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Democracy is “Unimaginable to Some”

Six years ago, on April 4, 2012, the City of Detroit entered into what scholar Jamie Peck described as the “ludicrously misnamed” consent agreement with the State of Michigan.  Under the authority of Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s unprecedented and extremist “emergency management” policies for racial capitalism, that document was barely a blip in the historic annals of US governance.  Within a year, altho the city never breached that “con-tract”, Snyder had been introduced to Jones Day law partner Kevyn Orr – a black guy with a vicious penchant for lawless throat-cutting.[1]  Together they imposed a full-scale mega-emergency management regime on Detroit, powered by Orr as all-powerful local dictator, and his giant corporate law firm Jones Day as their $70 million-plus restructuring counsel.

At that time, Kresge Foundation CEO Rip Rapson, one of the most active behind-the-scenes string-pullers of Detroit’s imperial, white supremacist, capitalist and patriarchal resurrection, had some good words for Orr’s Frankenstein monster local government:

“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 [sic] of a vibrant and essential Detroit unimaginable to some outside observers.”[2]

This was a rather startling admission (appearing only in a major up-north Michigan newspaper serving a white community), that the political atrocities of “emergency management” are part of the “machinery” philanthropic white saviors are applying to Detroit’s 600,000 or so Black and Brown working class inhabitants.  It has received very little attention because it clashes with the dominant narrative of settler-colonial superiority.  But current events may call for some reappraisal.

Six years later, in the turbulent wake of emergency management, municipal bankruptcy, and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s suburban white rule, Mr. Rapson is again demonstrating his utter lack of imagination, among many other relevant qualities he apparently lacks (soul force, compassion, wisdom, heart, guts, integrity, etc.).  Now (April 5, 2018) he says:

“Although we’ve made almost unimaginable progress over the last decade, we are nowhere near where we need to be in making Detroit the vibrant, healthy, attractive core of its region.”[3]

Six years ago Mr. Rapson pronounced a truly “vibrant and essential” Detroit to be unimaginable to many folks.  In light of our well-known history of Motown, jazz, Fordism, the arsenal of democracy and the like, one might think the vibrant and essential Detroit is really the one most familiar to most People.   But now Mr. Rapson’s narrow minded standpoint describes the “progress” made since then (plus about four years) via his neoliberal gang’s takeover policies as also unimaginable.  What else of note would make a full list of things needed by Detroiters that lie outside Mr. Rapson’s well-heeled imaginary?

Democracy

Emergency management is inherently undemocratic.  Yet, even after its practitioners shocked the world by forcing the People of Flint to drink poisoned water for eighteen months in the service of delusional fiscal savings, Snyder’s second evil emergency management statute – Public Act 436, the one enacted by the lame duck GOP state legislature in December 2012, after Michigan voters repealed Public Act 4 – is still on the books and hasn’t even been amended!

Human Rights

Emergency management leads to systematic human rights violations.  In the spring of 2014, with Orr and Jones Day’s bankruptcy restructuring Detroit’s political, fiscal and social existence, their desire to sell the City’s regional water and sewer infrastructure to the highest bidder triggered a new round of mass water shut offs, against five thousand Detroit families per week!  United Nations experts decried this as a violation to the internationally recognized human right to water and sanitation.  Mayor Duggan’s cowardly response: “We have to deal with reality as it is, not as we wish it to be.”  The lack of democratic imagination, or any real respect for human rights at all, seems to be a defining feature of 21st century racial capitalism as applied to communities like Detroit.

Real Education

The history of the State of Michigan’s racist assault on public education in Detroit, particularly since 1999, is the sordid model for undemocratic violation of human rights perfected in Snyder’s emergency management statutes.  Today Betsy DeVos seeks, bumbling but with powerful behind-the-scenes interests funding her racist and elitist agenda, to extend an authoritarian model of school-as-pre-prisoning to the rest of the nation.  We call BS!

A Sustainable Future

Mr. Rapson’s blighted vision of Detroit-as-regional-core seeks to obscure our destiny: a great community, filled with People whose ancestors have repeatedly changed the world in realms of industrial production, military mobilization against fascism, music and many other aspects of culture.  What Rapson, Snyder, Orr and their legal/political vultures misrepresent as a narrow crisis of municipal finance, is in reality only one regional manifestation of a generalized, planetary social crisis of politics, economics, environment and human viability.  They think we don’t get it.  It’s their narrow, infertile imaginations where the real deficits lie.

This list of white corporate deficits could continue.  For a very long time.  Suffice it to say that Detroiters are neither amused nor impressed by the manifest limits of the corporate, white supremacist and patriarchal imagination.  Rather, the open secret is out there for anyone with eyes to see: Detroit’s assets, People and unique geography and culture are being undemocratically racialized and extracted for the benefit of white capitalists, who lack imaginations to match their ugly, unilateral and imperial powers.

This will not stand.  You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.  A new generation of Detroiters and Americans has opportunities and imaginative resources to face their destiny, and they’re woke.  Rip Rapson’s lack of imagination won’t hold them back as they develop their power to shape whatever futures may remain to us after the intentional racist chaos of emergency mismanagement.  See you in the revolutionary struggle.  If you miss us there, then like Rip Rapson you’ll be missing out on a lot of other things too.

Notes.

[1] “I can cut somebody’s throat and leave them to bleed out in the gutter with the best of them. ” – Kevyn Orr (June 10, 2013) Zen Throat Cutting in Detroit

[2] Groups Step Up to Lead Urban Revival

[3] Equality Foundations’ Focus is for City Comeback

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Frank X Murphy is the pen name of a Detroiter seeking emergency anger management resources and opportunities.

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