Detroit’s EM: Day One

March 25, 2013
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A crowd of about 100 people gathered in front of the Spirit of Detroit statue on Monday morning to protest emergency financial manager Kevyn Orr’s first day on the job.

At a press conference inside the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, Orr touted the need for cooperation.

“I want to offer a sincere olive branch and opportunity to work together,” Orr, according to published reports, said of City Council. “I envision them participating in this process to the extent permitted by law.”

Outside in the snow, the talk was of resistance.

As with a press conference held last Friday, and at an event held Saturday at Detroit’s Historic King Solomon Baptist Church, both the speakers and the crowd of protesters were predominantly African-American.

The theme linking all three events was the call for a mass movement utilizing non-violent civil disobedience as a way to protest the state’s takeover of Michigan’s largest city. The issue of minority voting rights has been at the forefront of the debate.

In addition to Monday’s protest at city hall, the Rev. Charles Williams II planned to lead busloads of Detroiters in a protest outside the Cleveland offices of the Jones Day law firm. Orr was a partner at that firm until his appointment by the state to be emergency financial manager; Jones Day, according to news reports, is also the Bing administration’s choice to be the law firm hired to oversee the restructuring of Detroit city government.

The reason for doing so, Williams said during a public meeting Saturday, is that Detroiters protesting outside a Cleveland law firm is the kind of action that will generate widespread television coverage.

But what’s the plan beyond attempts to attract the media’s attention to their grievances?

Part of the answer to that question might be expanding the base of opposition.

Among those speaking outside city hall on Monday was Detroit attorney Jerome Goldberg, a leader of the Moratorium Now! anti-foreclosure movement.

At the protest, Goldberg passed out fliers that drew attention to his group’s investigation into so-called “credit default swaps” and the hundreds of millions of dollars they say these controversial deals have cost the city.

What he and other critics see are an emergency manager and law firm with strong ties to Wall Street and the big banks being given unprecedented control over the city’s fortunes.

In that respect, this protest is about more than voting rights in Detroit, or even the economic suffering the city has endured as the result of Wall Street’s predations.

“We must also link the struggle in Detroit with the plight of other cities throughout Michigan including Benton Harbor, Flint, Highland Park, Inkster, Ecorse, Muskegon as well as dozens of cities in California, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Rhode Island and other states facing a similar crisis,” the Moratorium Now! folks declared in the handout.

For some of those standing in the cold outside city hall, the question of the day — this first day of a history-making change in the governance of Detroit — is this: Will bridges be built and alliances formed, creating a true mass movement united in its opposition to what’s happening in Detroit and elsewhere; or will the main thrust of opposition remain what appears to be (on the surface anyway), a protest led mainly by African-Americans who, judging from the speeches so far, see this primarily as a voting rights issue?