People’s Assembly links rising racism to economic crisis

detroit_0910A People’s Assembly and Speakout were held on Aug. 29 in downtown Detroit at Grand Circus Park. The event was called by the Moratorium NOW! Coalition and endorsed by other community organizations.

While the event lasted over three hours, so many people requested to speak that some were not able to state their views. Organizers apologized due to the constraints of time.

Speakers at the assembly included Rebeykah Larson, who co-chaired the gathering. Larson is a housing activist in Detroit and has demonstrated against the pending property tax foreclosures in Wayne County.

Jo Ann Watson, former City Council member, lent her moral support to the ongoing struggle in Detroit. Attorney Vanessa Fluker, a people’s lawyer working on housing rights, urged people to fight the banks at the root of the foreclosure crisis.

Errol Jennings, leader of the Russell Woods Neighborhood Association, called for citywide organization to end the forced removals underway against African Americans and other working-class people in the city. Jennings had spearheaded a campaign to get resolutions from community organizations for a moratorium on tax foreclosures. This helped prompt the City Council to pass its own language requesting the moratorium. The tax foreclosure deadline was postponed for two-and-a-half months, allowing thousands to make arrangements with the Wayne County Treasurer’s Office to save their homes.

Other speakers included Cicely McClellan and Tijuana Morris of the Detroit Active and Retirees Association; retired steelworker Pat Driscoll and attorney Matt Clark of the Detroit Eviction Defense; Jack Watkins speaking for youth on the rising tide of racism in this majority African-American city; Debra Simmons of the Detroit chapter of the National Action Network and the ACLU National Police Reform Campaign; Jerry Goldberg and Michael Shane of the Moratorium NOW! Coalition; Diane Bukowski, editor of Voice of Detroit; Valerie Jean, a water and environmental rights community activist; Martha Grevatt of the United Auto Workers; Cynthia Johnson, AM 1440 radio host and leader of the Community Light Walk; Maureen Taylor, co-chair of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization; Meeko Williams of the Detroit Water Brigade; Stephen Boyle, a videographer and environmental activist; Helen Moore of Keep the Vote, No Takeover; and Erik Shelly of Michigan United and Black Lives Matter.

Action proposals adopted

The Wayne County treasurer has announced that the remaining foreclosed properties, even those that are owner-occupied, will begin to be auctioned off on Sept. 11. The People’s Assembly agreed on an action proposal to hold a demonstration outside the treasurer’s office at 400 Monroe at noon on Sept. 15.

The action proposal circulated at the assembly stressed: “This disaster is entirely avoidable! The state of Michigan is sitting on $200 million in federal Helping Hardest Hit Funds that can be used to pay delinquent property tax bills for occupied homes. But instead of using these funds for their stated purpose, to keep families in their homes, the state and federal governments are using these funds to tear down homes and turning them over to the ‘blight task force’ led by billionaire Dan Gilbert.”

Other action proposals included an outreach initiative for the annual Labor Day parade on Sept. 7. Two items will be circulated to the tens of thousands of union members: a statement to the labor movement from Michigan political prisoner Rev. Edward Pinkney and leaflets calling for the demonstration at the Wayne County treasurer’s office on Sept. 15.

A strong emphasis was placed on the need for jobs; the restoration of full pension and health care benefits promised to municipal retirees; support for a Title VI racial discrimination complaint to the federal government charging extreme bias in the destruction of the Detroit Public Schools system; the need to seek justice for victims and families of police violence; and the defense of residents facing eviction by the banks and Fannie Mae.

Moratorium NOW! Coalition organizers encouraged people to attend their 7 p.m. Monday night meetings at 5920 Second Ave. in Midtown.

This People’s Assembly once again tested the hard-won right of community organizations to hold political meetings and demonstrations on the streets in downtown Detroit. In 2014, the bankers and corporate heads tried to ban such activities, prompting a legal and political struggle to guarantee free speech and assembly in the financial district and its environs.