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Democracy and resistance

Week 30 of the occupation

By Shea Howell
Special to the Michigan Citizen

The legitimacy of the Detroit financial emergency is eroding. Whatever the legal decision on bankruptcy by Federal Court Judge Steven Rhodes, the use of Detroit’s financial problems by a corporate elite for personal and political gain is becoming clearer each day.

The behind-the-scenes deals, false public statements, high-handed actions and temptations for cronyism are emerging as the results of the effort to seize control of the city from its residents and elected officials.  These results are slowly leaking out to the public, especially as people put together the testimony emerging in court.

Gov. Rick Snyder, his overseer Kevyn Orr and the corporate-foundation complex that have pushed for emergency management are being revealed as among the most ideologically-driven, right-wing forces in the country. Their combined assault on democratic processes is provoking resistance, as is their insistence on protecting banks before people.

Most hopeful were the demonstrations of solidarity last week. These have been building for months as block clubs, churches, community groups and unions have been educating themselves on the issues involved. Detroiters who gathered to demonstrate with pensioners and city workers were joined by a bus load of people from New York. Occupy Wall Street sent a message that “Detroit is not a loan,” and international statements of solidarity from other countries facing “austerity” measures were delivered to the Detroit City Council.

Public opposition is spreading. Thirty weeks into this process, city services have not improved. In fact, it is becoming clear that the EM has a stake in continuing bad services. The people’s suffering from lack of services is now Orr’s justification for more borrowing, more private contracts, more consultants and continuing his own unchecked power.

Individuals of conscience are stepping forward to denounce and make public the inner workings of city hall.

At the end of September, Detroit chief procurement officer Andre DuPerry resigned. In a letter to Mayor Dave Bing, who appointed him in 2009, DuPerry said he could no longer oversee the city’s purchasing in good consciousness.

He wrote: “The actions of the emergency manager, his staff and consultants have made it impossible for me to feel confident that there is currently transparency, fairness and good judgment being exercised in the best interests of the people I serve.”

He continued, “The emergency manager’s inconsistency and lack of compliance with the competitive bid and contract approval processes is extremely concerning to me… I have on numerous occasions raised my concerns both verbally and in writing regarding the lack of contract management with regards to the consultants involved in restructuring.

“While there is no question that Detroit’s city government requires significant change,” the letter says, “what I have observed is an abuse of authority leading to waste of taxpayer dollars.”

Nor are such acts of courage limited to people in Detroit. Last week the Washington Post reported on efforts by professors at Eastern Michigan University to break ties with the controversial Education Achievement Authority (EAA), created by Gov. Snyder and centered in Detroit.  Echoing Mr. DuPerry, the professors argue the EAA’s governance is secretive; student and teacher turnover is excessive; they rely on inexperienced teachers; and depend on Teach For America.

The letter reads: “We find the undermining of democratic processes represented in the creation of a district outside the purview of public decision-making and oversight to be in direct conflict with this university’s mission and our legacy as a champion of public education.”

Even Snyder’s takeover of Belle Isle is provoking dissention within his own party as legislators fear the state will not be able to provide adequate funding for the island. Currently, there are over 700 incomplete park projects because of lack of funding.

As we all await the judge’s decision, we need to probe how to bring democracy to life in our city and intensify our resistance to its dismantling.

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