Democratic Emergency

Democratic Emergency
By Shea Howell
Michigan Citizen, March 27-April 2, 2011

The newly-elected governor and legislature have accelerated their assault on the people of Michigan. Here is a sample of the dramatic changes they are proposing. None of these issues were part of anyone’s campaign, especially not the governor’s, who promised to be moderate and honor the state’s strong labor tradition.

There are nearly 40 distinct house and senate bills to drastically reshape what we have come to expect in the public sphere. They include bills that prohibit paying union officials for conducting union business (HB-4059), freeze wages, prohibit collective bargaining (HB4287), prohibit taxpayer-funded equipment and facilities to be used for union or political activities (HB 4052), force privatization of non-instructional workers in public school (HB 4306), repeal Police and Fire Arbitration (HB 4205), create right-to-work zones (SB 0120), eliminate teacher tenure (HB 4142), repeal Michigan Health and Safety Act (SB-0014), prohibit government from mandating participation in health care plan (HB-4050), remove caps on charter schools (HB-4019), prohibit promulgation of rules for ergonomics in the workplace (HB-4228).

This legislature is intruding into every aspect of our lives to eliminate any protections we, the people, have established. Moreover, it is systematically attempting to curtail the places and spaces of democratic organization and conversation.

Under the guise of a financial emergency, this legislature is clearly pushing the most radical rightwing agenda. Among the governor’s first acts was to repeal the extension of benefits to same sex couples, a measure that is more symbolic than substantive, and that costs little. Likewise, all state universities were required by the House to answer in writing how they are protecting Christians from harassment on campuses as part of their allocation process. Most outrageous is the creation of Emergency Financial Managers.

HB-4246 requires Emergency Financial Managers to approve, modify, reject or terminate a public employee collective bargaining agreement. SB-158 gives them the power to remove elected officials from office, ban them from running for office for 6 years, and dissolve political structures such as councils, commissions and school boards.

In this atmosphere, Judge Wendy Baxter asked the Special Assistant Attorney General to stay her order limiting the power of Robert Bobb, the Emergency Financial Manger for DPS. Judge Baxter said that with the changes in Michigan Law, she had no choice but to give Bobb total control of the schools.

Given the drastic legal climate in the state, those of us who care about democracy, fairness and the fate of our children have to ask some hard questions. What kind of city and state do we want? How do we create it?

As we gather together to explore these questions, we should also put some demands on our City Council, while we still have one. First and foremost, the Council must protect our children. It should immediately outlaw for-profit educational institutions from operating in the city of Detroit. Second, it should make it illegal for any for-profit educational institution that is operating in another state to open shop in the city. Our children should not become a source of profit.

Third, we should mandate that no educational institution may operate a continuing classroom of more than 30 students. Anyone exceeding that number will be held responsible for child abuse. Finally, no individual doing the public’s business, either elected or appointed, should be allowed to receive compensation from foundations. Such compensation shall be considered a bribe, seized by the city and prosecuted as criminal. Yes, this includes EFMs and should immediately apply to Robert Bobb.

We have a lot of work to do to reclaim our democracy and dignity. But we are also facing a real emergency requiring leadership at every level.