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Monday, February 27, 2012

Detroit’s Community Leaders discuss what’s needed to repair Michigan’s largest city: Interview with Rainbow Push-Detroit Leader Rev. D Alexander Bullock

ROJS News Interviews: Rev. D Alexander Bullock of Rainbow Push-Detroit

Last Wednesday, February 22nd a meeting took place at the Highland Park Schools District Administration building, that focus on ways to solve a Michigan Public School district educational crisis. Fiscal information available notes that Highland Park Public Schools (HPPS) is over 5 million in debt.

Some Michiganders the story ends at the financial insolvency of HPPS. Led by a Republican controlled House, Senate, Governor's office with former venture capitalist Rick Snyder and March 16, 2011- law Michigan Public Act #4, calls rose individuals with a Conservative policy mind-set  for a Emergency Manager to have ad-hoc powers over the districts' future.

Atypical from traditional economic conservative principles, Public Act #4 supports the state taking over operations of city, townships, villages and counties to unify all power to one elected official-Gov. Rick Snyder (R) and two appointed leaders-state Treasurer Andy Dillon and a Emergency Manager under P.A.#4.
"Economic conservatives and libertarians favor small government, low taxes, limited regulation, and free enterprise," cited on Wikipedia.
Rev. D. Alexander Bullock, community activist and leader of Rainbow Push-Detroit Branch has been a leading voice in the fight to overturn or repeal Michigan Public Act #4; along with supporting localized investment opportunities returning back into Highland Park. On January 16, 2011, Rev. Bullock along with religious community activist from across the state organized "Occupy for Democracy".

The event, which had over 2000 Michiganders from across the state in attendance on Martin Luther King's Holiday, empathized informing Gov. Snyder public disagreement with P.A.#4 law overruling localized government operations and their elected officials. focused on interview with Detroit Community Leaders. The first interview our series highlighted a discussion with Brandon A. Jessup of Michigan Forward). An effort to place a Constitutional Referendum repeal vote on Michigan general election ballot November 6th, plan to submit over 250,000 register voters signatures to the Office of the Great Seal on February 29, 2012.

These pieces focus to gain ideas actual “stakeholders” deeply connected with daily life and times today in the City of Detroit, Highland Park and other urban areas. Our second series presents a interview with Rev.D. Alexander Bullock of Rainbow Push-Detroit.

Photo Credit-Rev. D.
Alexander Bullock
1. Would you start off this interview detailing your experience in our state's largest  city, Detroit? Specifically, what highlights and/or positive aspects of Detroit, Michigan residents enjoy on a regular basis, which those who don't live in the city wouldn't have knowledge about?

I was born in Boston, but I grew up in Detroit. Although Detroit is sometimes portrayed as an unsafe place, I love the City of Detroit and feel right at home here. It has a great waterfront, golf courses, and parks – Belle Isle.  
It has a great zoo, museums, and a wonderful public library system. The opportunity to experience great live music is always available, and the local food is unbelievable. It is the birthplace of Motown. It also is the birthplace of the Nation of Islam, the Shrine of the Black Madonna. There is a deep cultural life rooted in the City of Detroit. It is a great city.  
It is known throughout the world for automobiles and manufacturing. Detroit represented the value of property owners and a property –owning democracy. The UAW is headquartered inDetroit. It is a City with a long labor union and civil rights activist legacy. 
In fact, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., gave the “I have a Dream Speech” inDetroit, with over a million people marching and listening on Woodward Avenue. 
In truth, Detroit is much more than its current financial challenges. It is agreat American city.
2. Detroit has had its share of ups and downs with the economy. Other cities in the Southeastern Michigan community experienced similar difficulties. Why do you believe is Detroit singled out for its fiscal struggles but, in general more suburban areas are not?

I think Detroit is singled out because it is the largest city in the State.People may not know the names of other areas, but they know Detroit. The sheer size and significance of the City of Detroit to the State of Michigan make it a target. Unfortunately, race is also a factor. 
Detroit is a majority African-American city. It is also dominated politically by African Americans. I believe that African-Americans still are victimized by a prevailing prejudicial perception.
3. The national financial crisis according to economists started in 2007. Detroit residents began to feel impacts fiscal issues that would sweep across the U.S. two years prior, in 2005. It appears leadership in State Government focus a "laser-light" on Detroit as example of where communities shouldn't strive to be? Do you believe this is fair or not, and why?

Life is not fair. I don't believe we should think in imaginary terms. It is obvious that Detroit and other urban (largely minority and low income) communities are painted with bad colors and broad-brush strokes. Fairness is not the issue.  
The relevant question is this: what are we going to do about it? When will we take responsibility for determining our own image, local economies and political and economic destiny?
4. Media resources continually point to crime and violence in Detroit but, underreport these statistics in other areas, Do you believe this might be intentional with presenting Detroit as a violent city that "needs saving" or are factual incorrect? 

I believe there are many factors that explain why crime and violence statistics are reported the way they are in Detroit. I do believe the demand for high ratings and the competition for advertising is partly responsible for a media presentation that is sensational. Still, there may be racial and class reasons for portraying Detroit as a violent city that needs to be saved.  
I believe Naomi Klein in her book “Shock Doctrine” describes the role of a manufactured economic, social, political and psychological crisis in destabilizing communities, traditions and organized resistance. With the assent of neo-liberalism and the triumph of political conservatism in American politics it seems clear that there is a political agenda to return to rule by states’ rights, support privatization of public assets and protect the right of the wealthy to become wealthier. 

This agenda is anti- democratic; it has devastating consequences for low and middle-income populations and aims to destabilize communities.
5. Detroit could be on the brink an Emergency Manager appointed to control all city Government manners and affairs. If this occurs, residents’ voices to have their grievances addressed by local leaders elected could be eliminated, as an Emergency Manager is accountable to Governor Rick Snyder and Treasurer Andy Dillon.
Do you believe if the state takes over city operations, the action would improve relations between Detroit's residents, state Governmental leaders or an appointed Emergency Manager? Why or why not?

No, I don't believe that Emergency Management will improve relations between residents and Government autocrats. Public Act 4 is a part of a broad approach to public policy that is paternalistic. Governmental authority is currently anti direct or participatory democracy. We have lost the sense of the 1960’s and 1970’s where direct action, political engagement and social transformation were the aims that fueled America.  
In short, we have a new political culture that is organized to silence the voice of ordinary citizens. Unfortunately, our voices are often too easily silenced.
6. During former Gov. Jennifer Granola’s administration, Detroit received a series of "empowerment zones" to focus on redevelopment, creating employment opportunities and promote positive aspects of the city. Would a return to "empowerment zones" improve the long-term financial outlook for Detroit? What other ideas you, with your experience, believe could assist Detroit communities?

The Granholm administration introduced many policy initiatives to stem the tide of unemployment in Michigan. The riot in Benton Harbor, MI during her first year in office produced an urban city initiative that steered investment to depressed areas. Additionally, empowerment zones and other tax breaks were rolled out to key manufacturing in Michigan. 
These where noble and courageous ideas; however, they didn't work. The federal government ultimately saved the auto industry and banking industry. This fact demonstrates that true long-term financial rebirth for Detroit and the state of Michigan will not be the result of tax breaks and empowerment zones alone. It will require a change in federal changed policy.  
It will require a federal commitment to decaying urban centers and public institutions. It will also require a return to direct democracy. A change in culture so that citizens are not merely looking for the government to change, but seek to change government to meet the most persistent needs we face in urban and rural communities.
7. Media reports about how if Detroit -Michigan's largest city with a high minority population- receives an Emergency Manager under Public Act #4, over 50% of minorities statewide would lose localized elected representation. Do you believe this action could impact election voting affairs’, equal representation Detroit residents’ concerns in Lansing or Washington, D.C. or empathize communities with minority population can't manage effectively to operate local government affairs without state assistance?

Yes. We believe Public Act 4 is anti-democratic. It violates the sacred right to vote, but it also stunts democratic energy. It breeds apathy. It creates aculture of occupation and paternalism. It is horrible public policy.
8.If an Emergency Manager is appointed, privatization of public assets like the Detroit Water Department -which services nearly all of Southeastern Michigan- Belle Isle, Museums, Libraries, city owned land or properly could be lost to Detroit citizens who paid tax dollars for decades to maintain these domains. Do you feel, the citizens of Detroit would agree that an Emergency Manager appointed by Public Act #4 should have rights to sell public works, land or properties to the highest privatized bidder? Why or why not?
I don't know. I hope the citizens of Detroit would fight state occupation and the seizure of assets.
9. Let's briefly touch on Detroit Public Schools (DPS). As you know, former Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bob was brought in by the Granholm administration to boost enrollment rates, increase standardized test scores and stabilize financial reporting for DPS. 

After the Robert Bob's contract ended, Gov. Snyder appointed Roy Roberts to as Emergency Manager position under Public Act #4. For the last four years, DPS has been under some form of "Emergency Management". In your discussions with DPS parents, has state control of their school system worked to improve academic and financial management areas promised by state authorizes?

It is clear that Emergency Management has not improved that academic or financial function of the district. The national agenda is to dismantle public education. Detroit is just one of many pieces in the privatization puzzle.
10. In closing, what in your opinion as a community leader in Detroit, what's needed to return our Michigan's largest city back into the jewel city residents desire it to be?

The first step to recovery is admitting there is a problem. I believe it all begins with the different segments of society agreeing we have some deep and systemic cultural problems and moral blind spots. We are a greedy society. We all seek more individual material wealth even in the face of destroy the globe, fragmenting families and ignoring decency and human dignity.  
We believe America is an open society – it is not. We believe that people are poor purely because of their own lack of self-assertiveness and industry. Likewise, we believe wealthy people are so because of their own strong will.  
In addition, to a change in trade policy and culture we need to begin to confront the deep myths that continue to keep us from understanding the truth about America. The truth is this - Detroit will be whatever Detroiters allow it to become.  
In the face of courageous social and moral leadership, business, government and individuals must be compelled to be a part of a vision for maximal political, social and economic equity.
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