Organizing to Stop Detroit Water Shut-Offs

From Rev. Bill Wylie-Kellermann, reporting from Detroit:

An Open Letter from Detroit Religious Leaders and Allies
July 24, 2014

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters
Let the one who has no money, come… (Isaiah 55:1)

Friends in Faith and Fellow Citizens:

In our traditions water is a free grace, part of the great gift that underlies all creation. We drink it as life itself. We wade through it to freedom. And in conversion we are immersed and sprinkled and cleansed. We wash our feet, so to pray. In season we know to honor it even by fasting from it. It is the lifeblood of the planet, circulating as river and rain. Water is the very emblem of the commons, what we hold together as one. We share it beholden to local indigenous peoples who understood, understand this deeply. For governments which serve the people, a water system is a public trust, held in trust for this generation and those to come. For the United Nations access to clean potable water is counted a human right.

In Detroit the largest basin of fresh water in the world flows by us through the river, “the strait.”
But in Detroit, under emergency management, as many as 150,000 homes are threatened with shut-off, up to 3,000 per week, largely by private contractors. People, including children, the elderly and infirm, wake up in the morning to find themselves unable to drink, cook, wash, or flush toilets. In fact, two thirds of these homes are occupied by children. People without water fear losing their children to protective services. They can be driven from their homes, their neighborhood, their city.

On June 18, 2014 a complaint charging a violation of human rights was filed with the United Nations. Three Special Rapporteurs have already responded in a written statement, stressing the urgency of the situation: “Disconnection of water services because of failure to pay due to lack of means constitutes a violation of the human right to water and other international human rights.”

As religious leaders and communities we join our voices to say: In the name of humanity stop the shut-offs.

To Detroiters we say, alert, defend and protect your neighbors from shut-off. To Faith communities we say, become stations of water distribution (for information and guidance on this call 1-844-42WATER), as well as places of education, community and resistance. To Water workers, we say refuse to cut off your fellow citizens. To the Water Board, we say reverse this inhuman policy: turn their water back on. To the City Council, we say stop compounding this travesty with rate increases and other complicity. Revive and implement the Water Affordability Program. To the Governor we say: cease privatization and call off this action taken under emergency management.

To our God we pray, defend the children, the least, the poor. Help us to do so this day. Let your justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.

Baptized With Water & Fire in Detroit

water-photoRe-post from the Jeanie-Wylie Community in West Detroit (July 10):

Two months ago, I listened in horror as Charity told the story of her water being shut off. She tried to appeal to the contractors to give families a few minutes to at least fill their bathtubs. In frustration with the workers response, she called the police. When the cops showed up, they arrested her, telling her she “needed to be taught a lesson.” Her story went on as she described the conditions at the Detention Center on Mound Rd which is now the only place people are taken, is state run, and the conditions are horrendous. As Charity recounted the story, you could feel the power rising in her bones and her voice. A long time water and food activist, she said that the fight has begun. That if there was anything she would be willing to go down for- it would be water. “We need to wage a campaign of love in this city.”

On July 8, Charity Hicks joined the ancestors. On her way to speak at a panel on water in New York, she was hit by a car waiting at the bus stop. I ache. The city aches. Her words, her spirit, her smile, her intentionality, her deep connectedness with the earth and humanity, are running through my head non-stop. I feel so angry and heartbroken at her passing.

Today, a large group of us stood outside Homrich which is the contractor the Water Department is paying to shut off water to up to 150,000 homes by thefall. The trucks leave at 7am and drive into neighborhoods shutting off this basic human right with no warning to residents. No drinking water. No cooking. No cleaning. No way to flush a toilet! Children are put at risk. Today we stood in front of the gates, calling to mind Charity. Dedicating the action to her. Waging love. Resisting the water shut offs is indeed a campaign of love. We have lost site of love, of neighbor, of human dignity, of a city working for the people. Profit has become so much higher a priority than the health and lives of the people.

Ten were arrested today. Pastor Denise Griebler, Sr. Mary Ellen, Teresa Kelly, Justin Wedes, Elena Herrada, Jim Perkinson, Pat Driscoll, Agnus Hitchcock, Pastor Bill Wylie-Kellermann, Fr. Tom Lumpkin (and Baxter Jones in full spirit and readiness). The consequences of these mass shut offs are almost impossible to comprehend. This is our city, our community, our neighbors. This is water- the basic life sustaining force that runs through our bodies and our lands. Love has been waged today. It is one part of an amazing love happening through phone banks taking calls and offering support, door to door canvassing and education, water stations around the city getting drinking water into homes, rallies calling for an immediate end to the shut offs. I am grateful to be a part of this city and community and movement. Love is getting stronger, pouring down the streets, and aint going to stop til each child has safe, clean water to nourish their bodies and souls. Wage love. Charity Hicks. Presente.