Major developments took place in Detroit during the first week of the city’s rule under emergency manager Kevyn Orr. A series of demonstrations against this state-appointed bank functionary highlighted widespread opposition to the usurpation of local power.
On March 25, a busload of Detroit residents set up a picket line in Cleveland outside the Jones Day law firm from which Orr recently resigned as a partner. The firm has ties with the same banks holding billions in debt owed by the city of Detroit.
Detroiters rallied outside City Hall in downtown Detroit denouncing the appointment of Orr and his overseer, conservative Republican Gov. Rick Snyder. Rev. David Bullock, a local activist and pastor of Greater St. Matthews Baptist Church, hosted the rally. People chanted slogans against the denial of voting rights in the city, which is over 85 percent African American.
Jerry Goldberg, of the Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shutoffs, addressed the crowd. He slammed the banks as the main source of the crisis in Detroit and called for an immediate halt to debt-service payments on the $16.9 billion owed to the financial institutions by the working people of the city. The interest and debt service owed on this debt — which is pure profits for the banks — is $4.9 billion.
Lawsuit filed for democratic rights
On March 28, several hundred activists representing numerous organizations marched in downtown Detroit from the Metro AFL-CIO headquarters to the federal courthouse to support the filing of a federal lawsuit to overturn emergency management.
The lawsuit was filed by the Sugar Law Center, which carried out a similar action in the state courts in 2011. That state challenge was stalled in the courts. In 2012, a statewide petition campaign with more than 220,000 signatures led to a referendum on the November ballot condemning emergency management.
Even though a clear majority of people throughout the state voted against emergency management, the lame-duck, Republican-dominated state House and Senate passed another emergency manager law as part of an appropriations bill, shielding it from a popular referendum, which reinstituted the same dictatorial policies. Public Act 436 went into effect March 28.
The lawsuit claims that the voting rights of Michigan residents under emergency management are being violated and that the people living in these cities are treated unfairly. Municipalities not under state control are allowed to elect their local officials, whereas Detroit and other majority African-American cities with emergency managers are being denied this basic democratic right.
The lawsuit says that PA 436 creates another form of governance that allows cities to be controlled by an unelected official “who is vested with broad legislative power and whose orders, appointments, expenditures and other decisions are not reviewable by local voters.” Since the emergency manager mandates that all existing contracts can be broken with the exception of payments to the banks, in essence it is a bankers’ bill.
Protesters stop ‘business as usual’
After stopping at the federal courthouse to rally in support of the lawsuit, the march continued to City Hall for another rally. Later more than 200 people marched into the building, determined to go to the 11th floor where Orr’s offices are located.
When the demonstrators reached the security checkpoint on the first floor, some were able to get through before an apparent order was given to stop the marchers. Private security guards and Wayne County Sheriff deputies denied entry to the protesters.
People at that point began chanting, “Whose city? Our city! Whose building? Our building!” Some people sat down and refused to move. These actions effectively shut down the building for two hours.
Although no arrests were made, many of the participants were prepared to go to jail. One steelworker handed over his personal property to a colleague just in case he got nabbed by the cops.
Activists obtain financial documents
The Moratorium NOW! Coalition successfully sued the city of Detroit after it did not provide financial documents requested under the state Freedom of Information Act. The city was forced to turn over the first batch of documents, more than 3,000 pages related to bond issues, pension fund and water department obligations, and loans made to the city over the last eight years.
The coalition has received support from trade unions, activists and a prominent law firm, all of which have offered assistance in analyzing the documents and developing strategies to fight the banks. A team of coalition members and allies has begun scrutinizing the documents in order to issue a people’s review of the city’s true financial situation.
The coalition has made the Detroit financial documents public in an effort to build a statewide campaign against the banks. The group is requesting the intervention of progressive economists, investigative journalists, activists, trade unionists, policymakers, and others to read and analyze the documents.
So far the documents seem to reveal a pattern of interest rate swaps and termination schedules that have caused the city’s financial ruin. Based upon measures enacted by Gov. Snyder, however, there is no process to ensure that those responsible for the economic crisis can be held accountable to the people of Detroit and the state of Michigan.
The crisis in Detroit is mirrored by developments taking place in Stockton, Calif., where the financial institutions and bond insurers are challenging the right of the city to file bankruptcy, saying there is no crisis and the banks must be paid first. In San Bernardino, Calif., the state is attempting to withhold revenue-sharing funds because the city does not want to pay the banks, but instead wants to take care of pension funds and employees.
The Moratorium NOW! Coalition, in its campaign to hold the financial institutions accountable, is calling for demonstrations against the banks which hold Detroit’s debt, including Bank of America, U.S. Bank and others. A public meeting is being planned in early May to expose the role of the banks in the financial crisis.
To view the documents obtained from the city of Detroit, log on to moratorium-mi.org or detroitdebtmoratorium.org.