“These are revolutionary times,” so said one demonstrator in Flint, Michigan, protesting against the massive lead contamination in that city’s water supply, and the city government’s intransigence to address the disaster.
As children were falling sick, local officials were calling their parents deluded, ‘the water is fine’, they were told.
But it’s not fine; it’s poisoned.
Now, Michigan has declared a state of emergency. Thousands of people have been poisoned; there is no drinking water in Flint. People have to shower with bottled water.
In Detroit, the public schools are falling apart, literally. The buildings are so decrepit that mushrooms sprout in the corners of classrooms. Walls are moldy, cracking, and pockmarked with bullet holes.
Enrollment, understandably, has dwindled.
As fewer students wanted to take the risk of going to school in such a miserable and dangerous environment, the schools have been in a downward spiral of budget cuts, fewer teachers, and ever worsening conditions.
How did the state government respond? The new manager of the education emergency in Detroit is the former manager of the water emergency in Flint.
Detroit and Flint are the quintessential neoliberal cities; with Utopian promises, corporate city planning delivers Dystopian realities.
In 2014, Flint switched its water supply from the Great Lakes (the freshest, deepest, coldest freshwater source in North America) to the Flint River, which was described by Michigan Congressman Dan Kildee as “an industrial sewer”.
Why the switch? To save money. Because that is all that matters when cities go into debt.
In the developing countries, they call it neoliberalism, in the US and Europe, they call it austerity. And, no, it doesn’t save money.
Flint officials promised that the switch to the Flint River would save the city $5 million in two years. The switch has not only caused a toxic disaster, it is estimated that the ultimate cost for water infrastructure rebuilding will reach over $1 billion.
The same sort of scenario led to the deterioration of Detroit’s public schools.
Austerity, defunding of education, cuts to public spending, all in order to balance the budget of the financially insolvent former industrial capitol of the United States.
This is the brilliant strategy for economic resurgence being gifted to the Muslim world.
In Morocco, the government has slashed funding for education, and like Detroit, teachers are protesting.
Defunding is the opening volley in the war against public education, the drive to privatise schools, to hand over the education of our children to private corporations.
In Morocco, the youth have rightly declared “we are students, not customers!”
Our struggle is becoming less and less about trying to achieve an Islamic state or to create an ideal society, and more and more about just being able to hold on to our fundamental rights.
In Tunisia they are protesting for jobs. This is the essence of the new imperial system. They can dominate, not by threatening to deprive you of your life, but of your livelihood. They can determine whether you work or not, and what kind of work you will do if you are allowed to work. This will determine your income, which will determine your quality of life and the future prospects for your children.
This is a level of imperialist control unparalleled in history.
By bankrupting cities, states, and countries; by shackling local and national governments in debt, the global owners of capital are able to enslave entire populations without ever having to militarily invade their territories.
And, with the globalization of business, every population is eligible for enslavement; in Greece as much as in Gambia, in Ireland as much as in India, in Detroit as much as in Damascus.
From Michigan to Morocco, corporate pillage is sweeping over the globe.
No matter where you live, indeed, these are revolutionary times.
(To be published in Arabic for Arabi21)