Thinking for ourselves
Week 15 of the Occupation
By Shea Howell
The next few weeks will be crucial for the future of Detroit. The possibility of bankruptcy is looming large on the horizon. The Emergency Manager has reduced the City Council, in violation of the City Charter, by directing them to not fill the vacancies created by the resignations of members Kenyatta and Brown. He has also begun to do battle with the creditors who are mounting their own legal challenges to make sure that they take no losses in any settlement of the debt. Claiming to have the best interests of the city at heart, Ambac Assurance, disagreed this week with the Emergency Manager’s decision to treat general obligation bondholders the same as unsecured creditors.
In a statement without any hint of historical irony or global consciousness, Ambac’s lawyers said, “The revitalization of Detroit depends on its ability to re-access the credit markets in order to finance critical improvements to its infrastructure.”
This line of thinking, that the only way out of debt is the ability to have more debt, is precisely the kind of thinking pushed on the so-called developing world by bankers making profits as people were forced to face ever deepening poverty and loss of public lands and goods. It was only by renouncing these debts and shifting toward self sufficient, locally based economies that countries like Brazil turned around the quality of life of their people and created a vibrant economic culture. The recent report of the Global Innovation Index, for example, concluded that emerging economies, including Brazil, have actually increased their research and development efforts at a pace far “faster than developed countries,” including the US. Our friends in Latin America have much to teach us as we make choices that effect the kind of city we will become.
One of the first lessons is to beware of bankers offering yet more loans. Instead, renounce the debt. Use your resources to develop local efforts to produce for local needs.
Increasingly, people around the country are realizing that what is going on in Detroit matters, not only to those of us who live in the city, but to the entire country. A recent Washington Post editorial noted, “the rest of the country acquires more than just a rooting interest in Mr. Orr’s plans. It matters not only whether he succeeds but also how.”
The concern of the Post’s editorial team, however, was not for the development of a new kind of city in the wake of postindustrial devastation. Rather the editors were fixated only on the implications of changing the classification of general bonds. They note that the “Detroit precedent” could “undermine” the $3.7 trillion municipal market.
The editors go on to say, “The challenge for Mr. Orr, and the stakeholders with which he will negotiate, is to fix Detroit with minimal collateral damage — to remember that the legal positions they take and the rights they assert, in or out of a possible bankruptcy proceeding, will affect the whole country.”
Collateral damage is an interesting concept, applied to Detroit. It is a term usually reserved to describe the unintended damage, injuries, or deaths of civilians caused during a military assault. The use of this term says a great deal about how the corporate world views the people of our city. We, the people, are acceptable losses, able to be written off. And if we don’t like it, there is plenty of military power available to enforce corporate will.
In asserting our right to determine our own future, to demand that we control the principles and practices of our own development, we resist this view of ourselves as “collateral damage.” That is what the citizens of Highland Park told the world this week as they stood against their emergency manager’s crude destruction of their valuable history achieves. We, the people refuse to become collateral damage.