Civility Detroit Style
“Civil discussions with people who themselves may have already breached the bounds of civility are difficult.”(1)
– Vann R. Newkirk II
This started out as a response to the Detroit Regional Chamber’s tone-deaf call to “Create a Culture of Civility” earlier in the year. Since that time, calls for civility have been issued from the national stage. Those in power and those in denial have called for civility in answer to righteous outrage over the upsurge of white policing of black living, of court decisions that uphold racist immigration policy and legitimize bigotry, and over kids in cages. These offensive and strategic calls for civility resonate with Detroiters because they have heard them repeatedly since Emergency Management and for decades prior. ~ ed.
Last year, we recognized the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Detroit Rebellion and many in the city dove deep into discussions of its meaning and impact. This year, we continue to recognize 50th anniversaries associated with the civil rights movement, most recently Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s assassination and the passage of the Fair Housing Act. Here at Detroit People’s Platform our attention also shifts to the fact that 2018 marks the 5th anniversary of Emergency Management and Bankruptcy in Detroit.
These anniversaries also remind us that transformational changes were not easily won and certainly not won by being polite or civil. These anniversaries are also important and vital to Detroiters as they represent touchstones of our history that denote the emergence of Black political, economic and cultural power in the largest majority-black city in the US. The changes that came from movement work in our city and across the country were in part sparked by the interruption of civility, most famously and powerfully, through nonviolent direct action.
Nationally, there has been a renewed interest in improving civil discourse due to the Trump presidency and the complete breakdown of bipartisanship in our political and civic life. However, we must not confuse the legitimate push back against the President’s divisive rhetoric with the growing chorus of Detroiters demanding our equity stake in the city’s current revitalization.
In March, the Detroit Regional Chamber hosted it’s 2018 Detroit Policy Conference. This year’s focus was on “Creating a Culture of Civility.” The conference referenced the widely heralded example of the relationship between Mayor Duggan and members of City Council. In the Mayor’s recent State of the City he touted the difference in their relationship between now and the past. Perhaps he, and the Chamber fail to recognize the historically oppositional stance by some Council Members in the past was due to their protection and defense of their constituents. Some council members could be counted on to challenge the administration. While a new age of civility at CAYMC bodes well for the administration and corporate interests, it does NOT for everyday Detroiters.
Let’s Count some of the ways government and corporate leadership have targeted Detroiters:
1. Public School Takeover by the State of Michigan
2. Consent Agreement/Emergency Management
3. Municipal Bankruptcy
4. Hijacking of Worker Pension and Healthcare
5. Privatization of Services like Lights and Trash Removal
6. Loss of governance of the Water System
7. Taking public funds and using them for private projects like the Qline and LCA (Little Caesars Arena)
8. Creating legislation and a well funded campaign to defeat a community-led CBA ballot initiative
9. Refusal to stop Water Shutoffs that harm Detroit children and senior citizens.
10. Calling housing “affordable” when it isn’t affordable to the majority of Detroiters.
11. Using hardest hit funds intended to keep Detroiters in their homes to demolish homes.
12. Threatening and inappropriate physical handling of citizens in meetings by city appointees, staff and designees.
13. Huge transfers of public funds and resources to wealthy white billionaires.
The list goes on.
It is an insult that in an 80+% majority-black city, both corporate and government representatives feel completely comfortable disrespecting community members. When leaders and their representatives are allowed to roll their eyes, make racist and condescending comments and negate the ability of Detroiters to engage in serious and thoughtful discussions they are replicating tactics used to silence opposition. The levels disrespect shown when Detroiters speak out or show up and protest peacefully against injustices creates a culture of incivility across all of our institutions.
Don’t lecture Detroiters on Civility. The solution is to actually listen to Detroiters and meet us where we are, whether we fit into the plans or not.