Detroit water shutoffs prompt Canadian solidarity

Thousands demand water in Detroit, July 18.WW photo: Kris Hamel

Thousands demand water in Detroit, July 18.
WW photo: Kris Hamel

Efforts by Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr to carry out the program of restructuring in favor of the banks and corporations during the city’s bankruptcy proceedings have drawn growing opposition from inside Detroit and beyond.

On July 24, a delegation from Windsor, Ontario, representing the Council of Canadians and the Canadian Union of Public Employees, arrived to find a crowd of more than 100 people waiting outside the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, where the EM and local political officials have their offices. While waiting for the Canadians’ arrival, representatives from a number of community organizations spoke out against the ongoing attacks leveled against the working class and poor residents of this majority African-American city.

Representatives from the Moratorium NOW! Coalition, Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, People’s Water Board and others are calling for an indefinite halt to the water shutoffs, which have escalated since the spring. They are also demanding that every household whose water services have been terminated have its water turned back on and that there should be no privatization of the public water system in Detroit.

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department announced in federal bankruptcy court on July 21 that it was suspending shutoffs for 15 days. However, Homrich Co. trucks, from the private firm hired by Orr to carry out many of the shutoffs, are still on the job, this time going after those who have allegedly “turned their water back on illegally.”

After being held up briefly at the tunnel crossing at the Windsor-Detroit border, the water convoy arrived to cheers from waiting activists. Maude Barlow, chairperson of the Council of Canadians, spoke to the crowd and reiterated the organization’s view that the water shutoffs are a complete violation of human rights.

Barlow, a concerned advocate for water rights, was instrumental in bringing the dire situation in Detroit to the United Nations’ attention. A U.N. statement that the massive termination of water services was inhumane assisted in the political struggle to draw national and international attention to the plight of the people of Detroit.

After the rally concluded, the convoy headed to St. Peter’s Episcopal Church near downtown, which is currently serving as a water station. The water convoy then went to other locations to drop off gallons of water.

The delivery of 750 gallons of water to Detroit will not make even a minor dent in filling the void left by shutoffs impacting 17,000 households. But this symbolic water delivery helps illustrate the failure of the emergency management and the overall capitalist system in the U.S. in addressing a problem that is bound to worsen not only in this city but throughout the country and the world.

‘Make the banks pay’

The 11th Freedom Friday demonstration began July 25 outside the water department headquarters downtown on Randolph Street. After rallying for a half-hour, demonstrators marched to the Greek Town entertainment district where they held a street meeting outside the Wayne County Treasurer’s Office on Monroe Avenue.

This target was selected since more than 40,000 tax foreclosures have taken place in the county this year. Money from the federal government turned over to the state of Michigan for the so-called “hardest hit” fund — which is ostensibly designed to assist distressed homeowners in working out terms of payment for mortgages and property taxes — is not being used for these purposes.

Instead the resources that should be allocated to keep people in their homes are being appropriated to fund blight removal efforts in Detroit. The Detroit Blight Removal Task Force is headed by multibillionaire banker and business magnate Dan Gilbert. It is Gilbert and his business interests, among others, that are deciding the future economic landscape of the city of Detroit.

After leaving the Greek Town district, the Freedom Friday protest moved to Campus Martius Park in the center of the financial district. Marchers walked around the park as an officially sanctioned party was being held to commemorate the 313th anniversary of Detroit’s “founding,” that is, the French occupation of Detroit.

Demonstrators chanted “Make the banks pay!” and then marched past Chase Bank to City Hall where they held another brief rally.

During the course of the march through the financial district, private security guards at Dan Gilbert’s corporations followed the group, lining up outside the banks and office buildings owned by the Quicken Loans chief who now owns over 60 buildings in the downtown area.

On July 26, Workers World Party hosted a public forum on the water crisis from a revolutionary viewpoint.