On Wednesday night, Feb. 27, inside of First Community Baptist Church in Detroit, Detroiters gathered to discuss, debate, and plan for our future. We engaged in a town hall meeting. We did not ask for government to sanction or finance our gathering. Instead, we took the initiative on our own to find solutions to the poor quality of life paralyzing Detroit. This meeting was of Detroiters, for Detroiters, and by Detroiters. Notable names were present such as Rev. Wendell Anthony, Rev. Horace Sheffield, Sheriff Bennie Napoleon and Charlie Beckham. Bankole Thompson, editor of the Michigan Chronicle also attended to hear our concerns.
Equally as important were the people present whose names are unknown to the public at large. People like Erma, Bruce, Malik, Erika and Mike. In total, nearly 150 concerned Detroiters who care about the direction of their city, came out on a snowy winter evening to discuss the root causes of the challenges we face, and more importantly, learn how we can transcend our current condition to an improved quality of life.
The people who live, work, play, and love Detroit and care deeply about the city were engaged and passionate about its future.
Often, common rhetoric and media reports portray Detroiters as only victims, or perpetrators, or obstructionists.
Rarely do we take the time to consider the larger, rational, engaged aspect of Detroit citizenry.
One candidate for mayor has suggested that he is the only person capable of turning the city of Detroit around. He goes so far as to suggest that if there is someone else capable of doing so, he would vote for them himself. This rhetoric makes for good sound bites, but is terribly insulting to the lifelong Detroiters who occupy the field of potential candidates for mayor. This candidate has suggested that two certified public accountants, an attorney and law enforcement executive, a current state legislator, and a former corporation counsel for the city of Detroit, all of whom are lifelong Detroiters who have remained in the city of Detroit by choice, are suddenly rendered less qualified than a person who moved into the city for the sole purpose of seeking Detroit’s highest office.
Such rhetoric must be dismissed for the irrational premise upon which it is built. The Detroiters who came out for the town hall meeting would have made mincemeat of this candidate had he spewed such nonsense in their presence.
Aside from lacking any semblance of logic, this kind of “me only” talk is the paternalistic rhetoric of a candidate who neglects the history of the city of Detroit. It has always been Detroiters themselves who have steered the tide of change in this great city.
Detroiters had to implement change when neighborhoods such as Paradise Valley and Black Bottom were bulldozed to make way for freeways to transport people to and from the suburbs. Detroiters had to reclaim neighborhoods, and rebuild businesses after the 1967 riots. It was Detroiters who opted to create history by electing the first African American mayor of a major U.S. city. Detroiters purchased homes and stabilized neighborhoods during the recession of the late ’70s and early ’80s. It is always the people who make the difference, not the public servant. The public servant is required to follow the will of the people. An elected official on his or her own can accomplish nothing without the direction, support and aid of the people. All candidates for mayor in the current race would do well to remember this important fact of leadership.
Since our town hall meeting, Gov. Snyder has moved forward with his decision to appoint an emergency manager for Detroit. Detroiters were told an emergency manager is coming, but were left in the dark as to who the governor will appoint to fill this role. As I have stated on numerous prior occasions, the Emergency Manager Law rushed through the legislature in December of 2012 is wrong for a variety of reasons. Obliterating home rule in Detroit is a terrible but perfect example of usurped democracy. Our challenges to this Draconian law must continue through the courts, through media, and in the streets with organized, targeted demonstrations of civil disobedience.
However, as we continue to challenge the law and the process, we must also hold accountable whomever the governor decides to appoint.
We must be careful as ordinary citizens to be sure that our voice of care and concern is heard by the emergency manager, the mayor and the governor. We must not allow ourselves to be left out of the process of decision making.
Wayne State University Professor and Industrial Economist Dr. Peter Henning has warned us that the greatest danger of an emergency manager is the lack of input from the community. An absent or silent community in the wake of this historic appointment is the beginning of the destruction of civil society. Assets will be sold, services privatized, and employees randomly displaced without any input from the citizens. We are still grappling with the utter chaos unleashed when the DPS Emergency Manager Robert Bobb indiscriminately closed dozens of neighborhood schools without input from neighbors. The voices of neighborhood protest over school closings fell upon deaf ears. The consequences of not listening are increased drug and gang violence in the streets, gang wars inside of the schools, and a breakdown in public safety for our children.
We have to be ready to organize, formulate positions, and keep examples of failed emergency management in the face of the appointed manager for Detroit. We cannot doom our citizens to yet another round of failed emergency management because we refused to acknowledge that the manager is, in fact, running the city.
In April, we are hosting another town hall meeting at First Community Baptist Church in Detroit. We will invite well known and unknown Detroiters to come forward to discuss, debate, and plan for the future of our city. By that we will know who the governor has appointed emergency manager. We should also know after our town hall meeting what expectations we have of this manager and how we plan to present those expectations and hold him/her accountable to them and to us.
I hope, as a concerned Detroiter, ex-Detroiter, or concerned member of this region, you will join us.