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Democracy Itself at Stake in Michigan

Michigan voters have a chance to repeal

If you were to tell most Americans that democracy itself would be on the ballot in a major state like Michigan, they’d think you’re mad. But they’d be wrong.

When Michigan’s Republican Governor Rick Snyder rammed Public Act 4 through his state legislature shortly after assuming office in 2011, he signed one of the most radical anti-democracy laws in recent memory. It’s a law that likely made nearby Wisconsin and Ohio Governors Scott Walker and John Kasich with their anti-collective bargaining laws blush.

What Public Act 4 did is eviscerate local democracy and give a new tool to the corporatists who are constantly looking for opportunities to use crises to replace the Commons and democracy with a profit center.

It gives Governor Snyder the power to appoint what he calls are “Financial Managers” – or what are better described as “little dictators” – to take over entire cities that Governor Snyder deems are in a “financial emergency.”

Under the guise of getting a community’s finances in order, these little dictators move in, fire local elected officials, break local union contracts, slash budgets, cut back on public services, and hand over huge chunks of municipal commons like public parks and sewage plants over to private profiteers.

They have complete, autocratic control over the city and came make decisions unilaterally without any input from voters. This is what the death of democracy looks like.

As of Election Day, 2012, the little dictators were in control of cities like Benton Harbor, Ecorse, Flint, and Pontiac, as well as Detroit’s public school system.

When we asked Reverend David Bullock, the President of Rainbow PUSH Detroit, to come on the Big Picture earlier this year, we wanted to know first-hand what it was like living under one of Governor Snyder’s little dictators.

“What’s it like to live under dictatorship?!” Reverend Bullock asked rhetorically. “How about no police officers, how about limited firefighters, how about taking street lights out of cities so that people are in the dark, how about living with low morale and despair?”

That’s what it’s like for average, working – and now voiceless – citizens who are watching their local government dismantled under this law. Again and again in times of crisis – especially economic crisis – we’ve seen the corporatists move in for the kill.

As Naomi Klein documents in her book, Shock Doctrine, corporatist who preach privatization and radical free-market solutions pop up during times of tumult to capture control of economies and governments. It happened in Pinochet’s Chile in the 1970’s when the forces of corporate privatization crashed the economy for working people. It happened in New Orleans post-Katrina, when corporatists dismantled public housing projects damaged by the flood. It’s happening in Europe today as Greece’s commons are being bought up one-by-one until the entire nation becomes a Disney Land theme park for Europe’s most elite class.

And here in the United States, it’s happening in Michigan – in places like Detroit where unionized teachers were laid off to make way for privatized school and scab teachers, or in Benton Harbor where public parks enjoyed by low-income communities were taken over to build luxury golf courses for rich, white people who live in the next town over.

This is really happening. And, as local democracy dies, it becomes an increasing crisis for national democracy and could even be game over for the American experiment that started in 1776.

The stakes are really that high.

Michigan voters decided to fight back. With over 200,000 signatures, Public Act 4 was placed on the ballot as Proposal 1, giving voters the final say over whether or not they want the law. And, going into the election, a new poll by Public Policy Polling show Governor Snyder’s dictatorial law going down in defeat with 43% of Michiganders opposed to it, and only 35% in support.

But, with 18% of voters still undecided the day before Election Day, the law’s fate was still very much up in the air heading into Tuesday. Given how corporate money drastically eroded away support in California for Prop 37 requiring GMOs to be labeled, then we shouldn’t be celebrating too early in Michigan.

This fight is as important as any other fight on Election Day. Just as Scott Walker’s recall victory in Wisconsin was a boon to those who want to continue the destruction of organized labor, a victory for Governor Snyder’s law in Michigan would be a boon to the purveyors of crisis capitalism. Next, Wisconsin could lose their local democracy. Then, Florida. Then, Ohio.

Even if democracy wins out, and the crisis capitalists are kicked out of local government, we know they won’t stop looking for more opportunities to remake our communities into Ayn Rand corporate utopias. As Thomas Jefferson is often quoted as having said, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”

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