Water is a right

Detroiters fight shutoffs

Detroit, May 23WW photo: Kris Hamel

Detroit, May 23
WW photo: Kris Hamel

May 26 — The city of Detroit recently began to cut off water to residents behind in their bill. The measure — in effect telling the people to “Go thirsty, dirty and sewerless!” — was part of banker and emergency-manager-imposed austerity. It aroused a rapid protest.

The third “Detroit Freedom Friday” on May 23 shifted its location from the federal bankruptcy court to the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department headquarters on Randolph Street downtown. Under a DWSD banner proclaiming, “May is Drinking Water Month in Detroit,” angry activists chanted: “Water is a right! We’re going to fight, fight, fight!”

The Moratorium NOW! Coalition, one of the leading organizations opposing the emergency manager and the bankruptcy of this majority African-American city, says the primary reason the EM is shutting off Detroiters’ water is to “set the stage for the suburbs to take control of the Detroit Water and Sewerage System or to sell it off completely.”

City retirees fighting deep pension cuts joined with other anti-bankruptcy, anti-EM activists as well as environmental activists and others in protesting what organizers call “the life-and-death matter” of water as a human right.

According to Moratorium NOW!:

  • The emergency manager’s contractors are cutting off water to 1,500 to 3,000 homes per week. Anyone with an outstanding bill of as little as $150 faces immediate shut-off.
  • Ford Field [football stadium], Joe Louis Arena [hockey stadium] and other businesses owe more than twice what is owed by residential customers.
  • The biggest residential bills are of bank-owned properties, where water is left running even after families are thrown out of their homes due to foreclosures.
  • The emergency manager, Kevyn Orr, refuses to try to get back the over $500 million that was supposed to repair the water system but was instead given in bad bank deals to Chase, United Bank of Switzerland and Morgan Stanley!
  • Water Department workers are already being told they will lose their jobs and must reapply for new jobs even though the EM has not won approval to sell what is really the people’s water department. When a private company whose only interest is profit owns a city’s water department, water rates go up and the private owners don’t know how to run it! No to the privatization and suburbanization of Detroit’s Water and Sewerage Department.

“Water is a right — Stop criminal shutoffs” and “EM Orr lives in luxury while 3,000 families per week get water cutoffs” were among the slogans on handpainted signs. One demanded “Justice for Charity Hicks,” a Detroit homeowner and activist who was arrested and spent three nights in jail after calling police in an attempt to stop her water from being shut off.

Visit moratorium-mi.org for information on the next Detroit Freedom Friday and the struggle against the city bankruptcy and austerity. A national demonstration is being called for July 24, the date the city of Detroit bankruptcy trial is to begin.