Peter Hammer, a law professor from Wayne State University opens the discussion. He began by introducing the concept of the “three R’s of Detroit” which include “Race, Regionalism, and Reconciliation.” He spoke most about “Spacial Racism” and demonstrated by showing a map of Detroit areas color coded to indicate varying level of economic opportunities. Areas of black population is overlayed on the map showing that these areas lay in the low economic opportunity areas. Hammer said, “In southeast Michigan and so many other cities, the segregation of race is also the segregation of wealth.”
Over half the people in Detroit could not pay their property taxes. 6,000 properties were up for foreclosure due to taxes due. Another 4,200 are in danger of foreclosure.
The best you can say about Detroit Water and Sewage is there is an extreme lack of empathy. He stresses, that we need empathy when dealing with these problems. Work is being done to stop evictions and foreclosures.
Abayomi Azikiwe spoke representing Moratorium Now Coalition that was formed in 2008 in response to the tsunami of foreclosures in Detroit. Detroit has the highest rate of home ownership in the country. The crisis really began in the late 1950s because that is when the loss of jobs and the loss of population of Detroit began.
The retirees in Detroit are under attack in the restructuring process. Predatory lending and refinancing took its toll on Detroit’s residents. Resulting foreclosures hurt Detroit’s revenue. There was a call to make the responsible banks pay. Azikiwe stressed “We need a sustainable recovery plan in Detroit. It’s not going to be done through privatization… We can’t allow anyone to tell us that we don’t own the water.”
A sustainable recovery plan is needed in Detroit, not forced bankruptcy and “Emergency Managers”. Azikiwe: “We need real jobs. Therefore, we need a real jobs program.”
Monica Lewis-Patrick spoke on behalf of a coalition “We the People of Detroit” that was formed in 2008 to fight mayoral control of the education system. They are fighting against the draconian, reptilian law called “Emergency Management”. Lewis-Patrick: “We need to work and re-invent ourselves in this moment because we are finding that we are fighting the same battles again that were fought 50 years ago… We need to become a community that supports each other through these hard times”.
Meredith Begin is with Food and Water Watch. They believe water is a human right and it is a violation of that right to be shutting off water to Detroit residents. Begin asserted that “Corporations across the globe see water as the next oil.” Begin: “Lack of access to water and sanitation poses a huge health crisis. We’ve called on President Obama to declare a public health emergency here in Detroit and turn the water back on. We all need water for survival.” Lack of water is a real health crisis. Not only is water essential for life, lack of water is the source of disease.
Joan Ross from National Nurses United also spoke: “Look at where you are in the country right now. 21% of the world’s fresh water is here: in the Great Lakes region. We can’t afford to waste that and not give it to people who need it.”
The panel session closed with Maureen Taylor from Michigan Welfare Rights. She referred to the people in Detroit who are suffering without water. Some have been without water for a year. “We can’t keep looking at these mothers who are crying… This is insane.”
Referring to the audience, Taylor said: “You gotta leave here changed. You gotta leave here different.… I want to leave you with this message: You can’t stay like you were two or three hours ago.… Whatever it is that got you here at 9:30 this morning, you can’t go on the same.”
Taylor concluded the session with a reference to Spock from Star Trek: “I’m so proud to be in a room full of activists and visionaries… We can’t just think about this. Water is a human right. The needs of the many must always outweigh the needs of the few.”