Thinking for ourselves
For the Future
Week 17 of the occupation
By Shea Howell
July 23, 2013
The decision by Governor Snyder and Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr to file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection came in the midst of grieving in Detroit. The wounds from the acquittal of the killer of Trayvon Martin were all the more painful as they were combined with the inability of the jury to come to a decision in the Aiyana Jones case.
These events are not only linked by time. They go to the heart the questions facing us today as we make choices about the kind of city we will become and kind of people we will be. At their core, all three moments raise the question of whose lives matter in our country. Do all of us have inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness or are only some of us protected and valued?
For most of us in Detroit, the answer to that question seems all too clear. Young people, especially young African American men, cannot move freely, safe from violence of all sorts. Police powers are often used against the very communities they are pledged to serve and protect. Our elders, after a lifetime of work, are sacrificed to the demands of distant bankers wanting payments on shady deals. The lives of our young and are old don’t seem to matter much in the corridors of power and privilege.
Yet it is precisely the belief that it is possible to create a community where everyone matters that drives most of us to resist the demonization and dehumanization that have been so much a part of the killings of Aiyana Jones, Trayvon Martin, and the sacrifice of our city.
Of the hundreds of articles written about the financial woes of Detroit, none have talked about the deep forces that shape this moment. Underneath the numbers of population decline, dwindling tax base, and capital flight is the reality that for more than 40 years, large segments of our population have been rendered useless, without any possibility of productive work. Robbed of the opportunity to be engaged in creative and useful work, in a culture that celebrates things over people, we have seen a steady erosion of the values of community and care, as some people have attempted to save themselves at the expense of everyone else.
Some have turned to crime, some to fleeing home for “opportunity,” some setting aside all values in order to line their own pockets.
But many people in Detroit have also resisted this dehumanization. As a city deeply rooted in the most progressive struggles for the dignity of labor, black power, and the rights of all to be included in the decisions about our own lives, we have been forging a different kind of community.
Some of us have been in the forefront of reimaging city landscapes for the possibility of providing, healthy food and restoring community ties. Some of us have been creating local businesses based on principles of sustainability, cooperative ownership and community needs. Some of us have been reimaging an educational system that will develop our children as we develop our communities. Some of us have been finding new ways to reconcile differences and settle disputes peacefully, with love and respect. Some of us are seizing new technologies like 3D printing that open up the possibilities of very new ways of producing what we need. Some of us have been developing new media and art, telling the stories of people often unseen, creating visions of what we can be together.
More and more of us are coming to see that Detroit has the possibility of creating a community that has space for everyone to develop full, valuable and productive lives.
Those who emphasize the financial issues of bankruptcy are right about one thing. What is emerging in Detroit will have implications for the future of whole country.