Stealing from the Poor in Detroit: The People Won’t Consent!

by Dianne Feeley

April 9, 2012

On April 4-5, the Detroit City Council and Mayor Bing were pressured into signing a consent agreement that allows a Financial Advisory Board to rule over Detroit with an iron fist. The document contains a whole page outlining the basis of any collective bargaining agreement and another naming the departments and services up for being reorganized, consolidated, outsourced or privatized. But frankly the 10,000 city workers could work for nothing and it still wouldn’t get Detroit out of the financial problems we have. Why do I assert this?

  • The banks collect nearly $600 million a year in interest alone on a $8-13 billion debt. There is nothing in the consent agreement that discusses the concessions the banks should make, yet they are the biggest problem!
  • Over the last 50 years corporations have moved out or downsized their Detroit-based operations, meaning a decline in property taxes. They have taken the jobs and their equipment, leaving the city with devastated neighborhoods and all too often toxic waste dumps.
  • Given bank speculation and deregulation, a housing bubble resulted in more than 70,000 foreclosures in our city. This decreases the city’s tax base and further devastates neighborhoods. Forty percent of Detroit is not occupied.
  • Over the past quarter century, mayors have revitalized the city’s downtown, leaving neighborhoods to starve.
  • For more than a decade the state of Michigan has controlled the Detroit Public Schools, driving the system into chaos and debt. As a result, many parents have found other alternatives—moving out of the city, sending their children to suburban public schools, religious schools or charters.
  • Between 2001-2010 Michigan’s revenue sharing to Detroit declined by 28%, causing a loss in income of almost half a billion dollars.

These are just some of the problems Detroit faces. None can be solved by “tightening our belts.” They are structural problems that need input from all who live in the city. Instead of bailing out the banks, we need a People’s Audit.

The Mayor holds a “Detroit Works” meeting…what if we could flip the script? Photo: Marvin Shaouni

Last year the Mayor held Detroit Works meetings all over the city. Thousands of people came out to talk about future planning, but realized the city officials weren’t leveling with us and left disgusted. What the meetings revealed was a strong desire by residents to participate in deciding the city’s future.

A People’s Audit could identify the real structural problems the city has and could develop solutions that would not result in further gutting our city’s infrastructure, selling off our resources, and demoralizing the city workers who provide us with the services we need. [Read more on “people’s audits,” a demand which the Committee to Abolish Third World Debt has developed here.]

Dianne Feeley is an editor of Against the Current.