority black city."

According to Coffey, the disconnections are likely part of a plan, driven by emergency manager Kevyn Orr, to get rid of bad debt in order to privatize the DWSD. Orr's rush to declare bankruptcy for the city, impose austerity, and gut public services including schools—all backed by republican Governor Rick Snyder—has left many residents convinced the water shut-offs are just one more step in a plan to displace Detroit communities and gentrify the city.

At the forefront of an austerity agenda that emerged after Wall Street crashed the economy in 2008, Detroit is a shock doctrine Petri dish.The fight over access to water is the latest battle in a city that has been drained by de-industrialization, sucker-punched by subprime loans, seen its public services hacked away with a chainsaw and its pensions eviscerated. 

Detroiters have called for people across the country to come link arms with them on July 18 and join the struggle to preserve their access to water and their right to the city. A grassroots pushback against austerity, originating from the spot where it has been most savagely implemented, could turn the tide against assaults on working peoples' standards of living nationwide