By Celene Barrera
(image by Occupy.com) DMCA
Detroit, once known as a center for American commerce and industry, has now become a testing laboratory for oligarchical power. Last July, when city officials filed for bankruptcy, it sealed the fate of democratic city rule and signed it over to corporate bigwigs who function as landlords and state resource dictators. How did we get here? Why does it matter? More importantly: Why should you be worried?
Leading by Example: A Corporate Power Divide & Conquer
Communities are falling apart in Michigan. When Michigan voters rejected a community manager law in 2012, lawmakers ignored the mandate and passed a new version of it in a lame duck session. These emergency managers--appointed by the state--have the ability to modify union contracts and sell city assets, effectively disenfranchising public employees and their ability to collectively bargain.
According to a NAACP lawsuit, the managers are being disproportionately appointed in cities that have large African-American communities. The lawsuit revealed that under the new emergency manager law, close to half of Michigan's 1.4 million African-Americans would be under the control of the managers, as compared to 1% of white residents.
That's what happens in an oligarchy: The people speak to reject unfair laws, and they are silenced by a small minority with immense power. Democracy lies in ruins. State powers, influenced by big money, divide communities by race and income, effectively silencing our collective voice.
Detroit residents no longer have control of or access to basic living resources, and they haven't for a long time. Instead, corporate-financial oligarchy rules. Take, for example, Quicken Loans Corporation, headquartered in Detroit. CEO Dan Gilbert has led the charge to "fix the Detroit blight"--but what has that meant for the residents who can't even get water, or moved into new rentals to find out they're responsible for delinquent bills?
What does it mean when for years now, the streetlights in Detroit still haven't been fixed, that when candidates run for office there, they need to promise to fix simple utilities and get resources available to their constituents? What does it mean when instead, city managers would rather sell art to try and pay off loans, as when Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr attempted to sell off the Detroit Art Institute?
This is what the problem is in Detroit: it is a manifestation of everything that happens when corporate power abuse is allowed to reign free. Cities lay in financial ruin, and state officials appoint commissions, boards, and committees to make decisions that really should be in the hands of the residents themselves.
The story of Detroit is one of greed, built on money and dirty politics. If they can take away the rights of voters in Detroit, they can do the same thing in your city, too.
Extensions of Power and what the People must do to Act
U.S Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes issued a ruling to allow Detroit to enter into Chapter 9 bankruptcy. Yet the city will not obtain complete autonomy for at least a decade, the Detroit Free Press reported. The state legislature and governor approved financial review commissions--controlled by state appointments--that will oversee all fiscal decisions made by the city, in addition to any decisions made by city pension boards. The balance of power continues to be disrupted, and it is only the beginning.
It is critical that now more than ever, that people begin to act. These decisions don't just affect the world of politics, but our everyday lives. Corporate power abuse is increasingly becoming problematic because it strips away our rights as democratic citizens to hold government officials accountable for their actions. Our voice should be louder than the big checks that corporations and special interest groups give to lawmakers. We are rushing headlong toward oligarchy, and it must be stopped.
That is why it is important to have a movement built on dismantling the structure that corporate power represents, in addition to upholding a commitment to anti-oppression within our communities and ourselves. It is imperative that we organize through coalition building and grassroots efforts to overturn the deep social and economic injustices we have experienced before and since the Supreme Court affirmed that corporations are people in the Citizens United ruling.
Enough is enough