The quote is a call to global solidarity by a Flint-based community activist and reflects a growing consensus that the emerging conflicts over water are a global concern. The United States Government considers water shortages to be a looming security threat, and the fight against water privatization has raged across the globe, from Colombia to California, fromDetroit and Flint to Gaza and the West Bank. In Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State (formerly ISIS) has effectively used denial of water access as a method of extermination and ethnic cleansing, and now controls the Mosul Dam according to the most recent reports.
In the City of Flint, Michigan, the water rates are the highest in the country. As the New York Times reported earlier this year, Detroit lost its second largest customer when Flint's Emergency Manager pushed through a "63-mile pipeline parallel to an existing one to bring water directly from Lake Huron, cutting out Detroit." What the NY Times did not reveal is that the Michigan Department of Treasury had commissioned an independent audit of the proposal, which concluded that the pipeline was a "major risk" and that the treasury's independent estimate projected a significantly higher cost than several alternatives. Yet the sale of the bonds to finance the project represented the largest muni bond deal since the Detroit bankruptcy, and the bonds sold by Genesee County are payable from the water supply contracts as well as general obligation pledges of Flint and Genesee County.
Yet as Wall Street monetizes the Flint water supply, residents increasingly find themselves cut off. Last Thursday, an investigative report from the local ABC affiliate revealed that paying mobile home residents had been living without water for 19 months. This week, Flint's Emergency Manager ordered paying residents to vacate their apartments within 24 hours after the City shut off their water because the corporate accounts were delinquent.
Today, Flint's residents took to the streets and rallied in front of City Hall, demanding that the city's emergency manager turn the water back on!
The bombs in Viet Nam explode at home: they destroy the hope s and possibilities for a decent America.MLK Jr., The Casualties of the War in Vietnam, February 1967
How did the situation in Flint deteriorate? The answer lies with the State of Michigan's infamous "Emergency Manager Law." On the day of the mayoral election in 2011, Governor Snyder announced that the City would be placed under state control for the second time in less than a decade. The Emergency Manager wasted no time: Within two weeks, the EM had terminated mayoral appointments, eliminated the salaries of elected officials and eliminated the office of the ombudsman. The ombudsman office had been a thorn in the side of corrupt local government for decades, preserved by the people of Flint in the face of multiple attempts to eliminate it or dilute its power.
The arrogance of emergency managers is limitless. Even after the voters suspended the new law and voted it down, Flint's emergency manager used his powers to stop city council from passing a comprehensive rental housing inspection ordinance, the kind of ordinance that might have saved the residents of Glen Acre from water shutoffs and EM-ordered eviction! Speaking at the rally, Flint's former ombudsman revealed how the office regularly investigated water rate and water shutoff abuses on behalf of residents. But with the ombudsman out of the way and a defiant Snyder Syndicate ignoring the will of the people, the hostile takeover of Flint continues without interruption.
The march was organized by council member Wantwaz Davis, one of the few elected officials willing to speak out against emergency manager rule. Eric Mays, another council member who has been ordered by the EM to ignore the concerns of his constituents and re-direct them to an unelected city clerk, was also the target of a city-sponsored shakedown prosecution that cost the taxpayers over twelve thousand dollars and resulted in an acquittal on all but the least serious charge of impaired driving, which is subject to an appeal. This echoes similar prosecutions in Benton Harbor, a city that is essentially controlled by the Whirlpool Corporation and, under Snyder, was for a time directed by a 28 year old Emergency Manager whose only prior experience in municipal governance was serving as the social media coordinator and advisor for the disgraced Detroit city council member Charles Pugh and an advisor to his replacement. Jenkins was ultimately replaced earlier this year by a council member skeptical of the EM law and opposed to the Detroit takeover. In Benton Harbor, a Black Autonomy Network of Community Organizer, Rev. Edward Pinkney, was convicted on alleged vote-fraud charges by an all-white jury in the extremely conservative Berrien County, and sentenced to prison after he published an article critical of the proceedings, a decision reversed by the Michigan Court of Appeals once the ACLU intervened:
In the newspaper article in question, Rev. Pinkney quoted a passage from the Bible saying that God would “curse” the judge unless he “hearkened unto the voice of the Lord thy God to observe and to do all that is right.” The minister also expressed his view that the judge was racist, dumb and corrupt.Benton Harbor was the subject of a thorough New York Times Magazine report in late 2011, which detailed the way in which the Whirlpool Corporation was using heavily capitalized "nonprofit" corporations to capture public land in order to build golf courses at public expense. In a city where 90 percent of the residents are black and where per capita income of its residents is roughly $10,000, Whirlpool's redirection of state and federal grant money, and the usurpation of local democracy by emergency managers, was used to seize public assets and impose corporate control in one of the most naked hostile takeovers in the state. Today, Reverend Pinkney is again charged with questionable "voter fraud" charges related to a recall campaign aimed at a Whirlpool-friendly mayor who serves under the direction of "Transition Advisory Board" that is controlled by former Whirlpool management.
The ACLU wrote in its Dec. 11 statement that it “argued in its motion for bond pending appeal that the statements Rev. Pinkney made in his newspaper editorial, while offensive to many, are clearly protected speech under the First Amendment. The ACLU further urged the Court of Appeals to release Rev. Pinkney on bond while it considers the appeal of his sentence.”
In the order issued on Dec. 10, the Michigan Court of Appeals not only granted the ACLU motion but also is set to decide on the merits of Rev. Pinkney’s appeal in 2009. A bond hearing was set for Dec. 18 in Berrien County with Judge Wiley presiding.
These unpopular measures have been rejected by the voters and as a recent NY Times opinion piece notes, they are simply not possible where there is meaningful electoral oversight of local government. We must demand more.
Democracy is a human right. Water is a human right. Stand up for democracy. From Flint to Detroit to Gaza, in solidarity we must demand: Turn the water back on, and restore democratic control.