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New Year, new democracy

By Shea Howell
Special to the Michigan Citizen

The coming of the New Year is a time for reflection. We assess the past and project our hopes for the future. For many of us in Michigan, this past year has been one that has sharpened the two different visions for our future.

While much of the country rejected the idea that we would move backward in time, the Republican-dominated government in Michigan has redoubled its efforts to restore power and privilege to a few.

Gov. Rick Snyder and the right-wing Republican legislature have aggressively adopted policies that come straight out of the Reagan-Bush-Romney vision for America. They want a country where market capitalism runs unfettered over the lives of people and the protection of the planet. They want policies that foster individual greed rather than communities of compassion. They believe public resources should be used to create private wealth.

At the core of their vision is the belief that a select elite know better than the majority of the people what should be done. This belief, once scoffed at as an archaic idea belonging to a time of limited understandings, was on full display during the last frantic days of the lame duck legislature in Lansing.

First, it was expressed in the brazen violation of the will of the people to curb the power of the state to impose emergency managers on cities and school districts. The overriding argument against emergency managers was that they were undemocratic, setting aside locally elected officials.

The effort to bring this issue before the public for a vote took unprecedented effort, overcoming almost laughable attempts to invalidate petitions and then to throw up court challenges. Even before the election, Gov. Snyder and his group of extreme right-wing Republicans announced they didn’t much care what the vote was. They had another law waiting in the wings.

The people overturned the emergency manger law, especially in cities that were suffering from them. Within days, the Republican-dominated legislature reinstated a new emergency manager law. To prevent it from being overturned, they tied it to an appropriation of funds, precluding any future referendum.

A similar process was followed by the so-called “right to work” legislation. Attacking the capacity of unions to collect dues from all who benefit directly from union negotiations, the legislature again invoked an appropriations measure to preclude the right of the people to challenge this act.

Disrespect for the opinions of the people was on display at the Detroit City Council, too. Against a clear and vocal majority of citizens, five Council members voted to practically give away almost 2,000 publicly owned lots on the east side to a single individual.

These actions have revealed starkly that legislative bodies do not represent the will of the people. Nor do they protect our interests.

In contrast to this limited view of power and privilege is one that has been slowly emerging as people have been reconstructing life on a human scale. In places long abandoned by corporate greed, neighbors have been coming together to create new community life that fosters local production, creativity and compassion.

These new communities are rooted in radically democratic processes. People are coming together to make decisions about the things that effect daily life and the protection of what we hold as the common good. They are developing a sense of shared values and authentic processes for decision-making. In small groups, people are organizing new forms of education, establishing public safety, providing means for healthy food and celebrating artists who advance our vision of a more just and sustainable future.

Over the next year, those of us envisioning a vibrant democracy necessary for rich community life will have to call upon our deepest resources of memory and imagination. These local, community-based efforts creating new democratic forms are our path to a better future.

Contact Shea Howell at howell@oakland.edu

 

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