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Shea Howell

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Thinking for Ourselves: State of Siege

Posted: 03/27/2012 1:59 pm

Detroit is under siege. Slowly but surely the right-wing forces in the state are tightening their grip. Whatever the outcome of negotiations among the mayor, city council and the state over the next few weeks, it is clear that Lansing politicians intend to run the city. They intend to eliminate the political power of Detroit residents. They intend to transfer public resources into private hands. They intend to destroy unions. They intend for their consultant friends and contributors to make money in the process.

Most Detroiters know that the use of the emergency financial manager law has nothing to do with concern for the financial health of the city. It is a legalized power grab to disempower citizens and take public resources.

People in Lansing and around the state rub their hands with glee as they claim the financial crisis of Detroit is proof we are incapable of running our own city. They refuse to look at the structural problems they have helped create, or to acknowledge their debt to the city. Nor have they acknowledged that emergency managers have yet to solve any of the problems that justified their creation.

In a recent article in the New York Times, David Firestone, removed from the Detroit bashing of Lansing, observed:

Muscling the city aside would clearly be undemocratic, and it is not even clear how effective it would be. The state took over Detroit's schools in 2009, and has little to show for it yet except for more closed schools and a continuing exodus of students and teachers.

Firestone concluded the article noting:

The solution may be in the suburbs that have siphoned off Detroit's money and jobs and talent for decades. A true emergency manager, as many people here have suggested, would have the power to begin merging the tax base of the city with that of suburban counties in hopes of saving the region.

Any consent agreement that does not include the power to tax the surrounding suburbs is a sham.

We need to support every effort to challenge this law. We need to encourage the mayor and the council to insist on their authority to make decisions. If the state is unwilling to protect the elected officials, we encourage the city to declare bankruptcy. Such a process would not be pleasant, but over the last few years, the court system has proven more sensitive to the democratic right of the citizens of the city than Lansing has.

The thoughts of putting Detroit in its place and getting their hands on all of our assets are blinding the powers in Lansing to the very real rage that is smoldering in the city. As they narrow the political space that Detroiters have to redress our grievances, to come together to resolve our problems and to discuss our own future, the right-wing forces in Lansing are pushing people toward more and more desperate measures.

This assault on our basic rights and dignity is especially evident to Detroiters who are engaging in real democratic actions all over the city. As Wayne Curtis of Feedem Freedom Growers said this weekend in New York City at the Left Forum, "Growing our gardens is about making decisions that matter. It is a process that challenges our marginalization and gives us control over our lives." All across Detroit, people are recreating a new kind of direct democracy, making decisions about planting gardens, protecting parks, running churches, establishing peace zones, creating activities for children, supporting elders, and finding ways to recreate communities ties.

Lansing is playing a dangerous, losing game. Most Detroiters know that the world is changing, challenging those who abuse people and use power for their own gain. The long, deep struggle to control our own lives on principles that value ourselves and one another will not be taken over or given up.