If it happens here, it certainly won’t end here. The threat to Detroit’s democracy is a threat to everyone who values their right to vote, but especially to those whose vote is their only avenue toward effective representation in government. Not everyone can start a Super PAC. In fact most of us can’t. For most of us, the vote is our best way to let the powers-that-be know what we think, what we want, and to let them know that we will hold them accountable if they don’t act appropriately. Take away that vote, and you’re left with Gov. Rick Snyder’s America.
Down here on the ground in Detroit, it has never been unusual as a part of random conversation you might have with a neighbor , friend, or perhaps even somebody you met at a bar, to wind up discussing the topic of what ‘they’ had planned for our city. What’s next for Detroit, who will be determining what’s next – and who won’t – has been a constant topic that I have heard off and on throughout the city in more than a few social circles pretty much ever since I moved here nearly 20 years ago. There has always been that underlying sense that somewhere there was a plan brewing to steal Detroit back from Detroiters. It was only a matter of time before ‘they’ took our city from ‘us’ unless ‘we’ put up one hell of a fight. Not many would say out loud that they feared a conspiracy, but that feeling was there nevertheless. The feeling that someone or something is coming, and whoever/whatever it is isn’t interested in making life better for us.
“You know they want that water department.”
“They’ve been wanting back into this city for a long time.”
“”They’re about to take it back. You watch.”
Although there has never been a definitive definition for who ‘they’ are, the generally accepted understanding, especially as it relates to this particular topic of swirling conspiratorial rumors about what may be planned for Detroit’s future, is the predominantly white powers-that-be in government and business, spurred on by their predominantly white constituencies outside of the city, who (the belief is) have been angry for a long time that Detroit has become a predominantly African American city, and that it has become a broke and dysfunctional city as a direct result of that fact. All you have to do is read the comment section of either the Detroit Free Press or the Detroit News on any given day when there is a story about something broken in Detroit to view some predictably ugly reader commentary detailing how black folks are to blame for all that is happening to them in Detroit and for the rapid decline of Detroit from its perch as a once great American city.
I have always said up front that Detroit itself does bear some responsibility for its current circumstances as a whole. We are not a city of victims, and we did play a role in how we got to where we are. We made some bad choices, we sometimes neglected to make the right ones when they were staring us in the face, and now we’re paying the price for that. But it’s also pretty difficult to ignore history, and the history of this city shows clearly that for nearly four decades Detroit has been slammed again and again by a never-ending perfect storm of catastrophic socio-economic events that were beyond our control, and that would have destroyed a city with a weaker heart. And as bad as things are, let the record show that Detroit’s heart is still beating.
I’m not one to believe in conspiracies too readily when it comes to Detroit, but the willingness of our own Gov. Rick Snyder, aided by the Republican-dominated Michigan Legislature, to steal democracy from Michigan’s largest city in broad daylight doesn’t make it easy to put those conspiracy theories to rest. Because ever since the voters of Michigan voted to repeal the state’s onerous Emergency Manager law last November, only to see Gov. Snyder collaborate with his crew to give the finger to his constituents by using highly questionable legal means to keep the law alive and shove it back down our throats, the fate of democracy in Michigan has been an open question. The new Emergency Manager law, passed within weeks of the old law’s defeat, is what gave Detroit EM Kevyn Orr, an illegitimate appointed kingpin, the power to file for bankruptcy with Snyder’s approval. Currently the entire new law, PA 436, is being challenged in Federal Court, essentially on the grounds that even a Governor should not be allowed to disregard the will of his own voters and reinstate a law that they rejected at the polls.
But what is not in question is the likelihood that if Snyder is allowed to get away with this theft, then it will serve as a model to the Republican leadership of other poorer communities for how they can seize control from the people. In other words, this thing could go viral. Which means that those of us who support the return of democracy to Detroit need to go viral too. The mainstream media is focusing on bankruptcy as the big story, some even suggesting that this could be a good thing. Most seem to have forgotten – or ignored – that the entire process which permitted this to happen was illegitimate. And that is the story that needs to go viral.
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.