by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
The “restructuring” of Detroit through bankruptcy is the model for drastically downsizing what’s left of democracy in all of urban America. Already, Black voting rights have been rendered null and void “on a scale not seen since the death of Reconstruction.” However, the legal precedents that are being established in mostly Black Detroit will obtain throughout the nation.
Democracy: Going Down for the Count in Detroit
by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
“If the people’s franchise stands in the way of Lord’s of Capital’s right to ‘restructure’ Detroit to their liking, then the franchise must be rendered inoperative.”
The post-Civil Rights era vision to consolidate Black Power through purely electoral means in the major cities of the United States has all but evaporated. Wherever possible, capital has reclaimed the urban centers for upscale white habitation, most often with the active collaboration of a venal Black political class concerned primarily with its own upward mobility. Always eager allies of high finance, the aspiring Black elite shares the general white assumption that concentrations of lower class Blacks are pathological, by definition. This Black Misleadership Class never conceived of building great Black cities – only of great individual careers that could be launched on the voting strength of de facto African American majorities in the wake of Sixties white flight.
Urban “renaissance” in the form of ethnic cleansing was just fine, as long as the collaborationists were awarded lucrative contracts in the process. The Black masses – who, like most Americans, prefer not to think of themselves as “masses” – seldom caught on to the game until it was too late. The promised new infrastructures of urban “transformation” turned out to be the engines of Black banishment from formerly (or soon to be formerly) Chocolate Cities like Washington DC and Atlanta. Black Chicago loses population share year by year, Black Harlem slips into history, and even Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy and Brownsville become promised lands for the white gentry.
Some cities, including New Orleans and Detroit, were, in the words of Public Enemy, “too Black, too strong,” with African American majorities of 67 and 80-plus percent, respectively. Hurricane Katrina brought those numbers down to manageable size, creating the conditions for near-instantaneous Disaster Capitalist renaissance, in 2005. That same year, in Detroit, the so-called “Hip Hop Mayor,” Kwame Kilpatrick – actually the spoiled, morally degenerate spawn of the historical Black Misleadership Class – strapped the Black metropolis into a suicide vest wired with interest rate swap derivatives. Similar devices are embedded in the fiscal structures of cities around the country, ready to bring down what’s left of home rule so that capital can feast on the public space, unconstrained.
“Kwame Kilpatrick strapped the Black metropolis into a suicide vest wired with interest rate swap derivatives.”
The scheme is general, part of the worldwide offensive by Wall Street and its global annexes to absorb the public sphere wherever it exists, reducing humanity to total dependence on the dictatorship of money. In the United States, the finance bourgeoisie’s bacchanal is, like all American politics, organized along racial lines – the perfect, crowd-pleasing cover for the destruction of Black voting rights on a scale not seen since the death of Reconstruction. In place of an already straitjacketed, comprador-dominated home rule, Michigan’s Republican Gov. Rick Snyder governor imposed his own regent in the noxious form of Emergency Financial Manager Kevyn Orr, who was until this year a bankruptcy attorney from the multinational firm Jones Day, which is the mercenary legal arm for much of the Fortune 500, including most of the banks that have conspired to destroy Detroit’s tax base.
This summer Orr, acting as the one-man embodiment of Detroit’s now-powerless executive and legislative branches, requested that the city be declared bankrupt. Federal Bankruptcy Court Judge Steven Rhodes finished hearing testimony last Friday on whether Orr, possibly the most hated man in Detroit, has met all the criteria for Chapter 9 law, including having negotiated in good faith with its creditors. These include the city’s retirees, whose pensions are protected by Michigan’s constitution and, therefore, do not consider themselves “creditors” who can be forced to take a “hair cut,” in Wall Street parlance, in a municipal bankruptcy proceeding. Until just days before he announced his proposal to cut pensions on June 14, Orr pretended that he both respected those protections and thought there was only a “50-50” chance that he would try to pull the bankruptcy trigger.
Even Judge Rhodes thought he smelled a rat, although that doesn’t mean he won’t rule for the rodents. He asked Jones Day lawyer Bruce Bennett – who is, in this Alice in Wonderland legal world, acting as Detroit’s lawyer and, therefore, the lawyer for former Jones Day employee Kevin Orr – if Orr hadn’t acted in bad faith by misleading the retirees.
“I’m the wrong person to ask,” Bennett said.
“You’re his lawyer,” the judge replied, repeating, “You’re his lawyer.”
Bennett maintained that, even if Orr had been misleading, “it was corrected three…or four days later…. Mistakes happen.”
Marie Antoinette, who was beheaded for her class arrogance, was a model of empathy compared to Jones Day’s Bennett, who said of the retiree’s plight: “This is an issue to which, in a lot of ways, the city is indifferent. Not emotionally indifferent, but legally indifferent.”
Sounds like what a Virginia plantation owner would say about selling his excess slaves “down the river” to Louisiana’s cane fields. He might claim to feel their pain, but is entitled to market his property. Detroit’s new owners’ “good faith” goes no further than that. It is an antebellum relationship, dressed up for the new millennium.
“The people’s right to vote is secondary to working out the financial claims brought by derivatives-wielding bankers.”
Earlier in the week, Judge Rhodes rejected the NAACP’s challenge to Kevyn Orr’s Emergency Financial Manager powers on the grounds that they unconstitutionally disenfranchise a majority of Michigan’s African American citizens. The judge said the public has a more “substantial interest in the speedy and efficient resolution of a municipal bankruptcy case that affects as many people and institutions, and as much of the local, regional and national economy, as this case does.” He said the NAACP could continue its suit after the bankruptcy is done.
In other words, the people’s right to vote is secondary to working out the financial claims brought by derivatives-wielding bankers. If the people’s franchise stands in the way of Lord’s of Capital’s right to “restructure” Detroit to their liking, then the franchise must be rendered inoperative, at least until the spoils have been divvyed up – that is, until all the issues that matter have been made moot.
A great deal has been mooted in Detroit, whose fate will become the model, the legal precedent, for the rest of the country. We are witnessing the death of, not just dreams of urban Black power, but of previous notions of American democracy, itself.
There’s no need to run and tell Obama. His attitude toward Detroit’s plight is very much like that of Jones Day lawyer Bennett: The president is “Not emotionally indifferent, but legally indifferent,” as shown by his refusal to address the disenfranchisement of most of Michigan’s Black citizens. After all, they can still exercise an effective vote for Democrats in federal elections. What other use are they?
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at [email protected].