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Posts Tagged ‘poor people’s campaign’

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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