There’s a demoralizing attitude in this country that the way things are is right. Like, most people would say “it’s a shame about Detroit” or “it’s a shame so many people are stuck in poverty” but the only solutions they offer are a repetition of the exact same actions that got us here in the first place.
The city of Detroit is free to go ahead with bankruptcy proceedings, as of a ruling this week. The emergency financial manager, Kevyn Orr, is free to use pension funds as part of negotiations in the proceedings. Because obviously, the best way to fix a city is to bring in an outsider and give him free reign to plunder everything, from publicly-owned assets like art museums, to the pension funds of the city’s hardworking residents.
And make no mistake about it, the city’s residents are hardworking. It is not their fault that jobs were outsourced, gutting the American auto manufacturing industry. It is not the fault of the average Detroit resident that the city is in such dire straits. And talk about the bait-and-switch: government jobs are seen as respectable, responsible ways to invest in the community and save for the future, and now they’re being told their very livelihoods must be taken away to save the city. Save it? For whom? I’ve noticed everyone’s ideas for “saving Detroit” involve some form of immediate harm to the residents who have called Detroit their home for years. Most of them are wildly unrealistic schemes to gentrify the city, doing nothing to help the people who already live there and instead hoping that importing upper class white people will just overnight make Detroit into a respectable city (see, for instance, this incredibly shallow article from Slate suggesting Detroit needs a gay neighborhood in mimicry of other cities that aren’t doing so poorly. Because clearly just out of the blue importing features of other cities is the best solution!…said clueless people everywhere).
I’ll say this right here and now: I’m not from the actual city of Detroit. I’m from a rundown blue-collar suburb several miles to the West, part of the larger Detroit area. So I’m not going to offer my own ideas as to how the city should be saved. The residents ought to have the loudest voice in the debate over saving Detroit, and I’m willing to fight against outsiders trying to drown them out, then shut the fuck up and let the residents speak. Being a native of the metro area means I have some small stake in the debate, but the solution needs to come from the city itself. I’m invested enough, though, that I certainly feel I have the right to stand up and tell outsiders to check their messiah complexes and sit down and shut up.
There’s another issue that’s come up this week, an issue also lying at the intersection of race and class, an issue where everyone not involved in the problem is quite happy to either deny there is a problem or argue why the system as it is works great.
This week we saw a giant fast food strikes, with walk-outs and protests in over 100 cities across the United States. Fast food workers want a living wage, $15 an hour, and the right to form unions. (This action came on the heels of Black Friday Wal-Mart protests, similarly objecting to poor treatment and poor compensation of workers). Fast food workers, the majority of whom are dependent on their wages to support themselves and their families, just want to be able to make enough money to live on, and they are demanding this wage increase loud and clear across the country (check out the #FastFoodStrikes hashtag for tons of photos and tweets from the action).
I was working all day and did not have the opportunity to attend a strike in person but I tweeted about them all day, voicing my support and retweeting the photos of those who were attending/striking. And when you tweet about something very vocally with strong language, you get some pushback. The pushback could be boiled down to one argument (when it even made sense): “Keep capitalism the way it is. This is all I know.” I could go into all the arguments why increasing the minimum wage to a living wage makes perfect sense, but instead I’ll direct you to this article which explains it better than I could: “Raise the Minimum Wage!” by Rad-Femme Lawyer
What frightens me is that people in relatively comfortable positions, let alone positions of power, refuse to accept any possible vision of reality that differs from what is right now. The “invisible hand of the free market” is obliterating the lives of millions across America, not to mention those we’re enslaving and exploiting across the globe, and yet we refuse to imagine any alternative.
We are scared. There are two solutions: look at the people demanding to be treated as equals, to be allowed to live on what they earn, to define the direction of their own community, and tell them to shut up, or decide to stand with them even if it means stepping into an unknown future.
Class warfare exists already. Race war exists already. The rich and the white have been attacking the poor and people of color for a long, long time. Those of us who have a choice need to decide what side we’re on. I’m choosing to cheer on and stand with the poor who are fighting back. Detroit is in my heart and in my soul, and I’ve been that person trying to survive on the minimum wage. I’ve bumped up against poverty and I have allowed it to shape me, rather than stiff-arming it and trying to tell myself “I’m not like those people!” I haven’t had the depth of experience that others have had, but I’ve seen enough to know which side I’m on. And I choose to imagine the world that can be, rather than stubbornly clinging to what is.