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ListeningToNativeVoices

The old people came literally to love the soil, and they sat or reclined on the ground with a feeling of being close to a mothering power. It was good for the skin to touch the earth, and the old people liked to remove their moccasins and walk with bare feet on the sacred earth. Their tipis were built upon the earth and their altars were made of earth. The birds that flew in the air came to rest upon the earth, and it was the final abiding place of all things that lived and grew. The soil was soothing, strengthening, cleansing, and healing. This is why the old Indian still sits upon the earth instead of propping himself up and away from its life-giving forces. For him, to sit or lie upon the ground is to be able to think more deeply and to feel more keenly. He can see more clearly into the mysteries of life and come closer in kinship to other lives about him.

—Chief Luther Standing Bear

PHOTOS

St. Francis House

Francis House and Agape Pond

AGAPE COMMUNITY & ST. FRANCIS

Agape Community’s annual St. Francis Day celebration, this year with the theme, “Listening to Native Voices, Standing Rock is Everywhere,” seeded by Brayton Shanley’s trip last winter to deliver straw bales to Standing Rock—what I believed then was clearly a fool’s errand—drew more than our usual maximum of 200. Suzanne Shanley (his wife and co-founder and co-director) thought maybe 400-500 attended. Clearly the line of parked cars on the road extended further than I’d ever seen it. I was in a good position to gauge because I’ve been on parking duty for years.

After parking and walking and lugging, a person approaches Agape and hears the drum, smells the sweet grass and is smudged, spots the tipi placed strategically at the entrance of the main gathering area, sees many people in brightly colored regalia, watches the dancers, notices the tent holding some 300 chairs (which would be a good index for crowd size estimate), and then spies all the food and beverages arrayed on many tables. Ah, I am here!

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Photo: David Legg © 2017

MY NATIVE HISTORY

I am here, thought I, because of my Native heritage, not in my genes but in my history. This panoply of native elements at Agape reawakened my experiences with Lakota Sioux people, dating back to my direct introduction in 1982, extending to my month-long visit to the Rosebud Reservation the following year, stretching to the crucial stop Louise, my former partner, and I made in the summer of 1990 at Rosebud and Pine Ridge during our cross-country journey. We learned about the upcoming Bigfoot centennial ride, which led to our participation in the Bigfoot Memorial Ride to Wounded Knee that winter. That had been preceded and was followed by other personal Indian connections, like the National Day of Mourning, Boston American Indian Center, Slow Turtle, Wampanoag powwows in Mashpee on Cape Cod, visits to the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy Reservations in Maine, American Friends Service Committee Indian program in Maine, etc. Names from Rosebud and Pine Ridge came back to me: Birgil Kills Straight, Ron McNeil, Mr. Kills in Water, Shirley Crazy Bull, Amy Respects Nothing, Mr. Tall Bear, Mrs. White Lightning, as names have also fled my memory such as Louise’s MIT student and her son who was so honored after the ride, and the first Lakota’s I met in 1982 when I picked them up as they hitchhiked across the rez. Fortunately, as a steering committee (AKA Mission Council) member I was able to weave some of my experience into planning the event, but Brayton’s trip was truly the major trigger.

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Big Foot Memorial Ride to Wounded Knee, Pine Ridge Reservation, December 1990. Photo: Skip Schiel © 1990

Growing up and slowly realizing what Whites had done to Indians in the past created a longing in me to return to that past and as a White person counter history. (With Louise, I made an effort during the Big Foot Ride.) Impossible but now I can struggle for Palestinian rights, one of my major current photographic projects.

MY PHOTOGRAPHIC EXHIBITS

Fitting with the theme of sacred water, I exhibited photographs about water justice in Palestine and Michigan, demonstrating parallels. When I entered the chapel/exhibit room during lunch and a little after I’d been scheduled to speak, around 12:30, no one was there. Then a few people dribbled in and then—thanks to Sam, a fellow Mission Council member who’d help promote the exhibit—suddenly others popped in, filling the room. I announced myself as the photographer, leading to small conversations, speaking in a loud voice to be heard by others, but without interrupting their viewing.

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A photo exhibit by Skip Schiel, “From Palestine to Detroit and Flint: Water Justice”

Despite the small size of the space I was able to show most of what I’d brought, some 12 photos from the 2 sets, Palestine and Michigan, along with some descriptive panels outlining water politics. Without being explicit, I suspect the viewers could make their own connections between the Stand Rock Water Protectors and the struggles in Palestine, Flint, and Detroit. I also exhibited my photos from the Wounded Knee Memorial Ride, placing them in Francis House near the wood stove, centrally located.

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Site of the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890. Photo: Skip Schiel © 1990

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Chief Arvol Looking Horse, Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe, at St Francis Day

CHIEF ARVOL LOOKING HORSE

Chief Arvol Looking Horse, keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe, was the anchor and perhaps major draw of the event. Luckily, because El, my fellow Mission Council member, and I arrived the day before to help set up, we were with Arvol and other Indian participants like Beatrice, informally during lunch and dinner. He seemed shy, not prepared to be such a major figure, tall and thin, weak and perhaps ailing, tired—and, I reluctantly claim, not skilled in public speaking. Rather, he appears, unintentionally, to play the role of the proverbial Holy Person. A bit cryptic, uniformly serious with slight breaks in this publicly and many breaks in smaller company, definitely rambling and repetitive; in short, for me, a disappointment as a speaker. Listening to him I often wondered what would be my experience with other Holy Persons, Gandhi, Thoreau, Dorothy Day, Rachel Corrie, Thomas Merton, Jesus, Mohammed. I know Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X would impress as speakers, but what of these others whose words have resonated thru the centuries? How well did they speak in person?

A “disease of the mind” has set in world leaders and many members of our global community, with their belief that a solution of retaliation and destruction of peoples will bring peace. In our prophecies it is told that we are now at the crossroads: Either unite spiritually as a global nation, or be faced with chaos, disasters, diseases, and tears from our relatives’ eyes. We are the only species that is destroying the source of life, meaning Mother Earth, in the name of power, mineral resources, and ownership of land. Using chemicals and methods of warfare that are doing irreversible damage, as Mother Earth is becoming tired and cannot sustain any more impacts of war. I ask you to join me on this endeavor. Our vision is for the peoples of all continents, regardless of their beliefs in the Creator, to come together as one at their Sacred Sites to pray and meditate and commune with one another, thus promoting an energy shift to heal our Mother Earth and achieve a universal consciousness toward attaining Peace.

—Chief Arvol Looking Horse

Perhaps because of the theme I remet many folks from various movements and decades who I’d not seen in years: Paula G. and Jim, Suzanne C., Nelia who I belated realized had been with Brayton and Tim delivering the straw bales (she is blind and I know her from Quaker gatherings, an indomitable spirit), John S. who brought 3 young people in his van, Ricky and Deb from the Auschwitz to Hiroshima pilgrimage in 1995; along with many Agape stalwarts like Eileen E, Kathleen and Dave Legg (Dave my photographic colleague at most Francis Days, this time we collaborated especially importantly because of the conflicting photographic policies—not during prayer, OK during most ceremonies, not Arvol too much because he gets distracted, etc; Pat W. who is another photographic colleague, and Pat F.); the largest contingent of Friends Meeting Cambridge Quakers in memory including David A., Minga C-B, Suzanne C., Maeve, Diana L., Dinah S., Patti and Bill M., but no one from my peace and social concerns committee except Suzanne C; and others whose names I’ve forgotten now and yet others whose faces were familiar but I didn’t know names. Such community strengthening was a major part of the event, not only for me I’m sure.

Who was missing? Louise most vitally, the only human being on the planet I share these issues so deeply with; my fellow Quakers and activists, Jews especially from the Palestinian rights movement; S. which pains me; M., surprisingly not there; Rob, Chuck, Lynn, and other close friends and family members. But this is contemporary life, contemporary community: wide-spread and fragmented.

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Children’s view of the event, photo by Emily

WATER

As expected, water was a major theme—water is life, Mni Wiconi (pronounced mnee wi-choh-nee), Water is Life. Quabbin Reservoir was in the background, Agape Pond in the foreground where we held the water ceremony. I was able to do the ceremony twice, once early Saturday morning led by Beatrice Menase Kwe Jackson, known as Bea, and Peggy, not photographing then; and at the conclusion of the program, photographing it from across the pond. As with Indians, water is a crucial ingredient in my life but I’ll not recount all the elements which began with nearly drowning when I was about 3 years old, rescued (as the family tells it, I have no conscious memory) by Fran, my dad. As the major ceremony began, rain very lightly fell, more speckles than drops, signaling sky presence of water. And thru the day clouds came and parted, at one point in the late afternoon singeing the treetops behind the garden, which stunned and awakened me once again to the power of light. I photographed it.

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Water Ceremony at Agape Pond

Women and men lined up separately by the pond. After being smudged with sage and sweetgrass, two men assisted one woman as she threw tobacco into the water, tenderly hooking arms, for the moment intimate, followed by water from a copper cup. Once the women had done this, at least during the morning when we had fewer people, women helped the men. In the afternoon musicians played guitar and violin and sang, which added greatly to the otherwise long and repetitive ceremony. I doubt this was official Lakota, or even Indian, maybe an amalgam of various traditions. I noticed Arvol and most Indians did not participate.

STORIES

Then there were all the stories from Indians, mainly of current suffering and struggle. The genocide continues, but now with a velvet glove. One group in particular, the Lenape from New Jersey, who own land, but because of insanely difficult conditions required for permits are effectively barred from their land. In the crowd I watched for Two Clouds, a Ramapough person from Mahwah, New Jersey; Chief Dwaine Perry, Ramapough, also from Mahwah; Chief Iron Bear; Strong Oak Lefebvre of the Visioning Bear Circle; Gentle Hawk from the Worcester Intertribal Indian Center; and others unannounced. Apparently missing were official reps from Wampanoag, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot people, plus folks from Plymouth Massachusetts, Boston Indian Center, etc. The absences were as indicative as the presences. Competing local Indian events, given the weekend’s name, Indigenous People’s Day, may explain some lacunae.

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A member of the Ramapough people of Mahwah, N.J., who have long sought federal recognition as a Native American nation.

Counterbalancing stories of on going oppression, Arvol spoke about Standing Rock, the power of prayer, of story, of presence, saying he and colleagues never expected such wide publicity. During the informal session the day before I asked about the White Buffalo Calf Woman story and he, as I’d hoped, confirmed that the first elder and teacher of the Lakota people was a woman—or at least half woman, but certainly fully female. He began each of his two speeches with Mitakuye Oyasin (All My Relations), without translating it. His first language is Lakota and Suzanne whispered to me that he often has trouble translating his thoughts into English, which might be a factor in his speech making.

BURNING THE DOCTRINE OF DISCOVERY

From a Christian perspective, one outstanding element for me was when we symbolically repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery, that absurd and highly revealing papal bull (declaration from the pope) issued shortly before Columbus began his journeys of “discovery”—which were in fact journeys of exploitation. (That and priestly sexual transgression should effectively end the belief that Catholic clerics, from subaltern priests and brothers and nuns to highest rated popes, have direct communication with the so-called god. Is any more evidence needed?)

We grant you [Kings of Spain and Portugal] by these present documents, with our Apostolic Authority, full and free permission to invade, search out, capture, and subjugate the Saracens [Muslim Arabs] and pagans and any other unbelievers and enemies of Christ wherever they may be, as well as their kingdoms, duchies, counties, principalities, and other property […] and to reduce their persons into perpetual servitude.

—Pope Nicholas, 1452

How did we perform this repudiation (a goal without a clear plan long fostered in some Quaker circles)? A woman cleric led a recitative prayer about repudiating the Doctrine; another cleric handed a facsimile of the Doctrine to Brayton who burned it in our sacred fire (so-called sacred, what does all this religious language truly mean other than to establish an emotional tone?), and carried its ashes on a fiery torch to the pit dug for the white pine burial. All very Catholic in its pageantry (pageantry I sometimes yearn for while Quakering).

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Brayton buries the ashes of the Doctrine of Discovery in the pit in which the white pine tree will be planted, supported by members of various Christian communities.

I managed to miss photographing most of this, trying hard for position but wishing to maintain some modicum of politeness, not bump people aside who were in my way. The symbolism of this act may be important, but educating people might surpass the symbolism in importance: more people are now aware of the Doctrine and the imperative to ban it, an incentive to reverse its legacy. I suspect even the current pope himself, Francis—true also of our honored St. Francis—would choose to repudiate what one of his misguided predecessors did.

Brayton Shanley, co-founder and co-director of Agape

Brayton Shanley, co-founder and co-director of Agape

Suzanne Shanley, co-founder and co-director of Agape

Suzanne Shanley, co-founder and co-director of Agape

THE FIRST INTERNATIONAL AMERICAN INDIAN-LED, NONVIOLENT MOVEMENT AGAINST COLONIZATION?

Brayton had given a rousing introduction to Stand Rock—as did Suzanne to Agape—speaking personally about his experience last winter delivering straw bales, claiming that this is the first American Indian-led, global, nonviolent movement against colonization. Arvol has been speaking across the country, at Wellesley College the day before, and flew the next day to Cairo Egypt. This connection, Standing Rock and Egypt, suggests Standing Rock is an outgrowth of the Arab Spring. Being so-called Columbus Day, now transformed into Indigenous People’s Day, I wore my pin, “Discover Columbus’ Legacy: 500 years of racism, oppression, and stolen land,” which I acquired in 1992 during the resistance to the Columbian Quincentennial.

Columbus pin

Many have forgotten this moment exposing and opposing the Columbian Conquest but I suspect it was a key step toward Standing Rock. So if we devise a timeline of activism we may uncover the interconnectedness of the movement—its intersectionality, to use a now-current term for blended movements.

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“They made some low wide gallows on which the hanged victim’s feet almost touched the ground, stringing up their victims in lots of thirteen, in memory of Our Redeemer and His twelve Apostles, then set burning wood at their feet and thus burned them alive.” (“Brief Account of the Devastation of the Indies” by Bartoleme de Las Casas, who was an eyewitness to the Columbian Invasion)

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T-shirt by Jared Yazzie (Navajo) available from Beyond Buckskin Boutique

MOVEMENT HISTORY

To recount from 1945:

  • Freedom struggle in the USA-1945-1968
  • Anti-war movement during the Vietnam era-1962-1975
  • First contemporary resistance at Wounded Knee-the occupation in 1973
  • American Indian and Black Power Movements weaving thru this period
  • Big Foot Ride Memorial Ride—Wiping the Tears, Mending the Sacred Hoop-1990
  • Columbian Quincentenary-1992
  • Arab Spring-2011-2014
  • Occupy-2011-2012
  • Black Lives Matter-2013-present
  • Standing Rock-2016-present

I’d like to think more about these interconnections, and consider all this against an article I’ve read in a recent New Yorker magazine about the failure of movements, or better, how movements can succeed (with better long-range strategy as in the Freedom Movement vs. hasty organization as in the Occupy Movement).

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Planting the white pine tree

THE WHITE PINE

Finally we planted a white pine, which is a key element in the Peace Maker story of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy. As a final act of remembrance and anticipation most of us made tobacco offerings to the tree, how it can symbolize overcoming the Doctrine of Discovery and all that erupted from it in the past more than 500 years, Standing Rock a recent example. This planting is an act of confession, contrition, repentance, as well as resistance, renewal, and forward march into a more just present and future. Mni Wiconi, Water is Life.

I left reservation life and my native people, the Oglala Sioux, because I was no longer willing to endure existence under the control of an overseer. For about the same number of years I had tried to live a peaceful and happy life; tried to adapt myself and make re-adjustments to fit the white man’s mode of existence. But I was unsuccessful. I developed into a chronic disturber. I was a bad Indian, and the agent and I never got along. I remained a hostile, even a savage, if you please. And I still am. I am incurable.

— Luther Standing Bear (1921)

Luther Standing Bear

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St. Francis with Sultan Malek al-Kamil, Egypt, 1219. Artist: Br. Robert Lentz, OFM

In 1219 St. Francis and Brother Illuminato accompanied the armies of western Europe to Damietta, Egypt, during the Fifth Crusade. His desire was to speak peacefully with Muslim people about Christianity, even if it mean dying as a martyr. He tried to stop the Crusaders from attacking the Muslims at the Battle of Damietta, but failed. After the defeat of the western armies, he crossed the battle line with Brother Illuminato, was arrested and beaten by Arab soldiers, and eventually was taken to the sultan, Malek al-Kamil. 

—www.trinitystores.com/store/art-image/st-francis-and-sultan

st francis

Holy humility confounds pride and all the men of this world and all things that are in the world. —Francis of Assisi

LINKS

“Marking the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi with the spirit of Standing Rock,” by Eileen Markey

White Buffalo Calf Teachings with Chief Arvol Looking Horse

What is the White Buffalo Calf story and why is it important to Lakota people?

“Ramapoughs Trial Continues As Tribe Claims Town Is Trying To Outlaw Prayer At Tepee Site,” by Daniel Hubbard (Patch Staff)

What is the Doctrine of Discovery?

Doctrine of Discovery is Burned (video made during the day)

Why the white pine tree?

What is the Peace Maker story of the Haudenosaunee?

“Is There Any Point to Protesting?” by Nathan Heller

“On Turtle Island (North America), February—April, 1995,” an account of a Buddhist-led pilgrimage by Skip Schiel

“A Winter Count,” by Skip Schiel

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Accounts from my journal, written while I photographed Detroit in June 2017—or writing later. 

A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.

—Chinese proverb

PHOTOS (from another neighborhood near mine)

June 12, 2017, Monday, Detroit

First phase 

The water conference is over. Now I need to develop my own contacts and find my own people to photograph. I can’t rely on intrinsic contacts that the conference provided—the speakers. Today [June 12, 2017] I plan to contact We the People of Detroit, trying Kate first, then Monica, then Kim Sherrobi. This could prove difficult.

Kim Sherobbi

Kim Sherobbi, 2017

Weaving into this photo process, the house process. K., the generous owner of the house I borrow,  texted yesterday evening that she expects to arrive here today “b4 12,” using the language of texting. During a long phone conversation earlier, we had discussed the grass, bushes, plumbing, fans, cleaning materials to buy, etc. The grass remains uncut, the bathroom plumbing is clogged, I repaired one large floor fan by attaching an electric plug, and discovered a loose fan blade on the other floor fan that had caused the rattling. I haven’t found a way to fix that.

I attempt a delicate balance between photography and house, between my Detroit mission and my Detroit residence. The latter demonstrates for me life in Detroit, a comparatively privileged life albeit, but touching lightly on matters many Detroiters face regularly with more severity.

I began my first Lightroom (LR) post production work last night, on the first conference batch of photos. Quickly I realized I apparently hadn’t remembered to reinstall the LR catalog to my portable drive. So I use the old one on the laptop. K.’s phone call interrupted me but I returned to the process. Even tho late in the evening, tired, I managed to import about 25 photos into LR for work today.

As expected, Internet speeds vary greatly depending on location. Near the school, it is upwards of 10 MB/S (megabytes per second). Near my house, about 5. On my porch about 2. Inside the house about 1. So for some purposes I might sit on the porch for Internet.

Logistics and friends

Since yesterday was so hot and an ozone alert was in effect—plus I needed to give my crotch some healing time and I felt lazy—I did not once ride my bike. Not even tempted. W. arranged to deliver her car here tomorrow; I can use it thru Friday. My central hope: get to Flint. Best if thru contacts, but even without I plan to drive the 70 or so miles and roam the city looking for elements of the water crisis. What might be visible? The Flint River, for one.

To check water use I read the water meter yesterday, after my first week here, giving me two more weeks to monitor water use. It reads 134.91, units mysterious.

I also checked the yards for possible seed planting. No luck, also no garden tools. So I scratch that idea. Instead, I’ll tend the tea roses, cutting two sprigs and bring them inside to grace my dwelling.

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My Washburn Street house, Northwest Detroit, 2017

For the first time in this trip I walked this morning around the Noble School grounds, about four blocks away, and maybe one half mile around. I recall other walks when I first thought decided to meet the principal and ask permission to photograph. This process so far has been fruitless. I recall walking in November with snow on the ground. I recall photographing the old dying tree that I photographed again this morning, this time against the rising sun.

C. finally returned my email, writing that he’s been busy with work, family, and house, but he’d like to take me out for lunch, maybe with one of his kids, but he wrote nothing about our movie and photo projects. I suppose I can conclude that they are all off. At least our friendship seems to continue.

Today I promised K. I’d talk with Gloria and Johnny about who can mow my lawn. Who might they recommend? Johnny keeps his lawn well shorn, as does Gloria. I reiterated to K. who sounded desperate last night that by not living here (she grew up in this house when it was an all-white neighborhood), not having someone as caretaker or reliable tenant, increases the burden. She constantly complains about the high cost of maintenance. Altho she has done remarkably well improving and maintaining it—storm windows, fridge, washer, sun room doors, (my favorite room, where I love to sleep on the floor, pilgrim style), and most recently the wooden flooring—she is often despondent about the value of the investment. She also seems to do little to rent it. Only twice in my 7 years, Jimmy, and then some students at a local college.

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Outside my window, Buena Vista Street, November 2014

How would I house myself if not for K.? Or what even with K.’s place available might be better housing? Share with Barbara H.? Ask others? Rent? Buy? Squat?

My neighbor Gloria and local stories

After I’d settled on the porch for lunch, Gloria, my neighbor across the street, sat with me yesterday. She told me the following: young kids have torched the corner house across from mine three times. Johnny once owned it. Her water bill varies between $25-50 depending on whether she is alone or joined by her daughter who has heart problems and her grand daughter. She has cared for a handicapped man who recently bought a house down Washburn across Buena Vista. For 6 months he lived there without water and I presume heat. She brought him food, water, and used clothing. A woman with kids and a mother squatted in a house on our block. They used the backyard to crap, creating a fierce odor that disturbed neighbors who had them evicted. The streets have not been cleaned in recent memory, despite city-installed signs that declare street cleaning is imminent. Trash goes out Monday evenings, tonight, for pickup tomorrow morning. Large stuff pickup is bi-weekly on Wednesdays. The city might fine folks who put out containers too soon. She didn’t know of a plumber to call after I’d mentioned my clogged pipes.

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Gloria, 2011

Gloria is a good source of local info and a reliable and helpful neighbor. I would formally interview her except her style is not suited for an official interview, too giggly and repetitive.

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General area of my neighborhood in northwest Detroit, 2017

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My neighborhood closer, my house marked with a pin, 2017

LINKS

“In northwest Detroit, residents have been revitalizing their neighborhood for years,” by Melissa Anders (September 2017)

“2 shot, killed in northwest Detroit June 2017,” by James David Dickson (June 2017)

“Requests For Proposals for northwest Detroit neighborhood include 100 houses, 257 vacant lots,” by Kirk Pinho (July 2016)

Statistics for my NW Detroit zip code (2015)

Accounts from my journal, written while I photographed Detroit in June 2017—or writing later. For three days of my first week in Detroit I attended the Second International Gathering of Social Movements on Water. 

A “Blue Community” is one that adopts a water commons framework that treats water as belonging to no one and the responsibility of all. Because water is essential for human life, it must be governed by principles that allow for reasonable use, equal distribution and responsible treatment in order to preserve water for nature and future generations.

The Blue Communities Project calls on communities to adopt a water commons framework by:

·       Recognizing water as a human right.

·       Promoting publicly financed, owned and operated water and wastewater services.

·       Banning the sale of bottled water in public facilities and at municipal events.

—Blue Community Project

June 11, 2017, Sunday, Detroit

A short dream

I walk across a field of fish, probably dead; I argue or discuss with someone what kinds they are.

Notes from the conference yesterday [June 10, 2017]

Detroit is surrounded by water, not only the Detroit River but the various great and lesser lakes like St Clair and the Great Lakes.

Great_lakes_basin-SHADED

60% of Detroiters have income insufficient to sustain themselves, which means what?

Shigellosis might have been what afflicted me in Bethlehem Palestine while at Johnny’s a few years ago and them more recently at the Everest Hotel, also in Bethlehem. Or in Gaza on numerous occasions. But apparently at least not yet here in Detroit even tho I may not have let the water run sufficiently long—recommended 5 minutes—to clear bacteria after K’s water shut off.

“You only get what you’re organized to take.”

How effective are lead filters? Should I have one in my Cambridge home?

“Blue Community” means water warriors are present and needed. Massachusetts, my state, has the first Blue Community city in the United States—Northampton.

In Quebec, people used some 100 bottles of bottled water per person per year.

A New and Unsettling force: the Poor People’s Campaign Then and Now

The group presented the idea of The New Poor People’s Campaign. Mostly young, about half white, from various parts of the country, including Vermont, this was for me the hit of the day, and perhaps the hit, the major epiphany, for me of the entire 4 days. Martin Luther King’s Triplet of Evil, militarism, racism, and variously, depending on the speaker, poverty or materialism, formed the basis of the analysis. The day’s theme was to be analysis. The first speaker, wearing a frayed tan cap who seemed to be the leader, spoke of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which seemed to refer to the fourth element of their analysis, an element that King omitted, the climate crisis.

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The New Poor People’s Campaign

Lacking from much political discussion, yet highlighted by King, an element that drove his analysis and action, and him personally was love, and with that, nonviolence. The founding organization for this movement is the highly respected Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice.

Multitude of panels and lengthy presentations

The swelling number of panels led to overlap and repetition. Altho the day’s theme was analysis, there was little of that, and much more of “we can win, together we are strong,” rah rah rah, with cheers from the audience. The principle of less is more is here a key organizing feature, one I often shirk when planning my own teaching and art production. So I try to be kind in my reflections on what others do. YPIYGI—you spot it, you got it. Speakers typically ran over time, some greatly so, as did the woman from Mexico, who, even when told time’s up, acknowledged the warning and then said, oh, one more thing.

Maureen, one of the organizers, wisely intervened in her grand motherly way, exhibiting love and compassion, and explained to the audience that these lengthy presentations were often motivated by how little opportunity most people who suffer have to tell their stories. True, but flexibility could be maintained even better if fewer had been invited to speak.

One panel brought together folks from across the USA, another from the world including Canada, Mexico, Liberia, and by Skype El Salvador. Useful perhaps, but most told versions of the same story: loss of water rights, struggle for water rights. How many of these are useful to hear?

Laura Herrara, el Salvador

Laura Herrera, water justice activist from El Salvador by Skype

Youth Perspectives on Water

This panel, drawing from engaged local youth, lit up the crowd,. The panel included Melissa Mae’s three sons, from the Flint family that has gained so much attention and probably did more than any other set of individuals to propagate the story of Flint. All three seemed damaged, especially the youngest, Cole, who spoke spookily, threw his hands around as if spastic, and weirdly grimaced. A scary figure, both because of how he visibly suffered, describing his pains, and how dangerous he might become, to himself and others.

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Caleb, Cole, and Christian Mays, water warrior sons of Melissa Mays, Flint Michigan

I’d been thinking of approaching Melissa to see if I might photograph her and her family in their home. Not directly which could result in a refusal—they’ve been mediafied-mediatized so often that unless one is from truly mainstream media they’d probably and rightly refuse—but thru an intermediary like Monica Lewis Patrick or someone from We the People of Detroit. Watching her in action, how desperate and wrenched she appears, also her sons, persuades me to search out others in Flint to interview and photograph.

Contaminated water in Washington DC

Free at last, god almighty, free at last. For the second day of the water conference [June 9, 2017] I fled early, refusing to be trapped by more panels—seven, that is seven! In one day, with limited time for discussion or any other participation. The organizers may have heard some complaints because they began with a breathing-visualizing exercise, asking us to plant young people in our community forefront in our minds as we breathed in and out deeply.  I invited Eleanor, Cid, and Rex, my beloved grand kids, into my being. They asked us to pick two other people and sit with them during lunch for discussion. I chose the woman I’d been sitting with, Nancy. Two others at the table, Paul, who worked with a lead-free advocacy organization, and a woman, joined us. Paul explained to us and then later as a panelist that Washington DC’s water had been and still might be contaminated. DC, despite being the nation’s capital, did not become newsworthy until Flint was known more widely. Same sort of cover-up, in DC’s case, by the city’s Water and Sewer Authority.

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Paul Schwartz, Campaign for Lead Free Water

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Flint Michigan, free water distribution

Deciding to eat breakfast at home yesterday, skipping the provided meal, I arrived around 9 am to find breakfast still set up. So I ate my second meal. I sat with a young man from Elkhart Indiana who lived in a cooperative which I believe is called The History of Elkhart. They focus on the environment. He is also loosely associated with the New Poor People’s Campaign which was to present later.

But the format remained: we the experts will feed you, the uninformed, information to motivate your work on water rights. Sit still, listen, take notes, and from time to time we’ll give you a little time to engage with us the panelists and your neighbors.

Tammy from Highland Park

Jumping the sinking ship early yesterday I met Tammy from Highland Park. She is African-American and sat in a push chair-walker near where I’d parked my bike. She asked, do you ride everyday? Which launched our discussion, first about biking, and then when she mentioned Highland Park, about that small city surrounded by Detroit but independent, like Hamtramck. It has water problems, she has water problems. I asked if I might film an interview with her. She agreed, so tentatively I will visit her next Saturday for the interview.

Aretha Franklin

Before I met Tammy, thinking what I might do with my extra time, I remembered that Aretha Franklin, soul daughter of Detroit, was giving a free concert yesterday evening as part of a large music festival in downtown Detroit. So, happy about meeting Tammy, I biked over to Paradise Valley, AKA Black Bottom (which one conference speaker explained did not gain its name because it was once the home of the Black population of Detroit, but because it was bottom land, often flooded, and thus enriched and fertile.) My iPhone was enormously helpful in finding my way thru the thicket of Campus Martius Park, that crazily designed mishmash of roads, shooting off in different directions, a ring road enclosing them.

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Waiting for Aretha

As expected, by coming late and Aretha such a huge draw, I could not get into the main audience area. I circumambulated the throng, photographed where I could, mostly the crowd. Scheduled to begin at 6 pm, by 6:45 or so when I left she’d still not mounted the stage. Slightly tempted by the vendor food and booze, I knew I had equivalent or superior fare at home, so I labored for nearly one hour on my bike, my crotch chafing, and finally arrived home around 8 pm. A shot of Canadian Mist, a half can of Labatt beer made in Canada, perhaps just across the river, a potpourri of leftovers including stuffed grape leaves, dried up, tough catfish from the first night of the conference, heavenly garlic mayonnaise sauce, and other tidbits, I feasted, and then reviewed the day’s photos, in quantity the largest yet.

Water at my Detroit home

Altho my bathroom sink and shower drains are plugged, former more than latter, I have water. I can shower, as I did deliciously last evening after biking home drenched in sweat. I can cook as I will this evening and make coffee as I did this morning. I can wash my clothes as I did a few days ago. I do not have to buy bottled water, hook up to a neighbor’s water, or do without. I suffer minimally. I can fix the plugged fixtures with proper tools and chemicals or I can ask Katy, the house’s owner, to call a plumber. I do not have to pay much for this, or anything, such as a huge and possibly fraudulent water bill from the city.

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My Washburn Street house, Northwest Detroit

Bicycling

While biking I notice there are benefits other than the obvious. Yes, it gets me around without the need for cars and buses. It provides a strong dose of daily exercise. It also makes me vulnerable, which is a gift usually, and brings me into closer contact with others. I often greet folks as I bike thru. My funny-looking, small-wheeled, high-seated folding bike is a topic of conversation. Because my carriage is so strange I doubt many would covet or steal my bike.

Ghost Bike, with my folding bike in the background

Ghost Bike, with my folding bike in the background

Grit, sense of purpose and self-esteem

I heard a portion of a radio report about success in school and what might be a primary factor explaining it: grit. Grit means determination, sticking with the mission, focus, and seems unrelated to talent or intelligence, or if related, only partially. Which led me to think: do I have grit? Does my sister? Do my daughters? Grand children? Others in my circle?

Not only might grit lack in marginalized and impoverished populations like in much of Detroit, but a sense of purpose as well. Grit and purpose are closely related. When one is following one’s bliss, work is a heavenly gift, not an onerous chore. Yet, I suspect many I say hello to as I bike, observed waiting impatiently at bus stops, and who cloister themselves behind closed doors like my neighbors, lack awareness of what brings them true bliss. In Gaza’s case she might consider TV her bliss, or her children. In J’s case it might be weed or booze or girl friends, and surely his buffalo soldiers and his horse.

With lack of direction, unawareness of the source of bliss, some might lack self-esteem. Why remain alive? I am not good. Thus the concentration by many campaigns on developing self-esteem. The sanitation workers in Memphis carried signs that declared, I am a man.

LINKS

Blue Communities Project

Building a New Poor People’s Campaign

“Water crisis in Washington, D.C., will eventually be ’20-30 times worse’ than in Flint, expert says,” by David Boroff (2016)

Children’s March to Stop Water Shut Offs (June 2016)

 

 

 

Dedicated to Fadia Daibes Murad, award-winning Palestinian hydrologist, activist, personal friend and colleague. In 2009 she died when her car crashed during a heavy rain storm as she returned from an international water conference in Turkey.

Fadia-slideshow

And to Monica Lewis-Patrick, Detroit Water Warrior, co-founder and co-director of We the People of Detroit who fortunately and providentially I now work with.

Detroit-Monica_Lewis_Patrick-We_the_People_of_Detroit-_DSC6854

Wade in the water
Wade in the water
Children, wade in the water
God’s gonna trouble the water
Who’s that young girl dressed in red
Wade in the water
Must be the children that Moses led
God’s gonna trouble the water

What precisely are the links, and how can I portray them?

water-justice-pal-mich-page-1-sm.jpgClick here for an enlarged version, easier to read.

The sources of these claims:Water Justice-Pal-Mich-page 2

Click here for an enlargement.

How did this theme evolve for me, comparing water rights in the two regions?

Probably while in the West Bank of occupied Palestine on one of my many journeys there since 2003. On that first visit I observed a luxurious swimming pool in the huge Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adummin, near Jerusalem. I visited Palestinian villages in the West Bank, some within a stone’s throw of Ma’ale Adummin, such as Bil’in, and Palestinian cities like Ramallah, and heard stories and observed details about water deprivation. A hydrologist with the Palestinian Hydrology Group showed and explained limits on well depths, cistern construction, and water harvesting from green houses in the West Bank. He introduced me to Palestinians who needed to buy water from Israel at four times the rate Israelis pay, consuming on average about one-quarter what Israelis consume. The clincher in the West Bank: Israel exploits 80% of the water in the mountain aquifer which is mostly under the West Bank.

Swimming pool, Ma'ale Adummim, Israeli settlement, Oct 03

Swimming Pool, Ma’ale Adummim, 2003, photo by Skip Schiel

In Gaza where I also visit regularly (when I can enter, which is more and more difficult because of Israeli restrictions), I photographed for a UN study about the hydrology, touring the small region with experts and interviewing officials. We visited fragile sewage storage ponds in the northern section of Gaza. Designed to be temporary until Israel granted permission to expand the sewage ponds, one later broke and flooded a nearby village.

Sewage pond, Rafah, Gaza, 2006

Sewage pond, Rafah, Gaza, 2005 c, photo by Skip Schiel

Over my nine explorations to Palestine-Israel I traced the entire Jordan River system from headwaters on Mt Hermon to its miserable terminus in the dying Dead Sea, much of it thru the West Bank. Here the lower Jordan (shrinking and filled with sewage) is inaccessible to Palestinians. Some 50% of the western shore of the Dead Sea is in the West Bank but controlled entirely by Israel.

Dead_Sea-IMG_4876

Dead Sea, stranded pier because of rapidly decreasing sea level—this section of the Sea is in the West Bank and most Palestinians are not allowed on this beach.

Wade in the water
Wade in the water
Children, wade in the water
God’s gonna trouble the water
Who’s that young girl dressed in red
Wade in the water
Must be the children that Moses led
God’s gonna trouble the water

Detroit drew me for many reasons—the presence of the Great Lakes with their abundant water, refineries that pollute air and possibly water, the Detroit River, and declining access to water by people struggling with high water rates while water bills of corporations are endlessly disputed or are ignored. There are health risks to water shut-offs, including sickening bacteria that linger after water restoration. On my most recent trip in June 2017 I discovered that more than 100,000 Detroit households had suffered water deprivation. Shut-offs often meant families lost custody of their children because lack of water affected sanitation, cooking, and drinking.

SteelPlantRiverIMG_6727

United State Steel Corporation in Detroit from Windsor Ontario Canada, 2017, photo by Skip Schiel

In 2014 Flint generated international attention when, because of emergency managers attempting to save money, the city switched to Flint River water, leading to lead poisoning. As of early 2016 Flint has the highest water rates in the nation. Because of the widespread attention on Detroit and Flint, the Detroit city government has finally instituted an installment plan for avoiding cutoffs, easing the burden on low-income households. Many activists criticize this plan as being inadequate. Flint has returned to the comparatively cleaner Detroit water system.

Flint water distribution_DSC5912

Free Water Distribution, Flint Michigan, 2017, photo by Skip Schiel

Most importantly, Detroit and Flint are on the cutting edge of “Water Warriors,” citizens fighting for water justice, similar to activist groups in Palestine and elsewhere, such as the Boston-based Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine. I visited Flint for the first time in June 2017, after learning in detail the conditions, consequences, and struggles of lead-poisoned water at the Second International Gathering on Social Movements on Water. I photographed the contaminated Flint River and, additionally, staff providing free bottled water to residents.

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Free Water Distribution by We the People of Detroit, 2017, photo by Skip Schiel

Who’s that young girl dressed in white
Wade in the water
Must be the children of the Israelite
Oh, God’s gonna trouble the water

Wade in the water, wade in the water children
Wade in the water,
God’s gonna trouble the water

Flint River

Flint River, 2017, photo by Skip Schiel

What’s to be done?

In 2014 activists invited two of the United Nation’s Special Rapporteurs to visit. Catarina de Albuquerque, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, declared: “I’ve been to rich countries like Japan and Slovenia where basically 99 percent of population have access to water, and I’ve been to poor countries where half the population doesn’t have access to water … but this large-scale retrogression or backwards steps [in Detroit and Flint] is new for me. From a human rights perspective, any retrogression should be seen as a human right violation.”

In advance of their arrival, U.N. Rapporteurs de Albuquerque and Leilani Farha wrote, “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.”

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UN Special Rapporteur, Leo Heller, by video feed (on the screen in upper right) at the Second International Gathering on Social Movements on Water, 2017, photo by Skip Schiel

In 2010 the UN’s General Assembly declared it “Recognizes the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights.”

Passed by the General Assembly in 1948, the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, stated that “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care.”

Notably missing: the fundamental human (and other creaturely) right to clean, safe, affordable, accessible water.

On the 60th anniversary of this landmark declaration, Steven Starr, producer of the extraordinary movie, Flow, presented at the United Nations a petition to add Article 31 to the Universal Declaration:

“Everyone has the right to clean and accessible water, adequate for the health and well-being of the individual and family, and no one shall be deprived of such access or quality of water due to individual economic circumstance.”

Maude Barlow, in 2008-2009 the UN’s first senior adviser on water issues to the president of the United Nations General Assembly, stated “Water must be seen as a commons that belongs to the Earth and all species alike. It must be declared a public trust that belongs to the people, the ecosystem and the future and preserved for all time and practice in law. Clean water must be delivered as a public service, not a profitable commodity. We need to assert once and for all that access to clean, affordable water is a fundamental human right that must be codified in nation-state law and as a full covenant at the United Nations.”

Maude_Barlow_photo SM

Maude Barlow

Who’s that young girl dressed in blue
Wade in the water
Must be the children that’s coming through,
God’s gonna trouble the water, yeah

Wade in the water, wade in the water children
Wade in the water,
God’s gonna trouble the water

What’s next?

Fight to make and implement law, while continuing to expose conditions. In Fadia Daibes Murad’s personal words to me, “I’m beyond writing about the conditions. I want solutions, and I feel the main route to solutions is thru adjudication by international bodies.”

Water must be:
  • Sufficient. The water supply for each person must be sufficient and continuous for personal and domestic uses. These uses ordinarily include drinking, personal sanitation, washing of clothes, food preparation, personal and household hygiene. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), between 50 and 100 litres of water per person per day are needed to ensure that most basic needs are met and few health concerns arise.
  • Safe. The water required for each personal or domestic use must be safe, therefore free from micro-organisms, chemical substances and radiological hazards that constitute a threat to a person’s health. Measures of drinking-water safety are usually defined by national and/or local standards for drinking-water quality. The World Health Organization (WHO) Guidelines for drinking-water quality provide a basis for the development of national standards that, if properly implemented, will ensure the safety of drinking-water.
  • Acceptable. Water should be of an acceptable colour, odour and taste for each personal or domestic use. […] All water facilities and services must be culturally appropriate and sensitive to gender, life cycle and privacy requirements.
  • Physically accessible. Everyone has the right to a water and sanitation service that is physically accessible within, or in the immediate vicinity of the household, educational institution, workplace or health institution. According to WHO, the water source has to be within 1,000 metres of the home and collection time should not exceed 30 minutes.
  • Affordable. Water, and water facilities and services, must be affordable for all. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) suggests that water costs should not exceed 3 per cent of household income.
 —UN’s Water for Life Decade

You don’t believe I’ve been redeemed,
Wade in the water
Just so the whole lake goes looking for me
God’s gonna trouble the water

Wade in the water, wade in the water children
Wade in the water,
God’s gonna trouble the water

By Willie Mae Thornton

LINKS:

Detroit & Flint

Detroit water board approves 1.7% rate hike” by Christine Ferretti, The Detroit News, June 21, 2017

“Nearly 18K at risk as Detroit water shutoffs begin” by Christine Ferretti, The Detroit News, April 2017

“UN officials ‘shocked’ by Detroit’s mass water shutoffs,” by Laura Gottesdiener (2014)

UN: Detroit: Disconnecting water from people who cannot pay – an affront to human rights, say UN experts (2014)

Flint Water Crisis Fast Facts

Palestine-Israel

“Water apartheid in Gaza and Flint,” by David Cronin (2016)

From the women of Gaza to the women of Flint

World Bank: Water Situation Alarming in Gaza (2016) 

“UNICEF seawater desalination plant helps head off Gaza water crisis,” by Catherine Weibel

Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine

Palestinian Hydrology Group

Mourn not the dead that in the cool earth lie —
Dust unto dust —
The calm sweet earth that mothers all who die
As all men must;
Mourn not your captured comrades who must dwell —
Too strong to strive —
Each in his steel-bound coffin of a cell,
Buried alive;
But rather mourn the apathetic throng —
The cowed and the meek —
Who see the world’s great anguish and its wrong
And dare not speak!

—“Mourn Not the Dead” by Ralph Chaplin

Earlier in my life I was a strong supporter of Israel. I wished to become a first generation pioneer with well-tanned and muscled biceps and calves, live in a kibbutz, and carry a rifle, clearing, tilling and protecting the land. Attacks by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) on passenger airplanes and ships in the 1970s and the violence against Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics repelled me. However, while in South Africa in the 1990s as apartheid retreated, I noticed parallels between Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and South African apartheid.

Mother2010Gaza_Schiel_7032

By a Palestinian artist in Gaza exhibiting thru Windows from Gaza

As I studied the situation more deeply I grew angrier and angrier, aware that my anger might explode and result in hurting myself and possibly others. Well then, Skip, with such strong impulses and your deep belief in nonviolence, why don’t you find something useful to do with that rage? Transform it into fuel. So counseled my still small voice inside.

OK, I photograph, that’s my craft, and make movies, and write. How can I apply my craft to what I now believed was the extremely unjust, immoral, illegal Israeli occupation and siege? And how can I be so certain of my newly formed understanding, so opposed to my earlier beliefs?

Go there, young man, see for yourself. Determine if what you conclude from your studies is accurate, and whether with your crafts you can do anything about it. As Lucretia Mott is alleged to have stated, challenging her 19th century Quaker colleagues, “What is thee doing about it?”

But Palestine-Israel is a dangerous region, I’d not be safe, maybe I’d be caught in a terrorist attack or an army invasion.

InteriorMinistry2010Gaza_Schiel_7000

After Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s bombardment and invasion in 2008-2009

Don’t go alone, for your first trip. Find a group you can explore with, stated that inner voice, urging me on.

I was on the edge. Clinching my resolve and hefting me over my fear, in 2002, partly responding to Palestinian suicide operations, Israel invaded much of the West Bank. Operation Defensive Shield utterly destroyed Ramallah, Hebron, Jenin, and other metropolitan regions of the occupied West Bank. I felt this so strongly that I feared—with two minds, one rational reminding me I lived in a relatively safe situation in Cambridge, the other frantic, persuading me I lived in the West Bank—the Israeli army would destroy my home. The next year, on March 16, 2003, an Israeli soldier driving a Caterpillar monster tractor bulldozed and murdered the peace and justice activist, Rachel Corrie, as she attempted to protect a Palestinian house from demolition. My hyper imagination, spurred by the martyrdom of Rachel Corrie, launched me. In October 2003 I first stepped foot in the West Bank with a Fellowship of Reconciliation delegation, my first of 9 trips so far.

That began my work. What has sustained and I hope deepened it? Five major factors. First, close friends, Jewish and Palestinian, in many parts of that land of limestone and olive trees. I can only be truly with them if I return and share their experiences. Second, the eternal presence of Jesus, one of my primary teachers, as I live—albeit two millennia later—the land, the air, the water, the earth he lived and walked. Third, the Mediterranean light, which I wish to understand and use deeply as a photographer. Fourth, a Jewish friend I’ve become close to, sharing her fears about a loss of protection of Jews in Israel and everywhere, including in our own country with the possible recent eruption of fascism and anti-Semitism. Fifth and finally, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), mostly young, chutzpah-filled Jews who object to and struggle against Israel’s occupation and siege.

I, JVP, and a growing number of others call for BDS—Boycott, Divest, Sanction—a position many Jews vociferously reject, while state legislatures and the congress pass laws criminalizing this form of nonviolent advocacy for Palestinian rights. I have found my comrades. My Jewish woman friend and I, despite divergent views on the general topic, find some common ground thru the fervent application of compassion—and agapic love.

Along the way I’m learning about Talmudic thinking, which I understand is the practice of holding multiple, apparently contradictory truths simultaneously. This has allowed me to more fully appreciate seemingly conflicting points of view.

QuakersPentagon-1

November 12-13, 1960, some 1000 Quakers vigiled at the Pentagon against nuclear weapons.

I need Talmudic thinking with another of my core communities, Quakers. We exhibit many points of view, few supporting BDS, but we work together, united by common traditions and beliefs, feeling ourselves family. Working with my Quaker family helps me daily to try to understand varying points of view while not allowing myself to lapse into deadly silence. In fact, my local Quaker meeting, Friends Meeting at Cambridge, and another of my core communities, the Agape Community, a lay Catholic nonviolence community in central Massachusetts, along with my biological family and JVP, extend my network of faith in action. We hold each other accountable, we support and “elder” (using Quaker terminology) each other, that is, lovingly differ with and teach each other.

A great wind is ablowin and I expect it will eventually result in the salvation and renewal of that land called Holy.

JVP_2017_Skip_Schiel_IMG_5311

Final session of the national membership meeting of Jewish Voice for Peace, Chicago, April 2017

LINKS

A memoir I wrote in 2007 about my involvement with Palestine-Israel, with many illustrations, “Israel, Palestine, Kaleidoscope”

Currently I attempt to link Detroit and Palestine via water justice.

I’m part of two New England Quaker teams, local and regional, advocating for freedom, justice, peace, security, and reconciliation between Palestine and Israel.

Boycott-Divest-Sanction (BDS)

Talmudic thinking is summed up in the phrase “Turn and turn the Torah.” When an answer is developed, it is not the end, but only the beginning of a new question. The Talmudic way of thinking is the seeking of ever-new ways to see. It is the practice to seek ever new ways to think of Torah….

Accounts from my journal, written while I photographed Detroit in June 2017—or writing later. For three days of my first week in Detroit I attended the Second International Gathering of Social Movements on Water. Here are my notes from the first two days.

PHOTOS

Detroit-water_conferenceIMG_6249

June 9, 2017, Friday, Detroit

Illness might follow restoration of water because of bacteria and other debris left in the pipes and flushed out and into stomachs and throats. I am a test case [drinking from my home water system which had been shut down for months—no apparent illness].

Henry Ford hospital had been researching this but Mayor Duggins (“the emergency manager who calls himself mayor,” quoting Rev Rowe) pressured the hospital to stop, first not to release, then to entirely stop, claims Maureen Taylor, one of the gathering organizers.

Special Rapporteur on water, Dr Leo Heller, Brazilian, via Skype to the conference claimed there has been some progress toward making the right to water a universal human right (a question I asked), citing various cases. So denying water can become illegal.

Main goal is to force low-income (and Black?) people out of Detroit, claims Rowe, which provides a strong link with water rights in Palestine: force people out.

Other links between Michigan and Palestine might be to use water as punishment in Detroit and as control in Palestine. In addition to simple exploitation of limited resources.

I should read my water meter before and after to assess my use [which I did, giving information to my house, K, to use in settling billing]

West Grand Blvd. once the city limits and site of upper class homes [now largely deteriorated].

Chief Caleen Sisk, spiritual leader of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, California

Chief Caleen Sisk, spiritual leader of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, California

Power of water blessing when said in a Native American language.

United Auto Workers will help with water justice struggles, claimed Cindy Estrada, a UAW official.

Valerie Jean Blakely, water rights activist, Detroit

Valerie Jean Blakely, water rights activist, Detroit

Stories of two women who’d experienced shut offs, one had child taken but child walked home in the dark.

Possibility that city either willfully mismanages accounts to generate income or is derelict in bookkeeping, cf K’s problems.

Shut off entire neighborhoods.

Spread costs of broken mains or continually running water in abandoned houses to other customers, claims woman on Friday panel.

“Not a bankrupt city but controlled by a bankrupt system,” quoting Rowe.

Man from New Orleans exiled to Birmingham Alabama for 5 yrs before returning to city. Compares New Orleans to Detroit, gentrifying the city with mostly white, mid and high income people.

Lower East Ward [once largely Black and low-income] now filled with more affluent people.

Two young women on bus work against corporate interests in Boston, webinar coming up to develop grass-roots action.

No bottled water allowed at the conference.

What sticks for me from talks are assertions and stories?

Baxter Jones

Baxter Jones, water justice activist, Detroit

Example of Baxter Jones, in a wheelchair, who’d been jailed for his water justice activism—sumud [steadfastness].

MORE NOTES AFTER DAY TWO

My entirely different reaction: too much taking at us and not enough, barely any, participation by us.

The gathering uses the old model of conference organizing: the banking model, experts fill students with info. Virtually non-stop, running late, a fair amount of repetition (Rowe and Nicole spoke today but also the evening before). Hopefully this does not model their grassroots organizing methods.

Large number of large people, mostly women, mostly Black, but not entirely. Many infirm.

Very few travel mugs, most drank out of Styrofoam cups. Suggesting the water focus may not spread to the entire environment.

Detroit-water_conferenceIMG_6301

Women definitely predominate, organizers, leaders, and participants.

Relative absence of the organization We the People of Detroit, Nadia an exception who gave for me clearly the best presentation of her panel—focused, concise, well crafted, illustrated beautifully by a slide show despite the use of power points. (Nadia explained that and Monica Lewis-Patrick, co-founder of We the People is at another conference).

Kids can no longer stay in homes without water [removed by the city].

Where are the extended bios of speakers?

Did Detroit once use only private wells, i.e., did everyone long ago have their own free water? Trace the progression from personal and private to collective and public. Adding a fee structure.

60,000 + another 18,000 cutoffs.

A man plays with his computer on the large screen behind the speakers, which is incessantly annoying. Altho occasionally he shows relevant images.

Detroit’s City Charter states a right to water and sanitation (Roger Bolton). CHECK THIS

Pre-Trump (now called “45” so we don’t use his name, as in 45th president) EPA recommended a sliding scale for water rates.

Org LIFTUP worked with several cities to establish more equitable payment plans but they served only a small proportion of customers. And shoves blame for non-payment onto the nonpaying customer, rather than addressing the unjust system.

Baltimore one of the worst cities for water and sewage infrastructure. Users have to pay for repair, when once the feds would help.

Detroit-water_conferenceIMG_6315

How can the unearned income tax credit help people behind in paying water bills?

Roger Bolton (Belmont MA-based?) drafted the Detroit bill for water rights.

California the first state declaring water is a human rights—ask L.

In Puerto Rico, coal combustion produces coal dust which is then used as fill and cover but this pollutes aquifers.

Write a story about the panelists, their back-stories, what led them to this work, what they sacrifice, what they achieve?

An entirely different spirit from that of the Jewish Voice for Peace national membership meeting I attend in March. Here there is little joy, the spirit is deadening rather than enlivening. I left at end of afternoon on Friday, unable to remain for the evening because I was exhausted rather than energized.

How define affordability? What plan can work to make water affordable? How calculate ability to pay?

Philly as a possible model, something like 1-3% of annual income billable for water and sewage.

The irony of Detroit surrounded by water (Great Lakes and innumerable rivers), yet many people suffer without water.

Great lakes hold 28% of the world’s surface water.

60% of Detroiters do not have sufficient income to pay for necessities, water specifically.

Shigellosis is a water-borne disease, afflicting some people in Flint and Detroit. How many total, and what proportion of entire population and the population experiencing water shut offs?

Check out Highland Park. First with water cutoffs? Before Detroit?

CASPER is a Detroit medical survey.

If proposed guidelines (by whom?) were followed, 80% of Detroit would be eligible for help paying their water bills.

Review Ford hospital study and the story about its squelching by Duggins.

Check out the water hotline on We the People of Detroit and inform K.

Have our water tested, the link is on We the People.

Story of salmon as transformational creatures, salt to fresh water, eg, finding way back to spawning grounds. (Native woman on Fri from Calif)

Microphone as a talking stick—does this allow the native woman to talk endlessly?

Flint: the activist organization [which one?] makes broad demands, not only about water, but pipes, rates, single payer health, emergency manager.

National campaign for lead free water

Hear from Melissa Mays, a key Flint activist, and [later] her 2 sons, 12 and 14, plus an older son, all with health problems related to lead (“growing pains,” but more serious and enduring and endangering than ordinary growing pains).

Water-related illness creates “foggy brain” in kids and they are then declared “behavior kids” and suspended and thrown out.

FlintH20justice—FaceBook page.

Read People’s Tribune.

Did I pay $100 for the conference, with $5 per day for food?

State Water Legislative Working Group—bills and hearing, attend some. (Stephanie Chang)

Renewed Poor Peoples’ Campaign (without the encampment), 50th anniversary next year.

Purpose of emergency manager is to steal assets like water. Look at patterns of which cities get the EMs.

Fresh, safe, affordable water.

Watch movie, “Something in the Water” [part of the America Divided series?]

Photos of Detroit light brigade and bat signals

Detroit-water_conferenceIMG_6312

LINKS

Flinth20justice (Facebook)

Are Detroit water shutoffs and illnesses related?” Bridge Magazine, by Joel Kurth

TO BE CONTINUED

Accounts from my journal, written while I photographed Detroit in June 2017—or writing later.

I come from Detroit where it’s rough and I’m not a smooth talker.

—Eminem

Girl-Detroit-water_conferenceIMG_6253

Youth activist on water rights

PHOTOS

June 7, 2017, Wednesday, Detroit

Letter to S:

i’m in detroit, settling into my home away from home. the water man turned on our water this afternoon. G [my neighbor across the street] finally returned my phone call (as i stood yesterday afternoon in boston awaiting the boarding of a late train—believe it or not, the train originates in boston—and showed up this morning with the key just as w dropped me at the house. w picked me up at the dearborn train station, i treated her to a mideast breakfast at my favorite local mideast bakery, the new yasmeen, in dearborn. i also picked up a load of treats, stuffed grape leaves, stuffed cabbage leaves, humus, and a variety of arab sweets.

my iphone problems continue vexing me. phone and messaging work well and add much to my work here, as does the internet. but linking to my laptop for internet, the hotspot routine—if it connects and it’s spotty—is extremely show. i always have the local mcdonalds.

i perused my list of contacts to further photograph my two main themes for this trip, water justice and public schools. the water conference begins thurs, runs thru sun, and at the very least i’ll learn much more about water justice-injustice here and make some valuable connections. the principal of the local public k-8 school seems to be avoiding me. no time for an appointment tomorrow “but she’ll get back to you.” unlikely. 

two new contacts have materialized, a man (i might have mentioned him), mb, who’s part of a pro bono team bringing a suit against the state of michigan about literacy rights in the public schools, and his daughter, s, who just graduated from harvard ed and has been filming related to the suit. i spoke with her a few hrs ago and i might photograph and possibly film a major event occurring next week about struggles over public ed.

k, the owner of the house i stay in, is due here any minute. we may put the furniture back after she had wood flooring installed. and then, early to bed. 

i slept very little on the crowded train, joined during the middle of the night by a young woman heading to chicago so i scrunched into one seat. as the conductor informed us, monday kicked off school vacation summer. (not quite for massachusetts but elsewhere apparently). as the sun set last night, we were in iroquois confederacy territory, along the mohawk river, the clouds black outlined and looming. then rain fell, continuing thru the night. clear this morning in detroit, followed by more bulbous threatening clouds which teamed up to alternately block and allow the sunlight. 

it’s cool here in detroit, mid 60s, and windy. not much to stop the winds from blowing in from the plains. temps may hit near 90 here later this week. i guess you had more murky chilly weather today and maybe tomorrow.

IS THE WATER TURNED ON IN MY HOUSE?

Fulfilling my duties as house husband I happened to be home yesterday when the Detroit water man returned to turn on the water. I accompanied him downstairs, thinking I might learn how to turn on water myself, if needed, but he only checked the meter’s condition. Outside, I watched him from the porch as he found the water valve buried about 3 ft under the front yard, pulled up the covering, and with a tool on a long rod restored our water. Too late I thought to grab my camera and photograph him. He was amiable and chatty, working for Homrich, a company that also does demolitions. He explained the large machine on the truck’s back was an air compressor. They use it to clear holes stuffed with dirt by house owners trying to prevent shut offs. I didn’t tell him we might meet again—with my camera.

Rowe-Detroit-water-conferenceIMG_5906

Rev. Edwin Rowe, member of People’s Water Board Coalition, Public Health Committee

June 8, 2017, Thursday

MY LEADS SEEM MOSTLY FEMALE

I notice that nearly all my leads and contacts have been female: first AR who I met at Friends General Gathering in Johnstown Penn in the late 1990s; leading to K who offered her house in summer 2010 so Rick, Grove, I and others would have a home while we attended the US Social Forum; reconnecting with W who I’d met at another FGC gathering in maybe the early 1990s (who introduced me to the Swords Into Plowshares Peace Gallery where I had my first Detroit show, the 1995 Auschwitz to Hiroshima pilgrimage with Billy Ledger); and then more recently, KS, KR, G, and a few other women. RF and Johnny are gender exceptions.

Is this because women find me attractive? Hardly. Is it because women are more likely than men to help others? I believe so.

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Melissa Mays, coordinator of Water You Fighting For ?, Flint Michigan

At any rate, I’d like to highlight the roles of two other women in my Detroit project, W and SR. SR drove me to the Boston train station, helping me over a large hurdle because of all my gear, especially my bike. She’s done this repeatedly. In addition she tends my house when I’m gone, mail, plants, oversight, etc.

W has fed me innumerable leads, including the most recent one at the Swords Gallery where she once was on the board. She’s lent me her car, and might again for this trip; she’s hosted home shows; she’s sent me info; and with husband G has proven steadfast as friend. Minus AR, minus K, and minus W I might not be able to do this project, especially if I had to rely on men.

Besides providing housing, K is a confidant. Yesterday during our long phone conversation I told her how living here in Detroit is like returning to live to Chicago’s South Side, my boyhood home that my parents forced me to abandon for our move to the suburbs. Previously I’d told her about my life with S, its ups and downs, once at length confiding to her our problems over art, how critical I am of hers and perhaps she of mine. K tells me about her old boy friend M—the odd one—and other men, and about her health problems, and perhaps most importantly about this house. I am a silent partner in her house, helping her, possibly knowing her house better than she herself does in its present condition. This is crucial to both of us.

Maureen Taylor, conference co organizer

Maureen Taylor, water conference co-organizer

TEMPORARILY NO HOME, NO WATER, AND NO ELECTRICITY

Being an honorary Detroiter I reluctantly experience what other Detroiters might experience: no home when I worried about getting in, meeting G with a key. No water when I lived in this home for about 24 hours without water. And yesterday no electricity for about 6 hours.

Around 2 pm yesterday while listening to the radio and doing computer work, suddenly the radio cut out and seemed to produce a high-pitched, screeching noise. Oh, probably just an emergency test alert on the radio, I thought. It continued. Searching, I discovered the radio was not the audio source; but a wall device, either smoke detector or burglar alarm, was wailing, signaling power outage.

Just my home? Looking out front I saw a neighbor across the street, maybe Anthony’s father, in front of his house looking puzzled. Is this a neighborhood phenomenon? So I crossed the street, found Antony and his dad sitting on their front porch. Their first question to me was, do you have electricity? That clinched the question: neighborhood power outage. Earlier I’d heard a siren. Looking around I detected nothing unusual.

My Internet still worked so, searching for Detroit power outages, I found on DTE’s website, the power provider, a map that showed numerous outages around the city, a big one affecting some 500 houses in my neighborhood. I decided to go for the afternoon bike ride I’d promised myself, as much to bike as to buy booze and a few other items I didn’t remember on my first shopping trip. Starting out down Buena Vista I saw DTE utility trucks and about 1/2 mile from here a fire truck. Biking over, blocked by emergency tape, I inquired: live wires down, maybe wind, stay back!

All 3 of these problems—no home, no water, no electricity—were short-lived and minor, easily corrected. I have privilege, I have community, I have skills, and I am not worried, not too worried. Worried just enough to activate and to appreciate what others go thru.

In a few days I’ll attend the four day long water conference, expecting to gain insights, leads, and portraits of key participants in the local and international struggles for water justice. Regarding water rights, I will keep an eye out for links between Palestine and the rest of the world, notably Michigan.

DetroitFromWindsor_6693-Pano

Detroit from Windsor Ontario

LINKS

We The People of Detroit

Water Justice Journey Resource Packet

TO BE CONTINUED