Contradicting the pro-bank position of the corporate media, multimillionaire Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and his appointed Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr, 110 people filed objections to the forced bankruptcy of the city of Detroit. The court hearing took place on Sept. 19. Many of the people testifying were retirees, city workers and community organizers.
Outside the federal courthouse, members of the Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shutoffs carried a banner reading, “Cancel the Debt: Jobs, Pensions, City Services, the Banks Owe Us!” Later a group of active firefighters gathered to demonstrate.
Retired Department of Health chemist Walter Knall, a member of the Stop the Theft of Our Pensions Committee, told the Detroit Free Press in front of the courthouse that what the banks and their operatives are attempting in the city could set a pattern for the rest of the United States. “I don’t see how anyone could take [pensions] away from a whole generation of people who’ve worked hard for the city,” Knall said.
Testimony reveals broad opposition
Jean Vortkamp, a lifelong Detroiter and recent primary mayoral candidate, broke out in tears as she expressed her opposition to the illegal bankruptcy filing by Orr and Snyder. She said, “If this bankruptcy and the goal of pension cutting are allowed, it will impoverish my parents, sister, friends and neighbors.”
Vortkamp continued: “If the undemocratic EM whom I did not elect is going to break union contracts and pensions, then he should also break the contracts Detroit has with financial institutions. Our assets are not for sale. It is not either the art [in the Detroit Institute of Arts] or the pensions. It is neither.”
Vortkamp pointed the finger at the banks and their role in the financial ruin of Detroit. She asked, “Why haven’t we sued for the LIBOR rigging? Collected unpaid taxes from the wealthy and fines from blight and environmental violations? Detroit needs to protect our assets and get the forensic audits we have needed.”
Michael Shane, a resident of a northwest Detroit neighborhood, told the bankruptcy court about the impact of predatory lending carried out by the banks and how it contributed to the city’s economic crisis. “The financial crisis in Detroit was triggered by the housing crisis where an estimated 100,000 home foreclosures occurred and almost a quarter million people left the city. The banks issued predatory loans, targeting Detroit and other communities of color in a racist and illegal manner.”
Shane emphasized to Judge Steven Rhodes, “The banks have already been fined tens of billions of dollars. And former bank employees are testifying under oath, confirming the illegal and racist practices of the banks. … These banks include many of the same banks that hold Detroit’s debt.
“Property and income taxes dropped precipitously during this crisis, causing huge losses to the city of Detroit,” continued Shane. “And to make matters even worse, the banks refuse to pay property taxes on homes seized after foreclosure.”
Another objector to the bankruptcy filing was Cynthia Blair, the widowed spouse of a Detroit police officer. Blair has been active in attempts to mobilize retirees and their families against the program of cuts and austerity being imposed by Orr and Snyder.
Blair said, “The bankruptcy could take [my] and my daughter’s pension away. And we would be thrown directly to the welfare rolls.”
Detroiters say ‘Cancel the debt!’
According to the figures released by Orr, Detroit has over $22 billion in long-term debt owed to the very banks, bondholders and insurers that have played the most significant role in the decline of the city.
Orr is attempting to cut a deal with the banks and bond insurers where they will be paid 80 percent of what is owed to them by Detroit, while pensioners and workers are being chained with massive obligations derived directly from financial practices dictated by Wall Street and the corporations.
General Motors and Chrysler were bailed out in 2009 by the federal government. The bankruptcy and restructuring that resulted led to the loss of tens of thousands of jobs, including at small businesses such as car dealerships employing skilled and often unionized workers.
Detroiters are saying that the municipality is not a private corporation, and that people have a vested interest in maintaining their jobs, salaries, health-care benefits, pensions and city assets. More and more people are agreeing with the slogans and program advanced by the Moratorium NOW! Coalition, and they joining the call for cancellation of the bank debt and for holding the financial institutions and corporations accountable for the damage they have done to the city.
A recent survey conducted by the Detroit Free Press revealed that 75 percent of likely voters said they were against any cuts to municipal pensions. In addition, 78 percent responded that they also opposed selling off artwork at the Detroit Institute of Arts to pay the bankers. (Sept. 22)
The entire emergency management process was rejected by a majority of people in Michigan in a referendum held last November. Despite the will of the people, Snyder and his cohorts in the state legislature passed another law in December that reinstituted emergency management, municipal dictatorship and austerity.
People vs. banks, Oct. 5-6
An International People’s Assembly Against the Banks and Against Austerity is being organized in Detroit by the Moratorium NOW! Coalition and other community organizations. To date, more than 280 endorsements have been received for the Oct. 5-6 gathering at Grand Circus Park.
The two-day event will coincide with the fifth anniversary of the massive bank bailout in 2008. This bailout is continuing through compensation by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for so-called toxic assets, as well as the $85 billion turned over by the Federal Reserve to the banks every month.
The assembly is drawing people from the city as well as around the country. Statements of solidarity have been issued from people’s organizations in Brazil, Portugal and other countries facing similar crises.
The International People’s Assembly will build for a mass mobilization on Oct. 23 when Judge Rhodes hears arguments on the state constitutionality of the bankruptcy filing. Members of the assembly coalition say that people should surround the courthouse on Oct. 23 to demand no bankruptcy and cancellation of the bank debt.
Organizers for the International People’s Assembly are encouraging all those concerned to join the effort in solidarity with the people of Detroit. More information about the Oct. 5-6 gathering can be found at moratorium-mi.org, detroitdebtmoratorium.org and internationalpeoplesassembly.org.