When in the course …
“An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
It is the fourth of July and this nation marks its birth as a nation. African Americans — with few exceptions — were never included in that framework of freedom. The civil rights struggles of 50 years ago sought to right that centuries-old wrong and include Black Americans in the freedoms enjoyed by other Americans, supposedly inalienable for all humans: the right to vote, move freely, go wherever your money could take you free of harm, discrimination or death.
Here in Michigan it is time to revisit those inalienable rights and, when they disappear, the remedies citizens must consider taking. Citizens in Detroit, Highland Park, Benton Harbor, Muskegon Heights and Flint are condemned to life under the tyrannical rule of emergency managers (EMs). All have legitimate questions about the loss of their right to vote, their inability to select their own representatives — let alone hold public decision makers responsible — the wholesale giveaway of public assets and resources and the stark reduction in the quality of life.
The largest, most grievous silencing of the citizenry has occurred around Public Act 4 petitions. Over 226,000 voters of this state signed petitions to place the question of PA4 — the EM law — on the ballot to let voters decide whether this is how a democratic people will handle financial crises. Republicans in the courts, the governor’s chair and the legislature have successfully, willfully and illegally kept the question off the ballot. So what if a quarter of a million taxpayers signed the petitions? They probably all vote Democrat anyway.
The total contempt for citizens is revealed in so many ways. Officials walk out of meetings refusing to hear demands that the right to vote be upheld. Dave Bing, Rick Snyder and Roy Roberts have all walked out of recent meetings rather than listen to citizens demand their democratic rights or question why PA4 will not go on the ballot. Lawmakers have passed a bill that awaits the governor’s signature that severely restricts access to the ballot while adding burdens to nonprofits who have traditionally registered voters.
Just as the national government used the scare of 9/11 to become intrusive, more militarized and undemocratic, so the state Republicans — with the complicity of the Michigan Democratic Party — have used fiscal crisis, partly of their own creation, to end democratic processes in Black and Democratic cities and school districts across the state.
Michigan announced it has the largest rainy day fund in the last 10 years. That fund accumulated at the expense of the cities with the cuts in revenue sharing. Citizens are blocked from information about their government as EMs ignore their responsibility under the Freedom of Information Act. They’re told that under PA4 the EMs are exempt from lawsuits and accountability on any level.
And accountable they should be. In Benton Harbor, EM Joe Harris forgot to put a millage question on the ballot; forgot to pay a court-ordered debt; farms out contracts to non-residents continuing the outflow of dollars; and has yet to balance the budget. In Detroit schools, federal lawsuits loom as the EM disobeys federal law regarding the use of Title I monies, fails to provide bilingual education and has privatized parent “involvement.” Most tragic, creating chaos in the schools with declining educational environment.
Now the EM of DPS wants to control the library in violation of state law and finds assistance from a chair person who rules that anyone who raises a point of order is out of order and won’t recognize the president of the board of education who sits on the commission by law.
What better time to consider which course of events to take. One simple non-violent measure would be for citizens in these cities to take the amount of their property tax bill to be delivered in August and put that amount in a special bank account. The money can sit in that account for two years. Consider it a personal tea party, a personal declaration of independence. Cut off the money.