Thinking for Ourselves: Who Benefits?


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By Shea Howell

October 16, 2016

shea25As Election Day approaches Detroiters are being flooded with high priced, deceptive appeals for our vote.  Expensive TV and radio commercials, slick flyers, and glossy mailers are all urging us to vote against the one proposal that could actually make a difference in how development happens in our city.  Proposition A holds the real promise of equitable, thoughtful, and neighborhood based development.  It is this possibility that is driving the business community and its friends in the Mayor’s office to near panic.

Developers, the Mayor and their shadow surrogates have pulled every trick they could think of to stop this proposal. They tried to bury it in committees. They tried to prevent an open City Council vote. They tried to block the petitions to have this put before the public. Then they introduced a competing watered down version of the bill to confuse voters. Now they have launched an expensive campaign to tell us “A is Awful.” Yes awful for the business interest that have been making millions off Detroiters, pulling in lucrative tax breaks for themselves, and getting cheap land, without giving anything back to the community.

If the stakes were not so serious, the effort to attack Proposal A would border on the comic. A newly formed “dark money” group calling itself Detroit Jobs First, held a press conference at the site of the new Red Wings/Ilitch stadium to launch its slogan Proposal A is awful.  Awful for whom seems a good question.

Just days after the launch of the attack on A, news accounts surfaced that the Red Wings/Ilitch gang are facing $500,000 in fines because they have not been able to uphold their promise of hiring 51% of Detroiters for construction jobs.  This deal, usually touted by the Mayor as an example of his successful negotiating skills, is exactly why we need a strong community benefits agreement.

Billionaire Mike Ilitch received more than $250 million in tax-backed bonds to build this stadium. He has received breaks in land acquisition around the stadium and displaced hundreds of local residents, many of them elders who had lived in the Cass Corridor for years. In exchange, he promised 51% of the jobs would go to Detroiters.  Thus far we are at 40%. Not only is the percentage less than what he promised, the actual number of people involved is minimal. Currently, we are talking about work for 300 people. Ilitch has the money, the land, the tax breaks and will soon have the stadium. Forever.

Community groups, progressive labor leaders, and Council President Brenda Jones have fought for Proposal A for years.  They had done this openly, publicly and on the record. They have argued Proposal A would require developers of projects costing $15 million or more or with more than $300,000 in public subsidies to enter into legally enforceable agreements with communities most affected by the development.

Those against A, and backing B are hiding in the shadows. Maybe they are embarrassed by the failure of the Ilitch deal. Maybe they are embarrassed by the Marathon Petroleum deal.  In 2014 Marathon got a $175 million tax break, expanded it refinery to further pollute our air and Detroit got 15 jobs.

For far too long developers have said, support us and we will give you jobs.  Repeating the lie on glossy paper does not make it true.

Detroiters have long experience with where the interests of developers really are. It’s time to put an end to the exploitation of our people, our resources, and our city by those who promise jobs, pocket tax money and don’t have the courage to publicly stand for their convictions. Enough is enough.  Spread the word to vote Yes on A and No on Business Backed B.

Thinking for Ourselves: On Riot and Resistance

By Shea Howell

October 2, 2016

shea25A delegation of activists from Puerto Rico visited Detroit last week. They were part of a learning exchange designed to share lessons from “Detroit civil society in dealing with financial distress, debt restructuring, and financial oversight.” My section of the program focused on “how the dominant media narrative often dictates policies of stricter and stricter fiscal austerity.” Marina Guzman and Michelle Martinez joined me in a discussion exploring the implications of the dominant narratives, especially those that blamed residents or local officials rather than those exploring the root causes of the financial crisis. We also talked about how race and ethnicity played into these media narratives.

I arrived a little early for the session and heard the end of a dominant narrative being presented by two representatives of the Duggan Administration.  One explained to the group that “Kevyn Orr was the smartest man he had ever worked with.” The other said that there was no resistance to downtown development. The lack of riots in the street over the eviction of people from the Albert was her example.

I was very glad for the opportunity to have heard these two folks talk.  I rarely get such a distilled version of the assumptions woven into the corporate view of what a great thing the Detroit Bankruptcy process was.  I came away thinking about how important it is we not let the corporate narrative define what constitutes “resistance.”

As far as both speakers were concerned, resistance was equated with rioting. From their point of view, unless people were overturning police cars, there was no resistance. Kevyn Orr, and Mayor Duggan have echoed similar feelings, noting they were successful because there was no riot.

It is widely understood that America rarely notices its problems unless it is forced to confront them, frequently by riots or rebellions. In 1992, had Los Angeles not erupted after Rodney King, it is unlikely that politicians would have paid any attention to our cities.  More recently, it was not until police attacked protesters on a bridge that Occupy received media attention. For Ferguson it was attacking police cars that attracted the cameras.  The dominant power structure loves to see people in the streets move toward destruction of property, because it knows how to respond.  America is very good at killing people who threaten property.

That is why it is important for us to understand that resistance to power is not the same thing as a riot. Resistance is the assertion of “our humanity in the face of immoral policies of viscous forces bent on the destruction of all that we cherish in the pursuit of profit and power,” as Grace Lee Boggs said in an article in 2013. She said,  “We will not be silent as schools are closed, and people go hungry and lose their homes. We will not be silent as our land is taken for private gain and used as a dumping ground for the waste of the petroleum industry. We will not be silent when we are told we must kill other people to protect our way of life. We will not be silent when we are told there are no alternatives.  Enough is enough! This is our city, our state and our country. We can and will create a new world-beloved communities that heal ourselves and our earth.”

Resistance is standing in front of the Homrich trucks to prevent water shutoffs. It is painting “Free the Water” for all to see. It is artists, activists, children, parents, lovers, and friends acting to build ways of living that value life. The power of imagination, of creativity, and of courage cannot be so easily controlled or silenced. These are the sources of transforming our future and ourselves.