Growing up in the 80s and 90s, I mistakenly thought that environmentalism was something simply to do with saving the rainforest and the ozone layer. “Environment” was a fancy word for places far away from the working class former factory town where I lived. Certainly, “saving the environment” was important for all of us, but it was hard to think about forests and the ozone while living next to a crack house and being battered by Reaganomics. I did not learn until I was much older and formally learning about Black feminism in a classroom that environmental justice was inextricably linked to issues of race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, and access.
The effects of climate change and the do-nothing attitude of governmental leaders is creating a recipe for epic disaster as you read this post. These days it is hard for me not to notice how connected so much of the violence we experience in communities of color as an issue of environmental justice.
Take, for instance, Detroit.
Detroit is a city that can’t seem to catch a break. Between the extreme government-sponsored fiscal mismanagement to the don’t-give-a-fuck attitude the city has towards its residents, Detroit is generally not seen as a place that has its shit together. Nevertheless, the current fabricated water crisis is the coup de grace of fuckery in a city already under resourced.
Workers World reports that:
“Mass water cutoffs have been accelerating in Detroit. The Water Department has hired special contractors, under the direction of Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, as part of restructuring the city in the ongoing bankruptcy proceedings. Up to 3,000 families a week are being denied water for failure to pay their water bills. These bills are often only $125 dollars behind.
Many victims of the shutoffs are already in an agreed-upon payment plan schedule. It is believed that the aim is to make the Water Department more attractive as an investment for privatization.”
Folks who are $125 behind in their bills in a city where the streetlights are routinely off are now also being denied water, a basic human right?
Oh wait, we’re talking about low-income Black and Brown folk, not humans? ‘Cause that’s clearly the message that is being sent here.
Before someone bends their mouth to talk about personal responsibility and the like, I want to be clear that lack of access to water is not only a reprehensible moral issue, it is an impending public health crisis. Water is not just for drinking, although that is, of course, vitally important. We need water to cook with, to bathe with, to flush our ding dang toilets. When thousand of residents in a city are without water, this circumstance could turn into an even bigger, and potentially more deadly, health problem.
The conspiracy theorist in me just thinks that the powers that be just want poor folks to die and if they can’t have a natural disaster (see Katrina et. al.) then one can be made up. Then we can have gentrification, displacement, and the destruction of another chocolate city.
Thankfully, this situation is getting some much needed attention not only in Detroit, but across the nation and the globe. The United Nations has condemned the water shutoffs in Detroit—not like any part of the US government gives a rat’s ass about what the UN says unless it’s convenient. But I do hope that this highlights the good work of organizations working towards environmental justice on the ground in the D, such as Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice and the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative.
So, fam, what are your thoughts on the situation in Detroit? What are the issues of environmental justice in your own communities?