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EM, OUT! movement grows

By T. Kelly
The Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — “No Justice, No Peace!”

The activist chant echoes from the first to the 13th floors of the Coleman Alexander Young building, through the streets, in front of the banks and in church meeting halls around the city.

The Slowdown in Motown ties up freeways on sporadic early morning rush hours. “EM OUT!” banners are draped from highway overpasses, informational rallies draw supporters from Flint, Benton Harbor, Highland Park and Pontiac, who have also lost their democratic rights. And plans were being laid for “significant action” on April 5, the Detroit Tigers’ Home Opener. An Internet petition to the White House and fax, text and e-mail pleas are being sent to the Attorney General for federal intervention. An online posting of the city’s loan documents from the last 10 years has sparked national response and the filing of a federal civil rights lawsuit has drawn international attention.

The two-prong focus of the “EM OUT!” movement — one on democracy and the other against continued bank plundering of communities — has kept a growing group of activists engaged since Gov. Rick Snyder announced in early March he would put the state’s largest city under emergency management.

Moratorium NOW!, a local organization working against the bank foreclosures that have destroyed the city’s neighborhoods emptying 68,000 homes since 2007, is focused on the bank fraud behind not only the neighborhoods’ devastation, but now the control of the city given the banks with an emergency manager (EM).

“The same stick-up men that went through the neighborhoods are now at city hall,” said Attorney Jerry Goldberg of Moratorium NOW!

The Michigan chapter of National Action Network (NAN), under the leadership of Rev. Charles Williams III, has targeted both the loss of democratic rights and the banks’ involvement.

The group organized one bus to take protestors to Cleveland, Ohio, international headquarters of the Jones Day law firm. Another trip is set for April 11.  Jones Day represents major banks, many of whom hold the paper on Detroit’s debt. Detroit’s EM, Kevyn Orr, is a former partner of Jones Day, resigning after his appointment. Mayor Dave Bing wants Jones Day to be the city’s lawyer in renegotiating the debt. NAN says it is a conflict of interest, one they will fight to expose and end.

“We’ll target every Jones Day office around the country if we have to,” Rev. Williams said.

Moratorium NOW! is networking with national law firms to expose the city’s loan details. Obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the documents are difficult to decipher for those without financial expertiese, Goldberg  said. So, a Minnesota law firm is working with the group to break down the information so that it is accessible to the public.

“People have to ask, why would authorities take democratic rights,” said Abayomi Azikiwe, Moratorium NOW! “They don’t do it out of the blue. They’re stealing something from you. Why would the state focus on the debt and not the theft?”

Money necessary for city services goes to paying the debt, Goldberg said. The city of San Bernardino, Calif., which is also on the wrong end of the debt-swap financing that burdens Detroit, is suing the state. Where the state of California wants the city to take what money it has and pay the banks and bond holders, the city wants to provide basic city services first.

At the March 30 NAN meeting, the former Flint City Clerk addressed the hundreds in attendance and explained that under the first EM, all of Flint’s assets, from the farmers market to land, were stripped from the city and “given to their friends.” Now under the newest emergency manager, the plan is to take the city into bankruptcy and, by doing so, regionalize Flint, he said.

Neal Hagarty, vice president of programs for the Charles Mott Foundation in Flint, told Bloomberg News, “There’s simply not enough money in the system.”

Rev. D. Alexander Bullock, of Change Agent Consortium, has appeared on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show explaining the Slowdown in Motown action. On any unannounced morning, any three cars enter a freeway leading into downtown and line up three abreast, slowing down traffic to five to 10 miles an hour.

Participants explain why they do it. The slowdowns represent a simple, initial form of civil disobedience. They are signs of more to come. They are a call to other forms of “slow down” in city workplaces and elsewhere. They invite other forms of “getting in the way.”

Unwilling to be identified, one driver says, “The slowdowns say that under emergency management, things do not go well. Getting to prized events and destination venues may be delayed. Arriving at work on time is not to be presumed. Tell your boss or the ticket-taker: ‘I was delayed by the emergency manager protesters!’”

All activists, whatever their choice of resistance, agree that a mass movement is in the making.

Fighting the banks is a worldwide struggle, Goldberg says. In Cyprus, to satisfy the banks, the government ordered bank accounts seized; the people fought back. In European countries that have tried to impose austerity measures, when the workers went out on strike, the workers won.

“When the people are strong, they win … When the people are weak, they lose,” Goldberg said. “We must empower the people. Those who destroyed the city have no right to sit and collect from us when they caused the destruction.”

“If we fight, we win; if we don’t we won’t,” is the activists’ chant.

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