The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History Liberation Film Series presents a free screening of The Water Front, followed by the discussion, The Emergency Manager Law & Privatization: How to Discard Democracy, with Marian Kramer, in the Museum's General Motors Theater.
Water is the liquid gold of the 21st century. While corporations urge local governments to privatize municipal water, communities around the world are organizing to ensure affordable access to this life-sustaining resource. The Water Front is the story of one community's determination to fight the seemingly inevitable path of water privatization.
Highland Park, Michigan - the birthplace of mass production - is a post-industrial city on the verge of financial collapse. The state of Michigan has appointed an Emergency Financial Manager to fix the crisis. The Manager sees the water plant, which Ford built in 1917 to support his auto industry, as key to economic recovery. She has raised water rates and has implemented severe measures to collect on bills. As a result, Highland Park residents have received water bills as high as $10,000. They have had their water turned off; homes foreclosed, and are struggling to keep water from becoming privatized. The Water Front follows the personal story of Vallory Johnson, who transforms her anger into an emotional grassroots campaign, defending affordable water as a human resource.
The Water Front is not just about water, but touches on the very essence of our democratic system. The film presents a community in crisis but it also presents the powerful enactment of local participation in finding solutions to the problems of our times.
This community portrait is also an unnerving indication of what is in store for residents around the world as cities look to update water systems and face increasingly complex issues such as water shortages and implications of the bottled water industry.
The film raises questions such as: Who determines the future of shared public resources? What are alternatives to water privatization? How will we maintain our public water systems and who can we hold accountable?
What happens when neo-liberal policies come home? The brilliant and engaging new documentary The Water Front offers a sobering and eye-opening account of a privatization scheme and its effects on the poor and working class citizens of Highland Park, Michigan. Filmmaker Elizabeth Miller tells the stirring tale of a declining U.S. city and the valiant struggle of residents, inspired and led by African American women to, literally, fight City Hall. This film is particularly arresting and provocative because of the object of struggle: control over the water supply.
“This well-crafted documentary film should be especially useful in making connections between neoliberal policies abroad and their counterparts here in our own backyard. It is ideal for community activists, NGOs and for high school and college teachers and students in urban studies, community studies, African-American studies, women, and gender studies, state and local politics, social work, community economics, globalization and environmental studies.”
—Bruce Pietrykowski, University of Michigan-Dearborn, Professor of Economics
“Elizabeth Miller's The Water Front is a powerful and moving account of a community taking control over its water and, in the process, making democracy work. If you thought water scarcity was still largely a "natural" problem in the developing world, this film makes it frighteningly clear how opportunistic entrepreneurs, in a time of growing environmental crisis, treat water as a commodity to be traded for their profit. This inspiring film shows a group of citizens successfully fighting the privatization of their water, the assault on their property, and slowing, for a moment, the growing inequality between the powerful and the rest.”
—Professor Martha Saxton, Amherst College
Featured Panelist for The Emergency Manager Law & Privatization: How to Discard Democracy and Q&A
Marian Kramer has been in the front lines of the welfare rights and civil rights movement from its origin in the 1960s. She is Co-chair of the National Welfare Rights Union (NWRU) an organization of, by, and for the poor in America. She is a leader in the struggle to turn water back on for up to 45,000 low-income Detroit families who had their shut off for non-payment. She was a recipient of the Purpose Award for Americans leading with experience.
For decades she has fought government programs such as "workfare"; defended poor women against unjust prosecution for "welfare fraud"; and led electoral campaigns to elect the victims of poverty to political office. She has helped organize "summit meetings" of grass-roots leaders of poor people's movements, housing takeovers by people without homes, and efforts to unionize in the South. She is the recipient of numerous awards for community service, and known as a mentor to college students fighting poverty. Today, she retains her commitment to end poverty in America by empowering the poor, and especially women, as the leaders. In her inspirational lectures, she takes a stand for a new morality and a new America - where the guarantee of health, happiness and a full cultural life is a right.
Marian Kramer is a contributor to "For Crying Out Loud: Women's Poverty in the United States," a book about the commonality of poverty and solutions.
Other Activities: Delegate to the NGO Forum on Women in Beijing. Attended as part of the largest delegation of Black American women sponsored by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the National Council of Negro Women; Participant in the African American Women's Caucus and the first-ever Women of Color Caucus at an international Conference; Arrested for civil rights, welfare rights, housing takeovers with Patricia Ireland of the National Organization of Women, (NOW), for protests in Washington, D.C.; Speaker at the "March for Women's Lives;" Organizer of Detroit's tent city protests of homeless and welfare recipients against Michigan Governor Engler's elimination of General Assistance; Organizer of the Michigan Welfare Rights March against Budget Cuts
Past Organizational Affiliations: Board Member, National Board of National Anti-Hunger Coalition; Staff person, CORE in the 1960's in Louisiana and in Detroit; Founding member, Black Panther Party in Detroit, Michigan which helped get youth involved in the community; Founding member, League of Revolutionary Black Workers which laid the foundation for more blacks and women to be included in certain jobs and positions of the United Auto Workers and in the auto plants; Organizer, Welfare Workers for Justice based in New York, 1975; Staff member, CETA, Wayne County Welfare Rights Organization; Paralegal, Wayne County Neighborhood Legal Services; President, Michigan Welfare Rights Organization for 8 years, 1982-1989; Member, UAW, District Council 65 until Governor Engler cut the funds for the program; Board Member, League of Revolutionaries for a New America
Activites and Speechs: Speaker, Expo, 96, organized by the Feminist Majority; Speaker, "March for Women's Lives", organized by National Organization of Women (NOW), 1995; U.S. Representative, Executive Commission of the Continental Front of Community Organizations (FCOC), Dominican Republic, an urban poor people's organization based in the Americas and in the Caribbean; Delegate, Seventh Pan African Congress in Kampala, Uganda in April, 1994. Speakers at the pre-Woman Conference; Recipient, Letelier-Moffit National Award for Human Rights from the Institute for Policy Studies, October 1993; Speaker, NOW March on Washington in 1992; Keynote Speaker, NOW Conference, June 1992; Participant, National Poor Women's Conference, Oakland, California, 1992; Participant, National Tribunal in Washington, D.C. in 1991; Organizer, 1989, the first National Survival Summit, National Up and Out of Poverty Now; Participant, Housing NOW March in 1989, where homeless people from Tompkins Square Park Tent City marched from New York to Washington, D.C. under the slogan "No Housing, No Peace;"participant and an Organizer, Michigan Welfare Rights Organization's "No Heat, No Peace" campaign when four children died because their heat was shut off. As a result gas was kept on for the poor through the winter; Participant, National Youth Survival Summit, Minneapolis, Minnesota where students, welfare recipients and homeless youth hammered out a poor people's agenda for youth; Participant, National Anti-Hunger Coalition in Louisiana in 1991 where over 300 people agreed to a program to eliminate hunger in America.
(Photo credit: Charles Ezra Ferrell, 2012)
Recommended Reading and Viewing
“Regarding the water topic, this website for the Council of Canadians - http://canadians.org/water/ -may be of interest for the recommended readings / study sheet. When UM's College of Literature, Science & Arts had a theme semester on "water" recently, the chairperson of this group, Maude Barlow, was invited to speak for a keynote lecture. The Great Lakes is of major concern for this group given their location in Canada, and of course, the lakes matter greatly to the Detroit River watershed and the Detroit area.”
—Dr. Tiya Miles, a nationally acclaimed author and historian, is Chair of the Department of African American and African Studies at the University of Michigan, a professor at the University of Michigan in the Program in American Culture, Center for Afro-American and African Studies, Department of History, and the Native American Studies Program.
The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History’s Liberation Film Series: 2012-2013 Season entitled An Exploration in Youth-focused Intergenerational Conversations educates the youth, and others, about the real world and the Black people - many unknown - who struggled, globally, to make it better. This series offers the regional community a refreshingly new opportunity to experience a season of culturally important, conscious, enlightening, and engaging films. Immediately following each film, a speaker led interpretation and Q&A session will provide the audience deeper insights. No other theater in the region offers this type of focused programming and premiere educational opportunity. To encourage literacy, a bibliography, supplemental reading materials, and useful links for each film will be accessible on the Museum’s website, and the speaker’s books and related texts available at the venue.
This unique film/discussion series is the result of the financial support and/or collaborative consultation with Eastern Michigan University, The Media Education Foundation (MEF), Michigan State University, University of Detroit - Mercy, University of Massachusetts Amherst, University of Michigan - Ann Arbor, University of Michigan - Dearborn, Oakland University, Wayne County Community College District, Wayne State University, Good People Popcorn, Dr. Errol Henderson - Penn State University, and other leading scholars and community activists.
Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History
315 East Warren Avenue
Detroit, Michigan 48201
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