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Week Two of the Occupation: At the crossroads

By Shea Howell
Special to the Michigan Citizen

Gov. Rick Snyder has stepped up his campaign to convince people that the appointment of an emergency financial manager (EFM) in Detroit is a good thing. He has released a series of YouTube clips, including comments by former City Council member Sheila Cockrel, various “young professionals” and Rev. Jerome Warfield, chairman of the Board of Police Commissioners. All echo the same theme that city services from lighting to police protection are in disarray. As Rev. Warfield claims, Detroit is “beyond a crossroads.”

Local corporate media uncritically picks up the theme, finding Detroiters who will speak in support of the manager, or diminish those who oppose his appointment. Most recently Rochelle Riley, of the Detroit Free Press, talked about citywide district elections and quoted extensively from Bishop Edgar Vann, pastor of Second Ebenezer Church. Vann says: “The anti-EFM people are going to be running their own slate of candidates,” he said. “So with all the attention media are giving them, all you have to do is get a bullhorn and stand on a box. You don’t want (the ballot) full of bottom-feeders and somebody who’s a block club president who maybe can’t even read and write.”

Such forcefully crude sentiments are critical to Snyder’s efforts to lull people into acceptance of the EFM. He is hoping to link discontent with services to the idea that the EFM will improve life in the city. He is hoping we will forget only 5 percent of the city voted for him and 82 percent voted against an EFM.

Nowhere in the state has an EFM improved city services or made the streets safe. Flint, enduring an emergency manager for years, now has the highest murder rate in the nation. Benton Harbor, stripped of public assets by Joe Harris, its former EFM, ranks among the top Michigan cities in violent crimes. Pontiac has outsourced vital police and fire protection. Highland Park gave up streetlights all together. Flint is considering charging people for the water used to put out fires. The idea that by cutting budgets, public services will improve flies in the face of all logic and common sense. Spending less on city services will not get us more, no matter how many police cars are donated to the city.

This notion of spending less to get more comes from the right-wing Republican philosophy that all public services would be “better” if they were run by private enterprises. Schools, police, fire, blight reduction, prisons, road maintenance and sanitation services are all thought to be better run though the magic of the market place.

Our experience across the state now proves otherwise. Privatized public responsibilities lead to poor services. Public goods are sacrificed for private profits. We have watched schools close as class sizes increase, seen fire trucks replaced with pick up trucks, and found deals made behind closed doors to benefit those entrusted with unlimited authority.

There is another philosophic tradition in our country we can draw upon. This second week of Occupation in Detroit coincides with the 46th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Time to Break the Silence” speech delivered April 4, 1967 at Riverside Church in New York. In this speech, Dr. King not only spoke against the war in Vietnam, but called for a radical revolution in values against the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism. He called upon all of us to find the ways toward the creation of beloved community as the only alternative to the violence that threatens all of us.

His call, to deepen our ties to one another, to care more deeply and consciously for the most vulnerable among us, to assume responsibilities for developing a future based on the protection of people rather than the pursuit of things, marks the real crossroads we face today.

Contact Shea Howell at howell@oakland.edu.

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