Wednesday, May 5, 2021
Uncategorized Privatization and displacement, from Detroit to the Bay Area

Privatization and displacement, from Detroit to the Bay Area


Protesters fight water privatization in Detroit. Photo courtesy Institute for Public Accuracy
Protesters fight water privatization in Detroit. Photo courtesy Institute for Public Accuracy

By Tiny (aka Lisa Gray-Garcia)

“We are hiding out in our own house with no water,” Shelah, a 15-year-youth and poverty skola, whispered on the phone to me. She went on to tell me she and her mama and nine-year-old brother were one of thousands of poor families who had their water service cut off in the last few months by the Detroit Water and Sewage District.

Since spring, as many as 3,000 Detroit households a week have been getting their water shut-off – for owing as little as $150 or two months in back bills. This is the Detroit facing water privatization, in which upward of 150,000 customers, late on bills that have increased 119 percent in the last decade, are now threatened with shut-offs. Detroit organizers estimate this could impact nearly half of Detroit’s mostly poor and black population – between 200,000 and 300,000 people.

Privatization is the US corporate answer to everything, and to Detroit, like Chicago, New Orleans, San Francisco and Oakland and hundreds of other US cities, this means the private corporate theft of all of our public resources including schools, parks, streets and housing.

As us poor folks know, the result is we end up water-less, house-less, street-less and park-less — gentriFUKed out of our own neighborhoods, schools and communities and shuttled into the biggest private corporation of them all, plantation prisons.

This is nothing new — poor people are always getting our so-called public utilities shut off. When me and my mama were dealing with our life-long poverty and about to be houseless, all of our utilities were cut off. The first thing that happened was my mama was afraid CPS would find out and mark her as “negligent.” This is part of the deep criminalization and catch-22 that poor families face all the time, causing us to not even seek so-called “help” for fear of more theft, removal, and criminalization.
“My friend was put into foster care after her water got cut off,” Shelah whispered. She and her family were one of the many families who are now at risk of seizure by Children’s Separation Service, because after they take everything away from us poor folks, then they threaten to take our children. “That’s when we went into hiding,” she concluded.
A coalition of grassroots groups like Detroit People’s Water Board, Food and Water Watch, and Canada-based Blue Planet Project issued a report on June 18 that contained the testimony of people who were affected by the service shutoffs and said they were given no warning. They submitted the report to the United Nations naming these shut-offs as a violation of human rights – and the UN answered back.
“Disconnection of water services because of failure to pay due to lack of means constitutes a violation of the human right to water and other international human rights,” the U.N. officials said in a news release. “Because of a high poverty rate and a high unemployment rate, relatively expensive water bills in Detroit are unaffordable for a significant portion of the population.”
The public water system, a prized resource worth billions and sitting on the Great Lakes, is now the latest target of the private devil-opers – and these mass water shut-offs of our peoples homes are a way to make the so-called public utility more attractive in the lead up to its privatization.
As Po’ folks, our so-called public resources are always under attack, our so-called free lives who were used, stolen and exploited to build this stolen land are always at-risk of eviction, displacement, death by police terror, and/or incarceration.

This is why us poor and landless folks at POOR Magazine are actively creating an international model for poor people-led change we call Homefulness in Deep East Ohlone Land (Oakland) where we take our stolen resources back, self-determined by us and teach descendants of stolen wealth hoarders to redistribute their families stolen and hoarded blood-stained dollars.

This is what we at POOR Magazine call Community Reparations. And this model needs to be practiced across the world so these violations of our human bodies, our communities and our land will cease to occur.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.


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  2. What utter nonsense. Everywhere in the nation, if you don’t pay your water bill, you get cut off. It happens in San Francisco too. Water isn’t free even if it is essential. Housing, energy, food, transportation are also all essential but you still have to pay for them. “Essential” doesn’t mean “free”. It costs money to produce and deliver important resources.

    But Detroit is a special case of course, because Detroit is the ultimate failed city. It’s an example of what happens to a city if it follows “progressive” policies but you are not lucky or skillful enough to have a vibrant local economy to mask the flaws with that. SF can afford some “borrow, tax and spend” policies. Detroit cannot. It’s bankrupt and has had to slash services to pay the bloated pensions of past and present city workers. And even SF may not escape that fate if we have a recession and policies do not change.

    If cities didn’t cut off water when you don’t pay your bill, nobody would pay their bill. It’s really that simple. The rest of your narrative is thinly disguised class warfare and reverse racism.

    Oh and Tiny, your case really isn’t improved by using words like “skola” (whatever that means).. While describing people who do pay their water bill as “descendants of stolen wealth hoarders” isn’t going to win you too many friends in influential places either.

    Lose the ebonics and the envy, and you might just win some converts to your appeal for a handouts. Stick with the divisive hate speech and cheap identity politics, and your influence will remain, well, tiny.

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