They Can’t Represent Us! author Marina Sitrin speaks out on Detroit water crisis and direct action

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Yesterday Detroit's emergency manager returned control of the municipal water department to elected city officials, signalling a victory for activists and a hopeful sign that the city will end its aggressive program of water shutoffs. Marina Sitrin, co-author of They Can't Represent Us! Reinventing Democracy from Greece to Occupy recently spoke out against the Detroit water crisis in an Truthout op-ed, drawing parallels between the Detroit government's creation of a water crisis and the Israeli government's decision to cut off water to Gaza.



Before the moratorium on the shutoffs, the water department cut off service to over 7,200 households, and journalists estimated that 150,000 to 300,000 residents could be without water by the end of the summer. By depriving people of water, Sitrin says that Detroit joins "the world governments that make war on people."


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.

However, in the face of this city-created crisis, Detroiters have exemplified the the power of direct action, aligning themselves with other bottom-up movements in Greece and Spain, where democratic assemblies have blossomed in response to evictions and electricity cut offs. The Detroit Water Brigades uses democratic assemblies to protect citizens from getting their water cut off, blocking and chasing away trucks, and reconnecting water to households.

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.

In an interview with Counterspin radio, Detroit activist Pastor David Alexander Bullock said that the water crisis exposes a fault line in U.S. and global politics, as "Detroit becomes ground zero for the fight about what the government is supposed to do and who the government is supposed to serve."

People are coming alive because the activism in Detroit that you see really is concerned people trying to make sure that democracy is not destroyed. It's strange that in the United States of America, 2014, in this cycle that we're in, that people have to actually fight to make sure democracy is not replaced by a plutocracy...You have corporations getting richer and citizens getting poorer, all in the name of stabilizing the economy and financial or fiscal responsibility. But where are this going? Where is this taking us?


Visit Truthout to read the article in full.

Visit Counterspin to listen to the interview with activist David Alexander Bullock. 

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