By Shea Howell
June 26, 2015
As part of the celebration for the 100th Birthday of Grace Lee Boggs, the Boggs Center announced a weeklong series of events. One of these was a community protest at the Faygo Bottling Company on Gratiot Avenue. A number of people responded to the invitation to protest Faygo with astonishment. Why would anyone in Detroit protest Faygo?
For Detroiters Faygo is an iconic company. Like Better Made Potato Chips, Michigan strawberries, and Vernors, Faygo Red Pop is entwined with loving memories of the city.
Faygo began as a family business in 1907 and has been at its current site on Gratiot Avenue since 1935. In the mid 1980’s it was sold to the National Beverage Company, based in Florida, but has continued production in the old plant, keeping many long time employees.
Over a year ago, the company decided to put up a gate on Moran Street to make their truck traffic more manageable. They went to the Detroit City Council and got approval to block the street.
And that is the problem. No one in the neighborhood was informed of the change. There was no public meeting. The Emergency Manager considered such meetings unnecessary.
On Thursday, Mr. Dee, who helped organize the protest, walked folks out onto Moran to show us the problem with the gates. The fire station is now separated from a big portion of the neighborhood. Fire trucks have to navigate a series of side streets to reach homes. The same is true for EMS. “We all know that 3 seconds can make the difference between a home and a burned out building, between life and death,” said Mr. Dee, “but now we have added more than 10 minutes to the trip because of the gates.”
Protesters were also concerned about the change in the school bus routes. Children are no longer picked up on a quiet street but have to wait for their bus on Gratiot. They walk through an alley that is dark, both coming and going, in the dead of winter.
The protesters gathered on an empty lot that the community maintains. They showed us the adjoining lot belonging to Faygo that the community also cuts regularly. They took us to an abandoned structure, overgrown with trees, also owned by Faygo.
Protesters keep the grass cut and the area clean because it is an important community space, but one protester said, “You would think with all that money, they could afford to pay the community to cut the grass.”
By mid-day Faygo officials had come out to talk to the protesters and agreed to a meeting.
It should surely be possible to reach a compromise between the company and the community.
But this protest could have been avoided. It is the result of thoughtless development that ignores the people living in our communities. It is the drive to develop without thinking about who might be affected and how neighborhoods are shaped by business choices.
The conflict with Faygo underscores the need for a strong Community Benefits Agreement. It clearly demonstrates that companies, proceeding on their own logic and in their own interests, can make decisions that put neighbors and children at risk.
The protesters at Faygo remind us that rebuilding and restoring communities requires the intimate knowledge of people who live in a place, watch its children and care for the land. The corporate-media elite only talks of community agreements in monetary terms. But the Faygo protest reminds all of us that a strong Community Benefits policy would help make community wisdom a part of how we restore our city.