On Tuesday evening, February 25, 2014, a couple hundred Detroiters took part in the “Restructuring Detroit Exercise” sponsored by former Detroit Council Member Sheila Cockrel and former Wayne State University President, Irvin Reid. This session followed up on four previous ones held last year, before the bankruptcy was filed.
Cockrel, an aggressively reckless supporter of Governor Rick Snyder’s and the Chamber of Commerce’s corporate restructuring of the city, has been using these carefully controlled events in an attempt to generate an appearance of popular and engagement and support for the neoliberalization of Detroit.
The exercise was structured like this: We were seated at tables of 7 or 8 people. One facilitator at the table read a series of 14 questions with two options each (e.g., cut public employee pensions and put the money into services, or don’t cut public employee pensions; regionalize and monetize the water and sewerage department and get money from a lease deal, or don’t). Game boards and work sheets were filled out using yellow and blue dots for positive and negative votes, respectively.
Before the exercise, Cockrel gave a contradictory and rather angry-sounding talk. First she stressed that all people and ideas must be respected and then gave list of ideas that wouldn’t be respected, ideas she ridiculed as being “magical thinking.” The examples she gave of this magical thinking involved Detroit obtaining sufficient revenue to pay for pensions and city services. The basic agenda was eliciting “choices” between arbitrary, pre-selected alternatives that would validate neoliberal policies. This is also known as powerful whites making “difficult choices” for poor People of color. Depressingly, this underlying power agenda was barely concealed. Every “choice” listed that involved returning voter’s right, power or oversight to Detroiters was also tagged as being subject to “corruption” or “political influence.” None of the “choices” that involved state oversight were noted to have such problems. The utter failures of the state take over of the Detroit Public Schools seems to have eluded Cockrel and Reid.
The first paragraph of the game board handed out to all participants provides a soothing gloss on Detroit’s emergency management status, with elected officials replaced by a state-appointed bankruptcy lawyer: It says “There is, however, very limited ability for Detroiters to make their preferences about specific issues known to the people who are making decisions that will affect residents.”
“However.” In reality, there is no democratic accountability whatsoever under emergency management, by design. We can vote, but the local officials we elect lack power to make policy. Litigation to challenge the unprecedented emergency management policy on constitutional grounds is subject to the stay entered by the bankruptcy court, so we can’t vindicate our rights in court. The voters’ repeal of Snyder’s first emergency management statute in a statewide referendum was followed by a lame-duck replacement version. The weasel words about “limited ability” to weigh in on “specific issues” hide the wholesale abolition of democracy in our local government, where the real decisions are being made in bankruptcy court, where Detroit’s interests are supposedly represented, but actually betrayed, by Orr’s giant corporate law firm of Jones Day.
And that’s not the only thing hidden. Who created the protocol for the “Detroit Restructuring Exercise” and for what purpose? Why this methodology? I challenge Cockrel, Reid and their financial backers in The Forum on Contemporary Issues in Society to disclose this information, as well as their funding sources. I’m not holding my breath. Transparency, like justice, equity and democracy, is not one of their core values.
The recently announced Peoples’ Alternative Plan for Survival – Toward a Sustainable Detroit, includes at least the following two key demands that speak directly to the lack of transparency and legitimacy that is evident in the “Restructuring Detroit Exercise:”
Subject tax-free philanthropic special interests to democratic control and community accountability. Guarantee transparent, public, and open decision-making.
Cockrel asked the crowd “What are the most important things that have to happen?” None of my answers to this question appeared anywhere in the questionnaire, work sheet or game board. Here are my answers:
Effective leaders actively, honestly and authentically engage People (i.e., not the “Detroit Restructuring Exercise”);
Reinstate accountable governance;
Adopt equity as the goal;
Pursue regional and racial reconciliation among the city and the suburban region of Detroit; and Guide the process with a vision beyond neoliberalism (the rich getting richer and the poor poorer).
The last line of the handout states “The facilitators’ worksheets and the table games boards are collected by staff.” We weren’t supposed to have the materials available to publicly reveal information like what is stated in this piece. Oops. Never got my buy in. This was perhaps another example of magical thinking. But it is nowhere near as delusional as the idea that Snyder, Orr and Jones Day will be taking the results of the “Restructuring Detroit Exercise” into consideration, as they seek bankruptcy court approval for their latest attempts to sell us out to their bankster clients like Bank of America/Merrill Lynch and UBS.
We refuse to be
What you wanted us to be
We are what we are
That’s the way it’s going to be
“The twin idols of national security and corporate power are outworn dogmas that have nothing more to offer us.” – Mike Lofgren