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OPINION: Water shutoffs have much larger consequences

water-faucet-drippingBy Lacino Hamilton

Officials at the water department in Detroit believe shutting off the water of approximately 12,500 families will be the panacea to solve that department’s financial problems leads them and other city officials to deny the facts as they continue to emerge: city officials’ failure to address the grim realities of reduced wages and income for Detroit residents, increased consumer prices, reduced social services, and growing poverty and desperation, which have been evident for years, sharply reduces overall purchasing power, water included. Many families simply can’t afford to pay the incremental, yet consistent, raised water rates.

The philosophy allegedly behind denying the most vulnerable families in Detroit water is it will result in broadly-based economic and social benefits. However, anyone who believes denying economically strapped families access to the most basic resource for sanitation and long-term health has any other purpose than to further shrink the population of Detroit, need only to consider the steps city officials took before such a drastic measure was taken — they mailed shutoff notices. That is it. No vision for the future where water is an undeniable right of every man, woman and child. No imagination. Just cut the water off.

Vision and imagination begin with rethinking education. Today, modern education is training children for the centralized global economy. Essentially the same curriculum is taught in every “environment,” no matter what the state, regional or local needs. No wonder those who go on to run out schools, pensions, water and other essential services only know how to take, eliminate and deny. Promoting regional and local curriculums in the schools would be an essential part of not only the revitalization of local economies but solving the most immediate and pressing problems.

Training in locally adapted agriculture, artisan production and appropriate technologies suited to the specific needs and local resources would further the range of possibilities for grassroots efforts as diverse as the localities in which they take place. This, of course, would not mean that other information about the rest of the world would be excluded. But what it does mean, is before approximately 12,500 families are denied water, the intellectual and creative energies of K through university would be an important part of preventing third world conditions in a first world country.

What makes such actions especially alarming is that what is being characterized as an economic issue is really a human rights issue. When a society commits itself to cutting people off from water, it commits itself to many additional outcomes. Back in the 1970s, psychologist Abram Maslow, the founder of the school of humanistic psychology, posited there is a “hierarchy of human needs,” with physiological needs (hunger, thirst, body temperature) at the very bottom, the most important position. Followed, as one climbs the pyramid by safety needs (security, protection), social needs and family needs, then relationship needs, then intellectual needs, then self-actualization and spiritual needs. According to Maslow, those who spend all their mental and physical energies simply trying to survive from day-to-day, cannot grasp for higher needs of a culture such as innovation or social change. Whenever a person is on this hierarchy, everything above their basic needs is invisible to them.

We must not hesitate to recognize and to say denying thousands of families water to solve the city’s financial crisis is inhumane, and long term can only result in more families being forced to relocate, or result in infections and disease. If you doubt infections and disease will result from not having access to water, just take a moment to google any place on the planet where access to water is either limited or denied. This is not an issue of economics, IQ or as some undercover racists are fond of evoking, motivation. This is a people issue: How we treat the most vulnerable people in our society, and how people we elect and empower with authority to facilitate the solving of crises respect (or not) that responsibility.

What we have before us, if we want to stop further gentrification in Detroit and prevent people from spending all their mental and physical energies simply surviving from day-to-day, is every reason to pull together. Many individuals and organizations are already working from the grassroots to strengthen their communities, local economies and protect human rights. Yet, for these efforts to succeed, they need to be championed by more people — ideally everyone. Being denied access to water makes a huge difference not just in the ability to survive, but can create a huge change in mental and emotional states and the quality of life.

Lacino Hamilton, #247310 can be reached at Alger Correctional Facility, N6141 Industrial Park Drive, Munising, Michigan 49895.

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