Democracy Shut off
Thinking for ourselves
By Shea Howell
Week 70 of the Occupation of Detroit
The human toll of living under Emergency Management was made clear through the water crisis. Detroiters have endured an unprecedented assault on our basic human right to water for nearly 6 months before any action was taken.
The decision to aggressively pursue nearly half the city for being behind in water bills of $150 while ignoring corporate scofflaws who owed thousands was made by the Emergency Manager. The decision to sacrifice the well being of people in order to make the sale of the water department more attractive to investors was made by the Emergency Manager. The decision to persist in the shut off policy in spite of outcry from local activists was made by the Emergency Manager. The decision to continue shut offs in spite of escalating demonstrations, civil disobedience, and the condemnation of the United Nations was made by the Emergency Manger.
The decision to dump the problem on the Mayor after the Judge pointed out that the fiasco was negatively impacting bankruptcy was made by the Emergency Manager.
This abuse of the human right to water has visible consequences. The violation of our human rights to self- determination and to democratic participation in the decisions that affect our lives is less visible. But its effects are felt in every aspect of our common life. Under the Emergency Manager we witness the sale or give away of public lands to corporate interests. From the new Red Wings Stadium to Lipke Park, pieces of Detroit are moving out to the public domain and into the hands of corporate interests.
Public conversations about priorities, development that includes all of our people, and renewal of basic infrastructure have been eliminated.
One of the best examples of how the city is suffering from a lack of basic democracy happened just after the announcement of the first moratorium on shut offs.
Monica Lewis Patrick, a leading voice in demanding the city respect the right to water for all people, went to the Detroit City Council to enlist them in taking a stand against the shut offs.
In prepared remarks, Ms. Patrick briefly outlined the history of the water department, the urgency of the crisis, and encouraged the City Council to be wary of those of who would tell them that there was a moratorium on shut offs.
Ms. Lewis Patrick has been walking the neighborhoods for weeks helping people understand what is happening and where they can get emergency water. She has also been central in setting up volunteer hotlines. She has a vivid grasp of how horrific these shut offs are. In fact she shared the story of a phone call she had received early that morning from a 98-year-old citizen who had just been shut off, in spite of the moratorium.
Council President Brenda Jones became agitated with Ms. Lewis Patrick who challenged the Council’s silence on the water shut off issue. Jones began banging the gavel to say Patrick’s time was up. President Jones said, “Miss Patrick obviously you do not know what is going on because we are addressing these issues… I will be in conversations with the Mayor and Emergency Manager. I don’t know if you know it or not but neither the Council nor the Mayor have charge of the Water Department. That is the Emergency Managers jurisdiction, but we are not sitting idly by. …You don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes.”
That is of course the problem. None of us know what is going on “behind the scenes.” From the fate of the water department to backroom deals for land give aways and crony corporate contracts, decisions about Detroit’s wealth and future are being made behind closed doors. We have seen whose interests matter to Emergency Manager Orr. The shut offs of water are only possible because of the shut off of democracy.