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.”

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3 replies on “LIVE from Detroit: Turn on the water! Panel addresses city’s unconscionable shutoffs”

  1. Had no idea that there was such a thing as Net­roots Nation. What you’re doing sounds great. I am going to have to con­sid­er going to the next one. When and where will it be? 

  2. It’s real­ly embar­rass­ing and shame­ful that author­i­ties in a major city would cut res­i­dents off from drink­ing water. There’s a dou­ble stan­dard going on here — busi­ness­es that are behind aren’t hav­ing their water shut off, but poor peo­ple are get­ting the shaft. 

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