By Shea Howell
January 2, 2017
As we approach the moment when Donald Trump will assume the powers of the presidency, conversations and articles abound about how to survive, resist, and organize our way through the next few years. These discussions are essential. We have never been here before.
Certainly there are many parallels with other moments in our history when racism, ignorance, and arrogance have combined to defend and advance white power and privilege. But the irrationality of Trump, combined with enormous ego and unchecked power, challenge us in new ways.
Detroit and Michigan have a special contribution to make to these conversations. We have suffered from right wing extremists for the last several years. Our governor, state legislature, and Supreme Court are in the hands of right wing ideologues. They are supported by local and national think tanks and policy institutes that have outline a global neoliberal agenda. Their strategy is tinged with fundamentalist Christian views of the most corrosive kind. Their actions in Michigan point the direction that will mark the Trump administration.
First, Trump will make every effort to diminish democracy. Michigan has experienced unrelenting assaults on normal democratic practices. The right to petition, to assemble, to pass resolutions, and to peacefully, publicly oppose policies have been undermined and attacked. With the imposition of emergency managers, more the 50% of all African American in the state were denied the right to vote for local government. Rev. Pinkney of Benton Harbor is in prison on fake charges for his vocal opposition to emergency managers in Benton Harbor. Artists in Detroit faced felony charges for painting “Free the Water” on an old water tank.
Second, big business will prosper at the expense of people. Wall Street profits will overshadow the will of the people. For example, in the Detroit bankruptcy process, explicit state constitutional prohibitions against reducing pensions were “set aside.” Pensioners bore more than 70% of the cost of the bankruptcy.
Third, basic essentials of life will be turned into profit. From education to water, businesses will be enabled to turn public responsibilities into private profit centers. Those who cannot pay will be shut off, locked out, or left to struggle with underfunded, neglected public programs.
Fourth, the capacity of children to be creative, critical, and imaginative will be attacked. The relentless testing, controlling of curriculum and dumbing down of ideas will accelerate. Turning students into consumers, not citizens, will drive education.
Fifth, what is real will be denied. Politicians will proclaim victories by distorting and defying the realities of most people’s lives. In Michigan, the Governor proclaims “relentless, positive action,” as the people of Flint still cannot drink their water. Detroit’s comeback is limited to 7.2 square miles of a city that is 139 square miles. Most people have become poorer, not better off, since bankruptcy.
Each of these areas will be advanced by the coming administration. With initiatives large and small, Trump, Pence and company are dedicated to reshaping American life under an extreme, right wing ideology intended to promote business interests and personal wealth.
Just as we can look to Detroit and Michigan as signs of what to expect, we can also see the kinds of resistance that will be essential to challenging and changing our country. Here we see people carving out self-determining, caring communities, new forms of cooperative economics, collective efforts to save homes and defend against evictions, alternative media, and independent child centered educational efforts.
We should have no illusions. American is being reshaped. All that we hold sacred will be profaned. But this we know. The imagination, creativity, and collective actions of people who seek justice and joy matter now more than ever.