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Defend Reverend Edward Pinkney

Reverend Edward Pinkney has had 30 months of his life stolen. Reverend Pinkney is in prison because of his resistance to the dismantling of democracy and the emerging naked corporate rule in Michigan. Pinkney was convicted of bogus charges related to his community’s fight to unseat a public official, who had opened doors for the town’s public assets, such as a cherished lakeside public park, to be handed over to the corporations.

The case of Reverend Pinkney cannot be separated from Michigan’s ominous political environment, where the basic tenets of democracy are under severe attack by corporate power. Nor can it be separated from the growth of a powerful movement of workers fighting for democracy and life itself. Reverend Pinkney is the face of the resistance in Michigan.

The foundation of the most recent legal case waged against Pinkney was the accusation that he had changed dates on petitions for the recall of James Hightower, the Benton Harbor mayor, who was a puppet for Whirlpool Corporation. During Pinkney’s appeal, the prosecution admitted to having only circumstantial evidence, but Michigan courts upheld the legal lynching. There was no evidence, no eyewitness, and no confession presented during his trial. The jury was not of his peers. The jury was all white and Reverend Pinkney is Black. The jury had relatively high incomes and none were from the impoverished city of Benton Harbor. Further, none of the jurors had experienced what it is like to live under the Michigan corporate dictatorship.

Test Case for Fascism

As this case shows, Michigan, once the most industrialized and unionized state in the nation, is a test case for instituting fascism – the merger of the giant corporations and government. The story of Reverend Pinkney, Benton Harbor and Michigan exposes how all levels of government, including both major political parties, are colluding to eliminate democracy and support the corporate takeover of the cities and the state.

Michigan Emergency Manager dictator laws have thrown out publicly elected officials, eliminating democracy in order to hand public assets over to the corporations. Emergency Managers, whose dictatorial powers include the breaking of union contracts, abolition of local democratic rights, and overturning legal agreements and elections, have been established in Michigan municipalities and/or school districts. Where Emergency Managers have left, some form of them remain through transitional advisory boards.

Meanwhile, this political model is spreading throughout the country. Aimed first at the minority population in cities with chronic unemployment and poverty, this form of attack is the “low hanging fruit” that is ushering in the spreading assault on democracy. The poisoned city of Flint dramatizes the dire results. Unelected state-appointed officials there decided to switch the water source, poisoning a city of 100,000, while laying the groundwork for the privatization of water. Under Emergency Management, the people had no say in making or reversing the decision.

Today, Michigan is becoming both the center of the fascist assault sweeping the nation and also the response of millions of workers to it. A short historical review will illustrate this process as it unfolded in Benton Harbor.

In 2003, Benton Harbor saw the mysterious murders of several Black men. When Terrance “T Shirt” Shurn was murdered by police, an uprising of youth, whom the city had abandoned, shook the region’s power structure. Reverend Pinkney helped organize community protests that were met by Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm’s use of the National Guard to quell the protests.

In 2004, a Benton Harbor city commissioner led an effort to give Whirlpool Corporation the city’s coveted public beachfront property. This property, known in part as Jean Klock Park, had been deeded to the city for public use. The community fought to prevent Whirlpool from seizing this property. Reverend Pinkney helped organize a successful recall election of the commissioner, who was instrumental in handing the property over to the corporations. However, the community’s vote was set aside by a local judge.

In 2007, Pinkney was arrested and charged with voter fraud. The trial ended in a hung jury. Pinkney was retried, but not before a jury of his peers: the government ensured that no Blacks would sit on the jury. He was convicted and placed on probation. Later, Pinkney was sent to prison for a probation violation, after he quoted the Bible in a newspaper article. The judge felt that this biblical quote (from Deuteronomy) was a threat. After serving almost a year in prison, a victory for the people was achieved when Reverend Pinkney was released, after the ACLU proved his imprisonment was illegal. Around this time, Benton Harbor residents voted out the Whirlpool majority of city commissioners. What followed was an appointment by Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm of an unelected, Emergency Financial Manager to run Benton Harbor.

Then in 2012, Michigan voters, including a majority of both Black and white, passed a statewide referendum to outlaw Emergency Managers in the state. Republican Governor Rick Snyder countered by signing a new Emergency Manager Law that is “repeal-proof.” This process clearly shows how both parties – Democratic and Republican – are complicit in the corporate takeover of the state.

In 2013, Benton Harbor residents proposed a 1% income tax, aimed at Whirlpool, to help the people, but the tax was defeated by a corporate blitz of misinformation. The citizens worked to recall Benton Harbor’s mayor James Hightower. The mayor directed the Sheriff’s department to investigate the petitions. The Sheriff’s investigation intimidated many of the poor, who had signed the petitions. Even though the people of Benton Harbor had twice the number of signatures for a recall election, the successful petition was thrown out by a judge.

In 2014, Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams surrounded Reverend Pinkney’s house with armored vehicles. He was arrested and charged with five felonies, because five dates appeared to be changed on the recall petitions of then Mayor Hightower (now former mayor). Pinkney was placed under house arrest and forbidden to use the Internet. He was taken to trial in late 2014 and was convicted by an all white jury.

In 2015 Reverend Pinkney was imprisoned. All appeals by the ACLU and others were rejected. Pinkney has been threatened, maligned, isolated, and exposed to harsh and unhealthy conditions during the thirty months of stolen life. The battle for his release and against corporate power continues to this day.

Why This is Happening

The underlying context for what is happening in Michigan and the entire country is the robotics revolution that is destroying jobs and our old way of life. The new economy, based on electronic laborless production, is also destroying the wage labor foundation of the capitalist system. In the face of these changes, the ruling class is changing its form of rule, to protect its property and wealth.

At all costs, the ruling class must prevent the dispossessed workers, now numbering in the millions, from uniting around their common need for survival. This is especially apparent in the Rust Belt, home to the largest concentration of formerly well-paid industrial workers in the country, who have lost their jobs and ability to make a living. If united, these workers pose a threat to the ruling class. Which way they move politically will impact workers everywhere.

In this sense, the corporate assault by Whirlpool Corporation in Benton Harbor is part of the overall assault of the ruling class to take over local and state government in Michigan and nationwide. Their only option is the elimination of democracy and to install in its place, a new fascist State apparatus of control, which includes the corporations, government, courts, military and police. This is the significance of the fight against the Emergency Manager model and fascism, and of the critical importance of the Pinkney case. Reverend Pinkney alerted the people to the danger of Emergency Management and fascism. This is why the corporate government treats Reverend Pinkney so harshly.

Cannot Stop the Struggle for Life 

Yet the struggle for life itself cannot be stopped. The attack waged on Reverend Pinkney for his activism against corporate power is already spreading to other fighters throughout the state. From the uncompromising fight for redress over the poisoning of workers, to the bitter fight to save public education for the children, leaders like Pinkney, who stand up for the workers against corporate rule, are rising to the fore. The people need a government that provides for their needs, not for the needs of the corporations. In an increasingly jobless economy, people’s necessities like food, homes, water, housing, education, and healthcare must be distributed by need and not by money. Michigan is a preview of what is to come across the country.

The new conditions everywhere are creating a new type of uncompromising leader like Reverend Pinkney. These new leaders represent the interests of a new class of workers, those who are increasingly thrown out of the capitalist system and unable to survive. Their stance is in the interest of society. These leaders are clear and honest opponents of the corporate grab of public assets and are a real threat to corporate power. These leaders are advocating using public wealth to address public need. They are calling for the corporations to be taken over by the government and run in the interests of the people. We the people have to stand with and defend these leaders.

The collapse of manufacturing has left millions with no way to survive, pushing the capitalists to use fascist methods of rule to control the people. Reverend Pinkney’s struggle is a clear example of the complete picture of fascism and modern politics, and is a perfect case to show the uncompromising struggle of the workers for a new kind of society.

What happened in Benton Harbor and to Reverend Pinkney will sweep the nation, if not stopped. Michigan shows the pressing need for revolutionaries to help unite the people around a vision of a new cooperative society, where everyone’s needs are met.

As we defend Reverend Pinkney, we defend democracy against corporate dictatorship.

January/February 2017. Vol27.Ed1
This article originated in Rally, Comrades!
P.O. Box 477113 Chicago, IL 60647 rally@lrna.org
Free to reproduce unless otherwise marked.
Please include this message with any reproduction.


Photo of Protest

30,000 March in Support of
Chicago Teachers Union Strike
Photo by Ryan L Williams
used with permission

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

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