State of Emergency By Shea Howell – Week thirty-five of the occupation

Thinking for ourselves

By Shea Howell

State of Emergency

Week thirty-five of the occupation

shea25This is an unprecedented moment. Almost everyone agrees that the drive to bankruptcy in Detroit is carving new paths on the American landscape.

The facts are stark. A city of 700,000 people, stripped of local representation; elders who have worked a lifetime on the promise of modest pensions and health care are facing devastating loses; big banks are lobbying to protect debts and secure payments on questionable loans; constitutional guarantees are ignored; the right to petition has been rendered meaningless; a sitting governor was forced to testify in federal court; secret funds, actually called NERD, were quickly closed to avoid scrutiny; respected public officials resigned to protest back room deals; email exchanges unveiled in court revealed plans by right wing forces to push bankruptcy and privitization; priceless art is considered for the auction block; Belle Isle, the most loved of city parks, has been given to the state over the objections of just about everyone; public land, water, and resources are dismantled; schools and services, especially those supporting children with special needs are closed; public dollars are squandered on high paid, consultants; $350 million more debt is proposed in the name paying off current debt; and city employees who provide the most basic connections between the people and civic life are laid off. All of this is occurring as violence within our city escalates and the voices of public leadership remain silent, unable to offer public solace to those who have lost fathers, brothers, sons and daughters.

In almost any city in America, any one of these situations would be a major issue, sparking controversy and consideration of the implications of such actions on civic life. But Detroit and much of Michigan have been hit with these realities in the space of a few months.

What is remarkable is the level of resilience and resistance that persists in the face of ever narrowing options for political action. Detroit is a movement city, shaped by the aspirations of people dispossessed, disrespected, displaced, and denied. From the first resistance to colonial domination by the indigenous people who formed alliances to fight the British, to the courage of the underground railroads, the formation of land cooperatives, the development of labor, civil rights, black power and environmental justice, Detroit has been a symbol of the best hope of ordinary people for a full, human life.

This hope surrounded The State of Emergency event called by Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management (DREM) on the eve of the bankruptcy decision. Over 200 people gathered to celebrate, teach, learn, and strategize together.

As a backdrop to the gathering DREM issued a Declaration that begins:

“Detroit has been plunged into a state of emergency. We exist under a siege of financial dispossession, massive unemployment, elimination of basic welfare supports, and suspension of democratic rights — all fostered by the bankers, the multinational corporations, the far right, and the U.S. ruling class. We say to social justice advocates and others worldwide that Detroit’s state of emergency calls for vigorous response.”

The Declaration calls for solidarity from the national and global human rights community and offers an alternative view to bankruptcy, privatization, and the loss of political rights. You can sign at

The event was anchored by visionary artists-activists including Honeycomb, Lady Firetide, Invincible, Will See, Wood Zombie, Sirius, D Press, and the Light Brigade. The muralists of the Beehive Collective provided an interactive workshop on the potential of this political moment. National champion high school debaters explored the proposition of political reality and emergency management, and citizens gathered in strategy groups to explore what it means to be engaged now.

Everyone knows, this struggle is about more than bank debt. It is about the kind of people we will become and the values we will uphold. Such questions will not be settled in court. They will be worked out as people struggle to control our own lives.


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