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Residents march through Downtown Detroit on Friday, July 18, demanding an end to the water shutoffs. (Credit: Peter Rugh)

Detroit does mind dying

Or, ‘Where do you expect us to shit?’

I recommend blasting the Exploied’s Dead Cities” when you read this. Or really anything by the Exploited, because the citizenry of Detroit are and have been exploited and they have every right to be just as pissed off as the British punk band that was screaming in my head as I wandered through Detroit’s derelict neighborhoods researching this article.

[O]n July 14, Valerie Blakely was making breakfast for her children when she looked out the window and noticed a truck parked in front of her North End home. The 55-year-old stay-at-home mom marched outside and sat down a few inches from her curb, blocking access to the underground valve that provides water to her family, including her four kids—ages five to 14.

“You can call the police, but I’m not moving,” she told the two men with the Detroit Water Collections Project. The men were employees of Homrich Wrecking, a private corporation that was handed a $5.6 million contract by Detroit’s water department to shut off the taps of thousands of Detroit residents, some of whom are as little as two months behind on their bills.

Balking at Valerie’s presence, the men with Homrich Wrecking simply moved on. Valerie followed their truck as it lurched down her street, shutting off water to approximately 25 homes on her block. Since then, Valerie has turned her front lawn into an emergency center, like the kind that pop up after hurricanes. She is working with local NGOs to distribute water and keeps a cauldron of stew or vegetable chili brewing at all times. “My neighbors can’t cook, can’t bathe. They have nothing to drink,” she said. “My neighborhood is now a disaster area.”

In their account of assembly-line labor militancy in Detroit in the 1970’s, Detroit: I Do Mind Dying, Dan Georgakas and Marvin Surkin draw on the words of a local business leader: “Detroit is the city of problems,” said Lawrence Carino, who chaired Detroit’s Chamber of Commerce in the early seventies. “If they exist, we’ve probably got them. We may not have them exclusively, that’s for sure. But we probably had them first …. The city has become a living laboratory for the most comprehensive study possible of the American urban condition.”

These words still ring true today. As I note at Vice: “[Detroit has] become an exemplar of everything that is fucked-up about capitalism. Unemployment, stagnant wages, the rising cost of water, and a growing gap between rich and poor—these are problems much of the country has grappled with since the dawn of the Great Recession, but they are most acutely present in Detroit.”

As a petri dish for austerity, what happens in Detroit has broader implications for tbe rest of the country.

Here are links to three (but by no means the only) groups who are organizing, fighting back, and providing assistance to the people of Detroit. Please consider donating:

During demonstrations against the water shutoffs in Downtown Detroit on Friday, one protester waved a sign that asked, “Where do you expect us to shit?”

What follows is a list of locations where Detroit residents who have had their water turned off might consider defecating:

Wall Street

The offices of Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr

Governor Rick Snyder, who appointed Orr

Any branch of subprime loan and interest-rate swap hucksters Bank of America, Chase, and UBS

Find out why, here.



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On Sept 19, 2023 ahead of the Climate Ambition Summit in New York City, climate activists gathered for a rally and civil disobedience outside Bank of America Tower in Midtown Manhattan as part of the March to End Fossil Fuels wave of actions resulting in multiple arrests. Activists demand Bank of America to “Defund Climate Chaos and Defend Human Rights” Photo: Erik McGregor (CC BY-NC 2.0 Deed)

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Let’s Save Each Other

Illustration by Stephanie McMillan. Used with permission