Detroit Provides Lessons For The Future Of Democracy In America

Detroit Water Shut-Offs Spark War Of Words
Detroit residents protest against water shut-offs aimed at driving Blacks from the city

AFRICANGLOBE – On Mon. July 21, Deputy Director Darryl Latimer of the Detroit Water & Sewerage Department (DWSD), under the administrative control of an unelected emergency manager Kevyn Orr, announced a 15-day suspension to the massive water shut-offs which have victimized tens of thousands throughout the city.

This proclamation by the DWSD took place in federal bankruptcy court where the future of the re-structuring of the city is being decided by Judge Steven Rhodes. At an objections’ hearing on July 15, over 80 workers, retirees, homeowners and community residents submitted statements to the court decrying what they perceived to be a draconian “plan of adjustment” ostensibly designed to provide an economic roadmap for exiting the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.

Kris Hamel, a Detroit homeowner and member of the Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shut-offs, spoke out forcefully before Judge Rhodes saying that as the overseer of the bankruptcy process he should take immediate action to halt the thousands of water shut-offs taking place per week. Rhodes later requested that Jones Day law firm, which is effectively administrating the City of Detroit since the appointment of EM Orr in March 2013, ensure that someone from the DWSD appear in his courtroom that afternoon.

Later Rhodes indicated that the shut-offs have created adverse publicity for the city worldwide. He also stated clearly that the policy of mass termination of water services was indeed “bad for the bankruptcy.”

In the June 26 edition of the Detroit Free Press, Orr’s spokesman Bill Nowling told the daily newspaper that the termination of water services to thousands of households in Detroit was an integral part of the re-structuring. This statement revealed even further the real agenda behind the emergency management and forced bankruptcy of the city: it is designed in fact to terrorize and subjugate the people of Detroit to undemocratic and dictatorial rule against the will and interests of the majority of the population.

National and World Outpouring of Solidarity for Detroit

Although the United Nations agencies concerned with access to water resources have stated unequivocally that the policy of large-scale terminations enacted by the EM was inhumane, the real struggle for a moratorium on water shut-offs is taking place in the streets and the bankruptcy court. The weekly “Freedom Friday” demonstrations, modeled somewhat on the “Moral Mondays” in North Carolina, have been picketing the DWSD headquarters on Randolph in downtown Detroit for nine weeks.

A blockade of the entrance to Homrich, the firm hired by the EM to engage in the water shut-offs, was carried out on July 10. Ten people were arrested and the issue was pushed out into the media once again. Those arrested were charged with disorderly conduct and faced an arraignment hearing on July 21 where there was no real legal documentation to support the continuation of their prosecution.

Nonetheless, the most profound manifestation of solidarity from around the country took place in conjunction with the recently-held Net Roots Nation Conference at Cobo Conference Center. Through the efforts of National Nurses United (NNU) and other organizations, the Moratorium NOW! Coalition and a several leading community groups, brought thousands into the streets for a march and rally through the financial district.

A broad spectrum of labor and community organizations endorsed the July 18 actions. These included the local affiliates of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), the Communication Workers of America (CWA), Detroit Metro AFL-CIO, People’s Water Board, Michigan Welfare Rights Organization (MWRO), Stop the Theft of Our Pensions Committee (STOPC), Concerned Citizens and Retirees of Detroit, UAW Local 600, among others.

The NNU, representing 188,000 healthcare professionals across the U.S., declared a public health emergency in Detroit at the July 18 rally due to the water shut-offs. Even though the State of Michigan under Snyder refuted the NNU declaration, they provided no alternative plan to turn the water services for hundreds of thousands in Detroit back on.

One of the key slogans advanced by the Moratorium NOW! Coalition and picked up by other organizations is “Make the Banks Pay!” This slogan grew out of the devastating impact of predatory lending in housing and municipal finance that has left the city in financial ruin.

Urban Growth Without Sustainable Development

Detroit has paid billions to banks for bad loans and termination fees. Many of the financial institutions now holding the city liable such as Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Union Bank of Switzerland, Barclays, etc. have been cited on numerous occasions for unscrupulous and illegal activities. Yet the emergency manager has failed to take legal action against these banks while forcing the termination of healthcare coverage and proposed pension cuts to over 32,000 retirees and their families.

The repeatedly stated $18 billion in debts owed to banks by the City of Detroit is unsustainable. Gov. Snyder as a former venture capitalist views the municipal crisis as he would approach financially distressed corporations.

Orr and Snyder embody ideas which revolve around the breaking up of public institutions and there privatization. This is the underlying reason behind the attacks on the Detroit Public Lighting, Belle Isle, the Detroit Institute of the Arts, the Detroit Water & Sewerage Department, public pension funds and healthcare programs for retirees, etc.

Balancing the budget on the backs of seniors, working and poor residents of an already impoverished city due to a process of deindustrialization which extends back decades, cannot provide solutions to the crisis in Detroit. All of these decisions are being made without any consideration of the popular will of the people.

What is lifted up as a model for “development” is more of the same “prestige” projects such as stadia, arenas, entertainment districts and exclusive housing complexes where the rents and mortgage payments are far out of the range of the median income levels of the majority of the people who currently reside in the city. Yet this approach is by no means original and has failed repeatedly just over the last two decades to revive the city and its population.

During the 1990s Detroit residents were encouraged to approve bond proposals for the construction of both Ford Field, home of the Lions football team, and Comerica Park, where the Tigers play their home baseball games. In addition to these monumental initiatives, voters approved the development of three casino hotels: Greek Town, Motor City and MGM Grand.

Part Two