Detroiters organize in class war

From the new May-June 2013 issue of News & Letters:

Detroiters organize

Detroit–In the very real class war being waged between capitalism and Detroit residents, a small protest demonstration is the tip of the iceberg of residents’ discontent. Though they have been downplayed by the conservative Detroit News and local “opinion leaders,” the protests are surrounded by heavy security. The leaders thus reveal their fear of grassroots opposition to the loss of local control in Detroit.

The entire state of Michigan voted against the harsh emergency manager law, Public Act 436, last November only to have the lame-duck state legislature vote it right back in before year’s end. On the day, March 28, that Act 436 took effect, Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager fired the interim superintendent of schools. The mainstream media raved about businessman Dan Gilbert’s plans to buy up and renovate most of downtown Detroit.

Meanwhile, neighborhoods languish under mounting piles of trash, abandoned houses, stores, factories and vehicles. City services are reduced by mandatory budget cut “furloughs.” The challenge for Detroit residents is: can we stand up and organize ourselves for quality living and working conditions, some of which includes wresting support and services from our unelected new leaders? Can we articulate and realize a future Detroit developed for human needs?

Despite intermittent snow and cold winds, around 200 people rallied on March 23. Participants agreed that Emergency Financial Manger Kevyn Orr, who had negotiated Chrysler’s bankruptcy in 2008, was not here to save the city but to navigate it through bankruptcy, destroying all labor contracts and “legacy” costs. This would end middle-class city government jobs and a decent retirement for former employees. Worse, it would lay the groundwork for new opportunities for capital accumulation and enrichment on the ruins of the city.

Speakers vowed to organize Detroiters to resist the continued abandonment and cheapening of residential and commercial property within city limits, and to resist the continued undermining of Detroit Public Schools by its own emergency managers and by the increasing number of charter schools in the city. (One item of good news: Cesar Chavez charter High School has just become unionized!)

Communities across the 139 square mile city continue to organize for a better future, in new or revitalized block clubs, and community associations and gardens. In parks and playgrounds that the city doesn’t maintain, residents and volunteers are attempting to fill the gaps. Once the corporations revive downtown, they will look to take over the neighborhoods, forcing residents to leave. But most Detroiters want to stay and rebuild Detroit on our terms.

–Susan Van Gelder

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