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Archive for the ‘water justice’ Category

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.

Campaign-Detroit-water_conferenceIMG_6088

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.

Mays brothers-Detroit-water_conferenceIMG_6228

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.

_PaulSchwartz6148

Paul Schwartz, Campaign for Lead Free Water

Flint two men_DSC5866

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.

Franklin-Detroit-water_conference_IMG_6383

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.

Washburn House_6392

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)

 

 

 

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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.

Detroit-We_the_People_of_Detroit-water_DSC7014

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.”

Heller-IMG_5898

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

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