To: Rep. Stephanie Chang
From: Maureen D Taylor, MSW
Re: Status Report on Accessibility
As the State Chairperson of the MI Welfare Rights Organization, know that we are humbled to present these words that outline our collective feelings on this sensitive and critical issue as thousands of residential customers in Detroit face new rounds of water shutoffs.
I am reminded that in the Lansing State Capitol, stands a bronze statue of a seven-year old Helen Keller, blind at birth, memorializing the moment of her historical enlightenment. Her teacher, Ann Sullivan, and this story made famous in the Oscar winning movie, “The Miracle Worker” was trying to convey the essence of what words meant to a child born without hearing or sight. The bronze statue captures that moment as Helen put her hands under the pump while her teacher, Ms. Sullivan, used hand-to-hand sign language and spelled out the word… W-A-T-E-R…to her. Helen finally understood the relationship between the word and what that word represented.
June 1st marks the day the great Helen Keller passed away, so it is ironic that in June of this year, we are celebrating not an age of enlightenment, but instead we are a witness to a period of human darkness that will stain this State for years.
It is not necessary to recant the economic climate that residents of Michigan have been struggling through since the recession of 2005 and beyond. Entire cities and communities scattered across the State continue to reel from the loss of financial foundations built by so many years of fruitful employment. In the US Census of 2010, it was reported that MI was the only state to have loss significant population. In Detroit, we know this fact all too well, as do all elected officials that purport to represent the residents.
Over one million residents from just Detroit have left this City leaving us with just under 800,000 to fill the void created by such a dramatic population decline. Factories that were the back-bone of financial stability for millions of families have been slowly phased out. Computers are taking the place of the American working class, and that trend is best seen here in Detroit and in surrounding factory-based counties. Technology that used to enhance labor, today has replaced labor leaving in its wake the skeleton of what was in neighborhoods all over Wayne County.
We are slipping into the dark-side, shoved into this draconian condition marked by a false and divisive narrative, which covertly suggests Detroiters have resources but because of our criminal leanings, we don’t want to pay water bills. Poverty is being criminalized as the poor are held responsible for not having enough money to pay rising utility costs. The economics of the low-income family profile is completely overlooked. Consequently, we learn nothing from past
civil uprisings, or the current uprisings in Cities across the country.
Our calls for relief are mostly ignored. Our tears go unnoticed, and our prayers have been unanswered. We have hope, and try to hold on, but this latest assault against the most vulnerable is galvanizing a response that know one here wants to anticipate.
Welfare Rights and the Peoples Water Board have fought tooth and nail over these last 16 months, in every way possible to convince the City of Detroit Water and Sewerage Dept. that the path they had chosen was both wrong and not cost-effective. We have tirelessly offered solution after solution to this crisis demanding that a Water Affordability Plan be instituted, even if it is implemented at first as a pilot project to be tested. Always the answer is “NO”, so we find ourselves again in this painful gap of pending defiance and civil unrest as we are unable to do anything but stop this by any means necessary.
We urge our elected officials to review this crisis and that they put the issue of mass water shutoffs at the top of the list as the deadline for continued tolerance approaches. As MWRO is the recognized union for low-income families, we cannot turn from this struggle. If our colleagues from the UNITED NATIONS are correct in that the US of America cannot deprive low-income populations of access to clean water and sanitation, we will then pursue the path of litigation as we seek to file suit against this violation of international law.
We will not stop there. We will press you to create legislation that outlaws such practices now and forever. We will not stop there. We will demonstrate, we will picket, we will agitate, we will interfere with business as usual everywhere we can in an effort to erase forever the notion that water is a commodity to be bought and sold. Access to water is a human right, and must always be held as a common trust never to be denied because people are too poor. Shame on those who created this concept, and shame on us if we allow this “cancer” to exist without an all out battle against it.
Maureen D Taylor