Detroit mass meeting holds banks accountable for city’s financial ruin

Leading community organizers in the Detroit area addressed a standing- room-only audience at Central United Methodist Church on May 4 when the Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shut-offs presented a representative sample of documents related to the bond issues and loans that are at the root of the financial crisis in the city.

The audience reaction was to enthusiastically support a program accusing the big banks of creating the financial crisis and to call for the prosecution of these institutions. The meeting also called for a renewed fight against emergency management of Detroit, with the understanding that the job of the appointed manager is to ensure the banks get paid first at the expense of city workers and services.

Speakers made clear that the only real short-term solution is to stop paying the banks for the fraudulent $16.9 billion in debt they claim. The resolution read: “Let’s fight to restore city services, end pay cuts to city workers, protect pensions, stop union busting and keep valuable city assets. Put people’s needs before bankers’ greed.”

Exposing banks’ impact on municipal government

David Sole, a retired city employee, former president of United Auto Workers Local 2334 and co-founder of the Moratorium NOW! Coalition, filed a Freedom of Information Act request, followed by a lawsuit and finally a document release authorization form related to bond deals, loans, contracts with financial institutions, e-mail transactions and all correspondence between the banks and local governmental officials.

Since the documents’ release in March, the Moratorium NOW! Coalition set up a task force to sift through more than 3,000 pages of materials, including the terms and conditions of city bonds.

A Power Point program, prepared by Mike Shane, methodically exposed a combination of predatory mortgage lending, credit default swap municipal loans, and the systematic disempowerment of the majority African-American population that created the conditions for the total usurpation of political power by state officials acting on behalf of the interests of capital.

Shane said that two prominent law firms and two national labor unions helped scan, categorize and analyze the contents of the documents received through the FOIA request. These documents can be found on the organization’s website: moratorium-mi.org. They have already generated news articles at globalreseach.ca and modernghana.com, among others.

Andrea Egypt, of the Moratorium NOW! Coalition, who chaired, reflected on the changes and devastation caused by the banks in the communities and within municipal government. Egypt has worked for the city of Detroit for more than two decades.

Attorney Vanessa Fluker, one of the foremost experts and proponents of anti- foreclosure litigation in the United States, received a standing ovation when introduced. Fluker said that the banks plotted to target African-American and Latino/a communities throughout the country for systematic fraud that reaped tremendous profits, which was all documented in a 600-plus-page report prepared by Michigan Senator Carl Levin.

Fluker implored the audience to continue the struggle against the banks and to mobilize the hundreds of thousands in Detroit to fight back against worsening conditions in the city.

Opposing emergency management

Debbie Johnson, of the Moratorium NOW! Coalition, who chaired the first session, noted that the appointment of an emergency manager came after years of attacks against the city of Detroit and its majority African-American population.

Since the first imposition of emergency management over the Detroit Public Schools in 1999, more than 130,000 students were forced out of the public schools, more than 100 school buildings closed and thousands of education sector jobs eliminated. Helen Moore, the founder of the anti-racist Black Parents for Quality Education in 1971, said, “The appointment of the emergency managers has not led to the elimination of the debt or the improvement of education in the district.”

Moore opposed the first state takeover of the DPS in 1999 and recently successfully filed a federal Civil Rights complaint against the appointment of two emergency managers, Robert Bobb in 2009 and retired General Motors executive Roy Rodgers in 2011.

City Council member JoAnn Watson, introduced as the “people’s councilperson,” was one of four council members who voted against the financial stability agreement Gov. Rick Snyder imposed on Detroit on April 4, 2012. Watson has been an indefatigable opponent of emergency management and again denounced the corporate takeover.

Watson noted that she had invited attorney Jerome Goldberg, who also filed the suit to obtain the release of the documents, to meet with the newly appointed city emergency manager Kevyn Orr when he first arrived in Detroit.

Other speakers at the mass meeting included Elena Herrada, a member of the Detroit Board of Education, whose power has been severely curtailed by the state’s forced takeover. The Rev. Bill Wylie-Kellermann, pastor of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Corktown, also spoke on the need to cancel the municipal debt.

Both Herrada and Wylie-Kellerman were arrested in April when they rose to oppose the approval, by a 5-2 majority of the Detroit City Council, against the awarding of a $3.3 million contract to Jones Day law firm to purportedly negotiate the restructuring of the debt service. Herrada said that information provided at the May 4 meeting would empower their defense during an upcoming trial.

Many other organizations and individual activists endorsed or supported the May 4 meeting.