Race, Water and Reason By Shea Howell

Thinking for ourselves

Race, Water and Reason

By Shea Howell

March 15, 2015

shea33The racist fantasies framing the newly created Great Lakes Water Authority emerged in the minutes of a meeting held March 9, 2015.  Buried in the discussion of the strategy for communicating the next round of water shut offs we find the justification for the these shutoffs provided by Gary Brown, the Mayor’s man in the Water Authority. “The goal is to change culture regarding responsibility to pay for service.”

This is not about bond issues or getting the Water Authority’s “fiscal house in order,” as Bill Nowling the current GLWA spokesman claims. It is about “changing the culture regarding the responsibility to pay for service.” The only way a sentence like that can make sense is if you believe there is a current culture where people are irresponsible and not willing to pay for their services. In other words, you share the belief that Detroiters are not paying water bills, or property taxes, because as former Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr says, we are “dumb, lazy, happy and rich.” Bill Nowling, then Orr’s spokesman, tried to get him out of that comment with an equally foolish response. Nowling said then he believed the comments were “about the attitude of the body politic of the city of Detroit, not Detroiters themselves.”

Such nonsensical distinctions are offered to cover the deep-seated racism that characterizes the attitude of the corporate foundation power structure toward Detroiters. It is racist at its core. It depends on an ideology that pathologizes the citizens of Detroit. It casts us as deficient, ignores our history, denies our humanity, and disrespects our and diminishes our lives. It functions to blind these policy elites to both the pain and the strengths of the city.

Most Detroiters know that we are city of people who not only work hard, but often do the hardest work. With the disappearance of jobs and capital we have been struggling to create new ways of living and working together. We have a long history of “making a way out of no way.” We pay our bills. In fact we have willingly voted ourselves the highest taxes in the state in order to provide for our schools, parks, community colleges, museums, zoo, and art programs. Over the last 50 years, Detroiters have supported every request for funds for public responsibilities.

Now with job loss, pay cuts, pension cuts, increasing medical bills, increasing heating bills, the highest water rates in the state, predatory lending, property taxes over inflated, and auto insurance more than double that of the suburbs, people are scrambling to keep home and hearth together.

That is why a Water Affordability Plan, based on a percentage of income, is the only sane response to the impending shut offs of an additional 28,000 homes. That is why turning the water back on for all those currently suffering is the only responsible act. That is why amnesty for the 8000 people who have been so desperate they turned their water back on is the only humane response.

Organizations across the city and the globe are advocating these policies. Mayor Duggan has asked for some time to reassess his current Water Affordability Plan. He needs to listen to the voices of those who understand that this is not about “changing the culture” to discipline those “dumb, lazy, happy” citizens. He needs to immediately disavow the racist beliefs of the GLWA and meet with the Peoples Water Board, Michigan Welfare Rights, We the People of Detroit, the ACLU and the attorneys for the people facing shut offs. A real water affordability plan is possible.

We can all join the effort to help Mayor Duggan do the right thing. Call his office on Water Wednesday’s at 313-224-3400. Put an end to racist policies endanger all of us.