"Water is a human right, water is life!" shouted members of Hydrate Detroit and the Metro-Detroit Political Action Network, clad in towels, shower caps and bathrobes. They gathered on July 16th at Atwater and Jos. Campau, embarking on an odyssey through the Riverwalk and Downtown. Their mission: to raise awareness of the city's intent to continue shutting off water to impoverished residents and demanding justice for Flint. The demonstration's leaders were Demeeko Williams, founder of Hydrate Detroit and JoAnna Underwood, who is currently running as the District 7 representative for Detroit City Council.
With cries of "Water is a human right, not just for the rich and white!" they marched along the Detroit River, garnering claps and raised fists from passers by. However, adversity struck on the Riverwalk. Private security officers circled the protesters on bicycles and repeatedly told them to leave. Ignoring the admonishment, the water advocates persisted while the wheeled sharks pedaled ahead to erect a hasty metal barricade in front of the splash fountain zone. While Williams and Underwood argued for their right to assembly (against the security team's refrain of the Riverwalk being private property), several activists crashed the barricade and poured into the splash fountain that hundreds of members of the general public were currently enjoying.
A crowd gathered around the scene. Former Green Party candidate Stephen Boyle took the opportunity to inform the public that neighborhoods with water shut-offs were 150% more likely to contract waterborne illnesses and that Detroit residents pay the highest water rates in the country, despite living near one of the world's largest freshwater sources. While the verbal spat continued between Williams, Underwood and security at various points of the walk, the demonstration was able to proceed. Curiously, the giant papier-mâché head of Governor Rick Snyder remained unmolested. Had security not intervened, the protest would have drawn a much smaller audience at the splash fountain and moved through more quickly.
South of Hart Plaza, a monument stands commemorating Detroit's role in the Underground Railroad. There the March halted, Williams and Underwood delivered fiery speeches, urging their audience gathered at the steps to wake up to the abuses perpetrated by the city. They demanded that water be a right to all people, and to reject further corporate machinations to privatize and profit off such an abundant natural resource.
"They're trying to make it seem like we're powerless, but we're powerful!" Underwood yelled through her megaphone, dubbed "The People's Mic", rallying onlookers. "Dan Gilbert don't own our water, he don't own this park, stop giving him the power. Stop giving corporate people the power to screw you over!" Said Williams, chiming in, sharing a vision of a unified Detroit citizenry that controlled its own resources. To illustrate, he began passing out bottled water to the crowd as they walked by. They also attacked the hypocrisy of cutting water and food stamps from the most vulnerable while giving away $34.5 million for a new basketball arena.
Trekking through Hart Plaza, the water advocates made their way to Campus Martius. Surrounded by packed outdoor dining areas, Underwood and Williams ensured this wouldn't be an evening of business as usual. They reminded diners that it's been over 1,000 dayssince Flint residents had clean water, and tens of thousands of Detroiters are facing water shut-offs for each of the past three years. Clean, affordable water for all was the constant refrain from the activists, as several of them jumped into the Campus Martius fountain to splash around. While many restaurant patrons cheered and set their camera phones to record, restaurant management was less amused and called in several officers from the Detroit Police Department to gently escort the demonstration away from their businesses.
Undeterred, the march continued through Greektown and ensured none in the post-Tigers game dining crowd could walk away ill-informed of the water crises afflicting Flint and Detroit. After 7 miles, the protest ended outside Chene Park. While most casual observers of the activists found themselves downtown for night of eats and drinks, Hydrate Detroit and the MDPAN gave them something else to chew on.