Democratic ideals By Shea Howell

Thinking for ourselves

Democratic ideals

By Shea Howell

June 17-23, 2012

Corporate powers are desperate to seize control of the city. They are furious at the efforts by citizens to hold them accountable to the law. They have resorted to name-calling, character assassination, bullying, and unprecedented maneuvering to get their hands on the city and shape it in their own vision.

Those of us who care about the future of Detroit owe support and thanks to those citizens, members of Council, and Corporation Counsel Krytal Crittendon for their efforts to carry on the legal challenges to Public Act 4 and the Consent Agreement.

These challenges reflect a deep understanding of some of the central elements of our democratic tradition.

One of the primary contributions of our country to the world is the recognition that ordinary people can come together and decide that basis on which they will live and share responsibilities for the decisions that govern their lives. From the earliest days of people on this land, traditions of making decision in council were part of many Native groups. The great Iroquois Confederation was the model for the Articles of Confederation and the U.S. Constitution. In 1620, one year after the first Africans were brought here in slavery, pilgrims on the Mayflower created a written compact that established the idea that people could “solemnly and mutually” agree to “covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic; for better ordering, and preservation” and to “frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices…for the general good.”

Thus we began the unfolding efforts on this continent to create ways of living that reflected our highest ideals. Often we failed. But, our best moments have been when we have been called upon to live up to the ideals we dared to express. Our worst, have been when we chose to back down from the promises of freedom, equality, and the pursuit of happiness for all.

Whatever the outcome of this petition drive and court challenge, they have revealed the complete disdain for democracy, the rule of law, and basic reason that undergirds the corporate drive for power and control. Greed has replaced logic.

After a clearly partisan effort by the State Board of Canvassers to refuse to accept the petitions to place the question of Emergency Managers up for a public vote, the Michigan Appeals Court voted unanimously to endorse the petitions, saying it was compelled by legal precedent to do so. Then, in an almost unheard of maneuver, it placed its own decision aside in order to poll all of the appeals court justices in the state on the matter, asking if they agree to convene a special panel of judges for yet another review.

This maneuver, praised by Governor Snyder who knows that once Public Act 4 becomes a ballot question, Emergency Managers will be suspended, is clearly a delaying tactic, compounding the court refusal to hear expert witnesses on the question before it.

Similarly, the Governor and his allies are furious with Detroit Corporation Counsel for following the new City Charter. They are outraged that Mayor Bing cannot violate it and fire her, presumably for following her mandate.


The mainstream media, which literally screams at City Council members for obstructing the drive toward corporate control, remained silent about these efforts to “roadblock” a public vote on Emergency Manager Legislation. In a move that defied any pretense at logic, those who have been the strongest supports of Emergency Managers had the audacity to accuse the General Counsel of acting “autonomously” and without “accountability.” They continually invoke catastrophic images to justify evading basic issues.

These struggles are at the core of rapidly unfolding efforts to redefine democracy in our city and in our country.

The corporate powers would do well to consider the words of one who consistently called upon Americans to live up to our best ideals. Dr. Martin Luther King understood that “those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures,” ultimately “make violent revolutions inevitable.”