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Life Arts    H2'ed 6/29/14

Detroit's Emergency Manager Shuts Off Water for Thousands of Homes; Is Your City Next?

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JB: Okay. Go for it!

TS: How hard it is to organize in the face of such a total assault on traditional liberal, constitutional norms. The role of foundation money is a real sore point" I could go on, but you get the picture. Check out Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management's Alternative Peoples Plan for Sustainability:"The restructuring and rebirth of Detroit will not be delivered by a state-imposed emergency manager, nor through Chapter 9 bankruptcy proceedings, foundation contributions, closed door deals, or other devious and misleading corporate schemes. Detroit's rebirth will be the result of the people's unrelenting demand for democratic self-governance, equal access to and management of the natural and economic resources of the city."

And in conclusion: "The Governor/EM's plan of adjustment is aimed at creating a whiter, wealthier city. We propose a plan that will put us on a sustainable path to enriched quality of life. Our plan calls for just relationships based on the vision of People, and for developing social and political infrastructure that will create a sustainable future. Our plan is a clear strategy for survival that will enable our city to thrive. The schemes of the governor/emergency manager and backroom bankruptcy deals reflect the unjust, racist and failed regional power dynamic that created these problems in the first place. In response, we are claiming our power to determine our own future, and transforming our relationships and our community."

JB: Hold on a sec. What do you mean when you refer to "the role of foundation money"?

TS: Opened a can of worms there, didn't I?

JB: Probably, but I'd like to know more.

TS: Long story short, left/liberal funders constrain imagination, resistance, movement, power and vision, limiting the possibilities of working class and People of Color organizing. Meanwhile Koch/ALEC and gazillions of neoliberal/libertarian funders build movements and control the ideological battlefield. An old and sordid story. In Detroit, several major foundations are pouring money into emergency management, privatization, education "deform" and what their pied piper, Rip Rapson of the Kresge Foundation, calls "a larger suite" of programs to complement emergency management, a corporate neoliberal vision of abandonment and land grabbing originally labeled "Detroit Works," now rebranded as "Detroit Future City." "Alignment" with their program is a litmus test for funding. A very hard thing to fight in a community desperate for money! And an incredibly powerful mechanism of divide-and-conquer politics, both seducing folks who in good faith want to help, but in many cases lack a detailed understanding of the political dynamics, and also incentivizing some more experienced folks to sit down, shut up and go along with things they would otherwise oppose, if they want to see a check.

JB: You live this every day. How exactly do the foundations become the Bad Guys? Are their intentions impure or just the application and their understanding of the problem?

TS: They become the bad guys by arrogantly assuming that their money and power can be imposed on the people of this community, together with undemocratic, unconstitutional and hostile political schemes that all boil down to depriving Detroiters of our freedom, our agency, our assets, our city and our power to govern ourselves. And then by funding unprincipled opportunists who exploit and expropriate Detroit's assets.

JB: How do you get out from under a non-elected, appointed Emergency Manager? It's hard to maneuver with that in place. Or is that not the place to start?

TS: That's a great question, and a perfect place to start. One of our late, great leaders here, General Baker of the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement (DRUM) and many, many battles for workers and African-Americans and others' human dignity, just passed last month. Gen said it best in one of his last talks in December 2013: "Look, it's real simple: We're in a class war." Note that this is the 50th anniversary of Mississippi Freedom Summer. People don't win in a class war by appealing to the bosses' courts, constitutions or foundation grants. The vast inequality of resources is a given, but it's not a call for surrender. As Gen said in that same talk, "You have to make them play their cards so that even when they win, they lose."

Which brings us back to practical steps, like complaining to the UN that mass water shutoffs in Detroit violate fundamental human rights, and expose the true face of this great new 'emergency management' that Snyder's white Republican power structure claims is gonna "save" Detroit. And it brings us back to your nail-on-the-head observation that this show will be moving on from Detroit to your town sooner rather than later. I expect we may be spending the rest of our lives trying to figure out what Gen's comment - about making them play so even when they win they lose - means in this context. It's a great school for turning theory into practice, where there are so many issues, the water, the schools, the pensions, security, fire protection and on and on, practically everything about local community, really. It's not a battle we chose, it's one we simply have to fight. After all, the governor and his emergency management team have come here and taken over our whole local government.

JB: How's it going in the publicity department? It seems like this is a pretty egregious action, if you can get the word out about it.

TS: The national media reaction to the UN human rights complaint, and the High Commissioner's press release affirming that cutting off water to people who lack the ability to pay violates their human rights, has been phenomenal. There's growing awareness that the slick PR campaign being waged by Snyder and his stooges is covering up a really unjust and sordid reality, when they are paying these contractors to shut thousands of people a week off our water system, just to create some brief, transitory advantage in the negotiations over DWSD's future. People were very upset about pension and health care cuts, about turning our beautiful Belle Isle Park over to the state ostensibly to upgrade its facilities, and then seeing them transform it into a big race track for the Detroit Grand Prix, and giving hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate welfare and valuable downtown real estate to the owners of the Red Wings for a new taxpayer-funded hockey arena, all in a city that's supposedly too broke to provide the most basic essential services. But these mass water shut-offs really bring it home. On the other hand, the local corporate media are still running the most ludicrous, virtually content-free pieces. A recent example is a conservative columnist's puff piece profile of Kevyn Orr.

One of his biggest and most mindless cheerleaders is quoted there: "Sandy Baruah, CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, says, "You can't have a meaningful conversation about Detroit without also talking about, or with, Kevyn Orr."

Hello? That's exactly the problem! Why should anybody who lives here be content that you can't even have a meaningful conversation about our city without talking with one man, appointed by a governor whom nobody here voted for? A guy whose law firm represents major city creditors, Wall Street banks, and he turns around and gives them a $19 million contract to run the city's restructuring and bankruptcy, so now they're running around the world marketing their services to governments facing deficits as the A team of municipal bankruptcy experts. How can they square that with the First Amendment protection of rights of free association and to petition government, among others?

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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