James Boggs, What Does the African American Experience Teach us About Democracy and Equality? 1980
The question is not how to make other non-black Americans less racist while we become more like them every day. As long as we continue to think that this is the main question, our social, economic, and political relationships will get worse instead of getting better. In fact, they will be getting worse even when they seem to be getting better. As we go towards the 21st century, blacks more than any other group in our country—because of our historical role in this country and also because we will always remain at the bottom of this society as long as it remains capitalist—need to recognize that we must give leadership to the entire nation by projecting new concepts of social and political relationships that go as far beyond Democracy and Equality that were created 200 years ago as those concepts went beyond the aristocratic and feudal relationships and concepts of Europe.
Living for Change News January 9th, 2017
Thinking for Ourselves Shea Howell EM Shadows
It is easy to think democracy has been restored to Michigan. The faces of Emergency Managers no longer loom out at us in the daily news. Kevyn Orr has disappeared from Detroit. He is now partner in charge of Jones Day’s Washington D.C. office.
Darnell Earley is gone from Flint and Detroit. Although in early February he is expected return to view as he is likely to be charged with involuntary manslaughter for his role in the poisoning of Flint water.
Detroit has an elected school board. They selected a new superintendent and reports are that some stability has returned. The governor’s office reported that for the first time in more than a decade, “there are no emergency managers in any cities statewide.”
Rarely reported, however, is that standing in the shadows are financial review boards, limiting the scope and nature of decisions elected officials can make. From water rates and school closing to merit pay, local democratic controls remain out of the hands of local officials, and voters.
Financial management continues as both a theory and practice of the right wing republican dominated state legislature. At the close of the state legislature in December, Democrats and a few bold republicans offered legislation to repeal emergency management legislation. In response, the governor’s office reiterated that the state has a “legitimate purpose in intervening” in local governments. Likewise the proposed legislation dealing with pension funds originally depended on establishing authoritarian emergency management boards.
It is hard to imagine a more clearly failed policy. The role of unchecked, unilateral authority given to emergency managers in the name of financial responsibility is clearly to blame for the devastation of Flint. Two decades of emergency managers left Detroit Public Schools with greater debt, more chaos, and less support for students and teachers than when elected boards were in charge. The New York Times assessed the experience of emergency management saying:
In Flint, emergency managers not only oversaw the city — effectively seizing legal authority from the mayor and City Council — but also pressed to switch the source of the financially troubled city’s water supply to save money.
In Detroit, the schools are on the brink of insolvency after a series of emergency managers dating to 2009 repeatedly failed to grapple with its financial troubles, while also falling short on maintaining school buildings and addressing academic deficiencies.
Supporters of Emergency Management often point to the Detroit bankruptcy process as a sign of the success of the policy. This success is embedded the corporate narrative that Detroit is “coming back.” For these supporters this means Detroit is becoming whiter, wealthier, and more supportive of corporate take-overs of public assets and responsibilities.
In the midst of the Detroit bankruptcy process, the fundamental problem of emergency management thinking emerged in the water shut off crisis. In order to make city assets valuable on the open market, Orr ordered a crack down on overdue residential water bills. This set off an assault on our communities that brought universal condemnation to the city and those who backed the shut off policy. It revealed the essence of emergency management bottom line thinking that overshadows the essential interests of people. In his ruling refusing a moratorium on water shut offs, Judge Steven Rhodes, later emergency manager of Detroit Public Schools explained, “Detroit cannot afford any revenue slippages.” Thus he denied a moratorium on shut offs, even as he acknowledged the irreparable harms being done to people. Economics, not people, matter.
The current legislation enabling emergency managers needs to be repealed. Statewide, voters have already said this law is undemocratic. Our task is to create local governments as essential places for people to practice meaningful democracy. This possibility is what frightens those in authority.
An evening of music, food, solidarity, and strategy hosted by the Long Hairz Collective!