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Direct Action to Survive in Detroit

To deprive people of water is not only a human rights violation, it is an act of aggression.

Israel has cut off all water to Gaza. Detroit has shut off the water to over 4,000 families, with another 140,000 up next. It is summer. It is extremely hot in both places. I should not even have to write that people need water to live. To deprive people of water is not only a human rights violation, it is an act of aggression. It sends a clear message that those who have power, and the power to cut off water, not only do not care if you survive, but do not want you to survive. How else can this be interpreted?

The mayor of Detroit apologizes that he was not “sensitive” enough in the process of doing this. Israel of course would never apologize – but it does not matter. Deprivation of water is deprivation of water.

You will, I imagine, be reading this and thinking, yes, it is horrible, but Israel is not the same as Detroit. And you will be right. Israel sees itself in an endless war with Palestine and is clear about its attempts to destroy an entire people. The government of Detroit and the water companies do not say this. They apologize and then back up what could lead to death for thousands with a legal argument. Non-payment for services provided. Oh, that makes it different. Intentionality of result. So if you feel badly and have a legal argument, then if cutting off someone’s water causes death it is different. In Detroit if you are more than two months overdue with your bill then it makes sense your children should not have any water to drink or bathe with – of course – non-payment should lead to possible death. Again, you may read this and find me extreme. I am extreme. I am so angry. I am furious. Cutting off a families water source – and during the hottest part of the summer – should make everyone furious.

I do not believe we are represented in the United States. I believe this is what people in the over 1,000 towns, villages and cities were saying with Occupy Wall Street and the idea of the 99% and 1%. We are not represented, the people do not decide the things that matter most in our lives – corporations, with the support of governments, do. If there was any doubt about this, ask someone in Detroit who decides who gets to have water – the most basic necessity to live. If a corporation is deciding and not a person or the people – well, clearly, this is not a democracy.

I could continue with my fury, but fortunately there are people in Detroit, and supporters from around the country, who also believe the people should decide things that matter most in their lives, and so together they are keeping people’s water on and preventing shut offs. How are they doing this? Petitions? Lobbying? Asking or protesting? No. They have been doing that for years with no result. Just as with Occupy and similar movements around the world, people are taking matters into their own hands. Thousands of people are now involved in the Detroit Water Brigades, a project that supports those who have or might have their water cut off. They do this through democratic assemblies, deciding together what to do, and then making sure no one is without water. In other words, using direct action and direct democracy. Forms of action and decision making that have taken off around the world as the crisis gets worse and government after government refuse to support the people. Worse, governments take it out on the people, evicting them, cutting off their water, electricity and laying them off work. Depriving people of their most basic rights and means to survival.

Detroit, while joining the world governments that make war on people, such as Israel, is also joining millions of people from around the world in their power from below – horizontal and direct action power. Similar to Greece, where now over 40 percent of the population refuse to allow their electricity to be cut off, and organize together in neighborhoods to chase out those from the electric company who come to try and do it – or if somehow the electricity is cut off then together reconnect it … sound familiar? In Detroit it is 40% of the population that is slated to have their water cut. And people together are blocking and chasing away the trucks that come and try and disconnect the water. They are also reconnecting water once disconnected.

In Spain, similar to Greece, when people are threatened with evictions they no longer ask or plead with banks or government agencies, they instead first go to their local assembly of the Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (Movement of Mortgage Victims – PAH). There are over 160 PAHs in Spain, and what they do is use direct action to keep people from being evicted. They do this organizing in directly democratic assemblies and then following the lead of what people want, find ways to keep them housed. Sometimes this takes the form of a human blockade of neighbors, not allowing the police to carry out an eviction. Most recently, if families are evicted, they have begun to collectively take over abandoned buildings so people stay housed. Again, the same as Detroit, meeting people’s needs however possible, and doing it collectively and democratically.

So, while the government of the US goes along with policies that mirror Israel at war with an entire people, We, the people of the United States, led by Detroit, are joining our sisters and brothers from Greece and Spain, creating real democracy and showing that real power is from below.

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