Wednesday, June 24, 2015

CLEAN, AFFORDABLE WATER FOR ALL: Detroit to Flint Water Justice Journey

 The Detroit to Flint Water Justice Journey is about lifting up the need for clean and affordable water in Michigan. The walk will begin on Friday, July 3 in Detroit where tens of thousands of citizens have had their water shut off and where the 2005 Water Affordability Plan has been passed by the Detroit City Council but never implemented. From there, the walk will continue to Highland Park where the community has been threatened with mass water shutoffs after years of administrative mismanagement. The journey will conclude on Friday, July 10 in Flint where residents reporting serious health problems related to unsafe water from the Flint River -  hair loss, autoimmune disorders, skin burns, and children with lead poisoning  - share their stories. Along the way, the walk will pass through cities, rural areas, lakes, rivers, and watersheds.

The walk itself is simply the thread that weaves together a series of important public events to highlight the issues by hearing from people on the front lines  –  local residents personally affected by unclean and unaffordable water, concerned citizens, people committed to water justice including public health workers, attorneys, pastors, elders and youth. The key events include: the sendoff from Detroit on July 3, a cultural event and town hall meeting in Highland Park that same afternoon, a public cross-county speak out in Pontiac on Sunday, July 5, and a rally at Flint’s Town Hall on July 10. The focus is on connecting caring communities at these public events and sharing our collective concern for clean, affordable water upheld as a human right and to affirm that water is a sacred trust that should be held as a common rather than a commodity.

Governor Snyder has been invited to Flint on July 10 to hear from citizens from the cities of Detroit, Highland Park, and Flint. 

Weeks ago, members of the state legislature were invited to a public hearing on water that involved testimony from these communities.  Now, concerned citizens will return to Lansing via bus after the Flint rally to call for clean and affordable water at the state capitol.


For more information, call 313-579-9071

There are a core group of walkers. Others can walk for an hour or a day. Still other supporters will walk when they can and/or drive to key events.


8:00 AM: Spiritual ritual with a water theme, Underground Railroad Monument (Hart Plaza), led by indigenous Water Women 

9:30 AM: Meet-up at Central United Methodist Church, walk to Water Department, and Spirit of Detroit. 

10:00 AM – 11:00 AM: Send-off at Spirit of Detroit Statue (send-off is scheduled for 11:00 AM)

2:30 PM- 3:30 PM: Cultural Celebration, Nandi’s Café, 12511 Woodward Ave, Highland Park, MI 48203

4 PM to 5:30 PM: Voices from Highland Park-Town Hall Meeting, at location TBA

9:00 PM Detroit Light Brigade, 9 Mile and Woodard, Ferndale, MI 

7:00 PM to 9:00 PM: Meet for a Cross County Speak out, Baldwin Center, 212 Baldwin Ave, Pontiac, MI 48342

10:00 AM to 11:00 AM: Rally for clean, affordable water, Flint City Hall, 1101 S. Saginaw Street, Flint, Michigan 48502. Governor Snyder has been invited for a citizens’ roundtable at the Flint City Hall to meet with residents impacted by water issues as well as water justice groups representing Detroit, Highland Park, and Flint. A delegation of representatives representing these cities will travel to Lansing that day to deliver the message that all of Michigan needs safe and affordable water.

*Start times and meeting places for those who wish to join in as a daily walker will be posted on the PWB website.  Those who wish to walk the final leg of the journey are invited to gather at Woodside Church, 1509 Court St. Flint, MI 48503 no later than 9:30 AM on Friday, July 10.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Detroit water payments should be income based

Gloria House and Shea Howell 

According to the newly created Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA), nearly 36,000 households in Detroit are facing water shut-offs as soon as the weather clears.

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department is targeting commercial accounts first with an outstanding debt of about $20 million.

In the same breath, however, they list another “first:” They will permanently shut off 8,355 households that have turned their own water back on. Calling these “illegal hookups,” the water department is trying to criminalize desperation.

The fact that people have been driven to this extreme step, along with 26,000 other households behind on bills, is clear evidence of the inadequacy of Mayor Mike Duggan’s assistance programs.

Clearly, Detroiters are still struggling despite the celebratory tone that greeted the end of official bankruptcy proceedings. The sheer numbers of people slated for shut off should have been a wake up call to city leaders last year. It’s long past time for the water affordability plan (WAP) to be implemented. The WAP adjusts payments based on the reality of people’s income. It would keep the water and the revenue flowing.

The rationale for resistance to the WAP shows up in the minutes of the GLWA meeting and it isn’t pretty.

The goal of the aggressive shutoffs is “changing the culture regarding the responsibility to pay for service.”

But 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.

This is the same belief that Detroiters are not paying water bills or property taxes because, as former Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr said, we are “dumb, lazy, happy and rich.” Bill Nowling, then Orr’s spokesman, tried to get him out of that comment by saying 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 many people toward Detroiters.

This attitude pathologizes the people of Detroit. It casts us as deficient, ignores our history, denies our humanity, and disrespects and diminishes our lives. It functions to blind the public to both the pain and the strengths of the city.

Most Detroiters know that we not only work hard, but we 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.

Now with jobs gone, pay cuts, pension cuts, increasing medical bills, increasing heating bills, the highest water rates in the state, predatory lending, overinflated property taxes 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 percentage of income, is the only sane response to the impending shut-offs of an additional 28,000 homes.

Gloria House and Shea Howell are members of Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management.

Friday, February 13, 2015

International human rights network intervenes in case challenging large-scale disconnection of water supply to tens of thousands of low-income residents in Detroit

The International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR-Net), a global network of over 220 groups and 50 individual advocates from around the world working to secure economic and social justice through human rights, has requested leave from the U.S. District Court to be recognized as amicus curiae1 in the case of Lyda et al. v. City of Detroit2 in support of residents challenging the City of Detroit’s decision to cut off water supply to thousands of households unable to pay their bills.

 As detailed in the plaintiffs’ complaint, by the end of August 2014 the City of Detroit had disconnected approximately 30,000 households of low-income persons and persons living in poverty from the municipal water supply and sewerage service, leaving them without access to drinking water and water for toilets and basic sanitation.

ESCR-Net, through its amicus brief, seeks to bolster the plaintiffs’ legal challenge by highlighting that the disconnections for inability to pay violate a range of legal obligations applicable to the U.S. under key international human rights treaties.

At the same time, ESCR-Net contends that Detroit’s City Charter, which includes a Declaration of Rights recognizing rights to water, sanitation and decent housing, must be respected. Pursuant to long-established principles of both U.S. law and international law, relevant domestic law must be interpreted consistently with treaty obligations.

Chris Grove, Executive Director of ESCR-Net, said, “Access to justice is required for violations of human rights, and we welcome the opportunity to assist the U.S. District Court with material relevant to consideration of the issues at stake. These issues impact the health, security and human dignity of thousands of Detroit residents and implicate our vision of a just society.”

 “A number of human rights are arguably violated by these disconnections, including rights to water, sanitation, adequate housing, health, life, freedom from cruel and inhuman treatment, and non-discrimination. The international human rights obligations of the U.S. also apply to the City of Detroit, and these obligations require that denial of access to water be reversed immediately,” he added.

The City of Detroit’s water disconnection policy has shocked the international community and has prompted, among other reactions, the visit of two United Nations Special Procedures human rights experts to assess the situation in October 2014.3 Despite the onset of winter, local groups report that the City has continued water shut-offs at the homes of low-income families, the elderly, and the infirmed.

It is hoped that the application of international human rights law will help the plaintiffs achieve a just and effective remedy, including renewed access to water and an end to any further disconnections.

A copy of the amicus curiae brief is available at

About ESCR-Net ESCR-Net is the largest global network of human rights organizations, grassroots groups and advocates working to build a global movement to make human rights and social justice a reality for all. Please visit

This action is being led by ESCR-Net Strategic Litigation Working Group members Center for the Study of Law, Justice and Society (Dejusticia), the Global Initiative on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (GI-ESCR), the Social Rights Advocacy Centre (SRAC), and the Social Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI).

For information regarding this amicus intervention, contact:
• Susie Talbot. Senior Legal Officer (ESCR-Net)
• Bret Thiele, Co-Executive Director (GI-ESCR) (Tel. +1-218-269-0214)

For information on the situation in Detroit or to speak with residents, contact:
• Michigan Welfare Rights Organization Marian Kramer (313-471-9241), Maureen Taylor (313-729-5558) or Sylvia Orduño (734-846-9465). Office Tel. +1-313-964-0618