Black and White Keys

  I sat down hesitantly at the piano bench on Read more

Betsy DeVos is the new Cathie Black

Now that Betsy DeVos has successfully bought herself a Read more

BP’s hostile takeover of Michigan’s environmental agency

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hos·tile take·o·ver

/ häˌstīlˈtākˌōvər/, noun

The acquisition of a company whose management does not want the deal to go through.

Last week’s news headlines in Michigan read like a Yes Men-style hoax: Gov. Snyder Appoints BP Lobbyist To Head Michigan Department Of Environmental Quality. Hizzoner King Snyder, freshly-bolstered by months of expensive PR to re-polish his name after that unfortunate incident in which thousands of Flint kids were fed lead-tainted water by his emergency manager – who then lied and covered it up for a year – is on a new mission now. And apparently that mission is to give even less f%&$! than he gave before!

That’s right, this is no hoax. In a scathing editorial, Michigan’s largest newspaper called it “like a sick joke” and noted that his appointee Heidi Grether had, in her own words on her LinkedIn, described her work c̶o̶v̶e̶r̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶u̶p̶ fixing the Deepwater Horizon oil spill for her employer British Petroleum like this:

Developed and implemented the successful exit strategy for Gulf Coast external affairs activities, which obtained zero negative reactions against BP.

Yes, this is the woman Snyder has chosen to lead Michigan’s top environmental agency. This is the woman who will preside over the state’s decision on whether to ignore, replace or remove the aging Enbridge Line 5 pipeline under the straits of Mackinac in the Great Lakes. (Or, as some have almost-perversely suggested, she’ll preside over its looming spill of 23 million gallons/day into the world’s largest supply of surface freshwater (a full 20% of global reserves.) This is the woman who will fix Flint with the experienced gained “because she has stepped up to challenges in the past and managed recovery efforts,” according to Hizzoner. This is the woman who’ll mend public trust in a department that outright lied to the citizens of the state of Michigan, whose lies were covered up by more lies from the top official in the state, whose lies continue to be covered up by an investigation being led by the same state Attorney General responsible for defending the state against lawsuits from Flint parents whose kids will never read at grade level because of a heartless, business-driven government.

So, in the end, we’re left with a hostile takeover: a few rogue leaders in Lansing have betrayed the will of the people to sell their state off to the same company that leaked millions of barrels of oil into the gulf coast. Have we Michigan progressives just grown too tired to fight back anymore? Or maybe this is the straw that will break Snyder’s camel’s back.

I’m reminded of my first activist campaign in 2010: NYC ‘s then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg appointed a total corporate sellout to d̶o̶w̶n̶s̶i̶z̶e̶ run the NYC Dept. of Education. I helped lead a campaign called #DenyWaiver to pressure the state to deny her appointment. Ninety-nine days and a whole lot of smart tactics later we were successful: Cathie Black was out of DOE. It turns out Snyder’s bonehead appointment is still subject to approval from the MI State Senate before she can take office on August 1st. * That senate, majority Republican as it is, might still be receptive to our arguments, though I imagine they’re off on tax dollar-sponsored vacations right now…

Hit me up on Twitter if you’re interested in fighting back on this. 

*CORRECTION: It turns out Snyder’s bonehead appointment is subject to approval from the MI State Senate within 60 days. Per Paul Egan of Detroit Free Press on Twitter: “Senate has 60 session days to reject an appointment by majority vote. If Senate doesn’t act, appointment stands.” Let the countdown begin…

‘Bern It Up’ REMIX by DJ Steve Porter

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Gotta tip my hat to DJ Steve Porter on this one. Also, Bernie doesn’t sound too bad for a Jewish boy from Brooklyn…

1000 Days Since Sandy

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brooklyn-hit-hurricane-sandy

Residents of Red Hook, Brooklyn during Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge. (Photo: Brokelyn)

This week marks the third anniversary of a moment that changed so many lives – including mine – forever. On October 29th, 2012 Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge hit New York City and for days poured destruction onto the city and the surrounding states. Thousands of people were displaced, homes flooded, nearly $100 billion in damage caused, and the lives of already poverty-stricken people were thrown once again into even deeper disarray.

Those were the weeks when my youthful idealism slowly alchemized to a hard, burning realism. Poverty is easy to ignore for too many of us: we build highways over immigrant and working-class neighborhoods to move quickly from the suburbs to the city. With perhaps only the best of intentions, we fund police to criminalize poverty and homelessness into jails. Then we fund foundations, religious institutions and non-profits to provide for the needs of those who aren’t served by our deeply-rigged economic system. All of this is done with white gloves on, and we congratulate ourselves when “official” rates of joblessness and homelessness decline slightly – not because we’ve built a more humane, equitable society but because government rigged the metrics to exclude those too hopeless to even search for work. Still, the poverty endures.

It’s only when the flood waters come in that the deep trenches of the class and racial divides in our cities are fully revealed, and Sandy did just that. Sandy revealed the deep and systemic poverty that lives in the shadows of Wall Street in New York City: the Rockaways, Coney Island, Red Hook, Chinatown, and Long Island, Bergen County in New Jersey. Like Hurricane Katrina before it, Sandy’s destruction carved out the already-existent contours of abandonment in our country.

And the response was … absolutely beautiful. #SandyVolunteers from across the region, even the country, heeded the call of the almost-defunct Occupy movement reincarnated as a people-powered, grassroots disaster relief network. Some 70,000 volunteers braved weather, closed-down streets, gas shortages and mental and physical exhaustion to ferry supplies and expertise to the hardest-hit areas. From my little vantage point holed up in a makeshift relief center in a church, the whole city seemed to be activating to come to the aid of the neediest. It was truly solidarity in action.

For months, I dedicated my life to the relief effort – turning down paid work and nearly driving myself into financial ruin without a thought in my mind of doing anything else. Like the occupation a year early, this was the most important thing happening in the world at the moment. I know I wasn’t the only person to feel that way. So we toiled away to set up dispatches and registries and shuttle people and supplies to the front lines while working with unions and advocacy groups to demand a more just and equitable recovery. Arguably, we succeeded in some respects though there is still so much work ahead: today, we have an administration much more committed to the hungry, the homeless and the displaced from Sandy. But vigilant we must remain.

As I sit in my office in downtown Detroit today, a thousand miles away from the storm, I reflect on all the ways that Sandy changed me. The Detroit Water Brigade was deeply-informed by our Sandy work, and I continue to think of Detroit as a “disaster without water” that demands the same kind of broad humanitarian relief effort to recover and again become a world-class city. Still, I think of how disasters affect the poor the harshest. And how a culture that values people over profits will never be able to respond to disaster like one that truly values human lives above all. It’s reassuring to feel that today so many others feel that way like me, many more than did before Sandy.

Keep fighting, and loving,

Justin

PS – Will you join me in pitching in $10 today to support The Action Center of Far Rockaway on the front lines of Sandy recovery work?

Edward Snowden is a Hero

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snowden-profile-pic-675x1024In the digital age, things happen so friggin’ fast that sometimes it’s worth slowing down amoment to reflect on how far we’ve come. Nowhere in our culture is that as clear to me as in our understanding of mass surveillance. A little more than two years ago, in May of 2013, almost nobody was talking about the NSA spying on our emails, our phone calls and our metadata. Heck, that word was so geeky it glazed eyes on arrival!

May of 2013 was the same month a little-known security contractor named Ed left an NSA facility in Hawaii with a few thumb drives packed with the secrets that would bust open the seal on one of America’s best-kept secrets. He fled for Hong Kong, ultimately Russia, and the stuff he shared unleashed a furious debate about government overreach and privacy around the world. John Oliver called for an end to the government’s ‘Dick Pic‘ program, a feature film and graphic biography were made about him, and scientists in Germany named a new crayfish species after Snowden.

Everybody seems to be talking about Snowden, except our government. 

I think that, too, will change. Recently, Democratic presidential hopeful Larry Lessig called Snowden “a hero”. The White House finally responded to a petition signed by over 120,000 people to pardon Snowden — albeit with the wrong answer. This is becoming the elephant in the national room that nobody can ignore.

My simple view is that Snowden shouldn’t be extradited back to the U.S. to face trial, he should be paraded through the streets of D.C. and New York as an American hero. Yes, a hero. Like Thomas Paine, who ignited the first American Revolution and then found himself imprisoned in France for helping ignite a popular revolution there, too. And just like Snowden, Paine found no sympathy from President George Washington, who ignored his appeals for safe transport back to the country he had served because he had alluded to secret negotiation underway with France in his pamphlets.

And so, like New Yorkers did for Paine, we the people must organize to bring Snowden back safely. 

When Paine was ultimately brought back to New York, he was greeted by the masses with celebration. The political pressure they applied ultimately earned Paine $3,000 from the nascent U.S. Congress in recognition for his services, plus an estate in New Rochelle, New York – all probably negotiated by Paine’s friend on the inside Benjamin Franklin.

Let’s get more of the 2016 presidential candidates to speak out in support of Snowden, and make this an issue on which we judge all of them, Democrats and Republicans and independents.

Dispatch from Detroit: Turn Back on the Power

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Last week, my good friend Pastor Ray Anderson of the House of Help Community Center in hard-hit northwest Detroit called me with some bad news: the lights were out in his building. The monopoly private utility company, DTE Energy, had come to collect on $16,000 in overdue payments and he didn’t have the money. It was Thursday, the same day that over 100 hungry families come each week to pick up food baskets at House of Help. What do we do?

He had been through this before. The building he inherited from the Detroit Public Schools (DPS) had a broken boiler system, so he had energy-intensive space heaters installed temporarily in the classrooms to keep the children in his free after-school program warm. These cost him $6,000 a month in heating bills during the cold winters. He would replace the entire boiler system eventually, he said, when he secured the building from Detroit and began renovating it. But that was only a dream at $50,000 away… What do we do?

Then, the water pipes leaked and burst. He invested $15,000 in new water infrastructure when DPS said they couldn’t help with the abandoned school building and it was on him (the tenant) to fix it. The bills started stacking up faster than the meager income from donations and sponsors. He fell behind on his water bill, but the kids still needed food and tutoring, the families still needed clothes from his free store and food baskets from his pantry. Jobs in the community were nearly non-existent. But life must go on. What do we do?

He called me one day when a water shutoff notice came. Even before the date had come for the crews to come out and cut the water, it was cut off. The taps went dry. We mounted an offensive campaign against the water department and got them to agree to cut it back on – temporarily. The bills keep racking up, and residents with no water in the neighborhood come to him for food and drink. What do we do?

Now the lights are off. We hold a candle-lit vigil with little tea votives lining the stage of this old school-auditorium-turned-sanctuary. And pray. And G-d said, let there be light…

And yesterday morning the lights were restored, after tense negotiations with DTE and donations large and small from hundreds of supporters. The halls of the House of Help are once again illuminated, shining above the classrooms where kids sit with their tutors unfazed by the business squabbles of adults. There will be more light, as we plan our upcoming crowd-funding campaign: $50,000, no $75,000… no! $100,000 to keep the lights on, pay all the bills, buy the building! Let’s do this.

Will it work? Only G-d knows. We launch in a few weeks, with an honest video plea to help the House of Help revitalize a moribund community where a 28-year old man was shot dead on the corner last week. Where chaos reins over compassion – for now. Let’s do this.

On June 1st, Detroit Workers and Builders (DWB 2.0) will launch with a crowd-funding campaign to restore power to Northwest Detroit – starting with our new headquarters at the House of Help Community Center.

To learn more and sign up to attend physically or virtually online, visit DetroitWorkers.com

The hallways of the House of Help without electricity.

The hallways of the House of Help without electricity.

Dispatch from Detroit: Runaway Water Rates And the Case for Nonpayment

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Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them.

-Frederick Douglass, 1818-1895

Water and sewerage rates in Detroit are literally out of control. Rates have risen 119% in the last decade. This month the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) is proposing another 12% rate increase, even as they cut the water to thousands of low-income residents. Many families spend upwards of 20% of their monthly income on water and sewerage, when the federal government considers 2.5% to be the affordability threshold. 80% of the city can’t afford the water, and nearly half are behind on their bills.

It is well-established in legal case law that a user fee – like your water bill – must be proportional to the necessary cost of the service, or else it is a tax. In Detroit today, the cost of the service and the price have become completely uncoupled: a full half of the price of water is to pay off old bad debt. Think about that for a second: half of the money you spend on your water bill basically goes to pay the interest on a credit card that you didn’t ask for. The guy who did? He’s behind bars for federal corruption (and so is his boss.)

The price is also uncoupled from the cost in another way: people are charged by their usage while 90% of the costs of running the system are fixed, i.e. they don’t depend on how much water we use or discard. This is why we are in the ridiculous position of being told that the rates are going up even while we use less water due to rain and better conservation! A pricing structure that punishes people for using less of a supposedly-scarce resource doesn’t even make sense. The reality is that we aren’t paying for water: we’re paying to line the pockets of Wall Street bondholders with inflated interest payments.

The problem is the banks, in particular the water bondholders. Last year the water department realized that cutting off the water to thousands of poor people wasn’t actually a good way to collect money. (Hint: you can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip!) So they did something smart: they went to the bondholders and asked them to voluntarily turn in their bonds for a refinancing at a lower interest rate. The result was $250 million saved from future Detroiters’ water bills. That’s 10 times more money saved than from shutting off our water – and no one lost their home, kids, or life.

And so we are left with a recurring situation in 21st-century America: The rich are benefitting more from, and paying proportionately less for, essential public services. The reality is that water bills are a tax in Detroit – not a user fee – but a very regressive one for poor people. We should acknowledge this fact and fix the rate structure to be truly progressive. Yes, wealthier people should pay more for water so that poor people can pay less. The alternative is that only some people get water. The alternative is death.

How do we make this shift to water as a human right paid for by progressive general taxation? My proposal is a tried-and-true method from the civil rights movement: boycott payment. The only leverage we the people have against a water department that increasingly doesn’t have to listen to us is our pocketbooks. Let’s refuse to pay, or at least refuse to pay more. Do what some of my friends do in Highland Park, where the city has had such trouble collecting water bills they don’t even send them anymore: pay a fixed, fair amount each month. When the bills are reasonable and proportional to the quality of service and our ability to pay, we’ll pay in full again.

Until then, it’s time to say: Can’t pay! Won’t pay!

Please sign our petition calling on the city of Detroit to cancel the bad water debt, and help us deliver it at the DWSD’s February 25th water rate hike meeting: 2pm, 735 Randolph Street downtown

Dispatch from Detroit: I’m Quitting Facebook

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Peace Out, Facebook.

Peace Out, Facebook.

tl;dr version: I’m shutting down my Facebook profile. If you don’t care why and just want to know where I’m going instead, jump down to the big bold link below…

 

I’m busting out of the Facebook factory, friends. I’ve just had enough! I’ve had enough of the endless comments, click-bait memes, and other mental noise pollution. The whole thing feels demeaning now: I am more than an aggregation of my “friends”, a collection of photos, a series of Facebook event pages, a few “likes”. I’ve spent way too many hours pushing pixels around…

 

I am a man. And I deserve to own and be paid for my creative work, not to be turned into an attractive canvas for someone else’s advertising.

 

What do I mean? I’ll give you an example: when I was in college, I managed and played in a few bands that performed on the weekends. Every student organization and small business in town begged us to play their events without pay, for “exposure”. I politely told them that my band was professional and here’s our rate. And I paid my musicians on the spot, even if I had to front the money myself from a heel-dragging venue or club. I respected their work, and in doing so I earned their loyalty. Cats showed up on time and ready for my gigs.

 

Facebook is the epitome of the “exposure” hoax: it plays on our vanity and desire to be liked by many people, at almost any cost. Having administered several large Facebook pages myself, I can tell you that if you don’t pay for “reach” now on Facebook not even a fraction of your fans will see your posts. On top of that, the cost to every user in time and energy is profit to Facebook: they made $2.6 billion last quarter alone. They’re buying up land around Silicon Valley to build their own villages. They’re running experiments on our emotions by altering what we see in our news feeds. If they were a medieval kingdom, the serfs would have revolted by now. Enough, I’m out.

 

I tried to work with Facebook, even running a campaign last year called Pay Me Facebook calling on the social media company to start compensating users for posting original content. At that time, no viable alternative really existed. Now, the thousands of people who joined our campaign have somewhere new to go.

 

So where am I going? Well, the good news is there’s a growing alternative called Tsū that is just like Facebook with one major difference: you get to own and keep all your content and get paid for it by sharing 90% of the ad royalties the company earns. My organization, the Detroit Water Brigade, joined Tsū recently, and we’ve already earned nearly $800 in royalties – and donations from other Tsū users that gift their royalties to us. That’s $800 that would have gone into the pocket of Mark Zuckerberg & Co. that is now bailing out low-income families in Detroit.

 

I invite you to join me on Tsū, by clicking this link and joining under the Water Brigade.

 

Tsū is invite-only but free to all, so you must join under an existing user. By joining under the Brigade, you are already helping Detroiters: 1/3rd of the revenue you generate will go automatically to our organization. Just by posting original content and interacting with other users, you are helping families in Detroit by redistributing ad revenue from corporations to people in need.

 

So adiós, Facebook. It was nice while it lasted, but I’m spent. You can find me in Detroit.

 

PS – If you decide to make the jump with me, let me know and I’ll send you a nice welcome message on Tsu!

Why I Closed the #TweetBoat

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#TweetBoat

Photo: @Tw1tt3rart

En tren con destino errado se va más lento que andando a pie /
On a train headed the wrong way one moves more slowly than by foot
-Jorge Drexler

Below I explain why I temporarily shut down the Occupy Wall Street NYC twitter account, and how I will reopen it in the hands of responsible stewards.

 

The context

On the night before September 17, 2011 I found myself in the Brooklyn Commons preparing for an action called Occupy Wall Street. I was armed with nothing more than a backpack, some camping gear, a megaphone and a Twitter account with 1,300 followers that had been handed to me by a comrade. She was tasked with delivering it to someone in New York City on behalf of Adbusters, the Canadian-based culture-jamming magazine that had created it. As it turns out, all of those other things I had with me have been lost to time or to Bloomberg’s Army except one: @OccupyWallStNYC. That Twitter account persists to today, with over 174,000 followers who have tuned into a movement that still remains alive and kicking nearly three years later.

 

I began to build a team of people that I thought had interesting lenses into the movement from within. For a while it was just one young woman and I. She had backpacked to Zuccotti Park all the way from Oregon, and she struck me as an inspiring and charismatic human being. We ran the account jointly, tweeting while marching through the streets of Manhattan or sprawled out on blankets in the occupied park. There were no rules then, other than the minimum amount of security culture necessary to protect the account. I named our little team the #TweetBoat, inspired by the #LulzBoat of Lulzsec, an offshoot of Anonymous.

 

So the two of us went along tweeting and documenting what we saw, experienced and took part in at OWS. Along the way, we befriended others and grew the team organically. Soon, weekly meetings began to take place – first onsite at the park and eventually at bars nearby on Thursday nights. I bought many rounds of drinks to entice folks out and thank them in some small way for their contributions to the boat. We built a solid team of 8 or 10 folks, and at that size the boat ran relatively smoothly. Meetings were sometimes contentious, but always empowering and respectful. Sometimes a celebrity would show up, or a random stranger would wander into the back of the bar and join us. We reveled in the comradery that entangled us together in those magical nights on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

 

Consensus is a powerful too, but it is fragile. When stretched beyond the net of trust that our solidarity helped build, collective decision-making can become coercive and ultimately exclusionary: the allure of finding consensus, by pushing out dissenters, overtakes our collective desire to agree. Consensus is a tool that must be wielded carefully. And the culture that we built on the #TweetBoat allowed us to create a safe space for consensus decision-making that was inclusive of an ever-growing team.

 

What happened?

Things started to fall apart. The team grew bigger and bigger, but met less and less often. Gone were the inspiring Thursday night bar meetings, replaced with infrequent reunions of small groups of us. These reunions for me were often filled with awkward nostalgia and longing for a renewed sense of community. As meetings dwindled, more communication began to happen by email – a wholly inadequate forum for deep, consensus-based decision-making. The addition of the new tool web tool Loomio offered some promise, but nothing can replace real community building in person. The #TweetBoat had lost its verve.

 

In early 2014, a series of very toxic email threads began to shake the boat. A member who published some of its contents compromised our secured listserv, protected by the mutual agreement of all members not to share its contents publicly without consent. Newer members to the group found themselves wrapped in a dust storm of festering inter-personal conflicts. The tone of emails became accusatory and grandstanding became commonplace. I started to worry about the future of the boat.

 

Finally, things came to a head last week. A thread about “self-promotion” became just another shaming session. If we start from a place of assuming bad intentions – i.e. discouraging “self-promotion” over encouraging solid, relevant content – we will end up with rules that shame rather than empower. Group members took on the task of limiting others to “1 to 2 tweets per day” (or week) on a topic, a form of censorship that would never have been allowed in the earlier days of the boat. I had to say enough!

 

This party is over. Time to go home. Time to clean house for the next party. Time to sleep, to heal, and to reflect.

Many people will be angry. They have that right.

Many people will be saddened. I will be the first to admit my own sadness to see a beautiful collaboration turn into a toxic, unsafe space.

 

What is next?

The account is closed. No more tweets for now. I plan to read through each of the 47,806 sent tweets, of which about 80% I crafted. (The first year or so of tweets can be found here, and the rest will be published shortly for all to see.) As I read them, I’ll reflect on what happened and how the awakening that OWS was for so many of us has changed me. Perhaps you’ll read them, too.

 

Clearly the question of ownership of the account is a contentious one, and I don’t pretend to have all the answers. The success of the #TweetBoat was in creating shared ownership of this collective resource by many different people with often divergent perspectives on what Occupy is. Still, even collective resources like gardens need human stewardship. I don’t shy away from currently being the chief steward of this account, and my plan is to reinvigorate it again by putting it back in the hands of responsible stewards. Until that happens, it doesn’t have much use. What is a garden worth if all the gardeners are fighting instead of tending it?

 

One thing is for certain: the future of the #TweetBoat, like the future of this movement, depends upon embracing change. Movements move. So do people and so do groups. It was never my intention to hoard this resource to myself, which is why I built a solid team and that team deserves praise. I hope that many of them will participate in its next iteration: clear shared leadership, more in-your-face, ground-based tactical media and democratic decision-making.

 

This boat for a long time was moving in the wrong direction. This is the first step in turning it around.

 

Dispatch from Detroit 4 | Democracy is Not a Spectator Sport

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When Emergency Managers give you lemons...

A theoretical rendering of the new Ilitch Stadium re-purposed to the original intent of its public school tax-dollar financing.

 

I had an idea tonight:

I am not being facetious. I am dead serious about this one, people.

First, some context. In case you didn’t notice, Detroit has been in a NAFTA-induced downward spiral of “free market” hell for the last several decades. The population of this once-great metropolis has nose-dived from over 2 million to fewer than 700,000 as nearly everybody with money ran for the suburbs. Wealthy suburbanites still control much of the land, some of the water, and all of the professional sports teams. That doesn’t seem to keep them from Detroit-bashing, as exemplified by suburban Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson this past January:

“I made a prediction a long time ago, and it’s come to pass. I said, ‘What we’re gonna do is turn Detroit into an Indian reservation, where we herd all the Indians into the city, build a fence around it, and then throw in the blankets and the corn.’ ”

So we come to learn that Detroit’s wealthiest man, Little Caesar’s owner Mike Ilitch, has decided to build a new hockey stadium – next to two other brand-new stadiums, one of which is also Ilitch’s. The price tag stands at $650 million, which of course will be paid for by Ilitch and his over $1.7 billion in total worth taxpayer funds redirected from school property taxes.

Yes, you read that correctly. The City of Detroit intends to pay Mike Ilitch to build this stadium from money originally destined for schools. (Technically, the state is supposed to reimburse the City for all school funds expended on the stadium. This, of course, begs the question of why the state didn’t just pay for it in the first place…)

Isn’t it immoral to take money from an already-stretched school system featuring 43 kids in a classroom and 26 proposed school closures this year including a school for pregnant teens?

Yes.

Doesn’t that foreclose on an entire generation of Detroit youth just to please a billionaire who doesn’t even need the money?

Yes.

But won’t it create jobs?

Yes. But not for the youth whose schools are being closed: the Detroit City Council approved the massive $1 public land handover to Ilitch without even getting a commitment that 26% of the arena jobs would go to Detroiters.

Wait, why only 26%?

Ugh. Major #facepalm.

So we are left with what you might expect of a city under “emergency financial management” – read “dictatorship” – and a corrupt City Council that is completely complicit in the ransacking and looting of Detroit by the same Old Boy’s Club that’s been driving it into the ground for decades.

Which leads me back to my initial suggestion: if the city is going to keep foreclosing on kids’ futures just to make a buck for some rich suburban dude, I propose we get ready to hold high school math class in the high-end luxury boxes at Ilitch-Land Stadium next year.

Dispatch from Detroit #3, On Water

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photo

 

The waves of the Detroit River lap up onto the wall of the riverwalk downtown, and young children play in the fountains that shoot up through the concrete in the park below the towering Renaissance Center. It is Saturday in Motown, and the sun is shining warm rays down on working-class folk enjoying a day of rest.

Just a few miles away, on the east side across the highway, Jean stands on her porch and worries about the pregnant mom whose water was shut off Thursday morning by Homrich contractors working for the City of Detroit under emergency financial management. They came that morning in a red pickup truck with a homemade decal on the side. In an arc around a circle it read “DETROIT WATER COLLECTION PROJECT”- quite official-looking – and inside the circle it read “WATER ****** HOMRICH”, the asterisks representing a scribbled out word SHUTOFF that was removed after community protests about shaming neighborhood residents.

Jean came yesterday to the weekly, growing Freedom Fridays rallies at the Detroit Water and Sewerage Dept (DWSD) to voice her outrage at seeing a pregnant mother and young children denied the basic

Jean speaks out at a Freedom Friday rally, 6/21

Jean speaks out at a Freedom Friday rally, 6/21

human right to water in a city surrounded by the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth, containing 21% of the world’s surface fresh water. Her voice faltered as she worked to hold back tears on the megaphone. Her tone was one part desperation and one part pure rage, a rage that is simmering with the summer heat and the threat of over 100,000 family water shutoffs in the hot months ahead.

The media has been nearly silent on the issue of water shutoffs since Detroit’s emergency management began to ramp them up last month. With so much negative news about bankruptcy and blight already, could it be that the country has become desensitized to Detroit’s suffering? Or is it just increasingly difficult to cut through the corporate spin machine that seems to dictate so much of what we hear and see these days on the TV and in newspapers, as Conan  O’Brien famously demonstrated when he showed how local news stations were just lazily parroting national corporate press releases. Whatever the reason, you won’t be reading about this humanitarian crisis in USA Today – yet.

Yet. Because we’re going to ramp up the pressure and make this issue un-unreportable.

Yet. Because everyone in the country – in the world? – deserves to know that in the richest country on Earth poor people are having their water shutoff because they can’t pay.

Yet. Because if the water shutoffs don’t stop, an army of peaceful resistance will stop them.

This is a call to action to become part of that resistance.

Visit the Detroit Water Brigade and enlist to help deliver resources and support to those most in need.

Water is a human right.