Tag Archive | water rights

Water justice: a call to action

The following comprises OKT’s newest Food Justice Series handout. Click the link to download  Water Justice 

tbtt_squarewebAs the media hype around the Flint Water Crisis wound down, the focus shifted to the safety of public drinking water throughout Michigan and lauding charities for collecting and distributing bottled water to Flint residents. A lot of effort is being put into band-aid approaches that do not solve the root cause of the problem. Meanwhile, Flint’s children continue to be poisoned every time they drink, bathe or brush their teeth with tap water.

Although a better alternative than drinking poisoned tap water, flooding the City of Flint with  bottled water causes other problems. For one, the city is now awash with millions of empty plastic bottles. For another, bottled water is a product. Charities and individuals are purchasing this product from corporations like Nestle, which takes water from Michigan’s ground water stores. According to a Feb. 2016 Democracy Now broadcast, “Nestlé, the largest water bottling company in the world, (is allowed) to pump up to 400 gallons of water per minute from aquifers that feed Lake Michigan … in Mecosta County, Nestlé is not required to pay anything to extract the water, besides a small permitting fee to the state and the cost of leases to a private landowner. In fact, the company received $13 million in tax breaks from the state to locate the plant in Michigan.”

web_830x437_fact-publicwater-webWhile our state and city governments cannot find money to repair our failing water infrastructures, they can afford to give away millions, if not billions, of dollars to private corporations that have convinced us to buy bottled water. Many communities across the country and around the world have sold their municipal water works to private corporations – with disastrous results. In 2011, the City of Grand Rapidsconsidered privatizing its water. Thankfully, then-Mayor Heartwell declined.

According to Food and Water Watch, water privatization “undermines the human right to water … When private corporations buy or operate public water utilities, which is often suggested as a solution to municipal budget problems and aging water systems, it more often backfires, leaving communities with higher rates, worse service, job losses, and more.”

Food & Water Watch has documented these, among other, problems with
privatizing water:

  • Loss of Control. Local government officials abdicate control over a vital public resource.
  • Loss of public input. Citizens don’t vote in the corporate boardroom.
  • Loss of transparency. Private operators usually restrict public access to information.
  • The objectives of a profit-extracting water company can conflict with the public interest.
  • Cherry picking service areas. Private water companies are prone to cherry-picking service areas to avoid serving low-income communities.
  • Rate Increases. Investor owned utilities typically charge 63 percent more for sewer service than local government utilities.
  • Higher Operating Costs. Private operation is not more efficient and can increase the cost of financing a water project by 50 to 150 %.
  • Service Problems. This is the primary reason that local governments
    reverse the decision to privatize.
  • Jobs. Privatization typically leads to a loss of one in three water jobs.
  • Privatization can allow systems to deteriorate.

In its handouts, OKT often includes the words, “Healthy food is your family’s right.” We also proclaim, “Clean, harmless water is your family’s right.” Therefore, OKT asks you to join with us in demanding that the City of Grand Rapids, City of Wyoming and all Michigan municipalities:

  1. 61dcac5b609c6bbeEnsure that our tap water is safe to drink and bathe in. This includes employing more reliable testing measures for lead content.
  2. Reconsider fluoridating our water supply as fluoride has been associated with health risks. Let people choose for themselves whether or not to ingest fluoride.
  3. Do not consider privatizing our municipal water supplies.
  4. Stop giving Michigan’s water away to Nestle and other bottled water corporations.
  5. Stop cutting off water service to households with delinquent water bills and cease from using liens from unpaid water bills as a means of seizing property from homeowners.




Detroit rallies for Palestine & Detroit Water Shut-offs

Reposted from The Electric Intifada  Submitted by Jimmy Johnson on Tue, 07/15/2014 – 01:10

Members of the Z Collective, one of the sponsoring organizations. (Noura Balout)


Over 1,000 people turned out for a demonstration and public outreach campaign in Detroit on Sunday outside the annual Concert of Colors on Woodword Avenue near the Wayne State University campus.

The day focused on both Israel’s ongoing military attacks against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the recent water shut-offs by the Detroit Water and Sewage Department. Tens of thousands of primarily black, working class residents are going thirsty because of this move by the bankrupted city of Detroit. It has been condemned as a public health disasterin the making by the largest professional association of nurses in the US.

An informal working group, which is part of a black-Palestinian and black-Arab solidarity effort, mobilized the largest local turnout for a Palestine event in recent years.

The crowd paused along Woodward Avenue. (Invincible)

Rather than choose symbolic or concrete places of oppression for the protest, organizers (of which I was one) decided to bring the message directly to the people. Demonstrators initially gathered outside of the Max Fisher Theater on Woodward Avenue, where the annual high-profile Concert of Colors was to begin.

The marchers engaged people they encountered in conversation, with leaflets calling for solidarity and joint struggle between Palestine and Detroit. At both the gathering spot and along the march demonstrators chanted, “Free Palestine! Free Detroit!” while numerous cars drove by with large Palestinian flags.

Claiming an elevated spot in the gathering space, Zena Ozeir, one of the organizers and a member of sponsoring organization the Z Collective (a Muslim feminist group), kicked off a series of rousing speeches, poetry and rhyme by local activists and artists from Detroit and the surrounding area.

Speakers included Dawud Walid from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Detroiter and Palestinian-American member of the Michigan state legislature Rashida Tlaib, poet Omar Aburashed and hip-hop artists and organizers Invincible and William Copeland.

The poetry and speeches addressed both the Israeli attacks on Gaza and the bureaucratic attacks on both the Palestinian and Detroit water systems. The action was endorsed by numerous organizations representing large parts of black social justice groups in Detroit and Arab, Muslim and Palestinian groups in Dearborn and metro Detroit.

At the gathering place there was a “photo booth” where demonstrators could pose for photos with protest signs as one way for the protest to produce not only speeches and chants of dissent and solidarity, but critical art as well.

In the words of Copeland, a local delegate to the 2012 World Social Forum – Free Palestine: “People were claiming and being fully present in the space.” He pointed to the rousing crowd responses and sense of camaraderie, and also to the crowd’s maintenance of the space with hundreds of people remaining for long after the action ended.

The event was a success, yet organizers saw significant room for growth in solidarity and building joint struggle between Palestine and Detroit. Copeland remarked that “It’s a long term work to connect black populations to the struggle in Palestine, and it’s a long term struggle to connect those groups supporting Palestine to the struggle in black Detroit.”

On the event’s Facebook page, some (apparently Palestinian) metro Detroit community members accused organizers of trying to “push alternate agendas” by including human rights violations in Detroit as a central part of the rally. Several people commented that the mass water shut-offs were not human rights violations at all but simply the inevitable result of an unpaid water bill.

Organizers William Copeland and Dawud Walid. (Invincible)


One demonstrator named this as part of the work to be done in building solidarity and joint struggle in Detroit, saying, “There’s a gap in communication between the African experience, the black experience, and the Arab experience.”

Indeed, it is the tens of thousands of overwhelmingly working class and black residents of Detroit who are affected by the shut-offs. Several large venues frequented more commonly by wealthier, non-black metro Detroit residents saw no shut-offs, despite unpaid water bills amounting to tens of thousands of dollars each.

The shut-offs are no more a simple bureaucratic response to unpaid water bills than Israeli administrative home demolitions are a bureaucratic response to Palestinian construction without permits. This message needs to be better communicated.

The demonstrators responded in a uniformly positive way on the day and in the time since, continuing to post glowing messages and photos on the event’s Facebook page and contacting the action’s organizers. Copeland noted that the day was “a step, a big step” in the direction of building joint struggle between Detroit and Palestine.

A full video of the day can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zVVli8xeU6U