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Fact, fiction and the assault on democracy

Week 19 of the occupation

By  Shea Howell
Special to the Michigan Citizen

The majority of Detroiters are outraged over Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr’s latest utterance. By now, most of the city knows that in a recent Wall Street Journal interview, Detroit Emergency Manger (DEM) Orr claimed much of “Detroit’s dysfunction” is “due to simple complacency. For a long time, the city was dumb, lazy, happy and rich.” This statement has justly sparked protests and demands for an apology.

Bill Nowling, the spokesperson for the DEM, tried to explain the whole thing away saying, “I believe Kevyn Orr was speaking about the attitude of the body politic of the city of Detroit, not Detroiters themselves. And, I am pretty sure that history, both recent and ancient, bears out such a comment.”

As outrageous as DEM Orr’s comments are, Nowling’s explanation deserves serious attention. His attack on the “body politic” and his effort to separate it from the people of the city is part of the ongoing assault on the very idea of democracy.

Nowling’s comment reveals the underlying ideological position he, Mr. Orr, Gov. Snyder, the corporate-foundation elite and most of the corporate press hold about Detroit, people of color and all those who live within the heart of urban America.

According to their way of thinking, the people are the reason democracy is dead. The fact that we have participated in making decisions about our own lives has become evidence to the ruling elite that we cannot be trusted. This is because the decisions we have made are unacceptable to them.

These decisions reflect the political choices of Detroiters to provide living wages for people; to ensure modest pensions for our elders; to tax ourselves to fund schools, libraries, parks and art; and to ensure that people providing services to the city live here. These are all decisions deemed “irrational,” signs we are “incompetent” and given to “magical thinking.” Even the watered down notions of representative democracy have become too radical for the elite.

Thus, we have national columnists like George Will comparing us to insects, saying our “bedraggled city’s decay” poses “worrisome questions about the viability of democracy.” He proclaims that “self government has failed in Detroit.” We “died of democracy.” This is because of the collusion between our “political class” and the “docile voters who empowered it.”

The assault on democracy has a clear strategy. Disrespect. Disparage. Destroy. Dismantle. It begins with the effort to disrespect the people, by labeling them docile, disinterested or dumb. This is followed by a disparagement of all those who hold or seek public  office. Then, having eroded confidence in the people and their candidates, legal fictions destroy the framework of local decision making. Ultimately, the elite intend to dismantle the city, not only of its assets, but a as a political entity.

Local pundits aid this effort. Nolan Finley recently disrespected citizens saying, “You can’t tell the truth and get elected mayor of Detroit.” He said, “Voters obviously expect candidates to pander to their worst instincts, to indulge their takeover conspiracy theories, to beat the tar out of the white bogeyman.” He disparaged all candidates offering the following descriptions: oddballs, cranks, quixotic dreamers, buffoonish bully, nutty, certifiable crackpots, frothing, loud, angry and crazy.

Finley’s frequent companion, Stephen Henderson, is given to less enthusiastic but equally assaulting views. He simply claims that those who disagree with him are being ruled by “fiction” and “fooling ourselves.”

Detroiters are becoming increasingly aware of the dimensions of this assault on democracy and are finding new ways to educate ourselves and organize resistance. A week after the polls close, Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management (D-REM) will hold a People’s Forum Aug.17 beginning at 9:30 a.m.at the Samaritan Center. It is a good opportunity to engage with others to invent new democratic practices in our town.

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