Detroit to Flint Water Justice Journey media coverage

This article, by MCHR board member Abayomi Azikiwe, was originally posted here.

A week-long, cross-state march, organized under the theme “Clean, Affordable Water for All: Detroit to Flint Water Justice Journey,” ended in Flint, Mich., on July 10.

Organizations sponsoring the walk included the People’s Water Board, the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights, Michigan Welfare Rights Organization in Detroit and others. Activists from Highland Park, Pontiac and Flint joined the march and rallies held in all four cities.

MWRO Co-Chair Marian Kramer, who lives in Highland Park, a small municipality surrounded by Detroit, reported that residents did not receive water bills for three years due to layoffs of meter readers.

The city of Detroit is now claiming huge debts are owed by Highland Park. Massive shutoffs could be imminent.

Under emergency management and bankruptcy, the banks and corporate interests sought to shield the forces responsible for the current crisis in access and safety. In Detroit, $537 million was taken out of the system in order to terminate interest-rate swaps issued by leading financial institutions, including Chase, Bank of America, Loop Financial and Morgan Stanley.

In Flint, where the water situation is perhaps the worst, people marched and gathered at City Hall on July 10.

Although both Flint and Detroit have been removed from emergency management, the state of Michigan is still overseeing the finances of both municipalities. Water shutoffs in each city continue, but in Flint residents are also faced with the extreme deterioration of the quality of their service.

The Flint water system was connected to Detroit’s massive infrastructure until, under emergency management, it was broken off in 2014 as a “cost-cutting measure.”

Water flowing into residential homes is coming directly from the Flint River. Testing by outside experts indicates that the use of high levels of chlorine and ferric chloride could be causing corrosion in the lead and iron piping system. At least half of the homes in Flint were constructed more than 50 years ago when the use of lead was common.

New regulations based on the U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act of 1986 are not being enforced in the city. Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality has been criticized for not exercising its authority in response to complaints from Flint residents.

Flint resident holds hair and contaminated water.Today families in Flint are suffering from a number of health issues. Water from the local system has been described as not only undrinkable but unfit for washing and cooking.

Flint resident holding hair and contaminated water

Residents discussed the health problems they are facing due to contaminated water. Melissa Mays of Flint, who chaired the July 10 rally, said that she and her children were diagnosed with copper poisoning in March. The family is now in a detoxification process under medical supervision.

A Michigan American Civil Liberties Union report suggests that the local water department’s testing methods are designed to conceal the level of lead exposure of residents. Before samples are taken, residents are told to run the water in an effort to flush out the toxin build-up near the faucets.

Curt Guyette, of the ACLU of Michigan, reports, “Flint’s water contained corrosion-control chemicals until April 2014, when Flint’s ties to the Detroit water system were severed. … Discontinuing the use of the anti-corrosion chemicals allowed the toxic scale built-up on the insides of pipes over the past decades to be released into water flowing into people’s homes.”

LeeAnne Walters requested two city tests of her water. It revealed dangerously high levels of lead, charting 104 parts per billion and 397 ppb.

Yet Virginia Tech researchers found lead levels in Walters’ water had reached 13,200 ppb — more than twice the amount at which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declares water as hazardous waste. (deadlinedetroit.com, July 9)

An extremely angry Flint resident outside City Hall brought with her a container of brown water run from her tap. She also held a fistfull of her hair, which she said fell out after washing with this water. She blamed the local and state authorities.

Capitalist disinvestment at root of crisis

Flint has been hit over the decades by plant closings and financial ruin caused by the banks and corporations. The birthplace of the United Auto Workers is now a source of underdevelopment and political oppression.

Much like Detroit, the city’s landscape is covered with abandoned factories and commercial structures. The foreclosure rates were extremely high at the height of the Great Recession several years ago.

Local officials are hampered by the constraints placed on politicians under state supervision.

Michigan’s right-wing, multimillionaire Gov. Rick Snyder had presidential aspirations but failed miserably when he placed a statewide referendum on the ballot to raise sales taxes, aimed ostensibly to repair Michigan roads. A corporate media television outlet revealed that most of the money during the first year would go toward paying off bond debt on previous road construction schemes. After the referendum received an 80 percent “no” vote, Snyder announced he would not pursue the presidency.

The water march gained a significant amount of media coverage. Participants submitted a petition to the state Capitol in Lansing demanding clean and affordable water.

However, capitalist interests remain dominant in water management, which includes the global anti-worker firm Veolia. Every effort is being made by the ruling class to privatize the system. It will require vigilance to fight the corporate and financial interests seeking to deny safe water to the people.

 

For more coverage of the Detroit to Flint Water Justice Journey from start to finish, check out the following articles, listed by publication name:

Oakland County 115

Tony Trupiano interview with Lila Cabbil and Marian Kramer before walk

Michigan Radio

Fox 2 Detroit

MyFoxDetroit.com

WXYZ Detroit

Worker’s World

Huffington Post

13abc.com

The Republic (Columbus, Indiana)

WEYI (NBC Flint)

Seattle Pi

Central Michigan Life

SFGATE

Tony Trupiano interview with Kim Redigan during walkMLiveMichigan Radio (post-walk coverage)ABC 12 (Flint rally coverage)The Elkhart TruthMLive (Flint coverage)

Join us as we walk from Detroit to Flint and demand clean, affordable water for all!

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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 unsafe 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.

 

Parents and teachers: Have your children or students color this page and take a picture of them holding it to post on social media using the hashtag #Detroit2Flint! Don’t forget to Tweet it to Governor Rick Synder (@onetoughnerd) to show your family or community’s support for clean and affordable water for all in Michigan!

 

SCHEDULE OF EVENTS:

FRIDAY, JULY 3

8:00 AM: Spiritual water ritual, 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: Highland Park Town Hall Meeting and Rally, St. Luke’s A.M.E., 363 Labelle St, Highland Park, MI 48203

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

SUNDAY, JULY 5

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

FRIDAY, JULY 10

10:00 AM to 11:00 AM: Rally for clean, affordable water, Flint City Hall, 1101 S. Saginaw Street, Flint, Michigan 48502.

11:00 AM: Bus to Lansing. Arrive in Lansing 1 PM.

 

DAILY WALK MEET UP TIMES and LOCATIONS

Friday, July 3:

8:00 AM: Underground Railroad 1 Hart Plaza Detroit, MI 48226 (Indigenous Water Women Ceremony)

9:30 AM: Central Methodist Church 3 E Adams Ave, Detroit, MI 48226 (Deliver letter to water board)

10:00 AM: Spirit of Detroit (Rally and walk sendoff at 11 AM)

*NOTE: Cars parked at Central Methodist need to be moved by noon. Will try to assist with shuttling people.

Noon (approx.): ACLU Offices 2966 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48201 (Curt Guyette/possible film)

2:00 PM (approx.): Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament 9844 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48202 (IHMs)

2:30 – 3:30 PM: Nandi’s Knowledge Café (Cultural Event)12511 Woodward Ave, Highland Park, MI 48203

4:00 – 5:30: St. Luke’s AME Church (Highland Park Town Hall and Rally) 363 Labelle St, Highland Park, MI 48203

9:00 PM: Nine Mile and Woodward (Light Brigade)

Saturday, July 4:

8:00 AM: Ferndale First United Methodist Church 2331 Woodward, Ferndale, MI 48220

Sunday, July 5:

Noon: Birmingham Unitarian 38651 Woodward Ave., Bloomfield Hills, MI 48304

All are invited to join service at 10:30 AM

7:00 – 9:00 PM: PONTIAC CROSS-COUNTY EVENT

Monday, July 6:

8:00 AM: Baldwin Center 212 Baldwin, Pontiac MI 48342

*NOTE: Park in gated lot. Gates locked at 5 PM.

Tuesday, July 7:

8:00 AM: Grange Hall Public Carpool Lot (exit 93 off I-75), Clarkston

Wednesday, July 8:

8:00 AM: Call 313-579-9071 that morning to arrange meeting place in Holly.

Thursday, July 9:

8:00 AM: Grand Blanc UMC 515 Bush Ave., Grand Blanc, MI 48439

*NOTE: Park on outer edges of lot; senior activity scheduled that day

Friday, July 10:

9:00 AM:  Woodside UCC Church 1509 Court St., Flint MI 48503 (Walk to City Hall begins at 9:30)

11:00 AM: City Hall Rally 1101 S. Saginaw St. Flint, MI 48502

JUST A REMINDER TO BRING SUNSCREEN, A WATER BOTTLE, SNACKS, AND GOOD WALKING SHOES

 

 

Sponsored by:

People’s Water Board Coalition

Highland Park Human Rights Coalition

Flint Coalition for Clean Water

Michigan Coalition for Human Rights

and other orgs listed on PWB website

 

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Be a part of history; we need YOUR help. We still need people to help with driving support on July 5, 7, and 8. We also invite people to contact us (support@mchr.org) who are interested in walking and then staying nights at our host churches along the way as part of the core walk team.

We also are in great need of people getting the word out to everyone to take part in the Detroit – Highland Park – Ferndale events on Friday, July 3, the Pontiac Town Hall on July 6, and the final rally in Flint on July 10. The final rally will be followed by a bus to Lansing- please consider joining as a day walker for an hour, a half day, or more. Healthy snacks are always welcome.  

Meet The Detroit Residents Fighting Back Against Having Their Water Shut Off

This story, by Bryce Covert, was originally posted on Common Dreams, here.

 

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On Wednesday, Michigan lawmakers held a hearing about water affordability and safety. Many of those who came to testify were residents of Detroit who have been dealing with water shutoffs, which resumed last week for thousands of people.

One of them was Annette Parham, who had her water shut off for about a year for owing $645. She’s been out of work for eight years, so at the time she didn’t have any income to pay off her bills. Meanwhile, she claims she was being charged for using more water than she needed to cook and clean for herself. Residents have seen their water bills rise 119 percent over the last decade with another 8.7 percent hike approved last year.

While the water was off, she got by the best that she could. She bought bottled water to use in her home. “I had one neighbor who let me wash clothes, another neighbor let me take a bath,” she said. But even without water flowing from her faucets, her bills kept accumulating because she says she was still being charged for sewage.

The experience wasn’t just difficult, but humiliating. When a house gets its water shutoff, the Water and Sewage Department marks the sidewalk in front in blue. “They went through the whole neighborhood, almost the whole east side,” she said. “When I be out walking, you could see all the blue.” Despite the fact that she had a lot of company, she hated the attention it drew to her. “The kids say, ‘Oh they cut your water off,’” she said. “It just got to the point that it was really embarrassing, hurt my feelings.”

She’s confident that if she had been able to take advantage of a plan based on her ability to pay, she could have kept her water on. “I would have been able to take care of it, to pay it,” she says.

Today, she’s homeless, moving from friend to friend who will take her in. “Now it’s just like, I’m waking up everyday to survive.”

Activists and organizers pushed state lawmakers on an affordability plan at the hearing in front of a packed room with at least seven lawmakers present, according to Sylvia Orduno with the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization. The Detroit city council approved a plan in 2006 that would have set water rates between 2 and 3 percent of a resident’s income, rather than a flat rate, but it was never implemented.

Their testimonies on Wednesday also raised the disparities between rates that Detroit residents pay and those paid by people living in the suburbs. While one person testified that her bill had reached $900 a month, a representative of Oakland County, a wealthier area, noted that her own bill is about $160 every three months. Those testifying asked “to get some equity in the rates,” Orduno said.

State Rep. Stephanie Chang (D), who helped organize the hearing, said her plan is to take what got discussed in the hearing and turn it into action. “We’ll be taking that information to hopefully work on some legislation,” she said. No bills have been introduced yet, and she noted that “everything is still in a little bit of an ideas stage.” But she would like to see a bill that would allow municipal water systems and others to create affordability plans, as well as look at shutoff protections. At the end of the hearing, Orduno said lawmakers brought up the possibility of a shutoff moratorium as well as forgiving bills for those who don’t even receive them for a certain amount of time.

Roslyne Walker, another Detroit resident, could really use an affordability plan. The water department had already threatened to shut her water off once for owing $600, but she enrolled in a program meant to help her keep her water on and pay it back. It’s not helping her very much. “The program they put me on, they want me to pay the current and late fees. That’s too much,” she said. Her bill, she says, is now $1,150. “Every month I pay $127 [but] it’s going up and up and up.”

Then on Sunday, she got home to find a shutoff notice on her door saying the last day of service will be June 9. If she loses her water, she’s certain she’ll lose her housing. She lost her job working for the city in 2008 and has since enrolled in Section 8 housing assistance. “When you don’t have a job, they pay your rent but they don’t pay your bills,” she noted. “If you can’t keep up your bills, you’ll get kicked out of Section 8.” She doesn’t have somewhere else to go. “My disabled son…will be out on the street,” she said. “I’m praying to god that doesn’t happen.”

She’s hoping that the hearing will bring her some relief. “If they gave us affordable water and anther contract or deal, we would be able to pay our water bills,” she said. She noted that many in attendance at the hearing were moved to tears by the stories they heard. “So maybe they’ll make a deal for them to stop turning off the water.”

The Fight for a Human Right: short film directed by WSU student and Freedom Tour 2013 alum

This short video on the right to water was directed by Anderson Tilson, a lifelong Detroiter and current WSU student who was on MCHR’s 2013 Freedom Tour. The film features interviews with a couple of Detroit activists, including MCHR board member Kim Redigan.

Aftermath of the UN visit to Detroit regarding water and housing

UPDATE (Feb 7, 2015): Check out this video documenting the recent UN visit regarding the water shutoffs in Detroit, produced by one of the UN special rapporteurs that visited Detroit last October.

10/20/14:

Two special rapporteurs from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights spoke at a press conference yesterday, at the Crowne Plaza Riverfront Hotel in Detroit, about the need for all levels of government to step up in their defense of human rights.

PIC_0708De Albuquerque and Farha clapping in support of residents’ testimony at the Sunday town hall meeting. (Photo: Dr. Jose’ Cuello)

 

Catarina de Albuquerque and Leilani Farha, Special Rapporteurs on the rights to safe drinking water/sanitation and adequate housing, respectively, both spoke to multiple press organizations, concerned civil service groups, and citizens about the continuing water shutoffs in Detroit and how they also affect the housing situation of citizens in the city. Both condemned the city’s actions as a violation of human rights, stating that the shutoffs primarily affect low-income African-Americans. Furthermore, without water there are increased health risks that can easily be avoided by not shutting off water access.

The UN rapporteurs also stated that the United States is bound by Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that humans have the right to an adequate standard of living. This includes municipalities that are under emergency management, as Detroit has been.

“If the city does not have the capacity, then others have to step in because the US government, at the federal level, undertook certain human rights obligations…” stated de Albuquerque.

The rapporteurs stated that for every dollar spent on allowing access to clean water, municipalities save $9 in health and productivity costs.

During their visit to Detroit, the UN rapporteurs found a level of retrogression not seen in their visits to other localities facing similar problems with water and housing. They also stated that nobody in the city is asking for free water- citizens understand they must contribute to the water system, but the water and sanitation costs are rapidly rising and wildly fluctuating. This is due to rising rates passed on to customers to deal with aging infrastructure, declining population levels in the city, and rising unemployment.

There was also a high number of instances in which residents had paid their water bills but were shut off anyways and had no way to contest their cases.

“We think that this lack of information and the lack of due process, in the way some of the disconnections have been taken, leads to fear,” stated de Albuquerque.

The issue of industrial/commercial sites that are delinquent and haven’t had their water shut off was also raised during the question session following the press conference. The UN rapporteurs stated that other municipalities that are poorer than Detroit have risen from similar situations by charging commercial/heavy users more for their increased water consumption.

“The way I view democracy… it is a precious and fragile thing,” stated Farha. “…You need to figure out how you’re going to protect democracy.”

Farha and de Albuquerque both spoke to the need of civil service organizations such as the People’s Water Board to continue their work fighting shutoffs and abuses within the city. They also want to continue communications between themselves and the organizations involved with the human rights struggles in the city and the region.

The press conference took place after two days of the UN rapporteurs surveying the affected areas and meeting with citizens and civil service organizations.

For more on the press conference and to see all of the UN rapporteurs’ recommendations for local, state, and federal government and the full text of their press statement, click here.

Below is the video of the entire press conference, courtesy of Michigan Coalition for Human Rights board member Dr. Jose Cuello.

– See more at: http://disinfo.com/2014/10/two-rapporteurs-un-visit-detroit-restore-access-water/#sthash.ZeWOTHso.dpuf

Below is the video of the entire press conference, courtesy of MCHR board member Dr. Jose’ Cuello.

Live-tweets from the various events that the UN rapporteurs took place in this weekend can be viewed using the hashtag #UNinDetroit.

MCHR is a member of the People’s Water Board who were one of the main organizations responsible for organizing the UN visit to Detroit.

Fall 2014 Film Series: Tuesdays beginning October 7th at 7 pm

Michigan Coalition for Human Rights and Peace Action MI presents:

Fall 2014 Film Series

Tuesdays beginning October 7th at 7 p.m.

St. John’s Episcopal Church, Royal Oak

Eleven Mile and Woodward

Lighted secure parking behind the church off 11Mile

Oct 7th- Water On the Table features Maude Barlow, international activist who crusades to make water a human right. It will be shown at 7 p.m., October 7, 2014 at St. John’s Episcopal Church. The church is located at 26998 Woodward Avenue (at 11 Mile), Royal Oak, Michigan 48067.

Access to water has become a critical issue for many Detroiters and others in the Metro area. It’s been a global concern for decades and the United Nations has proclaimed that access to water is a universal human right.

The film follows Barlow, who was in Detroit this summer protesting water shut-offs, for a year in her pursuit to protect water from privatization. It also offers opposing commentary from policy and economic experts who believe that water is a resource and a marketable commodity like any other.

Lila Cabbill of the People’s Water Board will moderate a discussion about water rights in Detroit after the film.

The presentation is open to the public and free of charge. Donations accepted.

Facilitator: Lila Cabill, People’s Water Board

 

Oct 14th- My Brooklyn asks who has the right to live in cities and who decides? As small businesses and the poor are driven out of developing neighborhoods (gentrification), who is making the decisions and doing the planning? A local facilitator will draw connections to current development in Midtown and Corktown sections of Detroit. Facilitator to be announced.

 

Oct 21st- Separate and Unequal shows how public schools are more segregated now than in 1968 then asks the question, does it matter? What part do charter schools play in segregated schools? How are Detroit schools faring under emergency manager? Facilitator will make local connections to this important issue in Detroit. Facilitator: Professor Thomas Pedroni, WSU Education

 

Oct 28th- Battle Zones We will show clips from the conflicts in both the Ukraine and Syria. Our facilitator will help us look at US foreign policy in those regions as well as in Gaza and Iraq. How has the Obama administration fared with its foreign policy? Will foreign policy play a part in the 2014 elections? Watch MCHR website for more details. Facilitator: Dr. Fred Pearson, director of Center for Peace and Conflict Studies, WSU

$5 donation accepted. For more info call the MCHR office at 313 579-9071 or go to www.peaceactionmich.org,  or call the Peace Action office at 248 548-3920.

Kim Redigan: An Open Letter to My Students After My Arrest for Disorderly Conduct

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Dear students:

Some of you have contacted me after seeing news of my arrest for a nonviolent action around the water shutoffs here in Detroit. While I am touched by your concern, I implore you to reserve your support for those being affected by the shutoffs and your own generation, which, unless things change, is on track to inherit a commodified world in which beauty, nature, life itself will be sold off to the lowest corporate bidder, an affront to all that is good, decent and human.

The action in which I and several others engaged was only a small gesture of loving resistance, a humble offering of our own bodies against the dehumanizing and democracy-crushing effects of life under Detroit’s state-appointed emergency manager. Pope Paul VI once said the world needs witnesses more than it needs teachers, and in times like these, to be a teacher may mean to move the classroom to the street in order to bear witness to the grave injustices that are harming our neighbors.

The glaring disparity between the rich and the poor in Detroit and the breathtaking rapidity with which that gap is widening is downright biblical. With its adult sandboxes, whimsically painted street-side pianos, and upscale lofts, downtown Detroit has become a glittering playground for the pioneers of the “new” Detroit while blocks away, children are unable to brush their teeth or flush their toilets.

To put it plainly, this is sin. “I was thirsty, and you … shut off my water.”

While I know that for some of you, the image of one of your teachers being led off in handcuffs is jarring, you should not be surprised. As discussed in class, we plant our feet on the good soil of a biblical tradition and body of social teachings that demand justice and a preferential option for the poor. If we fail to incarnate these teachings, they remain dry as dust. How can we study the prophets, the Gospels, the encyclicals, and the saints and not act? As it has been said, “To know and not to do is not yet to know.”

After witnessing home after home being shut off in the early-morning hours where contractors mark their work with a bold streak of blue spray paint (an action that suggests a sort of reverse Passover ritual), after listening to stories of people trying to stave off the inevitable (life is always complicated when money is tight), and after stuffing towelettes into baggies for elders to use as bathing kits, I had to act.

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When I joined others in blocking the contracted shutoff trucks from leaving that morning, I acted as a mother, teacher and follower of Jesus, conscious of the privilege I carry, a privilege not afforded those who are so often casualties of a soul-numbing legal system that discriminates against the poor and people of color.

In light of those whose very existence in the face of brutal and unrelenting injustice is a daily act of resistance, our action was a mere crumb, a tiny ripple, an embarrassingly small gesture of solidarity. A way of trying to bring some decency and order to a disordered situation.

Ironically, we were arrested for disorderly conduct, an interesting charge for a teacher whose daily life of bells, schedules, and respectful classroom conversation is predicated on good order. There is another kind of order, however, that throughout history has been used to keep the boots of brutes and empires on the backs of people, especially the poor and vulnerable.

This was the so-called order of the day that prompted the prophets to raise their voices to the high heavens over the ruthless exploitation of widows and orphans and the oppressive order of the day that compelled Jesus to turn over tables in the temple.

And this is the gut-wrenching, heartbreaking order of the day here in Detroit, where tens of thousands of people are having their water shut off despite the protestations of local citizens, nurses from around the country, the United Nations, and people of goodwill from around the globe.

No, if anything is disorderly, it is an imposed system of governance that is disenfranchising citizens (especially in African-American communities), uprooting the poor and working class, privatizing the commons, and denying babies and elders the human right to water.

In biblical terms, the disorder of the present moment can best be understood as an aggressive assault by the powers and principalities, rapacious (dare I say demonic) economic and social forces that are crushing the poor in gross violation of the law of love articulated in Matthew 25 and the beatitudes.

This is a time for both lamentation and action. A time to wage love, as the mother of Detroit’s water movement, Charity Hicks, counseled, with all the courage and compassion we can muster.

There is much more I want to say, but when I see you in class in a few weeks, we will discuss these things.

You are scholars — do the research and then take to heart the words of Pope Francis who rails against the idolatry of money, the “new tyranny,” as he calls it.

When we get back to school, we will sit quietly with Francis’ question: “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?” One of the first things we’ll do upon our return is discuss the core principle of Catholic social teaching — the dignity of the human person — something worth pondering in times such as these.

For now, turn your attention to those around you and your own future. Know that there are elders in the community who have given their lives to this struggle for a very long time and come to this sacred work with hard-fought wisdom. Listen to them. Respect them. Learn from them. Stand in solidarity with the good and graced work already going on.

Study the historical context of the present moment, do social analysis in concert with others, and then decide where to place your feet.

Jesus chose to stand with the least among us. Where will you choose to stand?

What will you do to bring good order to a disordered world that needs you to wage love with everything you’ve got?

As published August 6th, 2014 in National Catholic Reporter

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Kim Redigan is the Vice-Chair of the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights, Secretary of
Pax Christi Michigan’s State Council, and on the Coordinating Committee of the Detroit Area
Peace and Justice Network, where she represents Meta Peace Team (formerly Michigan Peace
Team), and the Detroit Catholic Worker. Kim spends most of her time working with Meta Peace
Team where she volunteers as a nonviolence trainer and serves on domestic and international
peace teams, including teams in the West Bank and Egypt. Kim has a Master’s degree in
Religious Studies from the University of Detroit Mercy, a B.A. in English from the University of
Michigan-Dearborn, and a Master of Arts in Social Justice from Marygrove College. Over the
past nine years, Kim has taught courses in World Religions, Catholic Social Teaching, and
Spiritual Biography at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School. Prior to that, Kim taught
English for ten years at Holy Redeemer High School in southwest Detroit. She is also involved
in Women in Black – Detroit and represents Pax Christi as a Jobs with Justice affiliate. Kim and
her husband Matt are parents of four children.

Kim Redigan writes about privatization of public resources, contempt for the impoverished, and her own personal experiences with tough choices for Common Dreams

MCHR Vice-Chair Kim Redigan writes for Common Dreams:

Today, families in Detroit, living under an emergency manager imposed by a governor committed to privatizing every inch of the state, are having their water shut off.  A few days ago, the United Nations, at the behest of local activists, issued a statement on the shutoffs.

This is what it’s come to  –  appealing to an international body to uphold the basic human right to water.

The situation in Detroit is, of course, a result of systemic injustices deeply rooted in racism, injustices that have been analyzed by minds far better than mine.

No, the question I ask is not academic.

I am honestly trying to understand the hatred that is reserved for the poor in this country, hatred as deep and noxious as a tar sands trail.

How to explain the downtown waiters I spoke with yesterday who snorted, “If they can’t pay their bills, too bad.” Or the mean-spirited letters to the editor penned by folks who seem oblivious to the outsourced jobs and the predatory lending schemes that have ravaged this city.  Or the vitriol of self-righteous people who don’t understand that Detroit is the canary in the proverbial coal mine – a harbinger of the structural adjustment plan that is coming to a suburb near them.

Yup, just get an education at one of the abysmal state-controlled schools in Detroit, take out a college loan at exorbitant interest rates, and then ride the downtown People Mover to nowhere to find a job in a town with an unemployment rate double the national average.  Oh yeah, and eat your soup by candlelight after paying your water bill with the money set aside for electricity.  If your boots are still salvageable after the coldest winter in history, grab hold of those fraying straps and, like any good American, pull yourself up and live the dream!

Although today I am privileged to have a job and modest home, it wasn’t always that way.

We were newly married, going to school, having babies, and working minimum-wage jobs during the Reagan years. Having been raised in working-class, cash-carrying families, neither of us fully understood the interest game, and when a major bank dangled a line of credit before our young eyes we, foolishly, bit the bait. For years, this single loan of a few thousand dollars hovered over our lives like a drone.

Unexpected medical expenses, broken-down cars, and rising utility rates culminated in our falling into a deep hole that seemed to reach all the way to China, an ironic thought given the globalization that was taking hold at that time. We wore hand-me-downs, lived on cheap carbs, and cut our own hair.

Despite our best efforts, we always seemed to come up short.

Eventually, we turned to the cash advance “service centers” that were popping up in our west side neighborhood at that time like boils on an old man’s back. Taking out a $100 loan on Wednesday in order to pay a utility bill due on Thursday only to owe $130 the following Wednesday led to unrelenting stress which led to illness which led to medical bills which led to a soul-crushing vicious cycle.

Ultimately, we filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in order to pay off our debts.  The humiliating experience of standing in a crowded courtroom before a dour judge who demanded an accounting of the most minute expenditures related to childrearing was an exercise in solidarity with others in that grim room.

For the next several years we did penance by squeezing our large family into a minuscule rental home that had no shower, garage, or privacy. While we found a way to make it work, we lived under the scornful gaze of our landlords, a suburban couple who ruled over their dynasty of shoddy homes with all the arrogance of third-world despots.

When we arranged to see the home for the first time, I was pregnant with our fourth child. I will never forget the shame I felt as I donned a dress the size of Texas in order to disguise my pregnancy.  My shame deepened when Mrs. Landlord haughtily raised a plucked eyebrow and said she couldn’t imagine how we could raise three children there.

After we moved in, we were model renters, only once asking for a ten-day reprieve because of a family funeral.  In a great show of benevolence, our landlords granted the extension with the caveat that we pay a ridiculously high penalty fee.  The resentment I felt on that occasion and others when we had to acquiesce to the demands of extortionists has never left me.

Although my experience does not even scratch the surface of what it means to be poor, it’s allowed me to understand the complex and terrible choices people must often make in order to survive.

When a Detroit water board commissioner trumpets the fact that a big chunk of people pay their water bills within 24 hours of shutoff, he misses the real story. The story of families choosing water over rent, water over electricity, water over food.

There are always choices to be made when one is poor.

Today, those with money gather before fountains that splay bursts of blue water against the skyline of a city that is turning off the water of its citizens. When asked about the shutoffs, they stir their iced drinks and use words like “responsibility” and “laziness” and recite racist tropes about Bridge cards and steaks.

Their words are parroted by those hanging on to their own jobs, homes, and water by a tenuous thread.  By those who deny their own precariousness by projecting hatred onto those who languish only a deck below on this sinking ship.

Today, we’ve reached the point where a child with an empty cup is an object of contempt.

Why do we hate the poor?

Perhaps we hate the poor because they are the prophets of a future that awaits us all. A future of water shutoffs for the many and splaying fountains for the few.

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Kim Redigan is a mother, teacher, nonviolence trainer, and human rights activist from Detroit who blogs on spirituality and social justice at www.writetimeforpeace.com.