Neoliberal Transformations, Environmental Racism, and the Fight for Water in Detroit

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Amity Doolittle
Essay Abstract: 
On July 17, 2013, the Governor-appointed emergency manager of Detroit officially filed for bankruptcy on behalf of the city. He wielded—and actively exercised—the power to terminate elected officials, rescind labor contracts, privatize government services, auction off public assets, and raise revenues—completely without need for consent from locally elected officials. Black Detroiters found themselves vilified during the bankruptcy process, bearing the brunt of severe privatization and government retrenchment. Discursively removed from the social and material landscapes, they found themselves fighting for a basic life necessity—water. The disjuncture created by the mass water shutoffs provided a “pause in movement” by which society at large could engage in reflective ‘place making,’ reconnecting the material landscape with the complex social history of its inhabitants.