“A dream does not die on it’s own. A dream is vanquished by the choices ordinary people make about real things in their own lives.”
I was meditating in my cleansing temple (taking a shower) one evening when I asked myself, “Self, what are the first three words that come to mind when you think of Detroit?” Being a lover of arcane word association games, particularly when they are attached to the business end of a school psychologist trying to figure out if I belong in gifted classes or special ed, I played along with myself. “Hmm, here goes…Isaiah Thomas, Motown and Chrysler”. Isaiah Thomas, of course, because he was a member of the once beloved Detroit Pistons, whom I loved watching play when I was a kid. Motown because of all the great music before it was co-opted by, who else, the corporate capitalists and Chrysler because it was the company that made the singular worst car I have ever owned, a wood-paneled 80′s era town and country station wagon. Alas, these days, there are far more morbid terms that come to mind when Detroit is mentioned in the national discourse…bankrupt, destitute, forsaken, come readily to mind. Detroit has the distinction of being squarely in the crosshairs of the global ruling class, whose predation knows no cartographer’s bounds. If Detroit were a car, it’s check engine light would be on. Glen Ford wryly observed, “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.” These uppity cities surely needed to be put in their place.
Most of us know what happened to the city by the bayou…God flooded it because he was mad at the human race, especially the beignet-loving ones. But there was no “act of God” in Detroit to use as cover for the shock doctrine, the methodical and deliberate profiting off of the calamity that results from a natural disaster or event, which has become one of the sharpest tools in the neoliberal’s woodshed. So Wall Street had to get to work manufacturing it’s own perfect storm. The gentrification of gathering places for strong black and brown communities has been evident in major urban centers across the country. But gentrify is too kind of a word for what the princes of privatization do best which is plunder. In Detroit, the casino capitalism that courageous journalists like Greg Palast, Chris Hedges, and Matt Taibbi, to name a few, have been covering for years came up lucky 7′s. Using complex financial schemes known as interestswapcreditderivativese, the city was set up like the one-pin to get knocked down by the billionaire banker’s bowling ball. As the chips came due, an Emergency Financial Manager, a consiglieri, was installed to serve as the city’s taskmaster and do the bidding of his true bosses in Lower Manhattan and the City of London. Last summer, during a 90-degree plus heatwave the electricity was turned off by the emergency manager’s office without any prior notice in order to send residents a “strong message”, leaving workers stranded in elevators and public transportation brought to a standstill.
The message has been delivered loud and clear regarding who is now large and in charge in the seized up motor city. The selection of Detroit as the blueprint for Austerity 2.0 was by design. The ruling class knew well that the always present undercurrent of racism in the American zeitgeist would ensure that a tipping point of public outcry would not be reached. Now, the vulture capitalists are licking their lips at hoovering up the public wealth and resources of the city including it’s vast art collection at fire sale prices. Needless to say, the hard-earned pensions of the city’s public workers are also up for grabs. If this sounds familiar, you have been paying attention. Greece has suffered similar humiliations at the hands of the global elite. While the official talking point is “Greek deadbeats should stop living off the public dole and pay their debts”, if the country were a crime scene, Goldman Sachs’ fingerprints would be all over it. In Detroit, it is “lazy, freeloading welfare residents”, code for poor, black people who are to blame for the city’s struggles. If only they had gone to Harvard and learned how to hustle people legally out of every last nickel and dime, we would be lauding them as the next Bill Gates or Warren Buffett. Speaking of role models, I would be seriously remiss if I didn’t offer proper respect to Nelson Mandela, known affectionately as Madiba to his close followers and admirers, which are legion. Mandela was the real deal, a man who spent 27 years in a South African prison for striking fear and loathing in the hearts of the white power structure in Johannesburg and well beyond.
Those who questioned whether the political ground Mandela gained as leader of the African National Congress was overshadowed by the economic power that was conceded to the De Beers of the world have never done battle with an army of $1,000 an hour lawyers. There are far better scribes than myself to put Mandela’s death in the proper context and give him the graceful sendoff he deserves. Suffice it to say, if a politician’s lips are moving, you can count on something hypocritical being uttered. Years from now we’ll be listening to fawning, pompous speeches about Chelsea Manning, Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier. Mandela like other true visionaries and revolutionaries recognized that the real power players were safely behind the curtains, untouchable and rendered unrecognizable. Meanwhile, at street level, the minions they have released to do their bidding have unleashed a hell on Earth that seeks to copyright, patent, trademark and genetically modify anything on the planet that isn’t nailed down. The only good Earth in the eyes of the captains of capitalism is a scorched Earth where no child is left behind to ask what the hell happened here. As the Age of Austerity continues to take aim at the American landscape, it’s only a matter of time before the poisoned dart lands on a city close to your heart. When future generations play the word association game with friends, what words will come to mind when your city is called?
Peace and solidarity to all readers.