Thinking for ourselves
By Shea Howell
Form and substance
Week 57 of the Occupation
May 10 – 17 2014
Last week, the destructive direction for Detroit being pushed by the corporate elite was on full display. In the courtroom, boardroom, and banquet hall, the image of a whiter, wealthier city, governed by fiat was celebrated.
First, there was the astonishing courtroom performance of Mike Murphy, arguing for the state of Michigan, to dismiss the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the emergency manager law.
The issues raised by this challenge go to the heart of what kind of country we are becoming. This is the core legal challenge to the abuses of authority that surround the state’s effort to use “financial distress” to strip cities of political power.
The suit declares that the Michigan emergency manger law “unconstitutionally strips local voters of their right to a republican form of government by transferring governance…. from local officials to one unelected emergency manger…In each of these communities, citizens will have effectively lost their right to vote for elected officials or had that right diluted so as to render it an exercise in form without substance.”
Murphy based his case on the evolving legal theories pushed by right wing think tanks around the country. Only state governments matter in this theory. They argue that the U.S. Constitution recognizes two sovereign entities, the federal and the state governments. States, they claim, are primary.
Following this line Murphy said, “There is no guarantee of any local government having a republican form of government. There is no due process for local government matters.” Nor, apparently, for individuals.
In explaining away the sordid history of Governor Snyder and the right wing state legislature in passing another emergency manger act after it had been resoundingly rejected by a majority of the citizens of the state, Murphy declared, “We’re not governing by referendum. … We don’t pass laws by voting. We live by elected representatives who pass laws for us.”
Near the end of his comments claiming that no one has been harmed by emergency manager laws and that the legislation has nothing to do with race, Murphy declared, “We are not a democracy.”
What is clear in Detroit, Michigan, and around the country is that representative democracy has become completely distorted by money and power. At almost every level, corporate interest contradict the will of the people.
A few days before the hearing, Emergency Manager Orr spoke at the American Bankruptcy Institute in Washington D.C. Here he commented that the drive to bankruptcy was just a small part of a larger, orchestrated effort by the right wing governor to restructure the entire city. Orr said, “One of the things that was most striking to us in this process is while the bankruptcy was filed July 18th 2013, the restructuring process had been going on for three years prior to that… when the governor, Gov. Snyder, made a courageous move to say, ‘I’m going to take on Detroit. … It was just good work.”
In discussing that “good work,” Orr, never asks the critical question of “whose interests are served.” However, the implications are clear. He explains to the audience that “the interest of the city” can be seen in the hands of “city fathers and mothers — Roger Penske, Dan Gilbert — committed to the city for years. The foundation community, a billion dollars over the past ten years to the city of Detroit coming in, and professionals, some of who I talked with this morning, about what it means to be involved. Downtown, the central core, nine square miles, we’re 97 percent leased. … We actually have had investors come in who trip over each other. We had a group of investors from China come in and they bought three buildings because the value proposition and the relatively low acquisition costs smells a whole lot like, …other cities that have gone through a renaissance.”
The substance of the new Detroit Orr, Snyder and the corporate elite want is clear. Only the people stand in their way.