by Curt Guyette
That there would be organized opposition to an emergency manager taking control of Detroit is something that could have been expected. What remains to be seen now is how many people will participate in the nonviolent civil disobedience actions the Rev. Jesse Jackson and others on Friday said will soon be launched.
Jackson and another civil rights icon, U.S. Rep. John Conyers, were among a group who held a press conference at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center to announce the call to action. A coalition of union, church, civil rights groups and progressive activists will be key to the effort.
In addition to calling for “mass demonstrations,” there are also plans to fight the newest incarnation of the state’s emergency manager law, PA 436 – passed during a lame-duck session of the Legislature in December after a majority of Michigan voters rejected the previous law a month earlier — in court. A federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of PA 436, which takes effect March 28, is expected to be filed next week.
In addition to that action, Conyers, a Detroit Democrat and ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, and U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, another Democrat whose district includes part of Detroit, sent a letter to Comptroller General Gene L. Dodaro asking for a General Accounting Office investigation into the emergency manager law in Michigan.
“We write to request that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) conduct a study of the Michigan emergency manager law, including the operation of federally-funded programs (such as education, transportation, Medicaid, and public safety) in jurisdictions declared in financial crisis, and placed under the authority of an emergency financial manager,” the pair wrote in a letter dated March 21.
“We have previously observed that the unilateral appointment of an unelected emergency manager raises serious legal concerns, including questions about minority voting rights and the laws’ constitutional legitimacy. Our letter to you today, however, focuses on fiscal accountability issues,” the two added.
In addition to that, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has said it is opening an investigation into allegations that the state of Michigan “discriminated against black and Hispanic students and parents in the Detroit Public School District
based on race and national origin by appointing emergency managers to the District but not appointing emergency managers to similarly situated predominantly white suburban school districts.”
The letter points out that, in regard to the allegations, opening an “investigation in no way implies that OCR [Office for Civil Rights] has made a determination with regards to its merits.”
At Friday’s press conference, attorney Herb Sanders said that lawsuits and federal investigations alone won’t be enough to halt the takeover. “This is not the time to engage in cooling off,” he said.
The actions won’t be aimed only at protesting the appointment of an emergency manager. The intent will also be to agitate for policy changes that will help stabilize the city fiscally.
“We need an urban plan for reconstruction” from the federal government, Jackson said.
Al Garrett, president of AFSCME Local 25, took aim at bondholders and criticized the new emergency manager law for making payment of debt a priority. The “scoundrels” on Wall Street, who saddled Detroit with bad bond deals much in the same way inner-city residents were targeted with predatory lending schemes, should take a hit before any more city services are cut.
Jackson and Conyers said, in essence, that Detroit and the rest of Michigan have become ground zero in a much larger fight to protect the democratic process. An organizing meeting will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, March 22, at the ?Historic King Solomon Baptist Church?, 6100 14th St., Detroit.