The following open letter was written in response to:
December 17, 2015
Dear Michelle Srbinovich, the Detroit Journalism Cooperative, and WDET:
One of us is an elected member of the Detroit Public Schools Board, one a pastor and non-violent community activist in SW Detroit, and the other founding editor of the now defunct Michigan Citizen, which was a part of the Detroit Journalism Cooperative.
We were among those who raised our voices in disruption of WDET’s celebration, The Detroit Bankruptcy: One Year Later. We have read your letter lamenting that the event was closed down early and calling for the civility of listening. We have several comments.
The young poets from Cody on whom you lean to begin and close your letter were neither interrupted by the audience nor disparaged, but applauded. However, their words seemed well crafted and quotable, their verbs consistently in the passive tense (schools are torn down, but the teardowners are nowhere in sight or sound). They were shamefully used by the station to frame the event. Most of us know that Cody is an EAA School run directly by the Governor and heavily profited upon by non-profits (See the letter to Inside Out from elected DPS Board member Elena Herrada, attached below).
Nor were the four women on the “grand bargain” panel interrupted by the citizens in the audience. Only patronizing remarks by organizers and the two men who used their positions to maximize their powers under emergency management were targets of community scorn. People whose constitutional rights have been trampled and whose voices silenced under emergency management at last had the opportunity to express their rage.
In addition to extracting pension funds, bank debt service, and physical assets, the Detroit Bankruptcy has been partly about the silencing of citizen voices. Among the primary legacies of Judge Rhodes was to legitimate Emergency Management in this and every black city in the state. The Judge stayed the constitutional and voting rights challenges to the EM law (already repealed once by Michigan voters), effectively saying first we’ll do the bankruptcy, then we’ll determine whether it was brought by legitimate authority. Given the chance, he’ll make it sound so reasonable too.
When people’s votes are stolen in a variety of ways, when all elected officials are replaced by one appointee of direct gubernatorial rule, when there is no legitimate political recourse, and when the mainstream media function as shills for such power, people of conscience must learn creative ways to speak.
To be frank, WDET has not functioned in these recent years as critical journalistic voice on this score, but an enthusiastic legitimator itself. Witness the event. Coming in, we walked past two banners which read: “WDET: brought to you by Jones-Day” and “WDET: taking the people out of public radio.” Just so.
Accessibility. The event — the first opportunity since before the bankruptcy for Detroiters to be in the same room as the governor– was indeed accessible to anyone with a computer or smart phone, where tickets were easily got. The cards for writing questions, however, were but a ruse and pretense of dialogue. They signaled that there would be no question and answer period, and we never saw them even collected, let alone vetted and quietly thrown out. There was no provision for those in attendance to speak directly to these officials. We were left to make our own provisions.
Listening. When Stephen Henderson between sessions was addressing the audience for calm and silence, someone shouted back, “Then listen to the people of Detroit.” He replied as we recall, “I am the people of Detroit.” Thereby hangs a problem of WDET’s naïve self-perception. The station may have an address on Cass, but it isn’t located in the Corridor – it was among the first to find itself in Midtown and declare so without a critical second thought.
Civility. If this is code for the decorum which is synonymous with silencing, then we are not for it. We are willing to break the spell of decorum on which the authorities stand and behind which they hide. Consider: civility was virtually a culture in the antebellum and Jim Crow south, even to this day. A silky cover for brutality and death. We do believe in treating people with the respect they deserve and earn. At the bankruptcy celebration no name calling took place that we heard. But outright lies about who brought the bankruptcy (not the city of Detroit!), or who pays the costs (poor people, never the rich!), or whether this event was some sort of “conversation” with the audience…these we respectfully and loudly challenge.
If we’re both to be honest, we doubt that Mr. Duggan was waiting eagerly in the wings to engage the audience. No such opportunity was lost. We wager that he actually called the shot and refused to appear. He too likes his questions well vetted and composed, his questioners well-heeled.
We affirm listening, real and deep. We believe it is time for that. But to be a listener is not about becoming a member of a radio market. It is not about holding ones tongue when lies hold the airwaves. It is not about mouthing what can be heard over and over and over. Listen: it is not about verbal passivity, but about listening one another into speech and into action. We believe that happened at the event. And we are grateful to those who spoke out.
The Honorable Elena Herrada, Detroit Public School Board
Rev. Bill Wylie-Kellermann, St Peter’s Episcopal Church
Teresa Kelley, former editor/publisher of the Michigan Citizen, member of DJC
Letter to Inside Out
December 10, 2015
International Human Rights Day
Terry Blackhawk, Executive Director
2111 Woodward Ave. Suite 507
Detroit, MI 48202
I am writing to you regarding the decision to have students perform at the “Bankruptcy One Year Later” at Wayne State University last night. Rest assured, I was among those who helped to shut it down. As an elected school board member under PA 436, a law which was repealed by the people but held in place to impose the bankruptcy on Detroit and to maintain corporate control over our schools, I am quite disappointed that students performed for Judge Rhodes and Governor Snyder. To put students in such a position sends a message that Detroit somehow appreciates the actions taken against our pensioners, our teachers, our public employees, our residents, our voters, and most importantly, our children. To ignore the damage that has been done to our most vulnerable youth and actually put them up to entertain those who did this is the vilest form of disrespect for our city.
The children follow the lead of whatever adult is in front of them. That is what makes this political moment so imperative. The decision to have them perform used them to give the impression that all is well and that Detroit is thriving a year after bankruptcy. Nothing could be further from the truth. Truth is all the writer has. I hope that you consider the points I am making in this letter and think about how children see those in leadership positions. Your role is important; to allow our children to be usurped in the service of bankers is shameful. To give comfort to those who so profoundly contribute to our collective misery is unthinkable. I hope you take my words to heart and share this message with the students whose talents were exploited to make looters feel welcome. To use poetry and spoken word to contribute to a patently false narrative is shameful. The students deserve better and so does Detroit.
In faith and Solidarity,
Elena M. Herrada
Detroit Public School Board member in Exile