Closed history By Shea Howell

Thinking for ourselves

Closed history

By Shea Howell

December 30, 2014

shea25 The new year begins with a full scale propaganda push to declare the Detroit Bankruptcy ordeal an miraculous success. A key element of this is an effort to eliminate the history of creative, committed struggles by people for more just, humane, and imaginative solutions to the development of our city. This requires turning the corporate actors into folk heroes.

A recent article by Phil Power is among the most disturbing for its distortions. Under the title “History is made by those who show up,” Mr. Power explains that the “largest municipal bankruptcy in American history, and one that ended up being resolved in an astonishingly brief period” invites “reflection on how history works.”

After discussing general historical perspectives, columnist Power observes:

“I am led to propose an alternative, perhaps a less cosmic way to understand how events often play out: History is made by the individuals who just show up, day after day after day.

Their continual presence in the rooms where decisions are made is vastly important. When it comes to complex events, it is less often individuals and more often a group of people who are the important ones, people who keep showing up, each holding different positions, but united by a shared sense of a broader responsibility. They need to be wise, thoughtful and collaborative. They need a shared long view of how things ought to turn out. In short, they need to be responsible adults, not the self-promoters or egotists.”

There is a lot of truth in these perceptions. History is certainly made by those who show up day after day, who try to understand complex events and to come to imaginative, collaborative and responsible decisions.

But like all generalizations, Power’s application manages a bizarre turn. He begins with Gov. Synder, followed by Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, Judge Steven Rhodes, Judge Gerald Rosen, Eugene Driker,, and Mayor Mike Duggan. Power then concludes:

“What is remarkable about this entire process — and what is entirely missed by the national media still preoccupied with “Detroit urban ruin porn” — is that these six wise men were present in meeting after meeting, day after day, the adults in the room. Any of them could have thrown the whole effort off the tracks. Yet all of them respected their unique and yet collaborative roles in the process.

They were the adults who showed up, day after day. They deserve honor and praise in their time. The details of their work deserve to be considered when we reflect on how we saw history ultimately unfolding, right here in Michigan.”

This rhapsodic praise would be laughable, if not for the destructive view of our most recent history that it advocates.

This view of corporate sanctioned actors is destructive not only for its one-sided praise, but for the people rendered invisible who challenged injustice.

A simple way to understand the limitations of this propaganda is to look at the metaphor,” showing up in the room.” It reveals the mindset of those who agree with Power.

This was a locked room. All decisions of consequence were made behind closed doors, often with court ordered secrecy. Further, the men in the room were all paid to be there, some to the tune of nearly 200 million dollars.

In contrast, those who launched efforts to challenge the constitutionality of the emergency manger law itself, its discriminatory application to African American cities, who upheld the Michigan Constitutional protections of retirees, objected to the plan, organized to push for more thoughtful solutions, held conferences to generate ideas, distributed water to those brutally cut off, and put their bodies and voices in the way of trucks, all acted out of conviction, love, and a belief that we can do better by one another when decisions are made in collective, open processes.


The corporate elite fear the power of people to create a just and joyful future for all. That is why they are so willing to distort, deny, and rewrite even this most recent history in their own closed rooms.