PEOPLE'S SUMMIT and TENT CITY June 14 - 17, 2009
Grand Circus Park, (Woodward and Adams), Detroit
* Bailout the people! * Jobs, healthcare, housing and education for all * Moratorium on foreclosures, evictions and utility shutoffs – housing is a right * Stop budget cuts and restore social services funding * Stop tuition hikes and school closings * Moratorium on layoffs, plant closings, pension thefts and union busting – A job at a living wage is a right * End racism, sexism and anti-LGBT attacks * Stop attacks on immigrants * Bailout youth and students * No more police brutality * Jobs not Jails - For prisoners and ex-prisoners' rights * Save the natural environment and stop global climate change * U.S. troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan * Money for jobs and human needs, not war *

Friday, June 19, 2009

People’s Summit confronts real state of economy

Phalanx of police guard CEO’s meeting at the Renaissance Center   DIANE BUKOWSKI PHOTO
Phalanx of police guard CEO’s meeting at the Renaissance Center DIANE BUKOWSKI PHOTO

By Diane Bukowski
The Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — “The economy is crumbling because its roots are sunk in blood and unpaid labor,” declared City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson during the June 14 opening session of the National People’s Summit and Tent City in Grand Circus Park.

“We cannot fix it with band-aids,” she said. “We are demanding an urban Marshall Plan for Detroit, $10 billion, only 10 percent of the $100 billion the government has given to Wall Street. We have a critical mass in the people here to begin that fight: march twice, to Lansing and to Washington, demand a special meeting with President Barack Obama. You cannot bail out the auto industry and not the workers and their homes.”

She added that Detroit can be re-populated by offering young people government housing for $1 with no property taxes and guaranteeing jobs through projects like using the “gold mine” of the Great Lakes to provide renewable, alternate energy sources.

The four-day Tent City, which included marches and other protests, was called in response to a national business summit taking place June 15 -18 at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Detroit’s Renaissance Center.

“It’s time to define America’s future in a global economy, and YOU are invited,” the business summit website trumpeted. However, the people who attended were nearly all white males representing corporations, banks and lenders, along with politicians whose campaign coffers are filled with corporate donations.

The companies have reaped billions in tax bailouts, while laying off millions of workers, foreclosing on homes and sending so-called “middle-class” America to live in the streets with the ranks of the long-term homeless. (See photo box.)

Laid-off autoworkers, welfare rights activists, representatives of the differently-abled and dozens of others joined forces with people like Robert Miller, a Vietnam veteran who has been homeless for 40 years, and Linda James, also homeless. James lost the toes on one foot to frostbite, but she helped pass out literature about the people’s fightback.

“The government needs to help homeless people,” said James. “They’ve got so many buildings they can open. I lost my toes because all the shelters were full and I have no insurance to get my medication. I have seizures, high blood pressure, and schizophrenia.”

A major focus of the People’s Summit was the campaign for a moratorium on all foreclosures and evictions.

“Bail out the people, not the banks,” demonstrators chanted June 15 as hundreds marched on the Renaissance Center, which was heavily guarded by police, including a mobile ministation, to protect conference goers from the people’s wrath.

Among the business summit speakers were Vikram Pandit, CEO of Citigroup, which has foreclosed on tens of thousands of families, and Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, who has refused to declare a state of emergency in Detroit to open the door for a moratorium.

Speakers and U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin voted to give billions to banks who are refusing to re-negotiate loans to distressed homeowners.

“There is no help right now,” declared attorney Vanessa Fluker, who works day and night along with the Moratorium NOW! Coalition to keep people in their homes.

“A reality check shows that the federal legislation mandating that lenders modify loans has no enforcement provisions,” Fluker said. “I’ve had clients who took out mortgages at six percent, and they’ve been modified to 12 percent, people whose monthly payments went from $400 to $2,400, and $1,200 to $4,400. Government statistics have shown that African Americans, Hispanics and senior citizens are targeted for these types of loans.”

She noted that not only do the companies evicting homeowners get reimbursed through insurance from Fannie Mae, they also take out vandalism insurance and get paid when homes are stripped after evictions take place.

State Sen. Hansen Clarke called on the gathering to support Senate Bill 29, which would establish a moratorium on foreclosures for two years, on a case by case basis. He said the 90-day moratorium signed by Granholm “will not help one person in foreclosure now or in the future.”

Plant workers from American Axle in Detroit, Toledo Jeep and Chrysler Twinsburg in Ohio, and UE workers from North Carolina marched a second time on the RenCen June 16. They demanded that their employers along with Ford, General Motors, American Axle and other companies, whose CEOs spoke at the forum, restore the workers they have laid off to jobs in re-tooled, green energy plants.

At 3 p.m., they gathered again at the Tent City site to hear from Rev. Jesse Jackson, who also spoke at the business summit, and other speakers.

Dianne Feeley, one of the American Axle workers who struck at the plant for weeks last year to stop its shutdown, noted, “American Axle’s CEO Richard Dauch bought up dozens of GM plants so he could whipsaw one against the other, reducing wages to as little as $10 an hour and sending jobs to Mexico, Singapore and other parts of the world to exploit workers there.”

Paul Wohlfarth, a Toledo Jeep retiree after 31 years with the company, said retirees’ eyeglass and dental benefits will be eliminated July 1. He and a co-worker stood next to a cardboard box with a chimney pipe which represented the future homes of many new hires. He said they are making $14 an hour, getting 40lK retirement plans dependent on stock market swings, and have been forced into an underfunded UAW-run health plan.

Marguerite Maddox, a representative of the differently abled, was greeted with cheers as she spoke at the June 14 rally accompanied by her seeing-eye dog. She later led a march on a Detroit People Mover station that is not accessible.

“I’m fed up with the health care system, they’ve eliminated our coverage for hearing aids and glasses,” she said of Medicaid. She called for jobs for anyone who lives in Detroit, including the differently abled like herself.

Activities June 16 also included a rally to close the Detroit Incinerator and promote recycling held at Spirit of Detroit statue on the corner of Woodward and Jefferson.

Other speakers at the event included Maureen Taylor of the Welfare Rights Organization, Baldemar Velasquez, head of the Ohio-based Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), Sandra Hines of the Moratorium NOW! coalition.

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