Detroit’s Water War

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There is a crisis going on yet, there has been a lack of coverage on this issue. Currently, a water war has been waged in the state of Detroit. Since spring of 2014, with no water termination notice provided to the resident, over 3000 Detroit household residents have found themselves a part of a massive water shutoff for owing as little as $150 or a two months behind on their bill. Welcome to Detroit’s water war. Local activists estimate this will impact nearly half of Detroit’s mostly poor and black population which is between 200,000 and 300,000 people.
 
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“There are people who can’t cook, can’t clean, people coming off surgery who can’t wash. This is an affront to human dignity,” Charity Hicks, a widely respected African-American community leader, said in an interview with Kate Levy. To make matters worse, children risk being taken by welfare authorities from any home without running water. Denying water to thousands, as a sweltering summer approaches, might be bad enough in itself. But these shut-offs are no mere exercise in cost-recovery. The official rationale for the water shut-downs; the Detroit Water Department’s need to recoup millions collapses on inspection. Detroit’s high-end golf club, the Red Wing’s hockey arena, the Ford football stadium, and more than half of the city’s commercial and industrial users also owe a sum totaling $30 million. But no contractors have showed up on their doorstep.

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The targeting of Detroit families is about something else. It is a ruthless case of the shock doctrine – the exploitation of natural or unnatural shocks of crisis to push through pro-corporate policies that couldn’t happen in any other circumstance. The first shock was the slow disaster that struck Detroit over the last four decades: the flight of corporations toward cheaper, overseas labor; the movement of white, wealthier Detroiters to the suburbs, draining the city’s tax base; a Wall Street-driven financial crisis that left many homeless or jobless; and the deliberate starving of the city of funds owed them by the Republican state legislature. On its heels has come a round of economic shock therapy. Taking advantage of the severe decline in revenue from Detroit’s first shock, the media, corporations and right-wing politicians drummed up a crisis of fear about financial debt. This has become the pretext for a swift assault on Detroit’s public resources: an attempt to dismantle its schools, to slash its pensions, and to transfer its parks and art and land into the hands of private corporations. The public water system, a prized resource worth billions and sitting on the Great Lakes, is now the latest target – and the water shut-offs are a way to make the balance-sheet more attractive in the lead up to its privatization.

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As Detroiters like Charity Hicks have taken a stand, they have been met by a third shock: literal blows of police force and violence, intended to dampen any resistance.

Taking full advantage of Detroit’s plight required the removal of another obstacle: democracy. No Detroit politician, subject to the pressures of an electorate, could imagine going after the city’s water. But in 2013, using Detroit’s debt as his excuse, Michigan’s Republican governor Rick Synder imposed an “emergency manger” – a trustee to govern Detroit unilaterally. When Detroiters overwhelmingly voted in a referendum against the “emergency manager” law, Synder passed a new one overnight – with a provision rendering referendums meaningless.

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