Rally To Stop Emergency Managers In Detroit: 'I Shall Not Be Moved' (LIVE UPDATES)
Several hundred Detroit residents gathered at Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church on the city's west side Monday to protest the impending threat of a state-appointed emergency manager for the city.
U.S. Rep. John Conyers spoke, as did City Council Members JoAnn Watson, Brenda Jones and Kwame Kenyatta, state Reps. Harvey Santana and many pastors, labor leaders and community activists. Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, Moratorium NOW, and Occupy Detroit were all represented.
The possibility of a state takeover has been floated since Mayor Dave Bing announced Nov. 16 that the city was facing a severe budget shortfall and serious longterm debt. Gov. Rick Snyder instigated a preliminary financial review of the city, after which state Treasurer Andy Dillon pushed for a more formal review. Both reviews move Detroit towards a takeover by an emergency manager, who would have special powers over the city's finances.
Emergency managers have power to break contracts, dismiss public officials and sell public utilities under Michigan's Public Act 4.
For a full report on the event, see our liveblog below. For HuffPost Detroit's full coverage of emergency manager news in Detroit and across Michigan, see our big news page.
The rally is named for the old hymn "We Shall Not Be Moved," and the event opens with singing.
The church's pastor, Rev. Nathan Johnson, opens the event with a prayer, asking the lord to empower attendees "to make a difference when we leave from this place."
Rep. John Conyers says those gathering petition signatures to suspend Public Act 4, the emergency manager law, have gathered the nearly 162,000 necessary signatures but are continuing their drive.
Rep. John Conyers, who is at his home church for the rally Tuesday evening, opens the event with a call to action.
Conyers has sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder asking him to review the constitutionality of Michigan's emergency manager law. Conyers seemed confident that he would have success:
"It just so happens that I have a closer relationship with the 44th president of the united states and his attorney general, Eric Holder, than I have ever had with anybody in the Washington White House."
Saundra Williams of the metropolitan Detroit AFL-CIO put out a strong call to action, reading from Martin Niemöller's famous "First they came for the Jews..." statement.
"If they have not come for you yet, they are on the way," Williams said. "Join us."
Rep. John Conyers noted that Michigan's emergency manager law might have consequences in other states.
"This is a test case going on in Detroit," he said, calling emergency managers "merely a dictatorial ruse for a governor to take over and suspend democratic management."
President AFSCME Council 25 Al Garrett, who has been instrumental in the petition drive to suspend Public Act 4, announced the campaign has gathered "in excess of 170,000" signatures.
He said the petitioners are looking to Jan. 18 as the day to take their petitions to Lansing. They hope to gather more than the required number -- just shy of 162,000 -- in order to ensure enough valid signatures.
Garrett finished with a fiery speech to get out the petition drive:
"Stand up, look the man in the eye and say, 'Not on my watch,'" he said.
"Our mothers and fathers fought all of the right of one thing: self determination. It would be unacceptable and unnecessary for black folk in the city of Detroit, for white folk in Ann Arbor ... to allow anybody that was elected by chance to dictate what happens in their community."
Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit NAACP, opened his speech commemorating Sam Logan, the publisher of the Michigan Chronicle, who passed away Dec. 28.
Anthony read from Logan's resolution for 2012:
"My resolution for Detroit in the new year is to see us all come together to resolve Detroit's problems. Nothing will improve until the community, the mayor, the City Council and the uions work together. I want to see us as a city form our own plan so that we don't have to have an emergency manager create one for us."
Anthony also pointed out the other communities around the state -- as well as the state of Michigan itself -- that have had significant debt but not had emergency managers appointed.
"We in Detroit should not have to have an emergency manager," Anthony said. "Why is Detroit different than anywhere else? Why are these only communities of color that have emergency managers? We got an emergency, but it ain't us."
Benton Harbor, Pontiac, Ecorse, Flint and the Detroit Public Schools currently have emergency managers appointed under Public Act 4.
Anthony pointed to one fix for Detroit's immediate cash-flow problem that had been suggested by Mayor Bing but all but ignored by Gov. Rick Snyder: $220 million owed to the city of Detroit under a state revenue-sharing system.
"The first order of business of the review committee ought to be No. 1: Pay us our money back. Pay us our $220 million back and that will resolve immediately the question of whether or not we can fix this," Anthony said.
He lamented that there are "so many folks who believe the die is already cast," but turned that pessimistic attitude into an invocation, urging a refusal to surrender:
"If that was the case, we would never have won Brown vs. Board of Education, we never would have won the Voting Rights Act, we never would have won the Civil Rights Act.
If we would have said, 'We might as well surrender,' we would never have come off the plantation. Harriet Tumban said, 'In my lifetime I freed 1,000 slaves; I would've freed 1,000 more if only they knew they were enslaved.' We are not going back to the plantation."
Council Member Kwame Kenyatta mentioned the effort by some Republican lawmakers in Lansing to write new legislation that would ensure some aspects of the emergency manager law would stand even if a referendum petition were successful.
"We know they're getting ready to change the rules," Kenyatta said. "We know how to change the rules, too. Let's get marching, y'all."
Next to speak is Rev. Edward Pinkney, president of the NAACP Benton Harbor, who has been highly active in fighting the emergency manager there.
Benton Harbor had an emergency financial manager before Public Act 4 granted Emergency Manager Joseph Harris greater powers. In April, Harris took all power away from the city's elected officials.
"You don't want an EFM or an EM because theyre hard to get rid of," Pinkney said. "You can't get rid of them. They're inside that Trojan horse waiting for you to fall asleep."
Michigan Forward started the petition campaign to suspend Public Act 4 and put it up for a referendum on the 2012 ballot.
Brandon Jessup, the head of the organization and leader of Stand Up For Democracy, prepared a Powerpoint presentation with action steps and instructions on how audience members could gather more signatures for the petition drive.
He confirmed that campaigners have already gathered 170,000 signatures.
Only 161,305 signatures are needed to freeze the emergency manager law immediately and put it up for a public referendum on the 2012 ballot. The petition drive's organizers have set a goal of 250,000 signatures, in order to ensure they have enough to pass muster with the Michigan Secretary of State.
"We got to make sure we don't have any errors," Jessup said. "Don't rush this thing through, because this is about our survival."
Jessup repeated Jan. 18 as a target deadline for delivering the quarter-million signatures to Gov. Snyder.
On that day, Snyder is set to give his "State of the State" address, and will reportedly announce an $800 million budget surplus for the fiscal year.
"That surplus was gained on the back sof every core community in the state," Jessup said. "They're looking to double up on that surplus with a law like this."
Council Member JoAnn Watson announced direct action efforts are in the planning stages.