Boggs Center – Living for Change News Letter – September 26th – October 1, 2016
Living for Change News
September 26th – October 1, 2016
Thinking for Ourselves
Parade of Preachers
Shea HowellThis week a parade of preachers swept into the Detroit Board of Water Commissioners. They were protesting drainage charges about to be levied across the city. Preachers called for a “moratorium on drainage charges.” They were “appalled” at the “ungodly” charges. They said they were “called to be here by God” to demand an answer to the question of “why should we have to pay for what comes from God?”This was a sad display of what has become of our many of our local churches.
The obvious question is simply “Where have you been?” For more than two years, community organizations have been demanding a city-wide conversation to develop policies reflecting the basic understanding that water is a human right. All human beings should have access to safe, affordable water.
Where were the voices of preachers as 3000 households experienced shut offs every week? Where were these preachers as organizers established water stations? Where were they as people of faith blocked the shut off trucks from leaving the garage? Where were they as children went to schools to wash up and brush their teeth?
Where were the preachers when home after home faced foreclosure? Where were they when the elderly workers of the city bore more than 70% of the bankruptcy burden? Where were they when the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department was turned into a regional affair, almost certain to guarantee greater burdens for the city?
Self interest, not care for the community, seems their only motivation. As a result, their protests are hollow. They offer brittle pronouncement, uninspired by faith or compassion.
Certainly some of our congregations challenge the money changers, the powers and principalities. But most have been silent in the face of an increasingly brutal division between the small, whiter and wealthier downtown and neglected neighborhoods. Most have been silent as violence escalates. Most are content to collect offerings, closing doors to chaos and pain.
This is not by accident. More than 30 years ago, right wing think tanks realized that gatherings of people of faith were a powerful force for justice. Step by step they began to develop policies that pulled churches and synagogues away from radical visions.
In reaction to the Civil Rights movement, right wing leaders developed a form of conservative religious politics, using the cover of religion to mask white supremacy, homophobia, and the desire to dominate women. In reaction to school desegregation, for example, Christian academies sprang up, ultimately laying claim to public dollars through charters and vouchers.
Churches were pulled toward conservative stands through money. In 1989, President George H. Bush introduced the idea that social services should be provided by “points of light.” This was followed in 2001 when his son, George W. used executive powers to circumvent long held divisions between church and state. Under Bush II faith based initiatives became a top priority. Churches were tied into federal and foundation dollars, providing programs that had once been offered by governments. Now public funds not only provide direct services but money to construct, repair and maintain buildings. Religious leaders learned being silent was the best way to keep dollars flowing. Detroit is reaping the effects of this silence.
Meanwhile, a few days after this shameless protest, two young artists faced a judge. They were surrounded by supporters and love. William Lucka and Antonio Cosme are charged with felonies for painting “Free the Water” on a Highland Park water tower in 2014. They say it time to resist destruction of our neighborhoods, and to build more conscious communities. Preachers would do well to listen to our Artists.
(artwork by William Lucka)
an interview with Antonio Cosme of the Raiz Up Collective
by Shanna MerrolaIn the spring of 2014, the Detroit Water and Sewage Department (DWSD) announced that a water shutoff quota would begin that March for residents either 60 days or 150 dollars overdue on payments.The unprecedented action of cutting off water to 3,000 households per week in a major U.S. city brought criticism, both nationally and internationally. News spread quickly due to the efforts of water rights activists in both the US and Canada, bringing representatives from the UN to Detroit in October of 2014. During their investigation at this time the United Nations declared that the city was violating thousands of residents’ fundamental human right to access clean, affordable water. Organizers also drew attention to the fact that corporate and large institutional accounts were never shut off, even though their debt was twice that of residential customers and urged for the implementation of a water affordability plan that would assist struggling households.
Instead, DWSD’s process for assistance with water bills was a frustrating, dehumanizing and bureaucratic farce. Residents reported spending hours attempting to make sense of bills that were convoluted and often inaccurate. They were given “assistance” phone numbers that rang endlessly without ever reaching a human being and stood in lines long hours just to learn they were not eligible for help due to missing, obscure deadlines.
During that first summer, community members and grassroots organizers created a rapid response network for water relief. The efforts included a water hotline for assistance in payment plans and water deliveries as well as door-to-door canvassing and the creation of neighborhood water stations. In addition to creating survival strategies through mutual aid, they also circulated petitions to change policy, filled City Council meetings, called press conferences to raise awareness and held endless protests for water rights throughout the city.
It’s been over two years since the aggressive shut-off campaign began, leaving some homes without water for months at a stretch, breaking up families and displacing residents. Not only have water shut offs massively contributed to Detroit’s foreclosure crisis (unpaid water bills can become a lien on a home), they also put parents at risk of losing their children to child protective services. The increasing injustices and struggle around the privatization of water in predominantly Black cities have since been compounded by the tragedy of Flint. And though media attention did help to raise awareness for a brief moment, the hype has since died down. The institutional problems remain and real people are still left suffering. When the camera crews leave, when reporters move onto the next big headline and when the legal system fails to provide protection for individuals over corporations, where do people turn to voice their outrage?
GET YOUR COPY OF MAPPING THE WATER CRISIS!!!!!!
If you’d like a Mapping the Water Crisis book mailed to you go to www.wethepeopleofdetroit.com, hit the donate button & pay $25; put your name, mailing address & email in the notes section. A book will be mailed to you within one week!
Special Screening and Panel Discussion
Tuesday, September 27 from 5-8m ET
Charles H. Wright Museum of African American HistoryDream On, a PBS documentary by award-winning producer and director, Roger Weisberg.
The film investigates the perilous state of the American Dream after decades of rising income inequality and declining economic mobility. In an epic road trip, political comedian John Fugelsang retraces the journey of Alexis de Tocqueville, whose study of our young country in 1831 came to define America as a place where any one, of any background, could climb the ladder of economic opportunity.
The event will kick off with the screening of the Dream On film followed by a panel discussion on the state of the American Dream — streamed live on dptv.org/dreamon.
The Boggs Book Shop is open and waiting for you!
Among many other titles, don’t miss…
Ron Scott’s – How to End Police Brutality
evolution in the 21st Century Anthology
…or the classic, Conversations in Maine