Detroit May Day: ‘Make the banks pay!’

WW photo: Kris Hamel

WW photo: Kris Hamel

May Day in Detroit focused around the ongoing struggle against emergency management, the forced city bankruptcy and the role of the banks in the economic crisis. A coalition of 35 organizations, including the Moratorium NOW! Coalition, Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management, the local chapter of National Action Network, the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute and others, came together for a day of actions in support of labor and the movement to reclaim the political direction of this majority African-American city.

Under the theme of “No Business As Usual,” the day began at 8 a.m. with an ecumenical gathering at the United Auto Workers Local 600 hall. This event was broadcast live over TV 33, an African-American owned network based in Highland Park, Mich., which simulcasts on the largest cable network in the region. Speakers at the event included former Detroit city councilwoman JoAnn Watson; Rev. David Bullock, of Greater St. Matthew’s Baptist Church in Highland Park; and David Sole, of Stop the Theft of Our Pensions Committee, among others.

After the morning rally, a car caravan departed UAW Local 600 and traveled down Vernor Street in the center of the Latino/a immigrant community as an act of solidarity in support of immigrant rights. The caravan arrived downtown at Hart Plaza at noon, where it was welcomed by cheers of hundreds who had already gathered there.

At the rally at Hart Plaza many retirees and community residents spoke out against the stealing of the vote (when the governor reimposed the emergency management law after voters statewide overturned it), the threats against pensioners and the role of the banks in the destruction of the city.

A section of the demonstration moved into the street and blocked traffic on Jefferson Avenue, where hundreds of vehicles were coming off the Lodge freeway. Although police attempted to encourage the demonstrators to leave, protesters were able to hold the area for over 20 minutes, creating a traffic jam throughout downtown.

Into the streets: ‘Make the banks pay!’

By this time marchers had taken the street on Woodward Avenue, the city’s main thoroughfare, where they began to march into the heart of the financial district. Protesters began to chant “Make the banks pay” as they marched to the Detroit headquarters of Chase Bank.

Demonstrators moved onto the steps of the bank while a large contingent of protesters walked right into the building, continuing their chanting. Within seconds the corridor on the first floor was filled with angry demonstrators. Management and security personnel moved rapidly to lock the doors leading to sensitive areas of the building.

Militant protesters held the building for several minutes and then marched out onto Fort Street, where they and hundreds of others headed toward the federal courthouse, the place where the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history is being litigated. Protesters held the entire block of West Lafayette in front of the courthouse. A brief rally there condemned the entire process of forced bankruptcy and demanded that the state constitution’s protections for pensions be upheld in court proceedings.

Next stop: ‘Show Orr the door!’

Marchers then headed up Washington Boulevard to the Book Cadillac Westin Hotel where state-appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr is housed in a $4,200-a-month penthouse. A section of the demonstration militantly burst through the lobby doors, chanting “Show Orr the door! Show Orr the door!”

Protesters marched around the entire lobby and first floor area of the five-star hotel, denouncing Orr and demanding that he be forced to leave the city. Police arrived several minutes later but did not make any arrests. After 10 or 15 tense minutes, protesters decided to leave the building and continue the march.

Capitalist interests in the city have embarked upon a massive downtown gentrification program. Seniors, workers and people with disabilities are being forced out while a new social layer of corporate managers and business people is being moved into buildings where rents have been raised by 400 percent to 500 percent.

The May Day march also went to the Capital Park district of downtown where gentrification and dislocation are in high gear. Chanting “Stop gentrification!” the demonstrators stood outside “The Albert,” a row of buildings where people have been evicted to make room for high-income business people connected with ruling-class interests of Quicken Loans, Little Caesars Pizza and other capitalists who are seeking to displace thousands living in the areas of downtown, Brush Park and the Cass Corridor.

National demonstration in Detroit July 24

A rally was then held at Grand Circus Park, which has recently been placed under private management by banking mogul and large-scale real estate owner Dan Gilbert.

A representative of the Moratorium NOW! Coalition was described by CBS News: “One speaker with a bullhorn said protesters were there to chase Mike Ilitch, Roger Penske, Chase Bank, and other corporate entities out of town. ‘This is our city, we built this city, we built this economy and we’re not playing, we are sick and tired of these lying dogs,’ the speaker said. ‘Our ancestors ended slavery, they built the UAW,’ he added.”

May Day activities concluded with a meal and speak-out at Central United Methodist Church across the street from the park. Workers, retirees and youth spoke to the need to escalate the struggle against emergency management and the banks.

Many May Day participants who are city retirees said they will vote no on the Plan of Adjustment, which is the austerity program for the further enrichment of the banks and corporations at the expense of the workers.

A call has gone out across the U.S. for people to come to Detroit on July 24, the tentative opening day of the bankruptcy court trial on the Plan of Adjustment. A mass demonstration has been called against austerity and against the attacks on pensions and public assets in the city, state and across the country.