New spirit emerging By Shea Howell

Thinking for ourselves

New spirit emerging

By Shea Howell

May 1, 2012

There is a new spirit of resistance emerging in Detroit. It began quietly in the response to the widely despised Public Act 4 that has set in place Emergency Managers in the cities of Flint, Pontiac, and Benton Harbor as well as in Detroit, Highland Park and Muskegon Heights school districts. These Emergence Managers have completely displaced or severely curtailed the powers of elected councils, mayors and school boards and have far reaching powers to set aside union contracts, slash public services and sell off city assets. All of this can be done unilaterally, without public consent or oversight.

The volunteer effort, Stand Up for Democracy, defied all odds and gathered 203,238 valid voter signatures to demand that the law be put on the ballot for a public vote. This was 40,000 more than the needed amount and attests to the widespread concern for this dictatorial law.

Last week the State Board of Canvassers split along party lines, refusing to certify the petitions based on the font size of the headings. Stand Up for Democracy is appealing the ruling. The decision by right wing republican forces to prevent this effort from reaching the ballot is already sparking deeper reactions. People around the state are beginning to resist the implementation of these laws.

Detroit is wrestling with the implications of a Consent Agreement that is being resisted at every possible turn. Last week, the announcement by Mayor Bing of his appointees to the Financial Stability Board was met with scorn. He managed to appoint more suburbanites, making the first 4 of the nine member board people who do not live in the city they will govern. The city council is now struggles with its lone appointment to the board, likely the first Detroiter.

Meanwhile hundreds of people spoke movingly against this whole process in open meetings. Thousands of us signed petitions against it and many are exploring ways to reclaim democratic actions.

Then last week the students at Western International High School and Southwestern High School walked out in protest to the unilateral cutting of their schools by the Emergency Manager. This walkout followed those of Frederick Douglass Academy, Denby High School and last year’s Catherine Ferguson Academy. As in all the earlier cases, Detroit Public School officials responded swiftly with a visible police presence and quick suspensions of all involved. But this time the students responded, declaring a Freedom School during the suspension. Honoring 10:55 am as the walkout time they declared:

“We students of Western International High School will be starting our first day of class at Southwest Detroit Freedom School at Clark Park, across from our beloved school which we were suspended from. After over 300 of us staged a student walkout on Wednesday April 25, 2012, over 150 of us were given 5-day suspensions. One of our fellow students, targeted as the “ring-leader” is being threatened with formal charges for helping organize the walkout. We were walking out in solidarity with our fellow students at Southwestern High School to save their school from closing. More importantly, we were also fighting for quality education for us at Western, and at ALL DPS schools. We do not understand why we are being punished with a loss of educational opportunity when that is exactly what we were fighting for. To further demonstrate our commitment to education, we will be attending our own school taught by ourselves and community educators for the duration of our suspension. We are still looking for more teachers and students.”

The students have been embraced by an outpouring of community volunteers, willing to provide workshops, food and conversation. Words of support have been coming in from all over the globe as this effort is catching the imagination of how we can not only find ways to resist these dictatorial efforts, but create new forms of educating our communities in the process. Something new and wonderful is emerging that no board- room deals will be able to stop.

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