Last week marked the fifth anniversary of Detroit being forced into bankruptcy, or what I refer to as the “bank rupture” that came in the wake of Governor Rick Snyder’s appointment of a bankruptcy expert, Kevyn Orr, to “oversee” Detroit’s finances so Snyder could then tell us he did everything he could to avoid Detroit’s bankruptcy.
But more important than the actual date of the bankruptcy is what has followed. The legacy of Detroit’s bankruptcy includes some devastation, but it also includes the growth of inspirational and noteworthy resistance, which actually began a year before the bankruptcy.
The issue of whether Snyder, or anyone, should have the right to wholly usurp elected leaders by appointing “managers” should have been decided in 2012 when Michigan voters trashed the Emergency Manager Law. But Republicans in Lansing apparently thought the whole democracy thing was overrated and passed a “new” Emergency Manager Law, which Snyder signed, complete with an Orwellian speech about bowing to the will of voters by enacting a law voters had roundly rejected.
Meanwhile, City of Detroit workers who had been promised their pensions had the promise broken, and they are still suffering. Their stories are as wrenching as the tens of thousands who have had water service shutoff, a move the city can also thank Orr for.
Soon though, the Detroit Active and Retired Employees Association formed and mounted protest against the pension cuts, including at court hearings, and attorney Alice Jennings was a stalwart voice in court defending the right to water for residents whose bills had become too high to pay.
The People’s Water Board also responded with Water Affordability Plan for income-based water bills. Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management created a “Peoples Plan of Adjustment” questioning many of the assumptions and proposed outcomes of Kevyn Orr’s “Plan of Adjustment.” One of the main points brought out by the grassroots activists was the role of banks in risky financial deals that hurt Detroiters and others across the nation – hence my labeling the process a bank rupture.
Perhaps one of the more innovative forms of resistance came in the form of the Detroit Narrative Agency (DNA) formed to help Detroiters tell their own story and counter the basically racist “blank slate” narrative. DNA folks insisted Detroit’s majority African American population was and is still here, history and all.
The People’s Water Board Coalition, Detroit People’s Platform, We the People of Detroit and the Detroit Independent Freedom School Movement are just some of the other groups that have stepped up to fight for economic and social justice in the wake of bankruptcy. Lately, The Coalition to End Unconstitutional Tax Foreclosure has worked to help tens of thousands of families forced into foreclose by Detroit property assessments higher than allowed by the Michigan Constitution.
While it’s important to look back in-depth on the causes of Detroit’s bankruptcy, it’s equally crucial to lift up Detroiters fighting for justice and equity. Detroit’s financial crisis didn’t happen overnight, and many of us are still here working to make things wholly right for the future.