The politics of water: Detroit, West Virginia, Gaza

My latest for Al Jazeera, on the water crisis in Detroit and beyond:

Detroit is one of the poorest cities in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Detroit is also surrounded by the largest supply of fresh water in the world. The US does not lack for money, and Detroit does not lack for accessible water. What Detroit lacks are people viewed as worthy of the compassion and resources given to their richer, whiter peers. They lack the rights and respect most US citizens take for granted.

At a rally in June, life-long Detroiter Renla Session spoke out for her community: “These are my fellow human beings. If they threatened to cut off water to an animal shelter, you would see thousands of people out here. It’s senseless … They just treat people like their lives mean nothing here in Detroit, and I’m tired of it.”

When rights are considered privileges, only the privileged have rights.

“They treat people like animals in Detroit,” an auto worker complained in July, but the US treats its poorest citizens worse. When the government shut down in late 2013, the food programme for impoverished women and children was suspended – but the animals in the National Zoo stayed fed. More attention was paid to the shutdown of the PandaCam, a livestream of a bear cub, than to the suffering of the US’ poorest citizens.

Water is a human right, but who is a human being? Corporations, the US supreme court ruled in June, as the parched citizens of Detroit started filling up at water fountains.

“In its last day in session, the high court not only affirmed corporate personhood but expanded the human rights of corporations, who by some measures enjoy more protections than mortals – or ‘natural persons’,” wrote Dana Milbank at The Washington Post.

The mortals of Detroit enjoy no such protection. Perhaps that is why the city’s corporate venues – like its high-end golf club, hockey arena, football stadium, and over half of the city’s commercial and industrial users – still have their water running despite owing over $30m, while its most impoverished residents have their water, and their rights, taken away.

In Detroit, corporations are people. Their worth is unquestioned because it is measured in dollars. The worth of the residents of Detroit is measured in utility, and so their utilities are denied.

Read the full article, Water is a human right, but who is considered a human being? at Al Jazeera English.

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5 Responses to The politics of water: Detroit, West Virginia, Gaza

  1. zareenn3 says:

    It opens your eyes to all other countries and the crisis and makes you think all countries are more and less the same. Our government is more or less the same.
    Thank you so much for sharing and bringing light on this important subject.

  2. LeAnne says:

    Thank you for this story and your perspective on it. I have been taken aback by the way it’s been reported elsewhere; for example, on the radio show The Takeaway recently, access to water was framed as a question – right or privilege? – as if the matter should be up for debate: http://www.thetakeaway.org/story/taps-turned-detroit-pose-big-questions-about-future-water/

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