As many of you are likely already aware, under the direction of Emergency Manager Kevin Orr, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department has been shutting off the water of households which are behind in their water bills by $150 or more. This is likely an attempt to shed debt in order to prepare for the eventual privatization of Detroit’s water system. Thousands of households have been impacted by the shutoffs. Meanwhile corporate customers who are also delinquent in their bills, often owning thousands of dollars, are not facing the same threat of shutoffs. It should also be noted that despite the fact that Detroit is a city with a very high poverty rate and a high rate of unemployment, Detroiters’ water bills are higher than the national average, and water rates were recently increased by the city.
As socialists, we believe that access to clean water is a human right which should not be denied for any reason. Resources such as water should never be subject to privatization and basic human needs should never go unmet just because they happen to be unprofitable. This belief is shared by many others, including the United Nations, which issued a statement condemning the water shutoffs. In fact, the water shutoffs have sparked outrage in both the United States and internationally. It is not hard to understand that denying people access to clean water has serious public health implications, as water is essential to basic daily tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and bathing.
Well over 1000 people turned out on July 18th protest against the shutoffs. Protesters gathered at Cobo Hall and then marched to a rally at Hart Plaza. Over 25 members from Greater Detroit DSA were present.The protesters were a mix of local activists as well as activists from around the country who were in town for Netroots Nation. The rally was covered by a number of local and national media outlets, and several of our members were interviewed by various media outlets.
As a result of the protests, a 15 day moratorium on water shutoffs was announced. The moratorium was later extended until August 25th. Oversight of the Water Department was also returned to the mayor’s office. Placing the oversight back in the hands of an elected official is a small, but important step. This fight is far from over, and we need to remain vigilant against all attempts to privatize our public resources. However, by drawing attention to the shutoffs and forcing some concessions from the Water Department, the rally should be viewed as a success.