One year ago Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr filed for bankruptcy. It has been a brutal year for the people of Detroit. Step by step we have seen long cherished rights and values trampled on in the name of financial necessity.
Public lands have been given away. Generous tax breaks have been handed
to developers, while elders have seen their pensions taxed and slashed.
People have been threatened. Many have lost livelihood, home, and health
care. Schools have been closed. Classrooms are packed. Political
cronies line their pockets while abusing our children in academies
designed to deaden imagination, connection, and creativity.
We the people have been lied to. Kevyn Orr, Jones Day, Rick Snyder and
the right wing forces in our country have long been thinking about how
bankruptcy can be used to attack pensions, privatize services, and
destroy the political power of cities. As early as 2011, Jones Day
lawyers were considering how bankruptcy could be used to eliminate
pension obligations. Emails released in Court over this year document
the secret plotting to move the city toward bankruptcy. Meanwhile Jones
Day is collecting millions from Detroit while they peddle their
expertize to Puerto Rico.
Orr/Snyder and their corporate sponsors claim cities are just
administrative units. Concerns for public health and welfare are reduced
to simple equations and potential markets. Political choices, balancing
costs and benefits, to whom and for what purpose, are decided behind
closed doors, with no public explanation or accountability.
Thus we are faced with decisions that defy rationality. We are presented
with conclusions that benefit bankers, businesses, and a small
This assault on Detroit includes a form of psychological warfare. The
first shot of this battle was in August of last year. EM Orr told the
Wall Street Journal the people of Detroit are “dumb, lazy, happy and
A storm of protest forced Orr to distance himself from the crudeness of
his comment. But its essence guides his thinking. It is the same
thinking invoked to justify the aggressive shut offs of water to
thousands of Detroiters who cannot meet their bills.
Daniel Howes of the Detroit News reflected it last week when he wrote
about “scofflaws.” These are the people of Detroit, he says, who think
we “could ignore bills without fear of a shut-off, plead poverty, blame
accounting snafus in their books, run to City Hall in search of
political intervention, or petition the United Nations in the name of
human rights violations. Howes argued that Detroiters are living in a
“culture marked by entitlement and abandonment."
Echoing the dumb, lazy happy and rich image, Howes explains that the
recent increase in water costs of nearly 9% in a year is “driven by the
disproportionately high number of water customers in Detroit who consume
water they do not pay for. The result: higher percentage rate increases
for Detroiters who do pay than for overall users of the system.”
This effort to demonize and divide people in the city is an old tactic.
It ignores basic facts: most notable among them is that since 2005 there
have been efforts to tie the cost of water to the ability to pay. This
would be both financially sound and ensure the right of all to water.
Because the city has not implemented the Water Affordability Plan,
approved by Council in 2006, Detroiters are paying twice the national
average for water. In the last decade, our bills have increased 119%.
Most residents pay 20% of their pretax income for water, nearly ten
times the EPA recommendation.
Howes, Orr, Snyder, Duggan, most of the city council and administrators
at the water department know nothing of the people in this city. They
make decisions based on myths, supported by a right wing ideology. Then
they repeat the myths over and over again, to try to get the rest of us
to believe in their distorted reality.