By Shea Howell

January 17, 2016

As we approach the national celebration of the life and legacy of Martin Luther King it is important to reflect on what Dr. King was doing on another January, 50 years ago. In January of 1967, he moved into a small apartment in a poor neighborhood in Chicago.

A few months earlier, the uprising in Los Angeles had shaken him. Reluctant to go to that city, he found himself confronted by young people challenging non-violence. Most of the young people he met had never heard of him, and many asked why should they be concerned about “non violence” when they were living in country that was killing people every day.

King took these challenges seriously. Ultimately they led him to a radical vision of a new America, based on justice and peaceful, respectful relationships with other nations. To move us toward that vision he organized the Poor Peoples Campaign advocating for a redistribution of political and economic power. He denounced the Viet Nam War, and described the U.S. as the “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.”

But in January of 1966, this journey was just beginning. King was focusing on housing and the daily living conditions of people in our northern cities. He was determined to bring the attention of the country to the consequences of choosing to spend more money on killing people far away than on supporting people at home. In his speech denouncing the Viet Nam war, he summarized what he had learned, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

We in Michigan are living with authorities who are spiritually dead. They are making decisions that put profits and property rights above people. They are sacrificing our children.

To save money the Governor, his emergency managers, and bureaucratic leaders allowed an entire city to be poisoned by their water. To save money and pay Wall Street, the Mayor of Detroit and his bureaucratic cronies are shutting off water to thousands of people who cannot pay outrageous water bills.

Just as the Governor denied the reports from citizens and experts that the water in Flint was poisoned, the Mayor continues to deny the legal briefs and respected opinions that an income based rate structure for water is legal. He refuses to acknowledge what a growing number of experts are saying.

On the eve of this Martin Luther King Celebration legal experts gathered at the ACLU in Detroit to put their weight behind an income based plan that would protect people and actually bring in more money to the city than the current shut off policies.

Mark Fancher, speaking for the National Conference on Black Lawyers said, “It is important that the city and those responsible for providing water to the people of this city are not allowed to hide behind a falsehood, behind an analysis which is not grounded in law and which is not true.”

Julie Hurwitz ,speaking for the National Lawyers Guild said, “The water affordability plan is not only legal, it is the right thing to do.”

Only those who are spiritually dead can continue to deny this truth. We must attend to one another. We must find the ways to support our people and to ensure that we build a city based on love and compassion. As Dr. King said, the only real question we face is that of political will.