On Detroit’s “CAVE People”

“There are CAVE people (Citizens Against Virtually Everything), but you have to challenge the way things have always been done.”

– Detroit (i.e., Kresge Foundation) Future City pamphlet “Creating a vibrant Detroit for all”

Calling People derogatory names in order to disregard our opinions and interests is exactly the way things have pretty much always been done in and around Detroit.  And it should be challenged.

Creating false binaries like a fake choice between a) being “against virtually everything”, or b) failing to “challenge the way things have always been done”, as if those were our (only) 2 options, or even remotely accurate ways of describing our choices, is manipulative and dishonest.  It should be challenged.

Kresge Future City’s narcissistic, repeatedly failed and continuously rebranded elitist, top-down process for asserting class, racial and corporate power to reshape our city should be challenged.[i]  Authentic engagement, democracy, equity, and accountable, transparent policy making (the opposite of Kresge Foundation’s “Detroit Future City” follies), will be necessary to expose and end this abusive and racist scam.  We should be able to debate and fight it without being labeled “CAVE People”.  But that’s the low level of intellectual and moral corruption on offer from Kresge’s philanthropocrats.

So what’s the alternative?

I respectfully suggest that answering this key question – if not implementing it – is simpler than it may at first seem.  In essence, it requires reversing the corporate domination and stranglehold on our resources, lives, communities, imaginations and future.  More easily said than done, sure.  But it’s not that “There is no alternative”, as Margaret Thatcher so famously asserted long ago, and as Kresge and their enablers seem to believe today.

Rather, it’s not accidental that the particular policy shaping our current civic development agenda in the throes of planetary disaster, compared to available alternatives, is (thanks to Kresge) the one getting all the resources and powerful support.  Moreover, it’s no accident that class and racial power dynamics underlie and structure the investment and policy decisions hidden behind both their faux-progressive rhetoric and “CAVE people” slurs.  This is a system that definitely needs to be changed.  Who is really changing it, foundation-dependent political tools, or Detroit’s independent, grassroots racial justice and anti-imperialist cadre?

Consider the developments over the last four years in the regionalization and monetization of southeastern Michigan’s water systems.  A lot of attention has recently, and righteously been focused on Flint and Governor Snyder’s ‘emergency management’ policy of forcing the People there to drink water contaminated with lead and who-knows-what-other carcinogenic poisons.  In essence, Snyder’s Genesee County cronies wanted to build a new, lucrative water system they can use to direct, control and profit from development in and around Flint; public health be damned, doesn’t really enter into the conversation.  A similar, parallel process of public-private partnership for Detroit Water and Sewerage Dept. (DWSD) was initiated in Detroit’s federal court in 2011, and given powerful new impetus by Snyder’s emergency managed Detroit bankruptcy grifters.

This creation of the new Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) to take over DWSD’s assets is ultimately inseparable from the parallel “bottom line” mentality that led to the water crimes in Flint.  Like the lead-poisoned water, the refusal for over a decade to even meaningfully consider a water affordability plan using income-based rates to protect human rights and public health, arises from the same specious economic analysis that relocates the corporate “bottom line” below community health and life

Detroit’s People of good will and community benefits (not “CAVE People”) welcome support.  When the allies and enablers of Kresge’s Future City visions confront and work creatively and sustainably against present and very significant realities for Detroit, like the water shut offs, foreclosures and destruction of public education, then we will be working together for actual transformation.  The absence of such issues and work from current and past Detroit Future City-brand activities is, again, not accidental.

Note the little-noted admission by Kresge Foundation Chairman Rip Rapson about the true scope of ‘reform’ in Detroit, published in the Traverse City Record-Eagle newspaper in April 2013:

“The Emergency Financial Manager’s appointment is a single component in a larger suite of activities through which the city is accelerating its transformation. The manager’s efforts will stand alongside a robust and multifaceted machinery of investment and engagement that is expanding opportunities and supporting the continued emergency of a vibrant and essential Detroit unimaginable to some outside observers.”  

That explicit connection between emergency management and foundation-funded development programs is rarely so openly stated by their proponents, presumably for political reasons.  The reasons aren’t hard to understand.

In recent years a lot of young People of diverse ethnicities and backgrounds have come to Detroit to be a part of our current and future city.  Understanding the dynamics and realities of things like gentrification, regional inequalities, public-private partnerships in an era of militant corporate capitalism, and community engagement across race and class lines have all become significant cottage industries, but far too often mired in self-interested investment and neocolonial development schemes.  Kresge’s multi-year, tens-of-millions-of-dollars “Detroit Future City” intervention has attempted, with much success in elite circles, to set and drive the agenda.  The challenge of responding to this well-funded project of class domination has been immense, and continues to confront us with cunning, stupid statements like “There are CAVE people (Citizens Against Virtually Everything), but you have to challenge the way things have always been done.”  Still we rise, and seek a better, truer and more effective basis for community economic development, human rights and equity.

So don’t settle for such false choices concealing domination, divide-and-conquer campaigns, and empty promises of a better future, if we simply discard essential values in the present.  Rather, join together with People you and trust and work for real challenges & changes to the way things have always been done that go beyond rhetoric.

Detroit sick of moneyed liars!  Detroit smash white supremacy!  Detroit control own future!  Ugh!!!


[i] This particular problem is now more than 5 years old, and if my tone is unkind, that’s because I am frankly sick and tired of it.  See, e.g., The Structural Readjustment of Detroit from September 2010.


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