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Hypocrisy in the Michigan aristocracy: Give us art and the people be damned

Wendell AnthonyBy Rev. Dr. Wendell Anthony
Special to the Michigan Citizen

Detroit’s Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr was doing all right until he obviously, to some, “stepped outta line.”

Talking about a Pandora’s Box being opened, here is one. If ever there was a case of political hypocrisy and blatant demagoguery, it is in the State of Michigan by those who originally cheered for and legislated into action Michigan’s new misguided Emergency Manager Law.

As cries of “how dare you even consider selling our art” are loudly heard throughout the state, with threats of no new art for Detroit in the air, it’s now on and popping. The behavior and verbal — dare I say it — protests of many ought to at least be consistent with those who have declared the unfairness of this process from day one.

The great French writer of “Democracy in America,” Alexis de Tocqueville, must be leaping in his grave. As he said years ago, “The surface of American society is covered with a layer of democratic paint but, from time to time one can see the old aristocratic colors breaking through.”

Everyone heard Kevyn Orr and Gov. Rick Snyder (the real emergency manager) both declare that everything was on the table in order to bring the City of Detroit back to financial stability. No, they didn’t just say cutting workers’ salaries, health care, pension benefits, police and fire, or selling Belle Isle and the Water Department. In my neighborhood, “everythang means everythang.”

Randy Richardville, Republican leader from Monroe, the great champion of emergency managers, who pushed hard for an emergency manager for the City of Detroit and helped to craft the Emergency Manager Law, now has a major problem.

His problem lies in the fact that the emergency manager has said that everything must be on the table. Even Picasso, Renoir, van Gogh, Rembrandt and all the other artists on the walls of the Detroit Institute of Art.

Richardville has now introduced an amendment requiring art museums to follow the standards of public trusts governing museums such as the DIA.

This was done faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than 2.3 million Michiganders who said no, and he was able to leap over democracy in a single night. Richardville even said at the recent Mackinac Conference, “We can’t let somebody take our best stuff away.”

Lord have mercy! As the saying goes, everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.

It’s all right to take the Water Department. It’s all right to take Belle Isle. It’s all right to take ourvoting rights. It’s all right to damn the people. But at the same time, long live Picasso!

I like good art just like everyone else. As a matter of fact, I supported the recent millage along with the members of my church and the people throughout Wayne County. We believe in protecting the jewels of Detroit. Yet, we also believe in protecting the rights of the people, preserving families, creating jobs and ensuring our right to vote for our own elected officials.

I’m told that the high talk at Mackinac Island wasn’t on the subject of who would be the next mayor of the City of Detroit or the educational achievements of the students in the Detroit Public School system; rather, it was on “keep your hands off of our art.”

This does not sound very much like shared sacrifice to me. It does not sound like everyone is at the same table to me. Why must pain and sacrifice always be made by the poor and those not wealthy enough to impact and influence those political leaders who have the authority to make laws governing their lives?

Many of the same people who were high-fiving when Kevyn Orr was brought into Detroit by the governor and Andy Dillon are now turning a thumbs down on his work.

This has a potential to create one of the most visible and wide-spread divisions within our community. It is a visible indication of those who are not concerned about the creation of two communities. Those communities are one of the haves and the have-nots. Many will say they are already here.

At this kind of political chicanery and hypocrisy, selectivity does nothing but widen the breach of race, class and culture. It is an example of an arbitrariness and capriciousness of intent on the part of those who put art over people, material things over spiritual values and culture over civility.

This does not mean I do not support the arts. My home and church are both filled with art. But I am not willing to declare that in a war of economic survival, art on the wall and animals in the zoo must be preserved. Certainly, not at the expense of the Water Department and the iconic family area of relaxation and celebration known as Belle Isle.

Surely Michigan can do better than this. This is why we must look to real alternatives to stabilize our economy, bring in new revenue and draw in new citizens to our city.

As the cloud of bankruptcy hangs over the head of the City of Detroit, let us realize that every time we announce these kinds of measures, people who would contribute to Michigan pull back.

When an emergency manager was first appointed for the City, the word was who would want to invest in the City of Detroit now? Well guess what? As the potential for the selling of art in the DIA was announced, the word is who would want to donate their artwork to the DIA now?

Shades of Marie Antoinette, to whom many attribute the infamous words, “Let them eat cake!”

Perhaps she has come back now to sit on the throne here in the State of Michigan.


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