Isabella, 5, has lived all of her five years in her family’s turn-of-the-century, 1,700-square-foot brick home. A sign reads “Water is a Human Right” in one window; “It’s Time for the Banks to Pay Up” in another. There are potted plants of strawberries, sunflowers, tomatoes, and even hibiscus. Isabella’s oldest sister lives next door to the east, but the house to the west is slated for demolition by Homrich, the same company that came to shut off water in her neighborhood. On the same day that Homrich spray-painted the water-access points blue to signify shut-off, they also painted the neighbor’s porch blue for tear-down. The youngest of Valerie’s five children, Isabella has since been delivering water, as well as kits of hand sanitizer, bleach, and cleansing wipes with other neighborhood kids. “She got to meet all her neighbors,” says Valerie with a smile. Most of those neighbors have lost their running water, and many have turned to Valerie for help and leadership. With her water still on, Valerie’s residence became a gathering place for her community, and a station was set up in her front yard with water bottle donations. A pot of community soup was put on her stove, and people sat on her porch to eat and share ideas. Within five days, they had put together a demonstration in which more than 100 activists, community leaders, and residents marched down her street and onto historic Woodward Avenue. “Be good today, Val,” says a man in a baseball cap as he walks by with a grocery bag in each hand. “If you’re on TV, tell ’em about free water.”
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is a Traverse City-based assistant editor for Circle of Blue. She specializes in data visualization.
Interests: Latin America, Social Media, Science, Health, Indigenous Peoples