Thinking for Ourselves
By Shea Howell
Homrich 9 and Human Rights
December 2, 2014
December 10 is International Day of Human Rights. Two days earlier, on Monday, December 8, nine people will appear in 36th District Court. The Homrich 9 were arrested for putting their bodies on the line to protect the basic human right to water. The nine refused to allow Homrich trucks to drive out into neighborhoods and shut off water to those who cannot afford to pay.
Many, acting out of deep faith, refused to move out of the Homrich driveway. They were charged with “disorderly conduct” and have requested a jury trial. Part of their defense is that they were acting on a “higher law.” The group was protecting a basic human right. It is a right being ignored, violated, and vilified by the corporate and political powers.
The bravery and commitment of the Homrich 9 is a cause for celebration among those who care about justice in our city. It should also serve as reminder to those elected officials and corporate powers who think that the crisis created by water shut offs will be forgotten.
Bound up with the right to water is the right to fully participate in the decisions that affect our lives. Yet corporate powers and political elites continue to push for secret meetings and closed door decisions.
At the end of November, Judge Steven Rhodes ordered representatives of the City of Detroit and Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties to continue confidential discussions to finalize the shape of the new Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA). No one knows what issues are being considered, or why these negotiations are being held outside of public view.
This disregard for public accountability prompted the Peoples Water Board to demand that the newly created authority include measures for public oversight. This is the only way to ensure that water will be seen as both a human right and a public trust.
They said in a recent statement: “To the extent that the DWSD and City of Detroit decide to go forward without the vote and consent of the people of Detroit, it is imperative that community-based representation on and appointments to the GLWA take place for Detroit and Wayne County… Given the water shutoff and affordability crises, the Detroit People’s Water Board Coalition proposes that citizen input and protection be included in the process. In order to accomplish this, we believe that: (1) Detroit City Council needs to create an ordinance that establishes a GLWA Detroit Citizens Advisory Board whose membership is selected from community-based water experts. The People’s Water Board has candidates to submit. (2) One of the two Detroit appointees by the Mayor to the GLWA should be from the GLWA Detroit Citizens Advisory Board. The purpose of the Advisory Board is to protect the rights of Detroit citizens related to water affordability, and to review complaints/appeals from Detroit customers of the GLWA.”
These are solid proposals that would go a long way to protecting people.
But they are not likely to be adopted. If there is any consistent theme emerging in the shifting of responsibilities of Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr to Mayor Mike Duggan, it is that both men are fearful of open, democratic processes. From citizens advisory councils, to police oversight, manager and mayor are united in efforts to limit, restrict, and distort vigorous debate and public scrutiny. Time and again they have maneuvered to evade accountability and deny public access.
Such actions are destructive to democracy. Woven throughout the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the affirmation that people have a right and responsibility to freely, openly, and directly participate in the decisions that affect our lives. Article 21 establishes the “right to take part in government.”
People around the globe will spend December 10 considering the responsibilities of government to recognize “the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family” as the “foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”
Without this foundation of participation, openness and respect, there is no justice, and no peace.