Week thirty eight of the Occupation
By Shea Howell
Special to the Michigan Citizen
Whose city? Our city! Whose streets? Our streets! Whose park? Our park! Whose art? Our art! Whose water? Our water!
These are the chants punctuating the air outside of the federal court house in Detroit as Judge Steven Rhodes moves the slow process of bankruptcy forward. Sung in a call-and-response fashion, they cut to the heart of the issues facing us.
The bankruptcy is fraught with complications. There are constitutional questions raised by the relationship between state and federal legal codes. There are financial questions raised by deals done during the most flagrant violations of law and ethics on Wall Street. There are questions of authority and intent. There are human costs, experienced in job loss, services cut and futures cast into chaos.
The Columbia Journalism Review reported local journalists were schooled in Chapter 9 bankruptcy issues. The Detroit News brought in an expert to brief reporters. Matt Helms of the Free Press engaged in an in-depth study of other communities that experienced bankruptcy and invited a local expert to meet with the Free Press staff as well. There are COPS, SWAPS and DIP’s that are supposed to make sense, or be too complicated to explain, depending on the needs of the user of these terms. And there are secrets, conflicts of interest, back-room deals and contested facts.
In all of this, mainstream media continues to foster confusion by continuing the fiction that Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr and his law firm, Jones Day, are «the city.» Plainly they have no legitimacy with the people. Their decisions and plans represent the interests of banks, corporations and right wing ideologues who control state politics.
So it is important to remember the essential questions: Whose city? Whose streets? Ultimately, this process is not about finances. It is about power. It is about competing visions for our future. Will we become a whiter, wealthier playground, masquerading as a city? Or will we continue down the path begun more than four decades ago of
re-imagining a self reliant, vibrant, productive city where people produce what they need, conscious of their responsibilities to one another and the earth.
This vision of a city, reinvented from the ashes of the dying industrial age, has brought people from around the globe to learn from Detroit. They come to witness urban farming, cooperative development, new ways to educate children, to develop safe neighborhoods, and to provide for local needs. It is this vision that holds the promise of a future that is life affirming. This vision is the only alternative.
The old ideas of cities shaped by mass production and mass consumption are no longer sustainable. Every effort to prop them up has failed, creating more problems in the attempt. We are at the breaking point of what the earth can sustain. Big oil, big banks, big agriculture, big drugs, big money and big distances for small, cheap items have given us a culture that is empty of meaning and full of greed. It is dying under its own waste.
Those who are seeking another way recognize many in Detroit have been developing very different ways of living, with very different values. It is this knowledge that fuels the opposition to emergency management, orchestrated bankruptcy, back-door deals, land grabs and corporate subsidies.
It is this knowledge that grounds our understanding that the city of Detroit did not seek bankruptcy, nor are its people bankrupt. One man, given authority by a governor who did not carry the votes of the people of this city, whose position on emergency managers has been rejected by the people of the state, pushed for bankruptcy. This is the same governor who has enacted policies that penalize children and increase the misery of the most vulnerable. He represents those forces that believe taking formal authority will enable them to steal our wealth and destroy our political power.
Whose city? Is the critical question. Our city, the only answer.