What Happens in Michigan Won’t Stay in Michigan
History is being made in Flint, Michigan. The national corporate media finally (after two years) decided to cover an unprecedented catastrophe – the poisoning of a city of 100,000 people. As sick children, infants, and their families graced the covers of national magazines and television, powerful stories emerged about children’s erratic behavior and the deterioration of their intellectual capabilities. Rashes, seizures, clumps of fallen hair, legionellosis and other unexplainable illnesses ravaged the city. Discolored water was deemed “safe” to drink. The general public and the world saw bottled water distributed by the thousands from fire stations and churches. The response was overwhelming, in terms of water and money donations to Flint, including from celebrities and athletes. Congress and state officials held hearings and launched investigations. It became obvious that that the Flint water crisis was a failure of government at every level. Some have been fired or forced to resign, others face criminal indictment.
Yet, attention must be paid to the fact that residents of Flint, subject to the Emergency Manager Law, had no right to overturn the decision that led to use of the toxic Flint River water – so they continued to be poisoned. They, like 17 other municipalities and school districts in Michigan, lost their democracy. Like the poisoned water, this too is historic and unprecedented.
The economic crisis in Michigan and in the country, the economic interests of capital under these conditions, and the development of the Emergency Management system in Michigan are all tied together. Even before the shocking events took place in Flint, the state had it’s own economic disaster problems. Between 2000-2009, Michigan lost 783,000 jobs (1 in 5 jobs). In fact, 24% of all private sector job losses occurred in Michigan during this period. One economist characterized it as a “one state depression.” Detroit, Benton Harbor, Pontiac and Flint, once manufacturing powerhouses, were especially hard hit. Robotics, electronics, and outsourcing of capital overseas catapulted these cities into a brand new reality – from which they’ve yet to rebound.
Bondholders and hedge fund managers salivate over the potential to expropriate assets from these abandoned cities. For example, in 2001 the Michigan Privatization Report, a publication of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (a right wing think tank) devoted it’s entire issue to the city of Detroit. Every article extolled the virtues of privatizing virtually all of it’s city assets (sell off) and services (outsourcing). Detroit’s Cobo Hall, garbage pick-up, historic Belle Isle. D-Dot (public transportation, EMS (Emergency Medical System), the public lighting Department and more each had an article devoted to them. One stand out article was entitled, “Water Privatization Can Help Detroit Avoid Drowning In Debt.”
In March of 2011, less than 3 months after taking office, the now infamous Governor Rick Snyder signed legislation (PA4) that its sponsor, State Representative Al Pacholka, dubbed “fiscal martial law.” It allows the governor to dispatch “Emergency Managers” to municipalities and/or school districts, replacing the locally elected mayor, city councils, and/or duly elected school boards. These managers are empowered to void or modify local contracts (outsource union work), hire and/or fire local employees, set aside local charters, initiate bankruptcy, dissolve or merge local municipalities, and most famously, sell assets. The unelected Manager may not be recalled and his or her orders may not be overturned by the people.
Playing the race card, proponents of the law launched a vicious campaign to justify its passage, claiming that African American local elected officials were “corrupt,” “dysfunctional,” “too foolish to handle” (finances), or otherwise just “too dumb to do the right thing.” Major media outlets joined the chorus. They soon found out that dog wouldn’t hunt when voters launched and overwhelmingly passed an initiative to overturn the law in November of 2012. Undeterred, the legislature quickly passed a similar law (P.A. 436) tweaking the original, to make it repeal-proof. Clearly, a fascist culture had gripped the Governor’s office and Michigan’s legislature.
Some cities and school districts are predisposed to be taken over by Emergency Managers. They are the low-hanging fruit. They are majority-minority areas. Flint is 57% African American, 43% white. To date over half of African Americans who live in Michigan live under Emergency Managers or some form of it. Secondly, the cities have a high poverty rate. In Flint, 42% live below the poverty line. Finally, the municipality has valuable public assets. Among them, water is the most coveted.
On April 24, 2014, on orders from Emergency Manager Darnell Earley, Flint went from Detroit Water and Sewer Department lake water to the toxic and ultra-corrosive Flint River water. This would be cost-cutting and an interim source while a new KWA pipeline could be built to replace the Detroit system. This is what dictatorship looks like. An Emergency Manager orders the switch without the vote of City Council or the people. Soon the people discover they are being poisoned – but have no right to overturn the decision. General Motors engine parts are rusting from the corrosive water, and the Emergency Manager allows them to return to the Detroit water system. The people of Flint are not. With Flint residents paying among the highest water rates in the country for unusable water, all stops have been pulled out to secure Flint bonds for the new J.P. Morgan-backed water pipeline. While Flint suffers high lead, high costs, demanding that corroded pipes be replaced, and scrambling to cover healthcare costs from the toxic exposure, the city has not missed one bond payment throughout the entire episode.
The Michigan experience shows us that corporate private property has secured a fascist political model to carry out it’s aims. Democracy as we’ve known it has become a liability. With an Emergency Manager at the helm, you don’t have to give campaign contributions to local politicians seeking office, sit down at the bargaining table and wrestle concessions or even face a referendum by local voters – even if they have been poisoned. Just sign an order – the deed is done.
Among other things, revolutionaries and others must sound the alarm about the fascist footprint at play in Michigan. Otherwise, what happens in Michigan won’t stay in Michigan.
September/October 2016 Vol26.Ed5
This article originated in Rally, Comrades!
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The age-old vision of a world without scarcity, without exploitation, class domination, organized violence, and stultifying labor has been the dream of millenia. The new completely socialized labor-eliminating means of production ... sets the basis for its realization. Now human history can begin, the light of the individual shining in the full brightness of liberated life, that can only be realized within true equality and cooperation: communism, a cooperative society.'Without Vision, the People Perish'
Rally, Comrades ! May/June 2011