Monday, August 11, 2008

Detroit: Arm the Spirit

"Where the Spirit... is, there is liberty" - from Corinthians (3:17) and inscribed on the Spirit of Detroit monument.


by C. Alexander

The Free Press Sunday Edition made another call for ousting Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. With Kilpatrick being jailed on Thursday for traveling to Windsor – a violation of his probation – The Detroit Free Press in its editorial read, “Out of jail, now leave office”. On the same day as Kilpatrick was jailed, Free Press Columnist Stephen Henderson basically made a thinly veiled call to action to evict Kilpatrick from office. He wrote regarding the actions of Kilpatrick,


In any other American city – in most banana republics – half of that would be enough to inspire some kind of populist effort to change leaders


Henderson, one time supporter of Kilpatrick now one of his loudest critics, represents one of the fault lines. The city has been divided on what to do about City Hall. Henderson and the Free Press are one voice coming from the city’s establishment, the “leadership”. But they are not alone. Other voices for and against Kilpatrick have risen up. Protests are becoming common place. City Workers unions continue to call for Kilpatricks resignation, while some of the Service Employee unions rally to his defense. Inner city community coalitions want him out while groups like the New Black Panther Party help mobilize a street presence to intimidate and silence those who reject Kwame. In one corner you have working-class alliances with a scruffy but for-real-street vibe standing against City Hall corruption, and in the other corner you have professional well dressed political leaders saying that it’s Kwame who is the real Heartbeat of Detroit. You have splits in the police ranks and splits in the neighborhoods. Depending on who you talk to, Kilpatrick is either the symbol of hope and Detroit’s new generation, or, he is a political gangster thinking he is above the law he was elected to enforce.


The Free Press and a growing number of Detroit’s “leadership” say that the city has reached “an all time low”. But the Kilpatrick episode is just another example of the deeper conflicts that have marked the city’s history. People put their faith in Kilpatrick because he is young, charismatic, and full of ideas. After years of loss and desperation, citizens of Detroit looked at this man and considered him to be a break with what had gone before.


During his tenure as Mayor the downtown strip has become more alive than in 30 years. There is a bustling in many of the streets. At 12 midnight on a Friday, you can get caught in a traffic jam when all the people start coming out of the clubs and restaurants.


During this time Kilpatrick related to a new generation raised on hip hop and brought in the biggest names of that industry, hanging at the clubs while helping to push the conversation of how hip hop can inform and build needed community empowerment.


But what propels all of this is that Kilpatrick represents a player in the development of a new bourgeois power elite. Self-determination - the idea of a peoples sovereignty against occupation and colonization and once a corner stone of the socialist, Black liberation, and revolutionary people’s movements - has been co-opted. Kilpatrick is the face that had come to represent the rise of a new boss class. Kilpatrick has tried to put their bourgeois idea of, “Our time has Come” into practice. Self-determination is now the ideology of a narrow minded capitalist class. Theirs is not a concern with “popular power” and masses of people in motion but in creating a power structure over people.


Kilpatrick and his team defend them selves by telling us to look at all they have done, pointing to the redevelopment of the downtown and river front with its casinos and new lofts. But that is just that – the downtown redevelopment is limited to just that small strip within the city. Once you get outside of it you see the continuing poverty and crisis that has defined this city for two generations. When there is already mass unemployment we see this new boss class eliminating needed city workers jobs by cutting deals with private firms like the Carlyle Groups waste treatment subsidiary, Synagro. We see a cronyism that has the Mayors friends and relatives getting bids on contracts, lining their pockets, at the expense of the city. And you have cover ups of murders, like dancer Tamarra Green aka. Strawberry, who was found dead after a rumored party at Manoogian Mansion i.e. the Mayor’s home. It was also reported that Green had been beaten with a bat by the Mayor’s wife, the medical evidence of the assault mysteriously vanishing.


It would be a mistake to put all the city’s problems on Kilpatrick, he’s just one person. His problems have not brought Detroit to “an all time low”. It would also be a mistake, as many make, to say the real outrage is on the Mayor’s sexual transgressions (although his affairs show his dishonesty). The real issues here are about power and vision of the future. Kilpatrick and the elite use power to bolster their own ends, not the masses of Detroit’s citizens.


People have felt beat down for a long time. The organizations of collective action and revolutionary social change have nearly been eliminated. There are many on the ground still trying to engage and build community and city wide movements, but they are small, fragmented and often unaware of others trying to do the same thing on a city, metro or broader regional basis. The tasks before us are many, as well as serious. We need a real debate on approaches to movement building while still working to connect and strengthen the fractured opposition. We need a critique and rejection of the centralization of power and knowledge into the hands of a few. This process means fighting to open up - and defend - space for others to participate, raise their voice, and act. This constant building up of our abilities, and capacities, is the chance to confront the boss class, turn things around and upside down, and allow liberty's rays to penetrate into the darkest of corners.

The struggle goes far beyond Kilpatrick and the "leadership" of this city. It’s time Detroit, lets Arm The Spirit.

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