Photo of Kevin Orr (Clarence Tabb Jr / The Detroit News)
Last week, in a speech to the Detroit Economic Club at Cobo Center, former Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr told an audience of business and government elites:
“Some of [the water crisis] was orchestrated. We know that the Occupy Wall Street folks are the folks behind Detroit Water Brigade.”
Yes, Orr has “outed” us: we are #OccupyWallStreet, #BlackLivesMatter, #DetroitWater and so much more. We are the 99 percent, young and old, of every race and religion, urban, suburban, and rural. The nation rallied with us by the thousands last summer. Dozens were arrested and still face trial, and the United Nations condemned Detroit’s emergency management for violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The largest nurses union in the country declared Detroit in a “public health emergency,” with an infant mortality rate higher than Mexico. The Irish Parliament brought us to Dublin to testify. Even The Hulk himself, actor Mark Ruffalo, came to Detroit to turn the water back on. Occupy Wall Street stands behind the people of Detroit because Wall Street bondholders stand behind the water shutoff program.
In reality, we’ve been on the front lines of this real crisis, bringing emergency relief to thousands of Detroiters pushed to the brink by utility cutoffs, foreclosure, crumbling public services and mass joblessness. With a full-time, volunteer staff of six Detroiters, an army of over five hundred local volunteer do-gooders, and thousands of supporters online, we’ve built a movement to return dignity to the streets of Detroit. That movement preceded the bankruptcy and its pension cuts and it will outlive Orr’s unpopular austerity policies.
Orr might be long gone from Detroit, but he leaves behind a city with a real and ongoing humanitarian crisis.
Some facts today:
■ Last month, Detroit shut off the water to 2,094 residential properties across the city, an 80 percent increase over one year ago. This despite the fact that shutoffs were halted for nearly 15 days after our organization reported billing system failures that were keeping disconnected families from paying their bills.
■ Over 30,000 families were disconnected from water services in 2014. The city estimates that 25 percent of families disconnected are not able to get their water restored within 48 hours. In testimony before City Council in June of 2014, the water department acknowledged it had no plan to monitor the well-being of those remaining residents.
■ There are over 18,000 un-housed people currently living in Detroit. Last month, a homeless tent city emerged downtown just blocks from the Renaissance Center.
The stark reality is that the bankruptcy did little to relieve the overbearing burden of water debt in Detroit: $5.2 billion in 30-year loans with interest that the city expects us to pay for with higher and higher water rates that have already skyrocketed 119 percent in a decade. Rather than reduced rates and better service from a volunteer bond tender offer that “achieved meaningful dollar savings for our customers,” we now hear that the precarious Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) deal is faltering and The Detroit News’ editorial board calls its 4 percent rate increase cap “a broken promise.”
Detroit, too, will rise from the ashes of emergency management. Its many skilled workers will once again be employed. Its government will once again serve the people who elected it to serve their needs, not those of bondholders and bankruptcy lawyers. Its homes will once again be filled with families that can drink water and run electricity without fear of cutoffs. Its businesses will employ local talent and contribute to the betterment of its communities. Its schools will be fully funded and well staffed. This is the Detroit we envision for our children.
So we thank Occupy Wall Street. And we thank Orr for acknowledging that the 99 percent stands behind Detroit.
Demeeko Williams, chief coordinator,
Detroit Water Brigade