The Detroit Water Crisis is Real: A Response to Former Detroit EM Kevyn Orr

Yesterday, in a speech to the Detroit Economic Club at Cobo Hall, former Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr told an audience of business and government elites:

Some of [the water crisis] was orchestrated. We know that the Occupy Wall Street folks are the folks behind Detroit Water Brigade.

Yes, Mr. Orr has ‘outed’ us: we are #OccupyWallStreet, #BlackLivesMatter, #DetroitWater and so much more. We are the 99%, young and old, of every race and religion, urban, suburban, and rural. The nation rallied with us by the thousands last summer, dozens were arrested and still face trial, and the United Nations condemned Detroit’s emergency management for violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The largest nurses union in the country declared Detroit in a “public health emergency”, with an infant mortality rate higher than Mexico. The Irish Parliament brought us to Dublin to testify. Even The Hulk called on Detroit to turn the water back on.

Occupy Wall Street stands behind the people of Detroit because Wall Street stands behind the water shutoff program.

In reality, we’ve been on the front lines of this real crisis bringing emergency relief to thousands of Detroiters pushed to the brink by utility cutoffs, foreclosure, crumbling public services and mass joblessness. With a full-time, un-salaried staff of six Detroiters, an army of over five hundred local volunteers, and thousands of supporters online we’ve built a movement to return dignity to the streets of Detroit. That movement preceded the fabricated bankruptcy and its pension cuts and it will outlive Kevyn Orr’s unwanted austerity policies.

Mr. Orr might be long gone from Detroit, but he leaves behind a city with a real and ongoing humanitarian crisis. Some facts today:

  1. Last month, Detroit shut off the water to 2,094 residential properties1 across the city: an 80% increase over one year ago. This despite the fact that shutoffs were halted for nearly 15 days after our organization reported billing system failures that were keeping disconnected families from paying their bills.
  2. Over 30,000 families were disconnected from water services in 2014. The city estimates that 25% of families disconnected are not able to get their water restored within forty-eight hours2. In testimony before City Council in June of 2014, the water department acknowledged they had no plan to monitor the wellbeing of those remaining residents.
  3. There are over 18,000 un-housed people3 currently living in Detroit, not including children living with relatives or who have been removed by the state into foster programs. Last month, a homeless tent city emerged downtown just blocks from the Renaissance Center.

The stark reality is that the bankruptcy did little to relieve the overbearing burden of water debt in Detroit: $5.2 billion in 30-year loans with interest that the city expects us to pay for with higher and higher water rates that have already skyrocketed 119% in a decade. Rather than reduced rates and better service from a volunteer bond tender offer that “achieved meaningful dollar savings for our customers”4, we now hear that the precarious Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) deal is faltering and the Detroit News’ own editorial board calls its 4% rate increase cap “a broken promise”.5

Rather than confront this reality, Kevyn Orr chose to pat himself on the back and then shoot the messenger for putting an international spotlight on the shameful treatment of Detroit’s most vulnerable residents by an unelected financial usurper:

They’re going to try to drive people into the street to create a scrum so that they can have a picture of three people and set the aperture of the camera so that it looks like 200 people and sell that out to the news media, and that’s the story of Detroit.

The problem with shooting the messenger is you can’t snuff out the message. It’s the same message that rang out from Zuccotti Park, Tahrir Square, and Puerta del Sol, Spain: the people united will never be defeated. And Detroit, too, will rise from the ashes of emergency management. Its many skilled workers will once again be employed. Its government will once again serve the people who elected it to serve theirneeds, not those of bondholders and bankruptcy lawyers. Its homes will once again be filled with families that can drink water and run electricity without fear of cutoffs. Its businesses will employ local talent and contribute to the betterment of its communities. Its schools will be fully funded and well staffed. This is the Detroit we envision for our children, Kevyn Orr.

So thank you, Occupy Wall Street.

And thank you, Kevyn Orr, for acknowledging that the 99% stands behind Detroit.

To water and dignity for all,

The Detroit Water Brigade

PS – Please sign our petition calling on the city to cancel all #DetroitWater debt

PPS – If you want to learn more about the ongoing water crisis and how you can help, join us for an open conference call this upcoming Tuesday night, 9pm EST, with front line leaders in Detroit. Register here!