Detroit Goddamn


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?

10 thoughts on “Detroit Goddamn

  1. Funny you site MUFI – MUFI is known for having a white savior complex in Detroit. Many of MUFI’s founders are from Ann Arbor and took root in Detroit’s North End with no whim or respect for the work happening in the neighborhood. The Eastern Michigan Environmental Action Council (EMEAC) is poc-led and EJ focused. All in all – hopefully all these groups can work together to organize against this crisis & future environmental attacks on Detroiters.

    1. I totally agree with this sentiment. Especially knowing personally one of the founders. But overall, an excellent article that captures the frustrations of residents and carefully dissects this issue in order to solicit change.

      1. I really appreciate ya’ll telling the truth about these groups. As a New Orleanian, I often found myself (and still do, but to a lesser extent) having to inform people whats really happening on the ground, because often times the groups that folks outside of the city/region know of are the ones able to use their whiteness and other forms of privilege to get resources at the expense of work happening by those most affected. Not that its a dichotomy.

        But yes, thank you, @crunkadelic for speaking truth to power!! It’s soooo deep how our humanity is stripped each day…piece by piece. Housing, healhcare, water, quality air…….

  2. Thanks, as usual for great work.

    Good piece in Daily Kos on Maureen Taylor, Detroit activist challenging a fuck-nut calling himself a journalist, I believe, on basically leaving out of his diatribe about people not being responsible and paying their water bills, (many disabled, low, lower or no-income, many black residents (and I would venture to guess, even without stats, that many are single moms with families), how simply “usual” who really pays the price)….well she put him straight about him just conveniently forgetting to point out that corporations and businesses in Detroit owe thousands or perhaps it was tens of thousands in back bills, but are they having their water cut off????? WELL, FUCK NOT, of course….Maureen is my hero of the day.

    1. In all fairness, the reporter talking with Ms. Taylor is actually a pretty good reporter—he was basically just probably repeating info fed to him by the Water Department’s reps,that’s all. Saw that interview, so I just wanted to clear that up. Since the city’s broke, they’re going after any means to pay the city’s debt (which was caused by Wall Street and the banks in the first damn place.) And the local news did do a piece last week about the local corporations that owe millions of dollars in late water bills, so at least that wasn’t ignored.

  3. Hey—I’m a part-time activist who does volunteer work with a local group here in Detroit called Moritorium Now—we had a huge march and a rally yesterday afternoon at Hart Plaza in downtown Detroit protesting the water shut-offs. We’re been protesting that and challenging the bankrupcty at every turn since it started last year. Along with other groups like Detroit Eviction Defense, Detroiters Against Emergency Management, National Action Network, and Michigan Welfare Rights (which Maureen Taylor co-runs here, and of course she was at yesterday’s rally—she greeted me with a nice fist bump—I’ve known her from various meetings and protests over the years, and yep, she’s known for telling it like it is.) and some folks from Occupy Detroit, and a local union or two, we’re been raising hell up in the D about all the BS that’s been going down in the D since the EM was put in charge. You can check for more info about what’s been going at MN’s site:

    Also, people may be wondering why people don’t just pay their water bills before they get shut off—basically, there are reasons for that—-a lot of low-income folks have to decide which bill they should pay—the light bill, the gas bill or the water bill, and naturally they pay whatever they can or whatever is most pressing at the time. It’s not like people are just sitting around just deciding not to pay their water bills. It also dosen’t help that in some cases, the water bills are attached to a homeowner’s property taxes, which makes it a little harder to catch up with the bill. Another thing that’s messed up about that situation—I’ve heard that if a family with kids gets their water shut off, they’re at potential risk for having the kids taken by CPS (Child Protective Services) because without water, they can’t provide a sanitary environment for the kids. It dosen’t help that the both the govenor and the EM are more interested in carving up the city, selling it off piece by piece, and privatizing what’s left. And they thought that the people of Detroit were just going to sit there, roll over and let it happen—and were shocked when they got called out by the aforementioned groups as to whether the process by which they expediting the bankrupcty was even legal in the first place.

    Anyway, life still goes on in the D like it does anywhere else, despite all the BS going on here, People still work, laugh, play, go to school, take their kids to the Detroit Puppet Theatre,and celebrate birthdays and summer and all of that. And a lot of people here who have deep roots in the city are not gonna give up and let it go without a fight—-they’re not sitting around and complaining about it either–they’re going out and doing something about the situation,period.
    Thanks for giving this problem in the D some notice here. There’s also a big urban gardening trend that’s been spreading throughout the city, and it’s really taken off, so that would worth giving some notice to, too.

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