Pro-Democracy Movement Rises Against 'Disaster Capitalism' in Detroit

As new 'emergency manager' Kevin Orr takes over in 'bloodless coup,' community plans revolt

Community and pro-democracy activists in Detroit have no intention of rolling over and playing dead for Kevyn Orr, the city's new 'emergency manager' appointed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who will begin his contract to run the city as a one-person government on Monday.

Called a "bloodless coup" by some, the appointment of an 'emergency financial manager' (EFM) will allow Orr to take full control over the city's resources now that the city council and school board have been stripped of their governing powers.

Justified as a tool to 'bring the city bank from the financial brink' by its proponents, critics of Orr's position say the whole reason for the emergency manager is to further gut the city by carving off public assets to the highest private bidder.

"Emergency managers do not work. They are supported by big banks and by big business to steal public services." - Gwendolyn Peoples, Detroit resident

"Over a decade of experimentation has shown that the emergency manager model is undemocratic and it hasn't worked," said John Philo, director of the Sugar Law Center, which has taken legal action against Michigan's emergency management model. "The stated goal is to balance the books and the emergency manager model fails to deliver that in the long term. What it does do is force privatization of public resources and guts the public sector unions. But that hollows out your tax base and the city continues in a downward spiral."

"The people of a city need to decide how to get out of a financial mess and how to prioritize necessary sacrifices," he continued. "Do they want to sell a park or eliminate a tax break for some business? These are policy choices that residents, not technocrats, should decide."

From the New York Times:

The Republican governor's decision to install an emergency manager for the Democratic-controlled city had been widely expected for months. Still, the reality of a state takeover of its largest city has left many here shocked and visibly nervous about the future.

At the City Council's last meeting before the takeover, some residents vented their anger, while Council members wondered aloud if they would have any statutory powers at all once Mr. Orr took office.

"I am angry, like so many thousands of other residents of Detroit," said Kathy Montgomery, 64. "Angry that our governor and mayor decided we need an emergency manager. We must oppose them."

The emergency-manager law gives Mr. Orr extraordinary powers to reshape the city, including eliminating Council members' salaries.

"I don't know what kind of role we can have," said Brenda Jones, one of nine City Council members. "I feel that we are just sitting here as a symbolic symbol right now."

Mayor Dave Bing, who chose at the final hour not to oppose Mr. Orr's appointment, will not publicly discuss what happens next. At a news conference on Friday on new police initiatives, he declined to answer questions about Mr. Orr.

But on Saturday, angry Detroit residents vowed to resist.

"We've waited long enough. We need action around the law because it's anti-democratic," said the Rev. Charles William II, pastor at Historic King Solomon Baptist Church where hundreds of Detroit residents gathered on Saturday to mark their disgust and plan their next move.

"We fought too hard. We marched too long. Too much blood (has) been shed for us to turn around," the Reverend said.

As the Detroit Newsreports:

At least 500 residents attended the meeting at the church, where they were encouraged to engage in protests and civil disobedience to voice their anger and disgust over Orr's appointment earlier this month.

The National Action Network has been mounting protests in the run-up to Orr's first day on the job, which marks the beginning of the state takeover of City Hall. Gov. Rick Snyder, Mayor Dave Bing and Orr have said they want to notch some early victories to help convince Detroiters that an emergency manager is the best option to get the financially troubled city back on track.

But the residents attending the church meeting Saturday couldn't have disagreed more.

"If it (the emergency manager law) happened anywhere else than in Detroit, this would have stopped years ago," said Gwendolyn Peoples, who attended the meeting with her daughter and granddaughter. "Emergency managers do not work. They are supported by big banks and by big business to steal public services."

On Monday a group will be busing to Cleveland to protest outside of the law firm Jones Day, where Orr was a partner. Buses are scheduled to leave at 8 a.m. Monday from Eastern Market.

Another group plans to meet in front of the Spirit of Detroit statue near the City County Building at 11 a.m. Monday to protest Orr's appointment.

Other protests were also planned, including more freeway protests like those earlier this month where slow-moving traffic clogged I-94 during rush hour.

And the Detroit Free Pressadds:

The speeches focused extensively on how the appointment of an emergency financial manager circumvents democratic principles.

The Rev. David Bullock of Change Agent Consortium, a social justice activist group with an office in Detroit, said he was there to "stir the pot."

"For the Christians, it's Holy Week," he said referring to the week leading to Easter. "For the emergency manager, it's hell week."

Bullock told the crowd that an emergency financial manager is not there to protect the city's assets but actually to take away control from Detroiters. Orr has indicated that "everything is on the table" as he looks to stabilize the city's finances.

"Don't sell your birthright," Bullock told the crowd.

Calling the EFM scheme a "bloodless coup," political activst Greg Bowen--who helped lead the fight against the state law which allowed for such city takeovers--was unequivocal in his condemnation of Orr and what his tenure represents:

No invading army of communists is at the door. No terrorist insurrection has occurred. No horde of barbarians is at the gate. Yet more and more of our fellow Michigan citizens fall under the growing shadow of one-person rule with an emergency financial manager.

Generations to follow will look back on this time in amazement. They will wonder how democratically elected governors could create laws to strip other people of their own locally, democratically elected governments. They will scratch their heads in disbelief.

How can a democratically elected ruling party ignore the will of their own constituents, who voted to successfully repeal the Emergency Manager Law, and revive it weeks later? How is it possible that an elected body can vote to affirm the idea that one person should rule a community?

Looking at the rising resistance and the demands put on the city and its people by the crisis, Shea Howell--a community activist and professor at Michigan's Oakland University--describes the positive aspects of the situation even as she called it a moment of anguish "beyond words":

As the [EFM] moves into the corridors of city hall, we need to deepen our relationships on the corners and sidewalks in our neighborhoods, block clubs and places of worship. We need to create opportunities to educate one another, to share ideas, strategies, and tactics for improving our daily life in the places where we live, walk, work, and pray.

We need to remember that the bus boycott grew out of a community of people that had long practiced democratic actions without any right to vote. They built churches, colleges, hospitals, schools, businesses, civic associations, and recreational centers. They developed strategies to call upon the U.S. government to live up to its highest ideals.

This history can guide us as we develop new democratic forms to create real participatory power, flowing from people making our own decisions about how we will live.

And in conclusion, Howell writes: "The only solution to this assault on our city is for each of us to take responsibility for recreating community life, based on respect for one another and the earth that sustains us.

"In loving community, we can build a new democracy that cannot be stolen."


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