Water connections and questions By Shea Howell – Week 78: The End of Occupation?

Thinking for ourselves

By Shea Howell

Water connections and questions

Week 78:  The End of Occupation?

shea25 Mayor Mike Duggan and the Detroit City Council are moving to take over their elected responsibilities. The news that some measure of democracy has been restored to our city has not caused any great celebration. The reasons for this go far beyond the fact that Kevyn Orr will still be involved in financial decisions and Governor Snyder is still around, at least until the election.

Many of us recognize that we are involved in a struggle that goes far beyond our city. What kind of country are we becoming? Will we develop a culture that values life, protects resources, cherishes children, and honors our elders; or will become a nation that uses violence to secure the wealth of a few, while damning much of the country and the globe to increasing poverty and pain? This is the very real choice in front of us, and Detroit is ground zero for this struggle.

I read of the decision to restore the Mayor and Council while at the Without Borders conference in Kalamazoo sponsored by the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership. The aims of the gathering were “to question, interrogate, and complicate the very notion of borders.” Over 300 activists, scholars, and artists gathered to talk about our past, present and future.

Scholar Activist Robin D.G. Kelley opened a plenary session on “Critical Solidarities: The Palestinian Question” saying, “This is a necessary conversation for every human being as we witnessed a summer of unprecedented violence.”


Angela Davis talked about the importance of the effort to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement as a nonviolent response that has allowed for increasing international efforts to demonstrate solidarity with the people of Palestine.

She urged all activists to think more deeply about the links and connections among struggles for justice everywhere. She talked about the global “war on everyday life” being waged as corporate powers increase their efforts to control land and water everywhere. She urged us to think about the connections between intimate violence and institutional violence.

One such connection between Detroit and Palestine became immediately clear in the course of the conversation. We share the same water experts: Veolia. This company, now advising the city of Detroit on the future of our water operating land fills, buses, light rail trains, and water treatment plants, all supporting internationally condemned settlements. They understand water as a weapon of oppression.


Activist Jabulani Chen from South Africa brought another connection to light. She said that in the poor communities in South Africa it is now government policy for water and electricity to be provided on a pay before you use model. Homes have special meters that require payment before water or electricity will run.

These connections raise profound questions about the direction of city and the kind of future we want.

The final session of the conference was devoted to the questions of young people. Young activists galvanized by Ferguson, immigration reform, climate change, intimate violence, and a desire for meaningful education and meaningful lives shared the questions most on their minds.

They are questions all of us should consider as we work to create a more human future. They asked: How do we create work rooted in love? How do we address violence among us without depending on violent institutions? What roles do anger and rage play in creating a movement of love? How do we turn anger and loss into action in decentralized ways that allow for creativity that can bend but not break? How do we practice self-care as we try to help others? What time is it on the clock of the world and what does that mean to us and to our movement? How do we create the language, space and cultural practices that reflect the world we want?”

Making connections and considering the real questions in front of us matter deeply today.