The governor of Michigan has imposed upon the citizens of Detroit what amounts to be one man with the power to dictate their very future and quality of life in this city. Mr. Governor, you did it. And now you must own it.
That man is Mr. Kevyn Orr and he has credentials that any mother or father would be most proud to claim for their own. It is not the man, it is the plan and the process by which he has arrived in town. Lest we forget, 2.3 million Michiganders, by a margin of 52 percent, voted to repeal Public Act 4, the law authorizing appointment of an emergency manager with sweeping powers over the city.
Yet, the governor and certain members of the Legislature went against the choice of the people, changing the law to suit their own purposes and to enshrine a repeal-proof law in which the people would have no say. But the people will always have their say.
For those who say that democracy and the right to vote is not a factor in this equation, you are totally wrong. Read your Constitution. Remember how we got here in the first place. Many folks stayed home and did not vote around the state. Many voted against their own interests, leading to policies which are choking the quality of life out of their communities today.
Right to vote
One cannot reduce the value of the right to vote today and then expect to motivate the people on the value of their vote tomorrow. Orr knows that voting matters because he worked with the Obama campaign during the last election on the issue of voter protection. How can he now ignore the fact that the city of Detroit, under his tenure, may very well become the nation’s “Olympics” of voter suppression?
City services such as public lighting, police, fire, water, education and economic access are all vital to our community. They are obtained and provided in many cases by the public policies of those we elect to office. Our right to elect public officials to represent our community should not be traded on the bargaining table of economic distress. For many, this is a new poll tax. One can simply make the argument that, based upon your inability to pay your bills, you should, in fact, lose your right to engage in the electoral privileges of our nation.
Where will this slippery slope end? Will some Legislature introduce a bill that suggests that since some municipality is under financial distress they should no longer be able to participate in national elections? Are we headed down the road to suggest that, due to economic distress, you are not entitled to educational benefits, national healthcare or the guarantees of the Constitution of the United States?
Emergency managers perform three particular functions: cut, slash and sell. Our city cannot cut its way into the future or slash its way into stability or wind up selling every asset that it has to stimulate growth in the economy. What in Detroit will you sell to the highest bidder? Will the time for the emergency manager be extended for 18 months at a time because the governor does not like the plan of the City Council when submitted, thus eliminating the emergency manager?
Orr represents Wells Fargo, one of the nation’s largest banks engaged in foreclosures in the United States. At least 7,800 foreclosures are occurring right now on Wayne County’s new list. Orr represents the Amway Corporation, in which Richard DeVos, a founder, was a lead voice in implementing the right to work effort which is now law in Michigan.
Coming from the Jones Day law firm, with at least 828 partners and 2,400 attorneys throughout the United States, Europe and Asia, they are among the world’s most prominent firms.
Yet, on the issue of diversity in California, their firm was given an “F” by the Greenlining Institute for having one black partner in the state. In their office in Washington, D.C., a city with a majority of African-American residents, where 239 attorneys practice, they have only four African-American partners and two African-American associates. In Chicago, with a major African-American population, out of 179 attorneys, they have one black partner and one black associate.
It is important to remember when coming to a city like Detroit with a majority African-American population, diversity does matter and input from the community is essential.
As we travel down this road of emergency manager, we must remember that the Chrysler Corporation, which Orr helped to restructure, had two and a half financial bailouts going back to Lee Iaccoca and President Jimmy Carter.
The second began with President George W. Bush on his way out and that was enhanced by President Barack Obama during his first term in office, providing billions of dollars in aid to the corporation.
No, we do not regret or resent the auto companies for any loans or aid they received. We support the U.S. auto industry, just as they were instrumental in supporting our nation during a time of war when Detroit was known as the arsenal of democracy.
Orr also was a key factor in the restructuring of the banking industry, leading to $1.7 trillion in bailout money supposedly to be invested in financially distressed communities — and which has not yet found its way into cities like Detroit.
If Detroit is truly “the Olympics of restructuring,” according to Orr, then where is the bailout money for this city?
Anyone who attempts to restructure Detroit must also engage in some restructuring of the banks, the job providers, the Legislature and the Wall Street bond investors.
Where is the new revenue? Where are the new jobs? Eighteen months is not long enough to erase a 50- to 100-year problem.
The issues that confront us must not result in the creation of two Detroits – one for those who have and another for those who have not.
Our security lies in citizens being prioritized, their voices being heard and their quality of life being made the number one issue budget-wise.
Quality of life
Everyone must be at the table. Everyone – particularly the citizens of Detroit who have never left this city – must be included. The people have a right to protest, declare unfair and challenge this imposed dictatorship on their city.
Remembering the words of Marvin Gaye, many Detroiters have simply caught the Inner City Blues, “which makes you wanna holler and throw up both of your hands.”
Let us be clear: The individual whose hands are directly tied to the future of our city is Gov. Rick Snyder. Orr may be out front but, behind the scenes calling the tune, is our dear friend “The Nerd” – Gov. Snyder.
*The Rev. Wendell Anthony is pastor of Fellowship Chapel and is serving his 10th term as president of the Detroit Branch of the NAACP.