By Will Greenberg
March 29, 2016
Student activists took to the highways Tuesday morning to protest Michigan’s emergency manager law.
Organized by the Michigan Student Power Network, the “Slowdown for Justice” sent drivers to I-94 and I-96 to slow traffic across the state. The goal, organizers said, was to send a message to Governor Rick Snyder by disrupting state commerce.
Ian Matchett, statewide organizer for MSPN, said he felt interfering with some of the state’s largest businesses was the best way to get the attention of lawmakers. While he admits the slow-down likely frustrated morning commuters, he said he wants people to be upset with the day-to-day operations of this state government.
“We can’t allow business to go forward in Michigan as normal if business as normal means we leave behind hundreds of thousands of people,” he said.
Drivers in seven cars traveled through Detroit, Ann Arbor, and Grand Rapids, Matchett said, driving the legal minimum speed, side-by-side across all lanes. He said drivers were instructed to comply with police if they are told to pull over.
A representative from Michigan State Police could not be reached for comment Tuesday morning.
Matchett said their protest mirrors the tactics used during the Flint Sit-Down Protest of 1936-37, when workers halted operations at the General Motors plant to protest poor working conditions.
“The idea is to actually put economic pressure on the people that, apparently, the Governor listens to, who are the wealthy folks who are running major businesses here in the state,” Matchett said.
Julia Cuneo, another member of MSPN, said members not in cars are making calls to legislators in Lansing to encourage them to repeal the emergency manager law.
A bill introduced by Rep. LaToya Garrett, D-Detroit, in January would do just that. Her proposal was referred to the House’s Local Government Committee, which is headed by Lee Chatfield, R-Levering.
Chatfield’s office said the bill is not scheduled for a hearing in the coming weeks.
Cuneo said the emergency manager law affects people all across the state and needs to end.
“These emergency manager laws go directly against the will of the people, they have no accountability,” she said. “That’s why we see things happening the way that they happened in Flint.”
Press Release: Michigan Students Slowdown for Justice
Calls for the repeal of the Emergency Financial Manager Law
The Michigan Student Power Network, with the support of Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management is undertaking a statewide slowdown of Michigan’s Highways, with the intention of putting economic pressure on the Governor and his allies to pass a repeal of the Emergency Financial Manager Law. Beginning at 8 am on Tuesday the 29th we will be driving side by side in teams at multiple locations around the state, slowing traffic, in protest against the Emergency Financial Manager law and Governor Snyder’s failure to resign in the wake of the Flint Water Crisis. It seems that all the Governor and his allies in the legislature care about is the economy, and so we tactically slowing the economy, in order to demand the repeal of the Emergency Manager Law (PA 436).
We draw our inspiration from the Flint Sitdown strike of 1936/7- when Michiganders stopped the wheels of the auto industry, to ensure that their communities got a fair share of the massive wealth they were producing. Workers at that time lived in towns dominated by the massive auto companies and plagued by a high cost of living, low wages, and few prospects. Today the people of Michigan are once more struggling to create a better future in the face of huge obstacles.
As the scope of the Flint water crisis has become public, it has become a touchstone for popular resentment against a government; however this is just the latest, though most heinous, in a long series of corporate backed austerity policies that have stripped Michiganders of support, services, and rights, in order to protect private profit margins. These policies have served simply to further enrich Michigan’s wealthiest people and corporations; groups that coincidentally invested heavily in supporting the ruling conservative politicians.
We believe that fighting austerity begins with repealing its greatest weapon: The Emergency Financial Manager. We are demanding that the legislature pass, and the governor sign, HB 5260, a proposed repeal of the current EFM law. Direct action will be taken all across the state to show the people’s discontent with the EFM law and with the way our state is placing profit above people.
Julia Cuneo, long-time organizer and resident in the city of Detroit, states, “As the government has been manipulated as a tool of corporate power, our communities have come under attack. Today, we need to re-evaluate where our priorities as a state lie; and whether a government ‘of, by, and for the rich’, truly serves the interests of the vast majority of our people.”
The progressive movement’s current pressure tactics have not been sufficient to turn the tide. Ian Matchett, a statewide organizer for the Michigan Student Power Network, states, “Shaming politicians, through rallies or targeted media moments, hasn’t provoked a crisis of conscience in Snyder or his allies. Voting in gerrymandered districts has failed to unseat a conservative majority in the legislature… until now business has continued as usual for the wealthy here in Michigan.”
“If the economy is the only thing our governor serves, then that is how our movements have to speak to him,” says Alex Kelley, a student and organizer at Grand Valley State University, “Environmental racism, slashed public budgets, and corrupt privatization, have all pushed Michiganders to the brink.” Just as almost 80 years ago our elders and ancestors stopped their factories to demand more from their society, we must demand more for our communities. We need to reach out and put pressure on the veins of economic activity in our state, making it clear that our priorities are not served by expanding the bank accounts of the wealthy.
We must unite and tell our would-be leaders in Lansing, ‘Michigan is no longer working for its people, so Michigan will not work at all.’