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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.

Washburn House_6392

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.

Neighborhood_4145

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.

Gloria-Detroit_portrait_9202

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.

Aerial Washburn Bunena Vista far SM

General area of my neighborhood in northwest Detroit, 2017

Aerial Washburn Bunena Vista close-marked SM

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)

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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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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.

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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.

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Detroit from Windsor Ontario

LINKS

We The People of Detroit

Water Justice Journey Resource Packet

TO BE CONTINUED

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As I prepare to travel to Detroit in a few days for most of June 2017, intending to knuckle down on two main themes, water justice and public education, with good leads in both areas, I’ve written this statement. 

An examination of the shifting dynamics in the country’s iconic post-industrial city. I hope to reveal aspects of Detroit beyond what’s now termed “Ruin Porn” and the starkly contrasting ultra beautiful and expensive development.

Public schools such as Noble Elementary valiantly struggle to survive and offer high quality public education. I wish to portray this struggle. I’ve photographed the Boggs School, as one example of this struggle, and plan to again on my upcoming trip in June. I also photographed the now tragically closed Detroit Friends School.

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Boggs School

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“? of the day: which would make the best model to show the structure of the inside of the earth? a. baseketball, b. solid rock, c. hard boiled egg, d. a rubber band ball

Detroit Friends School

I’ll work with We The People of Detroit, an organization co-founded and co-directed by Monica Lewis-Patrick and return to the Boggs School for their closing parade and block party.

I have been photographing, making movies, and writing about Detroit since 2010, initially awed by the abandoned and scrapped buildings and the enormous swaths of vacant land. Later I learned about burgeoning urban agriculture, the arts movement, numerous civic projects, innovative reuse of buildings, the rise of bicycling. Big Money pours in to build sports stadiums and commercial and residential housing. Little Money dribbles in to the remaining 80% of the area, inhabited mostly by African-American and other economically suffering people, many suffering from the recent bankruptcy of the city.

I ponder: will Detroit become the model for postindustrial urban resurrection or self implode?

I was raised on Chicago’s Southside from 1940 to 1955 when my family ignobly was the first to flee African Americans searching for new housing. I have always been ashamed of this part of my family history and recently realized that by returning regularly to Detroit, living in a Black neighborhood, part of the 80% land mass, I have returned. I’ve made friends among my neighbors, developed a portrait series about them, and I’ve interviewed some about changes in their neighborhood. The white owner of the house I stay in was educated very happily at Noble Elementary School. If I can gain the permission of its principal, Latoyia Webb-Harris, and staff and parents and students, I hope to show its current life.

LINKS

We The People of Detroit

James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership

Water justice in Detroit

Betsy DeVos and the twilight of public education

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Shrine in Delray to someone murdered

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Shrine from at least two years ago, near Delray, near the Detroit River, near Historic Fort Wayne, near Delray

Delray in southwest Detroit

Delray in southwest Detroit

I believed it was necessary to investigate photography, dismantle it, jettison all the non-essential components, and begin again with a stripped down but more powerful idea of what is, or could be photographic.

—Lewis Baltz

Accounts from my journal, written while I photographed Detroit for three weeks during the end of summer 2016.

PHOTOS

September 5, 2016, Monday, K’s house, Detroit

As I neared home by bike [on September 4, 2016], after visiting Delray and attending the Jazz Festival, I noticed flashing red lights in the distance along Grand River Avenue. Closing in I saw they were fire engines. Closing in further I saw they were at the intersection of Grand River and Washburn Street, my usual turnoff. I then noticed smoke and water, the water pouring from hoses directed by two fire fighters on an extended ladder. Another Detroit fire, an abandoned building, perhaps set alight by kids, perhaps by someone needing the insurance money. With Gene Smith, the pre-eminent photojournalist who made the monumental photographic exploration of Pittsburgh in mind, his use of light, I tried to line up the water streams with the setting sun behind them. I tried several positions, the last directly into the sun.

Fire in an abandoned building along Grand River Ave, apparently arson

Fire in an abandoned building along Grand River Ave, apparently arson

As I worked the light I saw a black car suddenly race between the fire equipment. People shouted, stop, hoses! The driver stopped at the hose and then gunned the engine in reverse. More shouting. Crash! Right into a fire truck, ripping off the left rear fender of the black car. People raced to the car. Police arrived. Poked heads inside the car. Pulled out the driver, a woman who looked drugged or drunk. Cuffed her and put her in the police car.

I photographed the entire event, thinking for me this might be the find of the day. For her, disaster. Talking with an African-American fellow on his bike, watching the events with me, I asked, what do you think of the Detroit fire department? He answered, the best, responsive, effective, can’t ask for more. I conclude, could be, they get a lot of practice. I might have asked what did he think would happen to the woman?

Biking home I chanted a Buddhist prayer for her, who now was probably on her way to jail and maybe eventually prison. All because of a few drinks or a tiny brief poke of the needle. One life, for now, possibly ruined. A tragedy on a small-scale, city-wide, nationally, internationally. A major event for that one woman, perhaps also her family. Does she have dependent kids? What a fiasco.

I am eager to tell K about all this; she seems inordinately interested in my project. She is my local confidant (Anne also but not as directly). What would the project be without her, both for her house and for her interest, companionship, and suggestions?

TO BE CONTINUED

LINKS:

“What About Delray? The Past and Future of Detroit’s Forgotten Neighborhood” (2012)

“Drug Abuse Patterns and Trends in Detroit, Wayne County, and Michigan—Update: January 2014” (National Institute of Drug Abuse)

“New chief putting mark on Detroit fire dept.” (Christine Ferretti and George Hunter , DetroitNews, 2016)

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“The Feeling of Being Watched: A Town Hall Discussion on Profiling and Surveillance” at the Arab American National Museum, Dearborn

The gravest responsibility of the photo historian or journalist is the search through the maze of conflictions to the island of intimate understanding, of the mind, of the soul, amid circumstances that both create, and are created by—and then to render with intelligence, with artistic eloquence, a correct and breathing account of what is found; and popular fancy, myth can be damned. Meaning: get to the guts of the matter and show the bastards as they are.

—W. Eugene Smith (Let Truth be the Prejudice about Smith by Ben Maddow)

Accounts from my journal, written while I photographed Detroit for three weeks during the end of summer 2016.

PHOTOS

September 10, 2016, Saturday, Detroit

At the Arab American Museum last night [September 9, 2016] I attended the program about governmental spying on people in the United States, especially human beings thought to be The Other. It was titled, “The Feeling of Being Watched,” and was a co-production of the museum and an organization called Take on Hate. All four participants were eloquent, knowledgeable, personally experienced with the topic, and had much to offer. I learned mainly about a Homeland Security program called CVE, Countering Violent Extremism, that enlists community members in surveiling their own community. It could be regarded as insidious collaboration, turning students, health professionals, teachers, clergy, anyone in frequent contact with others, into implanted cameras and audio recorders, passing information to the government about suspected terrorists. Pilot programs exist in St Paul, Los Angeles, and my city, Boston.

I could be enlisted—or I could be targeted. Maybe I could report suspicious behavior in my photographic workshops, or I could be reported on the basis of my Palestine-Israel work.

Because of the host site, not only the Arab American museum but the city of Dearborn, Muslim Americans were the focus. But other groups could be targeted as well, notably people of color and immigrants. As several panelists observed, marginalized communities, those living in poverty or extreme racism for instance, are often the most seriously watched.

How effective is such surveillance? was a question raised by several panelists. One panelist claimed that a similar program in New York City has resulted in no arrests of actual terrorists. I’m sure some would argue that this claim is false or irrelevant, but the question remains: given the work and expense involved surveiling, how often do the programs have demonstrable effects? Result in so-called “actionable intelligence”?

Cameras, for instance, may be effective as a deterrent even if they are not hooked up; the idea of being watched may curtail violence. I experienced this yesterday when eating at the New Yazmeen bakery. Some patrons had left food, the space was empty, I helped myself to some delicious-looking flat bread, and considered taking more uneaten food. Then I noticed the cameras, I stopped eating the bread, I smiled at the camera.

History was another sub topic. An immediate precursor of terrorist watch programs was COINTELPRO, the Counter Intelligence Program of the FBI under Hoover, targeting radical Black movements like the Black Panthers. Before that, anti communism programs, most notably the infamous HUAC, House Un-American Activities Committee, hearings and the hero of some, Joe McCarthy. Programs existed before that targeting union organizers, Black leaders, “Bolshevism,” the Irish, other immigrant groups, etc. Surveillance has a long history in this country, as it might in many. Fear seeds suspicion. What precisely is the psychology of surveillance? Not a topic mentioned, except in passing when an audience member asked about the role of psychologists in these surveillance projects.

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Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American­-Islamic Relations

When asked about the future of this program and surveillance generally, a panelist mentioned the need for privacy factor, whether people value their privacy enough to oppose programs like CVE. Because of the proliferation of on-line self disclosure—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, etc—often encouraging opening lives to public view (I myself exemplify this, my blog in particular, and how much I might potentially disclose about myself if these journals that I adapt for the blogs ever become public), one might guess that many folks do not highly value their own privacy. Thus they may not be too eager to fight for limits to surveillance.

Assia Boundaoui, the director of the film we watched a clip from, The Feeling of Being Watched, summed up the evening well when she built on the idea presented by another panelist, a Wayne State—the panopticon. This is a prison design that places guards at the center of the building, able to observe the prisoners existing in cells isolated from each other. She called for two approaches to surveillance, analogous to prison reform: open the cells to each other so the prisoners can communicate and organize, and reverse the line of sight so the prisoners can observe the guards. That is, all communities affected by surveillance need to coordinate and form coalitions to resist unreasonable surveillance. And those watched need to watch the watchers.

Freelance journalist and former Al Jazeera America producer. Assia Bounadoui

Assia Bounadoui, freelance journalist and former Al Jazeera America producer

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Panopticon

After noticing others making photos with their phones I felt emboldened to bring out my camera and from more than half way back in the hall make a few photos. I began with the moderator, a striking Black woman. I pushed the camera to determine just how much I can do in low light. Given the topic, I wondered if I’d be viewed as a watcher.

Asha Noor, TAKE ON HATE Advocacy and Civic Engagement Specialist

Asha Noor, Take On Hate Advocacy and Civic Engagement Specialist

Later I spoke with a museum staff person, David Serio, who’d introduced the program. He wore a keffiyeh, now known as identifying the wearer as a supporter of Palestinian rights. I offered him two observations: your keffiyeh resembles a Jewish prayer shawl, and have you ever noticed that the keffiyeh design suggests barbed wire? He’d not noticed either but said he enjoys the ambiguity. Talking further, I promised to suggest to Jewish Voice for Peace-Detroit that they link with the museum and the Take on Hate program. And I’d suggest to JVP-Boston which has an ongoing campaign about Islamophobia that they also connect with Take on Hate. I picked up two Take on Hate lapel buttons but they escaped my plastic bag when it ripped open as I crossed Grand River coming home by bike.

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Keffiyeh, courtesy of the Internet

While awaiting the start of the program, after eating Arab nummies, I examined the photographic exhibit, “What We Carried: Fragments from the Cradle of Civilization.” When I initially learned about this I discounted it, thinking, what a weak way to use photography. But examining it more closely I felt it was tremendously moving and brilliantly and simply conceived. I wrote those remarks in the guest book.

The photographer had invited immigrants from Muslim and Arab countries, Iraq and Syria mostly, to choose one thing they brought with them. The artist, Jim Lommasson, then photographed the object and asked for a written comment from the immigrant. So many were touching, like photos of family; in fact, family was a central theme—missing them collectively or missing individuals like grandparents.

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From “What We Carried” by Jim Lommasson

At the end of the exhibit the photographer installed a wall panel asking viewers to write what they would bring with them. I demurred. What would I bring? First thought: a family album in digital form, or all my journals in digital form, or one camera, or something my dear friend S had given me, or one of my kids had given me, or Louise had given me, or something from my mother or father. So difficult to decide. I was reminded of Linda Hass’ photographic project about the stuff her mother’s had accumulated and might send her notification of this show. Linda’s was a different case entirely. She photographed what her mother had accumulated in the United States after she’d lost everything escaping the holocaust.

To be continued

LINKS

The Feeling of Being Watched (movie)

Take on Hate (campaign)

Countering Violent Extremism (CVE)

What We Carried (exhibition)

Arab American Museum, Dearborn Michigan

“FBI: Hate crimes against Muslims in US surge 67 percent” (2015)

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