The United States of America. The self-professed “greatest country in the world”; the “land of the free.”
Anyone who knows me knows that I would beg to differ. And perhaps, so would the people of Detroit, Michigan.
Detroit used to be a bustling metropolis. In the early 20th century, it established itself as the world’s automotive capital, and during the 1950’s to 70’s, it was a prosperous city thanks to the thriving auto industry. It’s also the home of Motown, Berry Gordy’s record company (which is now a nickname for Detroit, as well as the musical genre), which was played a large role in racially integrating music and entertainment.
Despite all of the commercialism and creativity that the city was known for, there was also volatile racial tension, not to mention a Ku Klux Klan presence that surfaced in the 1920’s. The city’s decline has resulted in urban decay and abandoned buildings, and Detroit recently filed for bankruptcy.
Last week, Detroit has been in the news for reasons a far cry from its Motown and automotive heyday. Thousands of residents no longer have access to running water. In the “greatest country in the world,” in one of its biggest cities, there are people living in houses who don’t have access to running water. Thanks to the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department 17,000 people have had their water turned off because of late payments in 2014 so far.
The United Nations has condemned the state’s actions. According to UN Special Rapporteur on the right to safe drinking water and sanitation Catarina de Albuquerque, “Disconnections due to non-payment are only permissible if it can be shown that the resident is able to pay but is not paying.”
Is it a coincidence that such dramatic hikes in water tariffs and shut offs are taking place in a city that is over 80% black? Maureen Taylor doesn’t seem to think so, and frankly, neither do I. There were, after all, corporations who also owed on their water bills, and their access was not revoked as a result.
People living in the world’s most developed nations should not be dealing with water shortages. (In fact, no one should be dealing without access to water, but it seems especially egregious given the fact that the USA has the world’s largest economy.) Protesters have been arrested. This is how power and privilege work to continue to disenfranchise those already living in poverty. It’s appalling, and it’s no way for the people of Detroit, for people in the United States, or people anywhere in the world to live.