In Detroit; In America

Wednesday, November 4, 2020, the day after the election, saw a loathsome Trump/white supremacist riot – thankfully a relatively small and belated one – chanting “stop the vote” and seeking to intimidate, obstruct and interrupt the work of African American poll workers who nevertheless persisted counting the votes of Detroiters, including late-arrived ballots of our on-duty military personnel.

It was a disgrace, ugly as sin, redeemed only by the everyday s/heroism of the poll workers who implemented the essential administrative function of our supposedly democratic republic in the face of vile, racist opposition that they refused to allow intimidate them.

Some incidents from recent history involving racialized violations of citizenship and death help frame this event with clarity:

+ Ten years ago in November 2010, Rick Snyder was elected Governor of Michigan. Soon thereafter came his first March 2011 ‘emergency management’ (EM) statute, rapidly imposed on Michigan’s majority-People of Color communities in the next few years. To make a long story short, the EM policy for restructuring our communities’ finances led directly – thru the very financing instruments that created new regional water authorities in Flint (Karegnondi) and metro Detroit (Great Lakes Water) – to very serious public health and other social injustices, involving mass violations of the human right to water and sanitation. People in Flint were required to be served by poisoned water for some 18 months. Detroit’s water and sewer restructuring was premised on mass water shutoffs triggering the system’s financial regionalization. The essential link between civic death of Michigan African Americans’ democratic voice via EM powers and rights in local government, and denial of the very means of life itself via these financialized water deals represents the ugly structural reality of racist power.

+ Last week in Detroit the Trump mob asserted their whiteness as the claimed power to order Detroiters to stop counting our votes. The civic death of vote suppression and disenfranchisement framed the vicious racially disparate death and loss of the pandemic, with the white Trump obstructors reportedly violating masking and physical distancing protocols as they stood over the poll workers. Not even pretending to offer legitimate objections to particular ballots, rather trying wholesale to stop the vote count in Detroit because they would lose the election! The systematic, structural linkages between the underlying white power policies like EM and Trumpism not coincidentally intersect and co-maximize the obscenely disparate death and loss rates in People of Color communities, at every opportunity whether electoral, public health, or involving adequate income for dignified conditions of living in economically exploited, class oppressed and racially othered communities. An old story in America given obscene new expression under Trump.

+ Earlier this year in April 2020 we began to learn about the massive disparate impacts in American communities by race for both the virus and its economic depression. Heavily armed white men besieged the Michigan legislature and some of them were recruited into a conspiracy to kidnap the governor. Independent citizen journalist Thom Hartman[1] chronicled the weeks in April when white power embodied in state corporate leadership chose to reopen an economy with the economic evaluation of the decision based largely on excess risks for black, latinx and native workers. Again the dialectical patterns of policy negating human rights and public health under a white-dominated, potentially violent power grab. The essential questions in such great historical transformations – who decides, who benefits, who pays – somehow only get asked in radical spaces like this one! A lesson I take from these last 20 years reviewed here is it is now definitely time to overcome that limitation.

At this writing the remaining active Trump would-be usurpers of democracy may well initiate more bloodshed. The white house is reportedly centralizing its power in the pentagon. Key cabinet members like the attorney general and secretary of state, and key federal officials like the head of the general services administration in the middle of what should be transition of power, and GOP legislators have begun to tentatively support a possible authoritarian breakthrough power grab against the election. Anything could happen. We should confront our racial demons and embody in action our stated ideal that all People are equal. The question of a general strike should arise very soon in the face of continuing confusion, if any, about the democratic effect of the vote in actually changing the occupant of the white house. We can agree red rural and blue metropolitan communities alike to argue and if necessary, fight about other things later. Right now the continued reality of democracy has to be our collective #1 priority. Throw the bum out or shut it all down!