Posts Tagged ‘michigan’

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.


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.


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, 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.


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.


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.”


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


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


“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

Read Full Post »


“We Hope For Better Things; It Shall Rise From the Ashes”

The struggle we’re dealing with these days, which, I think, is part of what the 1960s represented, is how do we define our humanity?

—Grace Lee Boggs

An analysis based on my most recent sojourn in Detroit Michigan, September 2013

Dedicated to Dan Turner, another chapter in Our Book of Mysteries



Three power forces operate in Detroit: capitalist, mainly the resurgent auto industry and investment capital; grass-roots activism as exemplified by the Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership; and an intermediate population that I’ve heard derisively termed the New Hipsters (aka, millennials, social entrepreneurs, bourgeois Bohemians, Bobo’s), people, mostly young, who have money but sometimes pretend they don’t. They might also be termed the Gentrifiers. This third force comprises elements of the other two—moneyed, perhaps from employment in the corporations, largely apathetic (with numerous exceptions), and with sympathies, maybe tenuous, with the grass-roots. 

We must remember that the first two forces date back to nearly the beginning of 20th century Detroit, the city long a crossroads because of the Detroit River which connects Lakes Huron and Erie, later the international hub of the auto industry. Corporate power vs. worker power. Some of the first successful auto union actions were in Detroit. Did a third force operate then, similar to the New Hipsters or Gentrifiers?

Detroit between 2 lakes

1763 Siege of Fort Detroit by Frederic Remington.

Siege of Fort Detroit, by Frederic Remington

The_City_of_Detroit_(from_Canada_Shore) Steel engraving 1872

Detroit from Canada shore, steel engraving, 1872


1889, Calvert Lithographing Co.

Many realize Detroit suffers: one-third of the area is vacant; the population has shrunk to some 700,000 from a peak of 1.8 million in the 1950s, with a consequent severe decline in tax revenues; Detroit is the most dangerous city in the United States based on violent crime statistics; city services like street lights, street maintenance, bus service, garbage pickup, parks, schools, and police and fire protection generally is dismal. (On my last trip there in September 2013, I feared bicycling at night, despite the wide streets and scant traffic—very few streetlights, long stretches of the equivalent of bumpy country lane.) Most importantly, the emergency financial manager, appointed by the right-wing Republican state government, under a recently passed controversial law, has filed for bankruptcy. This would be largest metropolitan bankruptcy in US history.


ca. 1910 of the Cadillac main assembly plant at 450 Amsterdam Street and Cass Avenue
Cadillac main assembly plant at 450 Amsterdam Street and Cass Avenue, 1910 ca.


Ford plant


Michigan and Griswold, 1920 ca.

More bad news:

The city lost 40% of its manufacturing jobs in the 1960s; the unemployment rate for Detroit proper peaked at 24.9% in 2009 (now down to 16.3%), compared with the national average of 7.5%; Detroit and Las Vegas are among the emptiest cities; in 2010 the Motor City experienced vacancy rates of 20% for rentals, 4% for homes, and 30% for commercial properties, compared with the national average of 2.7% home vacancy for last 3 months of 2010 and 9.4% for rentals (downtown vacancy rates have dramatically risen, with corporations moving to this central location); personal wealth has moved to the suburbs, among the most affluent in the country; and Detroit is more than 80% African-American. To put Detroit into more context, half of all jobs lost in the entire United States over the past decade were lost in Michigan.



Moreover, relatively few (compared with the large number noticing Detroit’s economic decline) have remarked on perhaps a more ominous fact—the attack on democracy because of the emergency manager law. Curiously, candidates competed to become the next mayor while I was there. When I asked friends and other residents what’s the point of a mayoral campaign when the city is under complete control of the emergency manager, most shook their heads, unsure why there is an election. A few explained that the next mayor can influence daily decisions and the emergency manager’s 18-month term ends in September 2014, but the budget is completely controlled by the manager. For the record, Mike Duggan, who as the CEO of the Detroit Medical Center, the city’s largest employer, is credited with turning around its finances, was elected mayor in early November 2013, the first white mayor since 1974. Duggan beat Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon who is black.


Mike Duggan (left) & Benny Napoleon

From Wikipedia: The emergency management system and emergency financial manager (EFM) position was first created in Public Act 101 of 1988 only for the emergency in Hamtramck. Public Act 101 was amended by Public Act 72 of 1990 allowing an Emergency Financial Manager to be appointed for any local governmental unit. PA 72 in turn was replaced by Public Act 4 of 2011, which renamed the position to Emergency Manager (EM) and gave the Manager additional authority.[1]

(right) Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr and Detroit Mayor Dave Bing address the press after an announcement that the City of Detroit is pursuing municipal bankruptcy, July 18. (Tanya Moutzalias | MLive.com)

Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr (right) and former Detroit mayor Dave Bing

Eight other Michigan cities have been under the control of the act, most since 2010 and under the current governor Rick Snyder. An earlier form of the law was contested in the Michigan Supreme Court, and resulted in a revision, now the current law.


The Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice leads a campaign, Democracy Emergency, to reverse this law and restore democracy to Detroit. In the announcement of their campaign they quote the State of Michigan itself who admitted in its own internal analysis of Public Act 4 that: “This bill allows the emergency managers too much power and control over local units of government. Emergency managers can’t be trusted to act in the interests of the local nut and will use the enhanced powers granted under this bill for their own gain. Stripping local officials of the powers is anti-democratic.”

Furthermore, Barbara Barefield, a Detroit-based activist, hopes “…that Duggan, who is extremely savvy and experienced, will have influence with the Emergency Manager and the bankruptcy proceedings. It is extraordinarily tough to see our city assets being robbed by consultants and bankruptcy attorneys; set up the city in a way to make Detroit a land grab for the wealthy; and privatize city services and weaken unions and destroy/eliminate services and departments within city government. But after the EM leaves, we need intelligent, experienced leaders ready to reassemble the city and attempt to reinstate democracy, work with unions, and turn things around.”

Contrasting with this dire picture, few seem to realize the influx of young people, artists, entrepreneurs, and urban agriculturalists among them, some or many in the realm of the so-called New Hipster. Much activity is centered in the cultural/midtown district, the base of Wayne State University. Detroit has become the center of urban agriculture, cleverly utilizing vacant lots, increasing food security, and fostering neighborhood peace center. On the Amtrak bus between Detroit and Toledo where I was to catch a train home to Boston, I met a young white woman who lives in a cooperative house in the heart of Detroit. With 2 PhD’s, one in social work, the other in political science, she is fluent in Creole and regularly works in Haiti. She teaches at a college in Ann Arbor, commuting between home and employment. Most importantly she lives in Detroit, with a group, in a black neighborhood, in a house they’ve renovated that was long owned by a prominent Detroit black family, the Nixon’s.


The organization Greening of Detroit oversees the development of the MGMGrand market garden on Plum Street near downtown Detroit. 


Lafayette Greens



Built on the former site of the historic Lafayette Building, Lafayette Greens is a nearly 3/4 acre garden space in Detroit’s downtown district. Organized by Compuware.

Numerous visionaries float proposals to encourage urban agriculture, the arts, education, rescuing homes, and renovating neighborhoods such as the Urban Innovation Exchange, “an initiative to showcase and advance Detroit’s growing social innovation movement.

Two examples of social innovation: “Ponyride is a study to see how the foreclosure crisis can have a positive impact on our communities. Using an ‘all boats rise with the tide’ rent subsidy, we are able to provide cheap space for socially-conscious artists and entrepreneurs to work and share knowledge, resources and networks. We purchased a 30,000 square-foot warehouse for $100,000 and offer space for $0.10-$0.20 per square-foot, which includes the cost of utilities.”

“An approach to designing a self-maintaining garden modeled after natural ecosystems, Permaculture maximizes the distribution of rainwater by aligning it with exposure to sun and wind.”

A center of this innovation is the midtown neighborhood, anchored by Wayne State University, the Detroit Institute of the Arts, and the main public library. From a recent analysis, 7.2 Sq Mi, a report  on Greater Downtown Detroit:

Like city-centers globally, downtowns are owned by everyone—welcoming residents, employees, visitors, and tourists. Greater Downtown contains high-rise and low-rise living, our richest cultural assets, the center of Detroit’s business world, the region’s sports and entertainment hub, some of the city’s most storied neighborhoods, and some of Southeast Michigan’s leading educational and medical institutions. 

Square Miles: 7.2 SQ. MI. Population: 36,550 people Density: 5,076 People/SQ. MI. Per Capita Income: $20,216

Midtown Detroit

It is the crucible for the interplay of Detroit’s 3 major power forces: big money or capital, grass roots activism, and that curious middle ground, the New Hipsters.



Emergency Manager Law – State of Michigan (PDF)

“Michigan’s Hostile Takeover,” bPaul Abowd, Center for Public Integrity, 2012

Images from a trip up Detroit’s infamous River Rouge, one of the most heavily industrialized rivers in the world, with writerJoel Thurtell and filmmaker Florent Tillon.

Read Full Post »

Excerpts from my journal while in Detroit, moving backwards (not always), last to first.

About deindustrialization, depopulation, residential and commercial vacancy, corruption of capitalism—and the rise of urban gardens, local resistance and activist organizations—ending with news about the US Social Forum, Allied Media Conference, and the first public national gathering of anti-Zionist Jews in the United States.

In several parts, with periodic photos and videos.

Begin by considering the lay of the land and water—study the works of past masters—recall the places of beauty that you know—then, on your chosen site, let memory speak and make into your own that which moves you most.

(11th century Japanese court noble, probably about gardening art but generalizable to any creative effort, thanks to Chris Jorgenson)

June 27, 2010, Sunday, Traverse City, MI, home of AR

In the North Country, at the southern tip of Traverse Bay. Does the name Traverse Bay stem from this once being an Indian traverse point, perhaps between the bay (connecting to Lake Michigan, itself an Indian name) and a small river feeding the bay (Boardman River, obviously not an Indian name)?

I’m here to present my Hydropolitics show at Higher Ground, which sounds like a coffee house. In introducing me to my current host, AR, Randy said of my Hydropolitics show that he’d seen at the US Social Forum, it’s an outstanding presentation, one of the best. With that intro I am challenged. Jointly sponsored by 3 organizations, I owe this gig to Anne Remley.

Weather is cooler, and perhaps drier than further south. This morning it is lightly raining. People are whiter, and, in the estimation of Randy, my ride here from Detroit, more conservative. He told me that Michael Moore, famed filmmaker, frequents this area. Moore renovated an old movie theater which is now the centerpiece of an annual film fest featuring Indie productions. Moore has also put money into other aspects of the town, shifting what had been negative town reaction to positive.

Courtesy of the internet

The drive north was mainly on the expressway and relatively boring. I slept for nearly 1 hour, catching up on sleep lost during the Forum. Then the 2 lane took us thru heavily forested regions, mostly devoid of agriculture, as was the first segment of the trip. Corn and a few other products were all I noticed, with one corn harvester the only sign of working the land. It was Saturday which may be a factor explaining the lack of farmer presence.

Traverse City is known for its fruit, not only its cherries, reminding me of Salfit in the West Bank, a point of reference I may make in my show tonight.

Cherries are in season, I helped myself to a bowlful when I arrived yesterday late afternoon after a 5 hour drive. This leads to the annual cherry festival in one week, what some called the annual scary festival because of the tourist invasion. The Blue Angels’ flight team performs. Tourism is now one of the main industries, replacing lumbering, the primary reason whites settled here. Currently the population is decreasing, possibly because of the draw of larger cities.

Randy told me Michigan is particularly hard hit by the crumbling economy. Partly because of Detroit’s downfall, also possibly the state’s reliance on agriculture. Roads are in bad condition. Mr. Segal, recently retired from his ambassador’s position in Afghanistan, said Michigan roads are in worse shape than the road to the Kabul airport.

AR, my current host, is a retired teacher, with 4 children all grown and spread around the country, with a flock of grand kids who she seems not to see very often. She told me, I’m available, I wait for my children to ask my services, I do not come naturally to the role of grandma. Unlike my former wife for sure, an exemplary grandmother, and me partially.

After touring me around her compact, well-kept, elegant house, converted from the carriage house of a mansion across the street, living here with her late husband since 1974, she invited me to join her and 2 women friends for dinner last evening. They are mother and daughter, the daughter a high school art teacher who feels overworked by her job, plans to retire after next year. She seemed grumpy and distant. By contrast, the mother appeared energetic, engaged, fun. They initially expressed interest in the Social Forum, suggested waiting till we were in the restaurant to hear more, and then the topic evaporated, except once when I raised it.

All 3 women are progressives, all 3 disappointed with President Obama, all 3 fairly active on political matters, one of the most recent about using biomass for fuel to generate power. They also told me about a recent case of blatant municipal corruption, building a soon-to-fail septic system.

Courtesy of the internet

Randy thinks Michigan is positioned to be part of a new dispensation—recovery when and if it should come to our nation—because of its water resources. He also told me there is an oil-gas pool under much of the region (evidenced by slowly churning oil pumps) with more resources under Lake Michigan, driving some speculators to attempt to insert slant wells. This he thinks will not succeed because of the presence of wealthy home and landowners surrounding the lake.

Camp Stuart Aquatics Area 1958, courtesy of the internet

Camp Stuart Aquatics Area 2006, courtesy of the internet

One of my primary connections with Michigan is thru Boy Scouts. I attended summer camp in the central western part of the state in the early 1950s, near Twin Lake. I can remember much about Camp Owasippe—particularly the dreaded swimming lessons because I was fat and had little tits. On the train platform preparing for the long ride home to Chicago I lost my family’s prize Kodak folding camera.

A few days ago a dear friend wrote:

Thinking about you. And you and me. About our “mutual inspiration” connection — that you spoke of when we met so briefly on Thursday afternoon. A new element has been added to this connection, hasn’t it, with your being here, in the area where I’m based, and where you are doing what you do. Now we have a new layer of perspective — something for us ourselves to absorb and know. Even our brief encounter on Thursday flashes a light on the two of us and on what we have to give and gain through our link.

I remember meeting you (me with my short hair) in the noisy, jumbled lobby of Cobo Hall in Detroit in Michigan, in the environs of that iconic statue of the fighter. I was numb and tired. You were you. You were doing your seeking, exploring, curiosity-engaging, active, absorbing and alive living in the way that you are alive.

It is striking to me to see you here doing what you do — so alive, seeking, searching, and discovering, with interest and pleasure and engagement and intensity, with pondering and summing things up.

We’ve chosen our paths many long years ago, my friend. Maybe in utero. We are our genes and our childhoods and our energy states,

Such a life you are leading, Skip, giving wherever you go. Receiving. Being active and “on.” And yet with gravitas and that secret sometime sadness that you’ve shared with me, knowing that you carry with you the longing always for a breakthrough to some splendid relationship that will give a great apotheosis of unity and a sense of a true and enduring psychic “home.”

And here I am, not always numb and tired, but these days with low and ebbing energy, having chosen long ago to stay, in this very house, with this very guy, with this very pattern of life, settled, rather predictable, day in and day out.

I am still seeking, yes, in my mind, trying to figure out what is happening in society and the world, but without urgency, without intensity. I have my base, fixed and quite still. I’ve looked for something to do, again and again in my life. I was open. And I found an opening, was seized upon by it, accepted, moved into engagement with some action that could help change something to make lives better for people. And each time I’ve stuck to that very action–these days Palestine-Israel info sharing mainly. So day by day I do a little of that something, and garden, and read the NY Times, and swim a little, and do my Tai Chi and energy work, and nap. And sense the end of my action life creeping ever nearer.

What can we give each other, my friend, good partner in thought and pondering? Well, a bit of occasional sharing. That’s good. I am one of the many touchstones you touch on your journey, your tremendous engagement time in exploration. I celebrate your seeking and finding. I look to find in my commitment and persistence something too to honor.

My heart goes with you to Lake Michigan blue, where I spent long summers camping long ago.

Love to you, Skip.

Join me when you can.

Is this not a deep message from an exceptional person? If there is any doubt of beneficial outcomes from my Israel-Palestine project, this is one example—meeting and loving her, being loved by her.

And I ponder: what if this were a message from the vanished, missing-in-action ME, or M, or X? How would I interpret it? How would I respond?

I plan to contemplate her letter longer and then either in person when we meet in a few days or by email attempt to express my inner self.


Read Full Post »

Ein Samiya, Occupied Territories of Palestine, aka, West Bank, (click for enlargement)

Well and pump house in Ein Samiya. From an aquifer in Ein Samiya 20 km northeast of Ramallah Occupied Territories of Palestine, paid for largely by Jordan in 1963, replacing an earlier system relying on cisterns and a few local springs for drinking water, pumped in several stages over hills thru pipes, water reaches the city of Ramallah of 25,000, supplying about 18% of its water, the rest bought from Israel.

Excerpts from my journal while in Detroit, moving backwards (not always), last to first.

About deindustrialization, depopulation, residential and commercial vacancy, corruption of capitalism—and the rise of urban gardens, local resistance and activist organizations—ending with news about the US Social Forum, Allied Media Conference, and the first public national gathering of anti-Zionist Jews in the United States.

In several parts, with photos and videos.


Let the beauty we love be what we do.
there are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

—Mawlana Jalal-al-Din Rumi

June 28, 2010, Monday, Traverse City, Michigan, home of AR

Roman aqueduct

Roman mill, to which the water was brought to grind grain

My Hydropolitics in Palestine/Israel slide show played to about 30 people, in and out, more or less, following the concert and in the same general area. Specifically a place called Higher Grounds, a coffee emporium smaller than Equal Exchange but related. The owner, Chris, buys and roasts the coffee, using the route of fair trade. I joked about how the Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage in 1998 resided overnight in the Equal Exchange warehouse in Canton MA, with the roaster going all night, creating a slight problem for those of us addicted to coffee. I forgot to highlight the excellent photos in the entry hall of Higher Grounds showing aspects of coffee growing.

I’d rehearsed the show, made minor changes (I lost the monitor calibrations, redid it, and now notice some of the images are too dark) and thus knew the show fairly well, able to anticipate the next slide or slide sequence. The main problem—other than too long and still not with proper graphics and tables—was loss of sound. Mysteriously audio would not play. Neither on the show or thru iTunes. Later, closing the lid and reopening it, I discovered the music plays. As I mentioned to a few there, this is trickster at work, lurking around knowing what annoys me most, waiting for an opportunity. And there it was: I wished to have my sound during the show, had set up speakers, and then zippo, no audio.

Until later, when too late.

The audience was not very lively, especially compared to the conferences. Not many remarks or questions. They might have been deadened as a result of the long detailed show. A Palestinian who knew the Huwwarra checkpoint south of Nablus came up after to thank me. Others did as well. Despite the lack of a vibrant discussion maybe the show went well enough. As well as I could deliver it.

As with the US Social Forum presentation I tried to link local hydropolitics with the global and then with Israel-Palestine. In Traverse City it is the historic dimension, whites settling where Indians had already settled, in part for the water access. Additionally there’s been a controversy over the city-required septic system, and further, Nestlé’s bottled water. I learned that local people opposed a bottling plant, prevailed in the first court episode, lost in an appeal. Some now consider direct action. At this moment Nestlé’s is pumping up huge quantities of water, bottling it, selling it, and the unwary are supporting this with every bottle purchase. When will we see the end of bottled water? Some communities—and this includes Traverse City’s city hall—prohibit sales and distribution of bottled water.

I’ve not yet entered the local lake water, hope to today if conditions are right. I use the free wifi at Arby’s for my internet connection, eating one “value pack” of fries as the price of admission ($1).  Local hosts have been very generous, Mary H who set it all up, Ann R opening her house to me, Terry at meeting, her buddy Mark with lots of info about native people around here, Randy driving me from Detroit and attending my hydropolitics show for the 2nd time in one week (1st at US Social Forum), and others. This touring continues to be a primary joy in my life, a form of working vacation that brings me into new communities, new regions, often surprising me. I’d probably not have otherwise visited Traverse City.

Just before awakening this morning—often the best time for recalling dreams—I was with a group of people, including family, including my young daughters Katy or Joey, and a mom, probably P. We walked to and thru an old railroad car, me asking one of my friends who knew trains what era this car might be from. I found a wagon, boarded it, cruised downhill toward an old building, maybe a garage. Opening the door gingerly I found inside signs of some habitation. Outside we all discovered a painting project, someone had been painting on the sidewalk. Somehow we knew it was a woman who’d painted. I tried painting, Katy tried it, P and I considered that when Katy is older she could come here alone and paint. I found a dead squirrel.

But what about whoever is painting here now? we asked.

Attending Friends Meeting in Traverse City was a joy. The congregation is surprisingly large, some 8 for 1st session, completely silent, unprogrammed, followed by a programmed section which I did not attend, drawing about 20 souls. They are housed in a Friends church, small, handsome, old. A joy because I arrived early, about 20 minutes before start time, sat quietly with a rotund fellow, joined by an attractive woman, Terry, who is one of my hosts, and then the full hour. No spoken messages but a relaxed silence that I enjoyed thoroughly. I enjoyed it so much possibly because it was a sharp contrast with all the noise and bustle of the previous days in Detroit conferences.

Breakfast out followed, 5 of us, all political firebrands.

In the afternoon my hosts treated me to a concert by a folk singing couple living in this area, Seth and May (or Daisy May as she’s sometimes known). Very expert, excellent guitar work, lilting, lyrical songs mostly about the environment since it was a benefit for a local group, the Bioneers. We sat under an occluded sky, never sure if the rains would return. The sun did, however, and with the humidity created uncomfortable conditions. Mostly families attended. The setting was a partially rehabbed former insane asylum, later called a state psychiatric hospital, a huge one, one of 3 in the state around the turn of last century.

I note that yesterday DR gave a forum at Friends Meeting at Cambridge about his recent journey to Israel-Palestine. And me? After 5 journeys, including several working with AFSC? Not a peep of an invitation. Why am I so passive, for now, about requesting a slot?

I find X fading from my awareness, finally free of this seductive albatross. For how long? What happens when I return home? Or if she writes? Or returns to Cambridge for August? Do I once again trap myself in absurd longings?

Here’s what I wrote Anne:

Dear Anne,

Your letter touched me deeply. You write so gracefully, powerfully, and honestly. All you express I could return in kind, if only I had the words.

We are at different stages of our lives, even tho close in age. You are happily married, content with home and family. I am yearning, not content, yet content, confused, between roles in life: solitary figure and “vagabond lover” (a term my former father in law astutely gave me, trying to warn his 20 year old daughter, failing), contrasted with man wishing for a partnered lover, sharing all that is meaningful (or most) to both of us. The eternal quest that might drive me.

You are single pointedly devoted to one primary method of responding to the Middle Eastern tragedy (and hope) we share. I am spread out, not regionally, but by method and topic.

You find yourself “with low and ebbing energy,” while I tend (for now) to find my energy waxing, surging, volatile, endless (for now). You dipped into the social forum, I swam in it and before it the US assembly of anti Zionist Jews and before that the allied media conference. And after all 3, a week or so exploring Detroit.

Contrasts and unities.

I’m so happy we could hug each other for the brief USSF moment, after being physically apart since 2008. I rarely feel distant from you since you are such a vivid presence in my life. I owe so much to you, from connecting with other Israel-Palestine Quakers to being such good friends. You know more about my inner life and understand me better than many of my closest friends. And I may be one of your inner circle on Israel-Palestine matters. I cherish all this, as I do you.

More later, and thanks again for finding me the gig in TC.

Love always,



Traverse City Water Treatment Plant

Short history of Traverse City

Read Full Post »

Excerpts from my journal while in Detroit, moving backwards (not always), last to first.

About deindustrialization, depopulation, residential and commercial vacancy, corruption of capitalism—and the rise of urban gardens, local resistance and activist organizations—ending with news about the US Social Forum, Allied Media Conference, and the first public national gathering of anti-Zionist Jews in the United States.

In several parts, with photos and videos.


VIDEO: Marathon Refinery, Detroit

We need more light about each other. Light creates understanding, understanding creates love, love creates patience, and patience creates unity.

— Malcolm X

July 4, 2010, Sunday, Ann Arbor MI, home of A and FR

I am near an end point on this journey of 3 weeks to Detroit [but not the end of this blog series], looking forward to the 18 or so hour train ride home, not looking forward to meeting the train tonight in Toledo, a minimum 4.5 hour wait, train due in at 2:30 AM, entering my home tomorrow evening late, enjoying my privacy and internet access, pleasuring myself, sleeping in my own bed, and rising early the next morning for either a sit or a stroll, about to begin my aftermath work from the journey: photo editing and developing, outputting, writing, blogging, collating, etc. While dovetailing as well as I can with my quotidian duties, chief among them teaching.

Dream wise, not a bad night (sleeping outside on the porch), Harvard University oriented: I was head proctor of a language or public speaking exam. One of my jobs was to select the text that would form the test. I worried about proper pronunciation of the German and French, tried to find an English text to use so I’d not embarrass myself in front of so many smart Harvard undergrads. I dithered, not sure about the choice and also not sure exactly how they were to take the test—recite, memorize and recite, interpret?

During my dithering about 1/2 the students walked out, not in anger or frustration but they were due somewhere else. Some women entered who seemed to know better what the proctor’s role would be. I felt more confident. Dream ended before resolution.

July 5, 2010, Monday, aboard the Amtrak Lake Shore Limited to Boston, just east of Erie PA

Nothing much to report concerning dreams, other than I occasionally dreamt. Thus proving that I slept. The reason this is significant is that from about midnight to 2:30 am, I slept in the Toledo train station on a relatively cushy cushioned bench awaiting the train. And then for about 3 more hours on the train, stretched out, fairly comfortable.

So now I feel reasonably rested, fed from my left over kibbe from the Mideast dinner A and F treated me to, accompanied by Karen (who I miss already, sad to say), gazing out on a mostly agricultural landscape, full sun, warm and muggy, cruising at about 60 mph, the train on time, the day a post July 4th holiday so not much activity outside, musing about the entire journey, its high and low points, where Karen fits in, where Detroit fits in, where I fit in. While needing a haircut and a shower.

The train is about 4/5’s full, the usual mix of families, elderly, blacks, couples. The tracks are wobbly, so far not littered with freight cars which would then impede our travel. When I asked about the Lake Shore Limited being on time, the station person said shouldn’t be a problem, freights not running on the 4th of July or the 5th since it is a holiday. Bussing from Ann Arbor to Detroit to Toledo we occasionally saw fireworks, even in Detroit, which I thought had its fill last week.

What were the highs and low’s of my 3 Detroit weeks? Exploring Detroit, mixing with so many young activists, info about content and presentation styles, energy generally, opportunities to photograph and video and write, giving my 2 workshops, especially discovering that the Photography as Tool for Political Transformation workshop has real possibilities in other venues, meeting and loving (in some strange way) K, living with her, imagining being a couple, revisiting A, seeing how she lives, meeting F, and a break from the quotidian. Low’s: arguing about schedule with Rick and others while trying to share Karen’s house, frustration at lack of contact with X and others including Katy, not having my own bike for the Detroit exploration, not having my better photo equipment for Detroit, not installing the Gaza photo exhibit, not giving the Jordan River slideshow, not selling photos, having so little time in Ann Arbor with A and F and Karen, not putting up photos and blog, and so much work piling up at home which will rage at me when I walk in the front door.

~~The train might have just hit something. A loud crunching scraping sound under this car, the train slowing down, and now stopped. What now? The power is off. The car is heating up. We might be in a for a long delay.~~

In Ann Arbor the last day of the 3 week journey: help F and A hang their dry cleaned front room drapes, attend Ann Arbor Friends meeting, meet Deb and Dina who are helping organize a possible presentation by me in the fall, chat with A and F, walk with Karen thru the “arb,” the local university affiliated arboretum, dinner at a new Mideast restaurant, ride with A and F to the Ann Arbor train station to catch the Amtrak bus to Toledo by way of Detroit, and now the train, waiting hoping that we will soon resume travel.

~~Word is we hit one or more RR ties. The crew is checking under the cars. The power is back on. We are still stopped.~~

A has a very strong belief in me, and some pride that I am whom I am, doing what I’m doing. She was very interested in my description of our upcoming video project. She’s never been to Israel-Palestine, and might envy those of us who still have physical capability to endure the rigors of such travel. She thinks the best of me, expects the best from me. Nearly like a mom, I told her, but not quite old enough (11 yrs older). She confided that she’d not read my photo memoir, And you will be carried where you do not wish to go, because of the title: it scares her. When I explained it to her she seemed to change her mind. Having her rooting for me is a true gift. In partial thanks I gave her and F a Gaza photo. They chose the family along the Mediterranean which I will reprint. I also gave them a jug of Lebanese olive oil.

~~We resumed travel, slowly picking up speed. Let’s hope there was no damage to the train.~~

More about K: she is a loving compassionate caring soul, well developed spiritually and socially. Others seem to like and respect her, the couple meeting her in the restaurant for instance, A as well. She listens well, is genuinely curious and attentive. She expresses anger concerning some elements of the Israel-Palestine story, via her feelings about the movie Ajambi for instance. She is hesitant about her future, notably about her house. She has a weak rudder, not fully decided about her future paths. She may be ambivalent about her male friend, M, earlier referring to her relationship as “sort of” seeing each other. She blends Buddhism end Quakerism, perhaps not fully absorbed with either. She is an in-between sort of person.

About A: her big issue, other that Palestine/Israel, is her health, her energy in particular. She seems very attentive to it, marshaling it, guarding it, rendering her at times indecisive. She may be counting her remain days, unclear about her future. She is healthy mentally, accomplished, effective, knowing just what to do when. Her relation with F is solid and admirable.

About F: jovial beyond expectation. A model of fortitude, determination, endurance. Talk about sumud!

And about me, the author of this rambling account: as always, pathetic in his yearning, his unfulfilled expectations, perhaps admirable in his achievement.

[Postscript: When I arrived home I wrote to the Amtrak president and chief of the board about my recent return trip from Detroit, all my complaints laced with a few laudatory comments. Within 24 hours Concetta from the customer relations department phoned me.  We had a rich commiserative 30 minute conversation. She summarized my letter, heard it precisely right, explained some of Amtrak’s problems (such as sharing track with freight companies who tend to be dominant), then offered me a $30 voucher, along with consoling words such as how much she appreciated my remarks. We reveled in the continuing good news about increasing ridership, and rising congressional and administrative support. Amtrak has seemingly navigated at high speed a 90-degree turn, maybe 180. All looks very good for our national train service. And I am pleased to play a role—loyal loving advocate.]



“And you will be carried where you do not wish to go,” a photographic witness (part 8 and last in the series)

SLIDE SHOW: “And you will be carried where you do not wish to go,” a photographic witness & a summary (for the moment & as of 2005) of my photography

Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm has sharply criticized the Environmental Protection Agency and the Canadian company Enbridge for what she has described as a “completely inadequate” response to the oil spill near the Kalamazoo River. More than 800,000 gallons of oil have spilled into Michigan waterways after the rupture of an underground oil pipeline carrying Canadian oil into the United States. Concern is now growing that the oil could reach Lake Michigan. The Detroit Free Press reports the company that owns the pipeline, Enbridge, was notified twice this year of potential problems involving old pipe prone to rupturing and an inadequate system for monitoring internal corrosion. The spill is believed to be one of the largest in the history of the Midwest.

“EPA Blasted over Handling of Michigan Oil Spill”

A worker monitors water in Talmadge Creek in Marshall Township, Mich., near the Kalamazoo River as oil from a ruptured pipeline, owned by Enbridge Inc, is attempted to be trapped by booms Thursday, July 29, 2010.

Paul Sancya/The Associated Press

Canadian company allowed pipes to corrode; Kalamazoo River leak could cost $40-million to clean up

“Workers try to grasp Michigan oil spill toll on wildlife,” by Eric D. Lawrence, Free Press

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: