Rhodes as Emergency Manager By Shea Howell

Thinking for ourselves

By Shea Howell

Rhodes as Emergency Manager

March 6, 2016

shea25Governor Snyder has appointed Judge Steven Rhodes as the 5th Emergency Manger of Detroit Public Schools. Judge Rhodes presided over the Detroit Bankruptcy hearing and gained widespread support from Snyder and the corporate elite for his handling of the case. Snyder hopes that Rhodes will be able to influence the State Legislature to acknowledge their obligation to step up and pay $515 million debt to put the district back on sound financial grounds.

This appointment is a desperate measure by Snyder. It is an attempt to shift the public conversation away from the failures of Emergency Management legislation. It is an effort to use that legislation to further undermine public education and destroy the power of teachers and the unions that protect them in their efforts to protect and educate our children.

Emergency Managers have become so toxic in Michigan since the poisoning of Flint’s water supply that Judge Rhodes doesn’t event want the title. He said, “I told the governor that I was not going to be just another emergency manager. This is (about the) transition to local control.” Rhodes wants to be called the “transition manager.” This is an empty gesture. Rhodes has all of the powers of the emergency manager, his authority comes from EM legislation, and he is collecting that salary.

He is an Emergency Manager. And he shares some of their worst characteristics. He combines ignorance with unchecked power. He openly admits he is unprepared to run a school system. He said to WDET as he assumed the powers of Emergency Manager,

“I told the governor when he approached me that I don’t know anything about academics or education or how to run a school system.”

Combining unchecked power with ignorance is why Emergency Managers destroyed the water systems in Highland Park and Flint, sold off public lands to private interests in Pontiac and Benton Harbor, and initiated massive water shut offs in Detroit. These actions not only violate basic human rights, they have cost lives and endangered public safety.

Now we are led to believe that someone who openly states he knows nothing about educational practices, academic development, or complex school systems should advise the state legislature, hire the next superintendent, and put in place the policies that will provide a “new” school board.

Judge Rhodes has already revealed his own complicity in the racial stereotyping and white supremist attitudes that undergird Emergency Management. This law depends upon the belief that people in urban centers, especially people of color and poor people, cannot govern ourselves. This law claims we are less capable of making decisions about our lives than our fellow citizens are just across the borders of Flint, Pontiac or Detroit. Rhodes shares this belief.

Rhodes talks about people as “stakeholders,” not citizens. He tells us we need to “reach out” to ensure “highly qualified candidates” who can be “trained” in how to be good school board members. He supports the proposed legislation that allows Snyder and Duggan to appoint most of the board. Real local control would not be fully restored for about a decade.

If Lansing pays the debts of DPS it will not be because of Judge Rhodes. It will be because some other Judge forces them to live up to their legal obligations.

Between now August, when the Judge says he will leave, little will have changed for our children. The abuse and neglect they are suffering at the hands of the Governor, the State Legislators and their appointed managers will continue. We, who care about our children and our future, need to open new spaces of love and learning in our communities. In this way we can claim our own power and responsibility for educating our children.



The State of Our City Shea Howell

Thinking For Ourselves
Shea Howell
The State of Our City
shea25Mayor Duggan gave his third State of the City address last week at the Second Ebenezer Church on Detroit’s East Side. He emphasized the progress he has made cutting crime and increasing police response times, tearing down blighted houses, encouraging businesses, and creating job programs for youth. He discussed his initiatives to cut car insurance and to add new technologies of surveillance. He announced his intentions to carve out a role for the Mayor in the Detroit Public School crisis and said he is encouraging the return of power to an elected school board.

 Most of the 2,000 folks in attendance cheered on as members of the audience stood to have their efforts acknowledged.  But for the first time in over 40 years, the speech was interrupted 4 times by protesters.

Mayor Duggan would do well to pay attention to those protests. They say more about the state of our city than all of the orchestrated cheering. These brave young people who stood up to question the Mayor and his “relentless, positive, action” deserve the thanks of all of us who are concerned about the growing racial divide and brutal inequalities we are facing.

It was their voices that raised the important questions we face. Unfurling a banner that read “Opportunity for who?” they challenged gentrification, water shut offs, disinvestment in education, and Duggan’s ties to Governor Snyder and his emergency managers.

“Many Detroiters – especially black Detroiters – aren’t experiencing the ‘revitalization’ of greater downtown,” said Dakarai Carter, an organizer from BYP100. “Millions of dollars are being invested there, while our neighborhoods deal with disinvestment resulting in a lack of community services and resources. We are disrupting business as usual because we know that cities thrive on democratic control and shared access to resources.”

The reality is that Duggan’s speech was almost exactly the same as the speech given by Mayor Dave Bing right before the onslaught of emergency management and bankruptcy in 2013. Bing, too, offered five key initiatives: cutting crime and increasing police, blight reduction, Detroit Works to grow demonstration areas to redevelop neighborhoods, improve public transportation, and encouraging entrepreneurs.

That is why Duggan is failing the city. The questions we face are not the same as those of the pre-emergency manager-bankruptcy era. To move down the same old path of promising the “best way to handle the problem is to grow the city,” is the kind of relentless positive non-thinking that brought us the crisis in Flint.

Mayor Duggan refuses to look at the basic question of how do we develop a city that includes all of our people? How do we create relationships that foster care, compassion, and joy for everyone?

These are not empty questions. Nor are they utopian thoughts. Since Duggan took office, citizens groups have offered clear advice: Put a moratorium on foreclosures. Stop the Water Shut Offs. Adopt a Water Affordability Plan. Adopt a community benefits agreement. Develop place-based education to encourage our young people to learn while rebuilding the city. Encourage land trusts and cooperative businesses.

Shortly after the State of the City, Former Mayor Dave Bing, who no doubt recognized much of the progress claimed by Duggan, offered some advice “As much as we say or think we are being inclusive, the reality is we are not. There is an undercurrent of frustration and anger that could lead to a negative outcome.”

Detroit is a movement city with a strong history of developing creative grass roots alternative ways of living and being. Duggan’s old thinking shows no sign of recognizing the depth of the challenges we face. He would do well to listen to our youth.

Who decides? By Shea Howell


Thinking for ourselves

By Shea Howell

Who decides?

February 21, 2016

The toxic water in Flint has vividly brought to light the toxic consequences of right wing republican thinking that government should be run like a business. It has also shown us something about the poisoning of our own thinking.

It took the poisoning of children to get the majority of people in America to recognize something profoundly ugly has been going on in Michigan. This is because our culture does not do well with complexity. We like our politicians loud, our heroes strong, our victims pure, and our villains beyond redemption. This tendency toward one dimensional characters and simple sound bites has been exploited by the corporate elite to obscure the realities of emergency management in the lives of people.

With Flint, suffering cannot be denied. It cannot be explained away by easy racial stereotypes. Lead laden water was knowingly allowed to flow into homes. It poisoned children, created a public health crisis, and possibly caused deaths.

In contrast, in Detroit, 91,000 households have experienced water shut offs thanks to the policies initiated by Emergency Manager Orr and continued by Mayor Duggan. More homes have been shut off from water in Detroit than have received poisoned water in Flint. Children, elders, pregnant women, high school kids, renters saddled with previous bills, and unscrupulous landlords have all been shut off from life giving water.

Yet this tragedy, condemned by the United Nations as a human rights abuse, has been intentionally complicated by corporate powers. They have suggested that people are choosing cable TV rather than paying water bills. They have suggested people just want free water. They have suggested that people need training programs to know how to balance budgets. They have suggested we have a culture that needs to be changed. The corporate elite have played on racial stereotypes and prejudices against people who are poor to justify a policy that is unthinkable in most advanced countries.

Until Flint the corporate elite pushed the primary principle of emergency management. It says, “People cannot be trusted to make decisions about what is best for them.” Economic theorist Jamie Peck explained this idea as central to “austerity” politics emerging globally. “Strict fiscal discipline and government spending cuts is the only way to restore budgetary integrity—thereby securing the confidence of the investor class, appeasing the jittery markets and paving the way to growth.”

We have all seen the application of this idea in Michigan as Emergency Managers moved into city after city to “discipline” the people by removing mayors, city councils and elected school boards. Then we watched decision after decision justified as “necessary.”

But in Flint, there is simply no excuse for poisoning babies. This act has brought us face to face with a policy that strips cities of their assets and turns public responsibilities into private profit. Every step along the way, people have suffered. School closings, loss of services, widespread layoffs, destruction of public parks, loss of basic access to transportation, have all been explained away. Often those who suffer the consequences of these choices have been blamed for them.

But Flint has put an end to all that. Children have been victimized. But Flint citizens are not victims. They are survivors. They are fighters. Their effort to organize, to document, to agitate, to challenge again and again the “truths” of the corporate elites ultimately brought this crisis to light. Flint strips away all the corporate efforts to claim emergency managers are necessary. But Detroit reminds us that we should not have to wait until babies die, to know that people, not technocrats, know what is best for themselves and their families.

West Coast GLB Event commemorate Grace’s life and ideas commemorate


Design by Innosanto Nagara


West Coast GLB Event

In celebration of the Detroit-based activist and philosopher Grace Lee Boggs (1915-2015), we are honored to invite you to commemorate Grace’s life and ideas commemorate Gr ace’s life and ideas on March 9 and 20, 2016.

Sat. 3/19 – Growing Our Souls, Building Our Soil: A Day of Vision In Action (Richmond Greenway, 10am-3pm)

Join us for a “hands in the dirt” community farm gathering hosted by Urban Tilth and Movement Generation. Come help build community by working the land together, dancing, sharing a community lunch, and hearing DJ’s, poets, and activists speak about the food system and why Grace believed that putting our hands in the dirt and building our vision (from the land up) can change the world.

Sun. 3/20 – Celebrating Grace Lee Boggs: A Century In Love & Struggle (Oakland Asian Cultural Center, 12-3 pm)

Throughout her life, Grace Lee Boggs encouraged everyone to engage in dialogue and action and to think about how they can be a part of making change. In celebration of Grace, we will bring together  activists and organizers to share their reflections on  Grace’s work, ideas, and current movements/struggles in the Bay Area. We will also be joined by guests from Detroit and the Boggs Center. Light refreshments will be provided.

These two events are the culmination of a “Living Legacy” week of events designed to put into practice Grace’s ideas about how communities can change themselves in order to change the world. These events include: a study group on “The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the 21st Century;” a Theater of the Oppressed workshop, and a screening of the film “American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs.” Find out more at: inloveandstruggle.org.

More information on how to sign up and RSVP will be available soon. For more information or questions, contact Sam and Rob at visionaryorganizing@gmail.com

If you are interested in being an event sponsor, contact linda@cpasf.org

About the Planning Committee: The celebration is being planned by a committee made of up of Bay Area organizers and activists, including representatives of the Visionary Organizing Network, Chinese Progressive Association, Movement Generation, Reimagine: Movements Making Media, and long-time friends of Grace Lee Boggs and James Boggs.

Unchecked Greed Shea Howell

Thinking for Ourselves

Shea Howell
Unchecked Greed

shea25No matter how the Governor tries to spin the crisis in Flint, Emergency Managers are at the core of this disaster. They are the means to destroy local democracy. Emergency Managers (EMs) are a tool in turning public goods into private wealth. They are the means to seize public lands; give away valuable property; poison people in Flint in the name of saving money; devastate Highland Park; deny life giving water in Detroit to keep bond ratings; increase debt to Wall Street; gut pension plans; dismantle public education; and intimidate, silence, and ridicule those who call attention to these effects.

As surely as Snyder needs to go, so does his Emergency Management law. Snyder’s championing of this law brought him support from the corporate elite in Michigan and such right wing forces as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity. Now it is clear these same forces are willing to sacrifice Snyder, in order to keep their essential weapon.

Snyder came into office on the heels of intense challenges to emergency management legislation. Emergency Managers, appointed by Democratic Governor Granholm had been exercising authority in areas beyond finances. In the case of the Detroit Public Schools, they were interfering with curriculum, class size, and academic decisions. Courts ruled EMs were overstepping their authority.

Snyder vowed to fix that problem. One of his first acts, PA 4 in 2011, gave sweeping powers to Emergency Managers. With the new act, financial problems became the excuse for appointed individuals to set aside elected officials, terminate contracts, reduce pensions, and make all the decisions of local governments without regard to charters, resolutions, or local laws. They exercise completed, unchecked authority.

The public outcry against this law was immediate. And it was widespread. In 2012 nearly 3 million people in Michigan voted to repeal this law. Snyder, and his right wing, white, wealthy legislators defied this democratic outpouring. Saying they knew better, the legislature enacted another Emergency Manager law. This time, by including a small appropriations item, they made the law immune from public referendum.

Thus began the series of managers in Flint, every one of whom is implicated in the fateful decisions that lead to the poisoning of that town. As Flint state senator Jim Ananich said recently of Snyder and the right wing legislators, “They’ve chosen this policy, and this is the outcome. We have poisonous water flowing through people’s faucets. In the Detroit Public Schools, they have overcrowded classrooms and rats. Unfortunately, the emergency managers in these communities have been failing.”

EMs have failed the people in every community. In almost every case, emergency managers have acted in arrogant, isolated, and ignorant ways. In Benton Harbor Emergency Mangers sold off a popular public park to a private golf course. The Mayor of says it was an “horrific experiment” and the city is now left defending itself from lawsuits caused by actions of EMs. In Pontiac, services were reduced to almost zero, crippling the capacities of the city. The new mayor described the EM experience as a “disruption in democracy.”

In Detroit the Emergency Manager rushed through a bankruptcy process where elderly pensioners bore more than 70% of the so-called savings. Public lands were sold to developers without oversight. Lucrative contracts were awarded to cronies, and a water shut-off policy was initiated that brought world-wide condemnation, including findings by a UN delegation of gross human rights violations.

The idea that business practices can provide the principles for public responsibilities exploded in Flint. Now is the time to repeal this draconian law. Democratic, open debate is our only protection from unchecked greed.