Protesters shut down bankruptcy event

A panel discussion hosted by Detroit Public Television on the first anniversary of the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history was met with protests both inside and outside the Community Arts Auditorium at Wayne State University on Dec 9.

University police told members of the Moratorium Now! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions, and Utility Shutoffs and others that they had to relocate further down the street. The activists refused to move from the public sidewalk and continued their demonstration denouncing the role of the banks, transnational corporations and their agents in government for the ongoing oppression existing throughout the city.

Inside, Gov. Rick Snyder and retired federal Judge Steven Rhodes were subjected to loud boos and hissing that drowned out their voices. One community activist stood and told Snyder he was a liar and that many people in the city can’t sleep at night due to lack of health care, utilities and water. One after another, people stood up and spoke truth about the city’s bankruptcy, the devastation that continues in Detroit’s neighborhoods and the hardships facing city retirees whose pensions and health care have been deeply slashed. Other activists continued booing and hissing.

A youth organizer stood up and began to chant “Black Lives Matter!” leading to Rhodes rapidly exiting the stage. One pastor rose and asked, “Why don’t the Rhodes, Snyders and Duggans suffer cuts? … It is always the community people who suffer.”

Consequently, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan refused to come out onto the stage, prompting cancellation of the 90-minute event after about an hour. Press coverage of the shutdown included local television stations and corporate newspaper outlets around the country.

Even the Wall Street Journal carried the story. “Detroit protesters shut down a public forum meant to celebrate the city’s progress since it emerged from bankruptcy protection exactly one year ago, showing that many residents are still raw over the deep cuts made to their health-care benefits and monthly pension checks.” (Dec. 9)

This was the third demonstration in two months against the bank-led engineers of the forced emergency management and bankruptcy of Detroit. It reflected the mounting anger against the disempowerment and forced removal of the majority African-American population of the city. Poverty, homelessness and disease are on the rise, while the ruling class touts the purported “recovery” of the state’s largest municipality.

Bankruptcy loots city and workers

On Dec. 10 a year ago, now-retired Judge Rhodes approved a so-called “plan of adjustment” allowing the city of Detroit to exit chapter 7 bankruptcy. But it appears now that financial data used for calculations in the bankruptcy were underprojected.

A Nov. 14 Detroit Free Press article revealed: “According to new documents, the new estimate for Detroit’s two pension funds is $195 million, or more than 70 percent above what was projected under the city’s bankruptcy plan. Post-bankruptcy Detroit is obligated to pay little to nothing into employee pensions over the next nine years. But then, an enormous bill comes due that has caught city and pensions officials off-guard, raising doubt about the data used in bankruptcy to calculate the city’s obligations.”

Retirees had their health care benefits terminated in March 2014 and took steep cuts in their monthly checks after adoption of the “plan of adjustment.” The Detroit Institute of Arts was turned over to a “trust” for its management, and a scheme to construct a new hockey arena by Detroit Red Wings owner Mike Illitch was approved by a compliant City Council even before the bankruptcy had been finalized.

Since the imposition of emergency management and municipal bankruptcy during 2013, the corporate media have championed these undemocratic measures which had widespread opposition among broad segments of the residents of the city and statewide. A referendum on emergency management Public Act 4 was defeated by a substantial margin during the November 2012 elections.

However, during the so-called “lame duck” session of 2012, a new emergency manager law, Public Act 436, was drafted and passed by the majority right-wing Republican Legislature and signed by the governor that was referendum-proof. Other reactionary legislation was adopted during this period, including right to work (for less) and the abolition of business property taxes.

Justifying expropriation

The WSU event was the continuation of attempts to paint a false picture of the impact of the bank-imposed restructuring of the city of Detroit, which expropriated at least $7 billion in pension funds, health care benefits and other public assets. There is much at stake for Wall Street in the restructuring of this ­municipality.

Financial institutions were given preference over retirees, municipal employees and residents during the bankruptcy process. City services have worsened since 2014, despite the claims of the Duggan administration and its supporters in the business-friendly media.

The Sunday Detroit Free Press ran a front page article Dec. 13 saying that a survey revealed 56 percent of the people asked believed things were improving in Detroit.

However, these “findings” are questionable because in the same survey it was reported that 68 percent of the people asked in Detroit had a negative opinion of Governor Snyder; 66 percent held an adverse view of the City Council, which is allowing the ongoing State Financial Review Board to mismanage the city; and 75 percent believed that the public school system, which has been under state control for most of the last 16 years, is not providing quality education.

A front-page article in the Detroit News the next day reported that at least 4,000 households were living without water services, including that of 66-year-old Fayette Coleman, whose water has been shut off since 2013. Out of the 200,000 customers, 108,000 were in arrears and 9,200 face imminent terminations. (Dec. 14)

Conditions in Detroit illustrate the crisis of capitalism in the U.S. Until there is a fundamental transformation of the social and economic system, these problems will worsen.

For an anti-capitalist analysis of the Detroit bankruptcy and its effect on the people, watch the Dec. 11 segment of “The Board Room” on Detroit IP TV at Hear Moratorium NOW! organizer Jerry Goldberg and Krystal Crittendon, former Detroit Corporation Counsel, debate Detroit News editor Nolan Finley.