Charity Waters By Shea Howell – Week 75 of the Occupation

Thinking for ourselves

By Shea Howell

Charity Waters

Week 75 of the Occupation

September 9, 2014


100_0702Water shut offs and the bankruptcy trial are wound together. Before the opening statements on bankruptcy were delivered, Judge Steven Rhodes, heard a request to order the Water Department to temporarily stop the shut offs. In response, the judge ordered the city and the people’s attorneys into mediation.

These shut offs were nothing more than an aggressive tactic used by Orr to leverage the water department as part of the bankruptcy deal. The results have been catastrophic for people and have attracted world wide criticism of the city.

These two crisis are also linked in how the mayor and the Emergency Manager are seeking to solve the problems. At the core of the Plan of Adjustment (#6) that the judge is considering in the bankruptcy hearing is a commitment from the foundation world to “soften the blows” people will receive as their pensions are cut. This support of financial help to elders depends on protecting the art works of the Detroit Institute of Art.

Bloomberg reported what has become know as the “Grand Bargain” this way:

“The linchpin of Detroit’s plan to address its liabilities is cash from a group of foundations, and the state of Michigan, to shore up public pensions. In return for $466 million from the foundations and $350 million from the state, the city agreed not to sell its art collection to pay off its debts.”

Emergency Manger Orr and the corporate elite call this bargain an example of inventiveness and creative thinking.

Picking up the same theme, Mayor Duggan, who was handed the water department in a crude effort to deflect international criticism, established the Detroit Water Fund to help those who were behind on their bills. Within the week, massive flooding forced the addition of Project H2O Flood Clean Up. These efforts depend on foundation funding. Duggan announced a $2 million contribution from Michigan Health Endowment Fund. Ford Motor Fund and General Motors Foundation each pledged $50,000. The United Way said it will give $100,000 and will administer the fund.

The bankruptcy plan and the water crisis depend on the good will of private foundations. These foundations are playing a central role in public processes, with no public accountability.

This dependence on the charity of foundations is new for municipal governments across the country. Joel Kotin, the director of the Center of Demographics and Policy at Chapman University said, “Governments used to lead and now they can’t. They are bogged down, in large part, by the pensions and debt they can’t handle.”

He goes on to question this shift saying, “We’re in a very dangerous situation, where you have very small groups of people not arguing about policy, but implementing policy.”

Almost every analyst agrees that both the financial woes of the city and the inability of nearly half the residents to pay water bills reflect deep structural issues. The solutions to these crises require more than charity. In fact, the dependence on charity as a temporary fix, will only deepen the problems we face.

The city does not need charity. We need solidarity. We, the people of Detroit, have for generations created imaginative, progressive solutions to our problems. We have turned vacant land into gardens and play grounds, built communities out of vision and hope, and inspired world celebrated music, poetry, art and theater.

We have also developed a Peoples Water Affordability Plan that respects the dignity of everyone, implementing ways for everyone to pay their fair share, while being secure in the knowledge that their rights are protected. Mayor Duggan needs to stop all shut offs and implement the Water Affordability Plan. Charity is not the answer.

Kevyn Orr, who admits to having no “Plan B” should get a copy of the Peoples Plan of Adjustment. These are the only real solutions.

To depend on charity denies the dignity of people. It denies our imaginative capacities to create a more just future.