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Cynthia McKinney supports fight for water

Published May 15, 2008 9:36 PM

The Truth Commission for Water Rights on May 3 heard the experiences of Detroit and Highland Park, Mich., residents who are being denied their human right to water. The Michigan Welfare Rights Organization (MWRO) organized the daylong event of multimedia and firsthand presentations.

Water service was cut off to more than 40,000 Detroit residences last year, making those homes uninhabitable.

Testimony included the DVD movie “The Water Front” by Liz Green, which documents Highland Park residents’ fight against water rates since they were increased by a state-appointed manager to “balance” a budget deficit. A disastrous human toll ensued: lost custody of children; lost homes to foreclosure when unpaid and unpayable water bills are transferred to property taxes; and even lost life itself from the stress of the struggle to live under such conditions, as happened to two of the main spokespeople in the movie.

Personal testimony filled in more details. An Alger Street resident explained that water service was turned off to her entire neighborhood when some residents didn’t schedule appointments to have new automated, centrally monitored water meters installed—equipment that makes meter reader jobs unnecessary. When organized residents protested to the City Council, the water was restored.

Cynthia McKinney, a former Congress member and Green Party presidential candidate, summarized the deliberations of the truth commission.

McKinney stressed that water rights are not only of local or state concern, but a national and international issue. She pointed out that 36 states faced “water wars,” and that in her hometown of Atlanta, water rates were rising by 170 percent.

McKinney stated, “It is incomprehensible ... that elected officials on the federal level in the U.S. Congress continue to fund a war, to the tune of $722 million per day, when people are getting their water shut off. It is unacceptable.”

“Is Detroit a victim of ‘Hurricane America’?” she asked, likening the water crisis in the predominantly Black city of Detroit to the unacceptable lack of government response to Hurricane Katrina.

“Just as survivors of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita formed an International Tribunal to take their issues to the United Nations, so this truth commission decided to work with other organizations ... [to] have the General Assembly of the United Nations describe the U.S. as human rights abuser.”

McKinney addressed the case of the Rev. Edward Pinkney, a leader of the Black Autonomy Network of Community Organizers, who has been in jail in Benton Harbor, Mich., for six months in response to his defiance of developers’ plans for a land grab. “The problem in Benton Harbor,” she said, “is some people have decided to steal the land that belongs to the people of Benton Harbor to make it a playground for the wealthy.”

She asked, “Is that what is in store for the city of Detroit? We can’t ignore what is going on right next door.”

McKinney recently returned from Mexico City, where 10,000 women marched in the main plaza to block the privatization of their electricity and their oil, “moving from protest to resistance.” She stated, “The truth commission acknowledges that people in the city of Detroit have moved from protest to resistance to defend their right to water. The truth commission supports them.”

The commission proposed conducting hearings throughout the Great Lakes region, beginning with communities served by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.

Other proposals from the commission included enforcing city, state and federal laws and regulations for the right to water—for example, fighting for the City Council Health and Safety Committee to declare water shut-offs illegal under the city charter; investigating corporate privatization goals for the Detroit water department, including the role of federal judge John Feikens; investigating how municipal bond sales siphon wealth away from human needs; and the relationship between bond sales and elected officials.

Along with Cynthia McKinney, the truth commissioners included Rhonda Anderson, environmental justice activist from the Sierra Club; the Rev. Bill Wylie-Kellerman of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church; Jasmine Kramer, youth member MWRO; Diane Bukowski, reporter for Michigan Citizen and TV host; Harold Spence, Citizens’ District Council activist; Raphael Robinson, former water department worker; Ronald Bass, MWRO Utilities Commission; Bankole Thompson, senior editor of the Michigan Chronicle newspaper; and Willie Baptist, Poverty Initiative Scholar-in-Residence at the Union Theological Seminary in New York, who co-chaired the commission.