Privatization and Passivity

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Kenya Jones fills a bucket with water at a vacant house in her east side Detroit neighborhood. Jones has been without water at home for a month because her landlord has not paid the bill. (National Geographic)

Privatization will be the evaporation, not only of our water supply and other natural resources but also of whatever democracy there is left to fight for. Will we do something before it’s too late?

The word ‘private’ is ubiquitous: private sale, private offering, private community, and private communications. Privacy is so sought after – is that because we have so little of it? Are we willing to privatize our resources: our water, our earth and minerals, etc. because we have been socially conditioned to venerate all that is private…. is it our secret pleasure to want to ensure that, if need be, we too can avail ourselves of the privileges that come with privacy or are just indifferent or passive?


Nearly 19,500 people living in Detroit have had their water service interrupted since March 1. The Water and Sewage Department began cutting of residents who missed their payments. Detroit has the highest “big-city rate” in the nation, 40% of Detroit live in poverty. Half of all Detroit water customers were behind on payments, owing a combined $90 million and yet General Motors and the city’s two sports arenas also owe millions in unpaid water bills but their water was not turned off.

Charity Hicks, founder of the Detroit People’s Water Board said, “”This is a test being looked at by cities across the US – even the world,” Charity says. “We will not let water be used as a weapon to remake the city in a corporate image. We will re-establish what it is to live in a democracy, with a water system that is part of the commons, that affirms human dignity and that ensures everyone’s access.” One woman said she got involved in the water battle after she received a $600 water bill for one month and yet Detroit has access to our nation’s largest fresh water supply.

The Guardian wrote: “The targeting of Detroit families is about something else. It is a ruthless case of the shock doctrine – the exploitation of natural or unnatural shocks of crisis to push through pro-corporate policies that couldn’t happen in any other circumstance…. and that. The water shut-offs are a way to make the balance-sheet more attractive in the lead up to its privatization.”

As utilities that were once services have now become authorities (in Detroit children are being removed from households that have had their water cut-off) at what point do we challenge our passivity? Supporting a policy that ensure the basics of food, shelter and environmental dignity for all, a policy unaffiliated with a political party, a big foundation or non-governmental organization, the Living Income Guaranteed can be implemented within our existing infrastructure. We don’t need to build a new waterworks, the one we have works fine.

Further reading:

In Detroit, Water Crisis Symbolizes Decline, and Hope

Thousands March for Water Rights in Detroit

Detroit’s Water War: a tap shut-off that could impact 300,000 people



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