In case you have been living under a rock, Detroit Is Coming Back™.
For years, Detroit has been the poster child of American neoliberalism and austerity. In Michigan, the state is allowed to appoint officials that supplant those who have been duly elected by popular vote in times of financial distress. These officials, known as emergency managers, are granted sweeping powers to do whatever it takes to “balance the books”, even if it means shredding the public sector and the services that they provide to the working class. The institution as a whole is not simply an attack on services; it is an attack on democracy itself, especially since emergency managers have the power to remove “uncooperative” elected officials.
Realizing this, Michiganders went to the polls in November 2012 and rejected Proposal 1, which ended the authority of emergency managers in the state. Not to be deterred, Gov. Rick Snyder — who had campaigned for the office in 2010 on being “One Tough Nerd” and “running government like a business” — and his fellow Republicans in the state legislature passed Public Act 436, which made mild modifications to the previous statute but kept in place the emergency management system.
The emergency manager for Detroit had one job: make the city safe for capital again. Kevyn Orr, the corporate lawyer who was appointed as Detroit’s emergency manager in March 2013, took to the job with aplomb. Union contracts were cancelled, retirees saw reductions in their benefits, and city services were sold to private firms. Orr directed the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to cut off water to those who were behind on their bill, adding another layer of cruelty to working-class families in a city devastated by capital flight and a toxic brew of violence from white supremacy and spatial segregation.
The financial bankruptcy may have ended in 2014, but the social and moral bankruptcy continues amongst those who rule this city. Talk to any long-term Detroiter and they will tell you the same. But if you are unable to make it to this city — a gem full of culture, great food, and even better people — then I direct you to a shining example of such elite turpitude: Detroit Homecoming.
Sponsored by Crain’s, the city’s business magazine, the event brings together former Detroiters — grossly referred to as “expats”, as if Detroit is some exotic locale on the other side of the world — in order to get them to invest in the city. While the investment has indeed been rolling in, it has largely been limited to the downtown and midtown areas, where many of the city’s business and wealthiest people call home. Venture outside of the glistening buildings and shiny new light-rail — which runs through, you guessed it, downtown and midtown — and you will find a city still beset with the same poverty and crumbling infrastructure as before.
Mike Duggan, the incumbent mayor of Detroit, tells us that he wants “one city for all of us”, but it is clear that there are actually two Detroits: one which features the shiny symbols of a renaissance, available for all compliant media and non-profits to frame their stories and fundraising pitches, and then the Detroit that the vast majority of the city’s residents live in, where the signs of a Phoenix rising are easy to miss.
But there are people fighting back, and you have the opportunity to join such a group when they give these “expats” a sincere Detroit homecoming.
The Charlevoix Village Association is a community organization that has been fighting against the displacement and gentrification that has become so commonplace in Detroit’s “renaissance”. Their eleven demands for a more equitable Detroit include the full funding of education, the restoration of city services, and the ability for communities to decide the kind of development that works in concert with their desires.
The CVA will be warmly greeting Detroit Homecoming participants with a demonstration outside of their gathering this Wednesday at 6pm in Corktown’s Roosevelt Park. Come out, and join a movement for change in this city.