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Coming to a City Near You: Oligarchy, Detroit Style

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By Celene Barrera

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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

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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.

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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?

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The Move to Amend Coalition is a grassroots campaign to amend the Constitution to state that artificial entities such as corporations, unions, and non-profits do not have inherent rights under the Constitution, and that money is not free speech so (more...)

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Coming to a City Near You: Oligarchy, Detroit Style