By Shea Howell
A delegation of activists from Puerto Rico visited Detroit last week. They were part of a learning exchange designed to share lessons from “Detroit civil society in dealing with financial distress, debt restructuring, and financial oversight.” My section of the program focused on “how the dominant media narrative often dictates policies of stricter and stricter fiscal austerity.” Marina Guzman and Michelle Martinez joined me in a discussion exploring the implications of the dominant narratives, especially those that blamed residents or local officials rather than those exploring the root causes of the financial crisis. We also talked about how race and ethnicity played into these media narratives.
I arrived a little early for the session and heard the end of a dominant narrative being presented by two representatives of the Duggan Administration. One explained to the group that “Kevyn Orr was the smartest man he had ever worked with.” The other said that there was no resistance to downtown development. The lack of riots in the street over the eviction of people from the Albert was her example.
I was very glad for the opportunity to have heard these two folks talk. I rarely get such a distilled version of the assumptions woven into the corporate view of what a great thing the Detroit Bankruptcy process was. I came away thinking about how important it is we not let the corporate narrative define what constitutes “resistance.”
As far as both speakers were concerned, resistance was equated with rioting. From their point of view, unless people were overturning police cars, there was no resistance. Kevyn Orr, and Mayor Duggan have echoed similar feelings, noting they were successful because there was no riot.
It is widely understood that America rarely notices its problems unless it is forced to confront them, frequently by riots or rebellions. In 1992, had Los Angeles not erupted after Rodney King, it is unlikely that politicians would have paid any attention to our cities. More recently, it was not until police attacked protesters on a bridge that Occupy received media attention. For Ferguson it was attacking police cars that attracted the cameras. The dominant power structure loves to see people in the streets move toward destruction of property, because it knows how to respond. America is very good at killing people who threaten property.
That is why it is important for us to understand that resistance to power is not the same thing as a riot. Resistance is the assertion of “our humanity in the face of immoral policies of viscous forces bent on the destruction of all that we cherish in the pursuit of profit and power,” as Grace Lee Boggs said in an article in 2013. She said, “We will not be silent as schools are closed, and people go hungry and lose their homes. We will not be silent as our land is taken for private gain and used as a dumping ground for the waste of the petroleum industry. We will not be silent when we are told we must kill other people to protect our way of life. We will not be silent when we are told there are no alternatives. Enough is enough! This is our city, our state and our country. We can and will create a new world-beloved communities that heal ourselves and our earth.”
Resistance is standing in front of the Homrich trucks to prevent water shutoffs. It is painting “Free the Water” for all to see. It is artists, activists, children, parents, lovers, and friends acting to build ways of living that value life. The power of imagination, of creativity, and of courage cannot be so easily controlled or silenced. These are the sources of transforming our future and ourselves.