This is how to destroy a city.
In Detroit, it’s hard to keep up these days with all the flurry of activity generated by Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr as he scurries about figuring out how to make the numbers right so that the creditors get paid and all those billions of dollars in debt that is apparently about to blow our house down is scrubbed away with much efficiency so that Detroit may be allowed to live yet another day.
That’s the story we’re being sold, anyway. The full truth, as always, is a bit more complex. And I will admit up front that I don’t pretend to understand all the ins and outs of unraveling the consequences of years upon years of mismanagement that have plagued this city (that much is true). I have never argued that Detroit wasn’t facing a crisis, nor was anybody else with any sense. As I’ve said numerous times before, we who live here already know how bad it is, and most of us, if we’re honest, know how it got this way. White flight and racism played a large part in the decline of one of America’s greatest cities, no doubt about it. But Detroiters ourselves have had a hand in it too.
That being said, you don’t put out a fire with gasoline. And when you steal the people’s right to vote as part of a supposed remedy ‘for their own good’, what you’re really doing is enforcing a very dangerous view among the residents (who already have very little to lose) that they now have little to no stake in their own community anymore. When our elected leaders can be swept aside by an appointed all-powerful dictator, then what reason do we have to feel like our city belongs to us anymore?
In November, Detroiters will be voting for a new city council and a new mayor, and I think it will be very telling to see how many voters turn out in a city already notorious for low voter turnout. Why? Because how can we get excited about voting for a new mayor and city council when they have to bow down before Orr? And even once his 18-month tenure comes to an end, he has already said that Detroit will most likely still be subjected to fiscal oversight, once again from a board not elected by Detroiters.
Already our Council President Pro Tem Gary Brown has resigned his position to go to work for Orr at more than twice what he was getting paid before at the hefty new salary of $225,000. The Devil does offer good benefits. Council President Charles Pugh has skipped town in the midst of a brewing potential scandal, and Council member Kwame Kenyatta has submitted his resignation. Rumor is there may be at least one more before all is said and done, and Orr has decreed that the vacated seats may not be filled until after the upcoming election, so where we once had nine councilmembers we now have six, which could possibly drop to five.
Meanwhile much is made of the progress being made in communities such as Midtown, formerly known as the Cass Corridor. Midtown is now the hot, hip and happening place to be, and for good reason. It is also offering rental units that can go for as high as $3,000 per month which is about as far beyond the means of the average Detroiter as, well, Kevyn Orr’s $275,000 salary. Hell, you can still buy an entire house in Detroit for $3,000. So then if these rents are beyond the means of Detroiters, whose means are being targeted?
So as Detroit’s democracy is being dismantled brick by brick, and the people are being muzzled, one might argue that the next step for the people will lead (force) them out of their neighborhoods elsewhere throughout the city as these neighborhoods are gradually populated with more ‘desirable’ residents, who will then provide more ‘desirable’ elected officials more in line with the mindset of those matching the ilk of our Dear Leader Snyder.
And once that happens? Gee. We might even get our democracy back. Or somebody will.
Keith Owens (AKA Black Liberal Boomer) is a Detroit-based writer who has worked for The Detroit Free Press, Detroit’s alternative newsweekly the Metro Times, the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, and other newspapers. He was also a nationally syndicated columnist with Universal Press Syndicate for three years beginning in 1993.