How are a poisoned water supply in Flint and water shut-offs in Detroit connected? Tommy Airey, co-editor of RadicalDiscipleship.net, talked with Detroit activists Monica Lewis-Patrick and Cecily McClellan to get the story behind the story.
LONG BEFORE water shut-offs and poisoning in Flint, democracy in much of Michigan had been hijacked. By the time a governor-appointed “emergency manager” was foisted on Detroit in spring 2013, every large black-majority city in Michigan—from Flint to Benton Harbor to Highland Park to Saginaw—had been appointed an EM, stripping all powers from elected leadership while possessing the authority to renegotiate or cancel union contracts, hire and fire government employees, and sell, lease, or privatize local assets.
Two years ago, about the same time that Flint’s EM transferred the city’s water source from Detroit’s water system to the highly toxic Flint River, Detroit’s EM ordered the city water and sewerage department to begin shutting off the water of all Detroiters who were two months or more behind on their water bills.
Today, in a city with 40 percent of its population surviving below the poverty line, Detroit water rates are twice the national average, and an estimated 100,000 residents, including many elderly folks and children, have had their water shut off by the city. The measures are forcing many longtime, low-income residents, the majority of them black, to leave the city.
Since 2008, the grassroots organization We the People of Detroit (WPD), led by five African-American women, has been creatively resisting emergency management—first of the school system and then the entire city—with a steady campaign of awareness-raising, canvassing, water delivery and advocacy for shut-off victims, and a comprehensive mapping project soon to be released.
Monica Lewis-Patrick is the charismatic, energetic point guard of the group, fueled by the Holy Ghost and her morning standard: a cup of coffee sweetened with four sugar packets. Lewis-Patrick, who’s a grandmother and the mother of two teenage daughters, lost her bid for city council two years ago by a few hundred votes. A few weeks later, she lost her only son to gun violence.
Cecily McClellan, the quiet, confident, all-business power forward of Team WPD, is a retired city employee and former vice-president of the Association of Professional and Technical Employees.
I spoke with them at WPD headquarters on the third floor of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church—a stone’s throw from a downtown getting a corporate facelift financed by public bonds, subsidies, and tax abatements to draw companies in from the suburbs, while many residents struggle just to survive and keep their homes. —Tommy Airey
Tommy Airey: Let’s get this straight: Are you advocating for free water for low-income Detroiters?
Monica Lewis-Patrick: Free water has never been the ask. Personally, I’m not opposed to free water. I believe that water is a human right, and that everyone should have access to it. But the ask here in Detroit has always been for affordable water.
What are the mayor’s objections to an affordability plan in Detroit?
Lewis-Patrick: Over the last 11 months, water shut-offs have led to more foreclosures and pushing people out of the city. We believe [city officials] do not want to participate in a water-affordability plan because it would allow more people to stay in the city, especially in communities they want cleared out for future development.
Is this a conspiracy?
Lewis-Patrick: Conspiracy, in my mind, isn’t the appropriate term, because a lot of times people marginalize conspiracy as just somebody’s idea or accusation. What I would say is that it has been a collaborative, well-orchestrated system of evil. We know for a fact, through all the political analysis and economic research that has been done, that the city bankruptcy didn’t have to go down. People saw it as an opportunity to be able to divest from the water department, to weaken the water department intentionally.
Flint was actually advised by the governor and his emergency managers to come off of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department system and then to become a part of another water system called KWA [Karegnondi Water Authority]. Flint was the largest external customer of the Detroit water system. How is it that you are advising us to become financially solvent, while at the same time all your deeds are making us insolvent?
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Michael Mershon, Director of Advocacy and Communications
January 20, 2016
Catholic Charities is giving out water and food. The Flint Jewish Federation is collecting water and water filters. And the Michigan Muslim Community Council has distributed more than 120,000 bottles of clean water for Flint, Mich. But these faith organizations are also focused on a longer-term goal: to make sure the impoverished city, where President Obama last weekend declared a state of emergency over its poisoned water, is never so neglected again.
"The biggest open question in Paris may be how much aid goes to poor countries trying to leapfrog fossil fuels,” Bill McKibben, Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College and founder of 350.org, said.
“For reasons both moral and practical the number should be large — larger than it likely will be."
As we think about the future of our children and our grandchildren, we need to rethink our use of water: how we store it, how we carry it and how we drink it. Water is a human necessity. Our ignorance can lead to the irony of spoiling watersheds — by robbing them of potable water while introducing mountains of plastic waste, impervious to decays which produce useful soils, and diverting water from useful work.
One by one the stars come up over the Mekong,
and the Buddhist novices,
finished with the evening prayers,
rush out to the water in their orange robes,
and stand with their hands over their eyes,
as if the light were too much for them.
Their master tells them,
Boys, if you want to dream to the stars
you must ask the universe as you go to sleep.
1. WATCH: Powerful Ad Shows What A Little Girl Hears When You Tell Her She's Pretty
“A new Verizon commercial cites a sad statistic by the National Science Foundation: 66 percent of 4th grade girls say they like science and math, but only 18 percent of all college engineering majors are female.”
2.Sandy Hook Dad on What You Can Do Right Now to Help Prevent Violence
“'Pick your eyes up from the sidewalk and look at people,' Mr. Barden pleaded, with tears in his eyes. Yes, we should call our representatives; yes, we should make our voices heard where laws are made. But we should also do what we can to foster empathy; to create a world where no one feels invisible and ignored — least of all those who disproportionately fall victim to our collective failure to care enough to act."
3. Facebook VP: Stop Portraying Me as Mother-of-Four Who 'Wanted it All''
"'When I got my post at Facebook it was all about how I was a mother-of-four who had 'won' the position, alongside pictures of my wedding,' she said, noting that the male executive hired at the same time came under no such scrutiny. Reports also said she insisted on working part-time, when in fact she was working a typical five-day week."
4. FIFA Go Home: Inside Brazilians' Struggle to Challenge World Cup
From Mashable: "Their goal isn't so much to change the current World Cup in any specific way; it's more to challenge — and, ideally, impact — the mainstream narrative surrounding the tournament, shifting its focus to the event's human costs and larger political context. To the billions spent on stadiums that won't be used again and the millions living in abject poverty."
5. Ikea to Raise Its Average Minimum Hourly Wage to $10.76
"The happier the co-worker, the happier the customer and the better the overall shopping experience," said Ikea's acting U.S. president, Rob Olson. "We wanted to be less concerned about the competition and more concerned about offering our co-workers a better everyday life."
6. The Decency of a Nation
A new index attempts to measure the 'goodness' of nations — based on the way they treat other nations, science and technology, culture, equality, etc. (Spoiler: guess who doesn't break the top 10.)
7.WATCH: 'Columbusing': When White People Think They Discovered Something They Didn't
"Macklemore Columbused same-sex marriage, just like Gwyneth Paltrow Columbused Eastern medicine."
8.Use of Drones for Killings Risks a War Without End
A bipartisan panel concluded that the use of armed drones "sets a dangerous precedent for lethal operations that other countries might adopt in the future," according to the New York Times.
9. Detroit Activists Call for UN Help as City Shuts Off Water for Thousands
“Detroit has too much of some things – stray dogs, abandoned houses – and not enough of others, such as residents who pay their water bills. The latest sign of Detroit’s decline came from the city’s water department, when it said in March it would begin shutting off water for up to 3,000 homes and businesses a week in an attempt to stop the utility from sliding even further into debt.”
10. PHOTOS: Inside a Detention Center for Migrant Children
The Customs and Border Patrol is overwhelmed by a flood of minors entering the U.S. from Central America.
Is access to clean water for public use a human right? According to Luis Infanti, the Roman Catholic bishop of Aysen in Chile, the answer is yes. This week marks the opening of Chile’s “First Cabildo for Water,” a meeting organized by the Coalition for the Defense of Water and Life, comprising civil society and religious groups.
People from all over Chile are attending and bringing water samples taken from lakes, streams, and rivers in their communities to be blessed by Bishop Infanti. “Water has often been captured, kidnapped and commodified,” said Infanti, according to Agenzia Fides, “but we know that it must give life and reach all our brothers and sisters, flow in abundance and not be anyone’s privilege.”
At an interfaith summer camp in northern New Jersey, two dozen children explored a swamp to learn how creatures depend on safe water.
In Southern California, a Unitarian Universalist congregation installed a dry well so water from its church rooftops drains into underground pipes to replenish the water table.
In Vermont, members of a Lutheran church removed cars and appliances that had been dumped in a nearby stream and restored its banks with local willows and oaks.
Across the country, water has become more than a ritual element used in Christian baptismal rites or in Jewish and Muslim cleansing ceremonies. It has become a focus for worshippers seeking to go beyond water’s ritual symbolism and think more deeply about their relationship to this life-giving resource.
IN FRANCE, about 70 percent of water services are privatized. French corporations continue to vie for control of the global water supply. But in 2010, Paris, in a case of “remunicipalization,” exited contracts with Paris-based Veolia and Suez Environnement, the world’s two largest water service companies.