Giving the EM a fist? Or just the finger?
Emergency Manager Backlash
Published: March 27, 2013
About an hour into the meeting, which had several hundred people in attendance, the news media were told they had to leave. The reason given was that organizers of the event were going to begin discussing the “nuts and bolts” of resistance tactics, and they didn’t want those tactics to be revealed in the media.
We got up and left with a few of the other reporters but, after standing in the lobby for a few minutes, decided to go back in. This was, after all, a meeting the general public had been encouraged to attend. People inside were using their smart phones to record what was going on. Giving the boot to reporters made no sense whatsoever.
So we took a seat up front, but it didn’t take long before the Rev. Charles Williams II, the church’s pastor and president of the local National Action Network (NAN) affiliate, stopped proceedings and again said all media had to leave.
We stood up in protest, saying this was a meeting the general public was invited to attend, at that we had a right to be there, but the crowd shouted us down. Then Sam Riddle, who had been given a seat with the other leaders around the pulpit at the front of the cavernous church, came down to ease us out.
It was the first time we’ve seen Riddle since his release from federal prison, where he served time for committing bribery while working with former Detroit Councilmember Monica Conyers; the wife of U.S Rep John Conyers, she spent some time of her own behind bars for corruption.
So there was Sam, understandably looking a little haggard after having spent many months in the pen, trying to escort one of the News Hits crew from a meeting being held to protest a law critics say is anti-democratic.
Here’s a news flash, NAN: The media plays a critical role in ensuring democracy functions as intended, and trying to exclude us from covering meetings that the general public is invited to is both hypocritical and downright dumb. It does nothing to keep efforts secret; it took about five minutes for us to find out what was discussed after we got the boot. And what good does it do to remove TV cameras and radio microphones when there’s an audience filled with people holding up their smart phones, capturing everything that happens?
Aside from the fact that getting kicked out of a church by convicted felon Sam Riddle will be forever a career highlight for us here at the Hits, the whole encounter helped to crystallize our thoughts about what’s been going on these past few days.
It started with a news conference held last week to announce that there would be an attempt to create a movement of mass resistance to the emergency manager being imposed on Detroit.
That press conference featured, among others, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rep. Conyersand Detroit Councilmember JoAnn Watson.
As with the Saturday meeting, the focus was placed on African-Americans, and how they fought long and hard for the right to vote, and that this is a civil rights fight on a par with the one waged in the streets of Birmingham and Selma during the 1960s.
We here at News Hits won’t dispute that point. But we also think that this is a bigger issue than that.
At a rally held in front of the Spirit of Detroit statue on Monday — held in a snowstorm, with only about 100 protesters in attendance — attorney Jerry Goldberg drew attention to thousands of documents his group, Moratorium Now!, had obtained by filing a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the city. The documents detail credit swap transactions with bondholders — deals Goldberg said have cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars in unnecessarily high interest rates, and could cost hundreds of millions more if so-called “termination” payments are called in.
Here’s the thing that we think is important: This isn’t just a question of black people being denied the vote. It is also about the imposition of the economics of austerity on a city that has suffered tremendous hardship at the hands of the big banks and Wall Street, both in terms of the predatory lending schemes that led to a devastating foreclosure crisis in Detroit, and in terms of equally predatory schemes used to jack up the rates on bond payments.
The emergency manager law helps protect those interests while allowing for legally negotiated contracts with unions to be torn up, and public assets to be sold off. It is about letting the corporate right have its way with us.
In a letter to The Detroit News (a copy of which was sent to Metro Times), attorney Tom Stephens, who works for the City Council’s legal department and has long been active in progressive causes, described what’s going on this way:
“This is a corporate power and money grab of historic dimensions, ably assisted by corporate media’s refusal to print or broadcast the truth.”
Stephens, it’s worth pointing out, was also part of a successful effort to have the Department of Education open 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.”
As with a federal lawsuit that will challenge the constitutionality of the emergency manager law (a lawsuit expected to be filed this week), the request for a federal investigation into the situation at Detroit Public Schools is an attempt to enlist the federal government and courts in this fight.
But successful social movements are first won in the streets, by building widespread public pressure. History teaches us that. And there is no shortage of others who have an interest in this fight.
> Email Curt Guyette