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Summer Human Rights Lecture Series: Just Water

EVT 517
Aug 2
7:00 pm
Rm. 111 (Auditorium), Science Teaching & Learning Center
Status: No Registration Required

The Stanford Summer Human Rights Program is an interdisciplinary collaboration that explores emerging issues in human rights through a series of courses, public lectures, and films. In 2017, the program will continue the discussion of international human rights in the 21st century, considering broad perspectives on what constitutes human rights in an increasingly diverse and global society. The Summer Human Rights Program is sponsored by Stanford Summer Session in collaboration with Stanford Continuing Studies, the Stanford Master of Liberal Arts program, and the United Nations Association Film Festival (UNAFF).

Just Water

In October 2014, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation came to Detroit and accused the city of human rights violations. Since 2013, Detroit’s Water and Sewerage Department had been shutting off water to tens of thousands of households with overdue water bills. While the city defended the shutoff program simply as sound fiscal management in the wake of municipal bankruptcy, the UN Special Rapporteur argued that this program violated the human right of the people in those households to water.

Deemed a human rights violation, Detroit’s water shutoff program is also deeply sedimented in the racial history of the city—a history that stretches back to the French colonization of indigenous territory where land and water were held and used in common and that encompasses the race-based inequalities that the city’s 20th-century development once relied upon and advanced. The water shutoff program, which primarily targeted working-class and poor African American communities, is one of the manifold forms that this history has taken in the present.

Water is a human right not only because it is necessary for life, but also because it is a material that, in Gaston Bachelard’s words, “remembers the dead”—here, the dead of past and present who accompany calls for rights and justice.

Andrew Herscher, Creative Cities Fellow, Stanford Arts Institute; Associate Professor of Architecture, University of Michigan

Andrew Herscher has worked in several public collaborative projects in Detroit that advance the cause of a just, inclusive, and democratic city, most recently, Detroit Resists and the We the People of Detroit Community Research Collective. His publications include Violence Taking Place: The Architecture of the Kosovo Conflict, The Unreal Estate Guide to Detroit, the co-edited volume Spatial Violence, and Displacements: Architecture and Refugee.
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