Over a dozen protesters on Tuesday converged at the Detroit mayor's publicly-funded mansion and "liberated" his water supply, in a creative direct action highlighting the inequities that underlie the city's mass water shutoffs and resultant humanitarian crisis.
Campaigners from the Detroit and Michigan Coalitions Against Tar Sands went to Mike Duggan's "Manoogian Mansion" and filled jugs of water from a hose attached to an external spigot. They carried banners that read "Water is Life" and "Thousands of Kids Without Water."
"While real Detroiters live in a crisis, the Mayor lives in a city-owned mansion," declared Detroit resident Valerie Jean in a press statement. "Today we’re forcing Mayor Duggan to share his water with the people of Detroit."
"Denying tens of thousands of people the right to water ought to be criminal," Jean added. "Doing it while living in a publicly funded, city-owned mansion is just despicable."
In particular, protesters said they were taking action "because of Mayor Duggan’s refusal to support a Water Affordability Plan." Grassroots groups and residents have long been pushing for the plan, which aims to make water affordable and accessible for the city's residents.
But instead, the city approved a 7.5 percent rate increase to water rates last month, adding to the ever-climbing prices. The increase comes as tens of thousands of Detroiters face water shutoffs and many more live under imminent threat.
Tawana Petty, organizer with Detroiters Resisting Emergency Managers and We the People of Detroit, told Common Dreams that it has been difficult to assess exactly how many people are impacted "because we're dealing with an entity and players that are not entirely honest." However, Petty said: "We estimate that about 20,000 homes, at least 40,000 people, are currently without water. They are aiming for an additional 2,000 to 3,000 water shutoffs per week."
The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department is turning off the taps despite mass resistance in Detroit and rebuke from United Nations experts, who said last year that Detroit's water shutoffs are condemning residents to "lives without dignity," violating human rights on a large scale, and disproportionately impacting African-Americans.
Tuesday's action made direct reference to Flood the System, a call for climate justice direct actions in the lead up to the United Nations COP21 climate negotiations slated to take place in Paris in November and December.
"I am grateful they took that stance," Petty said of the protest. "Those types of civil disobedience are exactly what this time and movement against neoliberalism, capitalism, and racism will require."