detroit

New Coalition Calls for Action Against Diesel Pollution in Michigan

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A new coalition called the Alliance for Healthy Air is calling for the Michigan legislature to pass legislation that would crack down on diesel pollution.

The coalition says that diesel pollution from vehicles can be easily reduced by as much as 90% by retrofitting existing vehicles with pollution control technology. In order to advocate this goal, the coalition is asking that Michigan legislature set an example by retrofitting all state vehicles and is also calling on the City of Detroit to make a similar commitment. In addition, the group seeks a 70% reduction in diesel pollution by 2020.

Informing their work is research that shows that diesel pollution is a threat to public health. In a press release announcing the effort, the group writes that:

In Wayne County, the lifetime cancer risk from diesel pollution is 429 times greater than the Environmental Protection Agency’s acceptable cancer level of 1 in 1,000,000. The high particulate levels in Detroit have led to extremely high children’s asthma rates: one in five children in Detroit have asthma, and asthma hospitalizations for children are three times the statewide average. Wayne County’s risk factor is the highest in Michigan and ranks 80 out of 3,109 counties nationally.

People’s Summit and Tent City in Detroit Advocates an Economic Agenda for the Rest of Us

This week, activists from across the country gathered in Detroit for the People’s Summit and Tent City to counter the National Business Summit in Detroit.

The People’s Summit was organized to promote “active resistance, political discussion and strategizing” with the end goal of developing “people’s stimulus plans” and an “economic bill of rights.” In announcing the event, the organizers wrote:

On June 15-17, 2009, the National Business Summit, sponsored by the Detroit Economic Club, will take place at the Renaissance Center, General Motors Corporate Headquarters. Millionaire capitalists like the heads of Conoco-Phillips, Dow Chemical, General Motors, Chrysler, Humana Inc., Ascension Health, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, BNSF Railway Co., and PVS Chemicals, and well as the presidents of the National Council on Competitiveness and U.S. Chamber of Commerce, will gather at this summit. President Barack Obama and cabinet members have been invited.

These wealthy businesspeople will put their greedy heads together to discuss “innovation and policy ideas in technology, energy, environment and manufacturing.” In other words, they will be strategizing on how to further increase their profits at the expense of the ever-shrinking middle class, the vast working class and the growing millions living in utter poverty.

The National Business Summit will be held in a city with record-high unemployment and poverty rates, lay-offs, budget cuts, school closings, utility cost hikes and shut-offs and massive home foreclosures. With a registration fee of $1,495, it is unlikely that any victims of foreclosures and evictions, let alone laid-off workers, will be able to attend the National Business Summit. No one at this event will be speaking in the interests of those most affected by the economic collapse.

Throughout the People’s Summit, video of the event was collected and posted on their blog. A sample of the video–from a protest outside of the National Business Summit–can be seen below:

For more video, visit their blog.

Meltdown in Detroit: Economic Collapse, a People’s Plan for Recovery

Last weekend, The Nation magazine held an event in Detroit titled “Meltdown in Detroit: Economic Collapse, a People’s Plan for Recovery” that explored the economic crisis and how Detroit and the rest of the country can move on from the crisis.

The event featured a panel discussion with many prominent activists including Barbara Ehrenreich, Robert Pollin, Elena Herrada, Grace Lee Boggs, JoAnn Watson, and Diane Feely. Videos of the panelists are published below.

Robert Pollin, Co-Director of the Political Economy Research Institute

Barbara Ehrenreich, Author/Activist

Elena Herrada, Detroit Union Organizer/Activist

Grace Lee Boggs, Detroit Activist

JoAnn Watson, Detroit City Council Member

Diane Feely, Union Organizer/Activist

“Fault Lines” episode examines life in Detroit

A recent edition of “Fault Lines” on al Jazeera English explores life in Detroit for the city’s poor and working class and is definitely worth a watch. It’s hosted by journalist and filmmaker Avi Lewis, who made the excellent documentary The Take with his wife, activist and author Naomi Klein.

“Despair and Revival in Detroit” hits on the auto industry’s imminent collapse and the push for a declaration of bankruptcy, the decline of industry in general, gentrification and “urban renewal,” community gardening, and a number of other issues. Lewis’s focus on and interviews with poor and working class people provide a perspective of a decaying but hopeful city that we aren’t exposed to often.

Part I:

Part II:

Economist Dean Baker at the Michigan Policy Summit

Economist Dean Baker, the co-founder and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C., was the keynote speaker at the 2009 Michigan Policy Summit in Detroit on Saturday, May 16, 2009. Baker has a Ph.d. in Economics from the University of Michigan and blogs for the American Prospect.

Baker’s talk:

Note: This video was submitted to us by Thomas Rico, you can check out his blog for more related video at ricothomasrico.blogspot.com.

Another Michigan Teenager Killed by Police using Tasers

Michigan Teen Killed by Taser

Another teenager in Michigan has died after being struck by a Taser. On April 10, 16-year old Warren teenager Robert Mitchell died after police used a Taser on him.

The Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality called the death “a straight-up execution.” The teen’s family are also questioning why the 5 feet 2 special-education teenager was shocked with a Taser and are promising to file a lawsuit.

According to the Detroit Free Press:

Warren police say the teen bolted from a car being stopped for an expired plate, ran into an abandoned house and fought with officers inside. He quit breathing after one of the three pursuing officers used the Taser, police said.

Police have said that the teen was “was violently resisting arrest” but would not intially release any additional information. A later news report said:

“He came down the stairs. He assaulted the officers. There was a struggle that took place,” Green said. “One of the officers Tasered him to get compliance. After that they noticed he was non-responsive. Officers started CPR until the Warren Fire Department arrived.”

The officers involved were temporarily placed on administrative review but have since been reinstated. Police have said “Everything we did was within policies and guidelines. All of our actions were appropriate”

Last month, a 15-year old Bay City teenager was killed by police using Tasers.

The international human rights group Amnesty International has called for limits on the use of Tasers following the deaths of 334 people in the United States between 2001 and August 2008.

Military’s Hiring; Newspapers Giving Them Free Ad Space

An Article Promoting Military Service Was Published By WZZM 13

Yesterday when I was browsing the daily headlines on WZZM13.Com (perhaps my first mistake), I came across a rather frustrating article that was reprinted from the Detroit Free Press.

The article, titled “Who’s hiring? The military” is the latest of many articles that have appeared over the years promoting military service as an option in tough economic times. As is typically the case in these kind of articles, the newspaper only spoke with service members and recent enlistees, both of whom had favorable opinions of the military.

No Dissenting Perspective

Seeing an article with a headline that talked about the current economic situation and the military, the first thing that popped into my head was the idea of a “poverty draft”. This is the idea that the military is seen primarily as a career option for the poor and that the military actively seeks out recruits from economically disadvantaged communities. There’s a wealth of information available about this, but the Detroit Free Press never discussed it.

This is likely due to the fact that the article does not cite anyone who is involved in promoting alternatives to military service to youth. This was particularly frustrating because the Detroit-based group FAME has been actively promoting alternatives to military service. The organization points out that many of the promises made by the military are broken. It also points out that significant hurdles exist in getting the education and job training benefits touted by the military.

The Michigan television station WWMT also ran a similar story that functioned as an ad for the military without bothering to offer a dissenting perspective.

An All Too Common Approach

Unfortunately, this is a common approach by the media when discussing military service. MediaMouse.org has reported on this numerous times in the past. In the past five years, we have seen the local media promote military recruiting repeatedly, but never include a dissenting perspective or even seek to independently verify the claims made by military recruiters.

Event Looks at the State of Radical Grassroots Social Movements in Michigan, Chicago

Solidarity & Defense Hosted an Event that Looked at Radical Grassroots Movements in Michigan and Chicago

On February 7, a group called Solidarity & Defense “a small but growing alliance of anti-authoritarian militants active in both the workplace and the community,” hosted an evening of speakers and discussion at the International Institute in Detroit. The theme was “Renewing the New Years Promise” and it featured regional organizers speaking on their organization’s vision of social change. A variety of topics were covered, from gentrification to police repression.

The night began with a panel of six organizers. The first panelist, Robert, is a member of the Railway Work Unit of the Industrial Workers of the World, the Chicago Four Star Anarchist Group, and was involved with the Republic Windows occupation in December. He talked about the importance of pre-figurative organizing – counter institutions, citizens councils, and Cop Watch — in order to put pressure on formal institutions. Robert spoke of the importance of focusing on specific issues at hand in communities, rather than broad ideas. One way to do this is through the IWW, pinpointing which industries are suffering (such as the auto industry) before people are laid off, and making decisions “horizontally,” then bringing them up “vertically” by workers placing pressure on executives.

Lacey, who is currently based in Detroit but organized in Lansing for several years and is involved with Solidarity & Defense, spoke of the importance of solidarity within communities and defending communities when they are attacked by legislation or policies. She noted that we are currently in a unique political situation of new found enthusiasm – the last election drew a lot of people into the idea of change and motivated them. According to Lacey, the job of community organizers is to find a place for people to plug in. She addressed the police repression at the RNC, emphasizing that “you have to know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it,” and stressing direct action as a strategy for change.

Bill and Robert spoke on their involvement with Y.O.U.T.H. Inc (Youth Organizing to Uplift Tomorrow’s Humanity), which provides programs for youth, tutoring within schools, a gym space and food to emphasize health, and provide training for specific trades. They also talked about the need for goals, and the importance of connecting different projects and working together.

Carmen, who is involved in the Detroit public school system, spoke of the needs of the Latino community in Detroit: legal clinics, health and safety classes, and immigrant support. She spoke about groups organizing in Detroit for border support, posting bail for undocumented workers, and translating Spanish classes by ESL students.

Brie, who is from Chicago and involved with the Four Star Anarchist Group talked about the importance of art in the movement. In the past it has been used to pacify us through the entertainment industry, but art is a strategy activists can use to empower people. Brie also talked about veterans’ issues, saying that anarchist groups can be used a means for support, to combat the common feeling of always being on the defense. Activists can being to take a more pro-active stance on these issues, which Brie cited as a goal of the Solidarity & Defense group.

Melissa, the final panelist of the evening, is involved with NorthStar, the collective/infoshop based in Lansing. She spoke of the need for activists to build connections amongst ourselves, and the importance of being engaged in the community. Melissa also discussed facilitating empowerment – we can build a radical capacity for people who are generally disempowered, so they can take control of their own lives and situations.

Following the panel was a discussion with the audience. One critique is that some thought the discussion dominated by older white males, despite the fact the audience was made up of many women, Latino/as, and African Americans.

Detroit Jewish Federation: Celebrating Racism and Making Money At It

On Thursday, August 21, 2008, one of the country’s wealthiest communities will celebrate the Nakba–the violent ethnic cleansing and colonization of Palestine in 1948–in a poor neighborhood in Detroit. And if all goes well, a large group of folks, representing metro Detroit’s large Black and Arab communities and other Palestinian solidarity activists, will be on hand to nonviolently send the message that triumphal celebrations of racism and genocide will not go unchallenged in Detroit.

Detroit’s State Fair neighborhood is named after the entity that dominates its landscape–the state-owned Michigan State Fair and Exposition Center (MSFEC). Last year, the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit (JFMD) finalized a contract with the State of Michigan for the use of the fairgrounds. The “contract” was memorialized in a letter, a copy of which was obtained through the Michigan Freedom of Information Act.[1]

The Jewish Federation was granted a no risk sweetheart deal for its “Fair to Remember,” part of its year-long “IsraelSixty” campaign celebrating the creation of Israel in 1948. The contract provides that “All of the normal operations of the Fair shall be available for use by the patrons of the JFMD including games, rides, and exhibitions.” If no one shows up for the Federation’s event, the Federation pays nothing, no deposit is forfeited, no cancellation fee is lost, and the MSFEC earns nothing while incurring all of the costs associated with running the fair. All the risk is assumed by the MSFEC, a state body.

And no other fair-goers will pick up any part of the tab because the contract provides “that the use of the Fair by JFMD shall be exclusive and that no individuals that are not the invitees of JFMD … shall be allowed access to the Fair.” As the Jewish Federation brags on its web site: “We will have exclusive use of the State Fairgrounds (including rides and attractions) the day before it opens to the general public, which allows us to ‘Israelize’ the State Fair.”[2] The JFMD encourages people to contact their “Israelization team” with ideas about how to transform the fairgrounds. Palestinians and their friends know what loss and suffering the “Israelization” of Palestine in 1948 and 1967 has meant for the “people of the land” (Ezra 9:1-2).

This is an apartheid fair to celebrate the creation of an apartheid state and most local kids and their families will just have to wait for the Michigan State Fair to open to the general public. That is, until the day after the Jewish community and its invited friends have enjoyed their “Fair of Shame,” as some Detroit area activists are calling it. But those kids will have fewer days to enjoy the fair. MSFEC General Manager Steven Jenkins signed off on the JFMD deal just five days before he announced at the MSFEC Board of Directors’ November 19, 2007, meeting that the number of days the Michigan State Fair would be open to the general public would be cut from thirteen in 2007 to eleven in 2008.[3]

Usually, the exclusive use of a venue entails a premium price for such a privilege but the Jewish Federation is paying no such premium. The funding mechanism provided by the contract is a deeply discounted ticket scheme that amounts to a de facto state subsidy for the Jewish Federation. General admission tickets charged by the MSFEC to the general public are $10.00 and $5.00 for children (aged 3-12) and for seniors (aged 62 and older).[4] Children under three years of age are admitted free of charge. The MSFEC is charging the Jewish Federation only $6.00 for the first 4,000 tickets, $5.00 for the next 2,000, and $4.00 for each ticket sold thereafter. According to its web site, the JFMD is expecting 15,000 people to attend the Fair of Shame. This is not an unreasonable expectation as there are 78,000 people living in Jewish households in metro Detroit, according to the 2007 American Jewish Year Book.[5] A further attraction is the closing ceremony of the Jewish-only Maccabi Games, which will take place in the evening at the Fair of Shame. If the JFMD gets only 15,000 attendees and they fit the demographic profile of the metro Detroit Jewish community then the contractual ticket discount will, in effect, provide the JFMD with a state subsidy of about $54,000.[6]

In a recent year, according to the 2007 American Jewish Year Book, the JFMD raised more money than any of the 55 other Jewish Federations in the country, “with about $35,000,000 being raised from approximately 30,000 households.” This fund raising acumen is on display in the sweetheart deal of a contract but they have gone one better than that. The JFMD is charging $15.95 for general admission and $12.95 for children (aged 3-12).[7] Seniors pay general admission and, presumably, children under three are admitted free. Under this scheme, if the JFMD gets only 15,000 attendees and they fit the demographic profile of the metro Detroit Jewish community, the Federation stands to have gross revenues of $159,000. Of course, if they go over 15,000 attendees the state subsidy and their gross revenues will be even larger but even if they fall short they will never lose money on the deal.

But the sweetheart deal doesn’t stop there. For midway rides the MSFEC charges the general public $15.00 on Thursdays for unlimited ride wristbands. The contract calls for the Jewish Federation invitees to pay the general public price for only the first 8,000 wristbands purchased. The price drops to $12.00 for the next 4,000 and then $10.00 for everyone thereafter. The Federation has chosen to front load the price of admission and charge only $9.00 each for ride wristbands. So, they will lose money on the midway ride wristbands but not enough to seriously cut into the revenues they stand to make on admissions.

Furthermore, there are at least two other ways in which the contract amounts to a sweetheart deal. First, the general public is charged $7.00 for parking, the contract calls for the Jewish Federation to pay $5.00 and they are charging $6.00, for an extra dollar of profit on every vehicle.

Finally, the MSFEC is providing “security comparable to any other normal operating day of the Fair” for free. The JFMD’s only other contractual cost is an unspecified amount for adding the Fair to the Federation’s general liability policy for one day. If they want extra security they have to pay for it but, fortunately for them, they have taxpayer money flowing into their coffers for that, too. Last year, the Michigan State Police Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division awarded over half-a-million dollars in federal funds for terrorism preparedness to eight Michigan non-profit organizations. More than half of the organizations to receive the funds were Jewish and the JFMD received the fourth largest award, $97,127.[8]

Some of the JFMD’s publicity for the “Fair of Shame” is even free, such as a fluff article in the Detroit News on July 14, 2008.[9] Thus, a celebration of the violent ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 has been turned into a state-subsidized fund raising event for an already wealthy community.

Just how wealthy the expected Nakba celebrants are can be seen by contrasting them with the general US population and the State Fair neighborhood, one of Detroit’s more diverse, but still majority Black, neighborhoods. According to the “Detroit Area Jewish Population Study, 2005,” sponsored by the JFMD, the median income of Detroit area Jewish households was $85,000 and median housing value was $300,000. The national figures for the general US population are: Median Household Income – $45,000, Median Housing Value – $156,000. The comparable figures for the people living in the State Fair neighborhood are even more striking: Median Household Income – $24,016, Median Home Sale Value – $73,000.[10]

These wide economic gaps are undoubtedly, in no small part, a result of past and ongoing anti-Black racism in America. For instance, the fairgrounds are not far from Detroit’s own apartheid wall, also known as the Wailing Wall.[11] Detroit’s wall was built circa 1940 and not unlike the apartheid wall that snakes through the West Bank, it was constructed with federal backing over the objections of the Black community in order to separate an existing Black neighborhood from a new White and, according to two local informants, Jewish subdivision. The remarks of African Methodist Episcopal Church Bishop E. Earl McCloud, Jr. come to mind. Seeing the Israeli apartheid wall in 2006, he said, “I’m surprised by the blatant attempt of Israelis to separate themselves. I’ve also been on the backside of fear of Black people and it makes me sad to see this wall and to hear so many say this wall has been built with money I have sent to the U.S. government in tax dollars.”[12]

The economic disparities described above are also strongly related to power disparities. These disparities result in billions of dollars of direct US federal aid to Israel–more than $3.1 billion every year to Israel, on average $6.8 million per day–while Detroit languishes.[13] This, of course, doesn’t include any of the hundreds of billions of dollars malignly misappropriated for invading and occupying Iraq just since 2003. This is a war that even conservatives/centrists such as Colin Powell, Scott Ritter, John J. Mearsheimer, and Stephen M. Walt suggest was, at least partly, a war for Israel.

The Jewish Federation’s triumphal celebration of racism and genocide would be a travesty anywhere but such a display of wealth and power is even more egregious in a place like the State Fair neighborhood. Further, it flies in the face of proud examples of anti-Zionism from Detroit’s history. Malcolm X, who spent some of his formative years in Michigan and was for a time known as “Detroit Red,” visited Gaza in 1964 and repeatedly spoke out against Zionism. He was quoted on Sept. 17, 1964 in The Egyptian Gazette as follows:

Did the Zionists have the legal or moral right to invade Arab Palestine, uproot its Arab citizens from their homes and seize all Arab property for themselves just based on the “religious” claim that their forefathers lived there thousands of years ago? Only a thousand years ago the Moors lived in Spain. Would this give the Moors of today the legal and moral right to invade the Iberian Peninsula, drive out its Spanish citizens, and then set up a new Moroccan nation … where Spain used to be, as the European Zionists have done to our Arab brothers and sisters in Palestine? …

In short the Zionist argument to justify Israel’s present occupation of Arab Palestine has no intelligent or legal basis in history … not even in their own religion. Where is their Messiah?[14]

On November 1, 1970, an “Appeal by Black Americans Against United States Support of the Zionist Government of Israel” was published in the New York Times by the Committee of Black Americans for Truth About the Middle East.[15] The statement was signed by Detroit civil rights activists Grace Lee Boggs, James Boggs, and the Reverend Albert B. Cleage Jr., founder of the Shrine of the Black Madonna. Among other things, the appeal expressed “complete solidarity with our Palestinian brothers and sisters”, noted the alliance of apartheid South Africa and Israel, and quoted Yassir Arafat as follows: “Our political vision for a free Palestine is a democratic, secular, non-racial state where all Palestinians–Christians, Jews, and Muslims–will have equal rights.”

Recognizing the interrelatedness of all forms of oppression, Black, Arab, and other justice and peace activists in metro Detroit have joined together in an ad hoc committee to build on this past and to answer the 2008 call of Palestinian civil society to “Boycott the ‘Israel at 60′ Celebrations!” The call says, in part:

How can you celebrate? The establishment of the State of Israel sixty years ago was a settler-colonial project that systematically and violently uprooted more than 750 thousand Palestinian Arabs from their lands and homes. Sixty years ago, Zionist militias and gangs ransacked Palestinian properties and destroyed hundreds of Palestinian villages. How can people of conscience celebrate this catastrophe?

Israel at 60 is a state that continues to deny Palestinian refugees their UN-sanctioned right to return to their homes and receive compensation, simply because they are “non-Jews.” It still illegally occupies Palestinian and other Arab lands, in violation of numerous UN resolutions. It persists in its blatant denial of fundamental Palestinian human rights, in contravention of international humanitarian law and human rights conventions. It still subjects its own Palestinian citizens to a system of institutionalized discrimination, strongly reminiscent of the defunct apartheid regime in South Africa. And Israel gets away with all this, thanks to the unprecedented immunity granted to it by the unlimited and munificent US and European economic, diplomatic, political, and academic support.

The organizers of the protest against the Fair of Shame are calling on other justice and peace activists to turn out or help publicize and support the August 21st protest against the JFMD’s planned celebration of the Nakba. The protest is planned for 5 PM to 7 PM at the Michigan State Fair & Exposition Center, 1120 W. State Fair Ave. (at Woodward) in Detroit. Meet in the grassy area just north of the SmartBus State Fair Transit Center off Woodward Ave. For more information write to fairofshame@yahoo.com or go to nextyearinalquds.blogspot.com.

About the author: Michelle J. Kinnucan’s writing has previously been published in CommonDreams.org, Nonviolent Resister, Agenda, Critical Moment, and elsewhere. Her 2004 investigative research on the Global Intelligence Working Group was featured in Censored 2005: The Top 25 Censored Stories (Seven Stories Pr., 2004) and she contributed a chapter to Finding the Force of the Star Wars Franchise (Peter Lang, 2006).

Notes:

1. Jenkins, Steven. Letter to the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit. 12 November 2007.

2. Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit. “A Fair to Remember.” Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit. 14 May 2008. .

3. Michigan State Fair and Exposition Center Authority. “Minutes of the Michigan State Fair & Exposition Center Authority Board of Directors held on November 19, 2007.” Michigan.gov. 17 June 2008. .

4. Michigan State Fair and Exposition Center Authority. “The Great 2008 Michigan State Fair.” Michigan.gov. 16 June 2008.

.

5. American Jewish Committee. “Jewish Population in the United States, 2007.” American Jewish Year Book 2007. Vol. 107. 146-148. New York: American Jewish Committee, 2007. AJC Archives. 18 May 2008. .

6. Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit. Detroit Area Jewish Population Study, 2005. North American Jewish Data Bank. 16 July 2008. .

7. ClicknPrint Tickets by Extremetix. 14 July 2008. .

8. Michigan State Police. ” Michigan Nonprofit Organizations Awarded Funding for Preparedness Training.” Michigan.gov. 21 May 2008. .

9. Krupa, Gregg. “Israel fair to echo 1949.” Detroit News. 14 July 2008. Detroit News Online.

15 July 2008. .

10. Social Compact. Detroit Neighborhood Market DrillDown. Social Compact. 16 July 2008. .

11. Sugrue, Thomas J. The Origins of the Urban Crisis. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1996.

12. “Historic Black Churches Delegation to Holy Land Finds Pain and Hope.” Church World Service. 09 November 2006. 16 July 2008. .

13. “US Aid to Israel and the Palestinians.” If Americans Knew. 16 July 2008. .

14. “Malcolm X on Zionism—Reprinted From the Egyptian Gazette.” Pan-African News Wire. 05 February 2008. .

15. Committee of Black Americans for Truth About the Middle East. “Appeal by Black Americans Against United States Support of the Zionist Government of Israel.” New York Times. 01 November 1970: 172.

Video Explores Gentrification and Resistance in Detroit

A new music video and documentary by Detroit rapper Ilana Invincible has been released. The video, available for view below, provides an excellent overview of gentrification in Michigan’s largest city and the organizing that people are doing to combat it. Moreover, the video is a great example of the infinite ways in which folks can produce independent media.

Watch it below: