By Abayomi Azikiwe, Pan-African Newswire
This article appeared in the Michigan Citizen
A standing-room-only audience at the Central United Methodist Church came out March 2 after a snow storm to participate in an emergency town hall meeting designed to respond to Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr’s Plan of Adjustment.
The event was planned by a coalition of organizations fighting the state’s Emergency Manager Law and Detroit’s EM-led bankruptcy. The organizations involved included the Moratorium NOW! Coalition, Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management (D-REM), Michigan National Action Network (NAN), the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute and the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization (MWRO).
The crowd was made up of some retired municipal employees who had rendered decades of public service to city government. Under the state-imposed EM Kevyn Orr’s plan, retirees will be subjected to cuts that are tantamount to 70 percent of their overall income and benefits package.
Cheryl LaBash, a retired city employee and a member of the Stop the Theft of Our Pensions Committee (STOPC), provided a power-point summary of Orr’s 400-page plan. She noted the onus of the cuts will be on the retirees and workers of Detroit.
“They intend to pay the banks and bondholders most of what they claim is owed to them. The major revenue-generating departments and other services are to be outsourced and privatized,” LaBash reported.
She noted that within the report, although there is some acknowledgement of the industrial restructuring of auto and steel beginning in the 1970s contributing to the economic downturn in the city, there was no mention of the foreclosure and eviction crisis that destroyed large sections of the municipality including neighborhoods, small businesses, community organizations, schools and consequently property taxes. There were tens of thousands of foreclosures in the city beginning in 2007 extending to the present.
These foreclosures were the direct result of the predatory lending of the banks and the failure of state and local government to impose a moratorium on evictions by these financial institutions and their agents, organizers say. Hundreds of millions of dollars of federal funds and settlement monies from fines paid by banks have been funneled into the state of Michigan but very little has reached Detroit and other distressed cities to support the stabilization and reconstruction of working class communities.
A blight removal authority is in effect to not repair and rebuild neighborhoods, but to bulldoze them, if the city uses the Detroit Future City Plan as its blueprint. There is also no mention within Orr’s document of adjustment that calls for the creation of jobs, living assistance, healthcare and educational opportunities for the 700,000 residents of the beleaguered city.
Monica Lewis Patrick, a community organizer and former aide to former Councilwoman JoAnn Watson, reflected on the victories won by the people of Detroit in recent years related to the defeat of mayoral control of the public schools and the successful referendum to repeal the initial emergency management legislation. The state’s Republican-led legislature and Republican Gov. Rick Snyder passed Public Act 436, the Emergency Manager Law, after the preceding law Public Act 4 was repealed by voters a month earlier. The new law disallows a public referendum on its existence.
A program of action adopted
Several proposals were put forward by the town hall meeting organizers. On April 1, there will be a hearing for objectors to the Orr plan and forms were distributed for stakeholders to formally oppose the program of austerity before presiding Federal Judge Steven Rhodes.
The Moratorium NOW! Coalition called for a mass demonstration in front of the courthouse encompassing workers, retirees and community residents demanding that the massive cuts in pensions, healthcare benefits as well as the wholesale privatization and disposal of public assets including the water department, the Detroit Institute of Arts, public lighting and Belle Isle be either halted or reversed.
Watson, who held out against emergency management and privatization, addressed the crowd saying “the plan to take over Detroit has been in the making for years.”
She called upon the people to resist Orr’s plan. She said the federal government should be challenged to intervene on behalf of the people of the city.
United States Congressman John Conyers of the 13th District also spoke to the audience saying he would bring the plight of Detroiters directly to the Congress and the White House. “We must keep up the pressure,” he told those gathered.
The president of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) representing the city’s bus drivers, Fred Westbrook, called for a demonstration in Washington. “Detroit is a test case. If they can carry this out here, it will spread across the country.”
Atty. Jerome Goldberg, a lawyer in the bankruptcy proceedings representing retiree David Sole, an organizer in STOPC, said developments in the next few weeks will be critical. Workers, retirees and the community must come out in force to stop the banks and the bondholders in their plans to implement this program on the people of Detroit.
Later, David Sole told the audience “recognition of labor unions was not won within the courts. It was the direct action of workers which won the gains of the labor movement. The same is true for civil rights and the end to the Vietnam War. These advances were largely won in the streets and we must learn from history.”
A proposal to organize a “Youth March for Jobs” on April 4, the 46th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was advanced by Tom Michalak of Fight Imperialism Stand Together (FIST) organization. Michalak said “under this system there is no hope for youth we have to begin to organize and fight for jobs and education.”
Atty. Alice Jennings proposed May Day be utilized to call for a “no work, no school and no shopping day.” Jennings who works with the Detroit Resisting Emergency Management (D-REM) noted that such actions would draw the attention of people around the country.
People who attended the Town Hall signed up for the various committees to continue working to defeat Orr’s plan. Organizers emphasized the need to organize buses and mobilize people.
The meeting illustrated the rising anger in the city of Detroit over the attacks being waged by the system of emergency management at the behest of the banks, say participants who also believe citizens are only now beginning to understand the impact of an EM-led bankruptcy
Abayomi Azikiwe is editor of the Pan-African Newswire. He can be reached at panafnewswire at gmail.com.