I wasn’t able to attend today’s MLK Day march to Governor Snyder’s house, but, fortunately, I was able to draft a few correspondents. Our first report comes courtesy of EMU professor Abby Coykendall.
As you can see from the pictures, the crowd was far more diverse than at other events, including the protests in Lansing last year, and the Occupy Detroit events a few months past. The atmosphere was strikingly distinct from the predominately union-esque, working-class — though of course also diverse — crowds protesting against Gov. Snyder in Lansing. You could sense the unique, abiding, and perhaps still indispensible power of a Civil Rights-style organizing effort with deep roots in community organizations like the black Baptist church, as befits Martin Luther King, Jr. day.
I know it’s bathetic and obvious, by the way, but I still cannot believe that someone was so cruel and cold-hearted as to kill such an inspirational, non-violent, and yet historically ground-shaking a person as Martin Luther King, Jr.! What kind of monster would do that anyway?!
All and all, it was more of a march of people towards something than a static protest against the powers-that-be — the mobility of the people walking en masse itself symbolizing the dire need and the powerful demand for social change. However, perhaps due to the unique affinities brought about by social networking, that Civil Rights-style of protest also seemed to be gradually morphing into a new populist mode without yet quite finding its bearings as to how make that transition or what it would mean to do so. My impression was that everyone there was super friendly and open to making new connections, such as across race, class, gender, religion, or political affiliation. (I had the good fortune of dropping my candle several times and meeting a new interesting person each time who would helpfully pick my candle up as I took blurry photos.) Yet a number of people also seemed a little bit befuddled and nervous as to how to do make those connections, and a few whose conversations I overheard seemed rather wary of the Occupy movement because it represented such a new and thus unpredictable form of protest and community engagement.
It was of course inspiring to see so many busfuls of people pouring in from across the state, joining together and make a strong statement against this unconstitutional EFM law. Yet it was also not a little depressing to think that these same people were obliged to go to the private home of a corporate-sponsored governor in a gated community in the ultra-privileged city of Ann Arbor to amass together and make that determined will known. It’s almost like the government itself has become a suburban McMansion with the people left — quite literally — outside the gate, even in their act of protest. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a whole Mall to speak to (not a silly mall-mall, as it were), whereas we were marching down a super wealthy neighborhood with obscenely large and stylish houses in the company of people who struggle simply to obtain and keep a home of their own, or who may have outright lost their home through foreclosure.
Our second report comes from Ypsilanti’s Georgina Susan.
Hundreds of people showed up for today’s protest against Governor Rick Snyder and his endorsement of the Emergency Manager Act (Public Act 4). Folks streamed out of WCC’s parking lots as they arrived around 4pm, making an impressive line from the campus all the way across the Dixboro bridge and up to Geddes.
Everyone met up at Parker Mill Park for chanting, hot chocolate, some hard-to-hear speeches, and regrouping (I gather a few of the buses from Detroit were late). From there, the real march up Geddes to the governor’s house began.
We had the street and were led by a group of five or so African American men. Dressed in their long dark wool coats and singing and chanting in preacher-style voices, it was certainly reminiscent of civil rights marches from Dr. King’s day. They pulled me in, so I ended up at the head of the 1/2 mile hike up the hill to the governor’s gated community.
“No justice, no peace.”
“No democracy, no peace.”
“Hey, hey, ho, ho: emergency managers have got to go”
“What do we want?” “Democracy!” “When do we want it?” “Now!”
Once there, folks grouped up to make some more speeches. Here a few other groups, dominated by Detroiters, used the Occupy movement’s “mic check” tactics to relay their speeches. We lit our candles and made the mile or so walk back. Buses had arrived to shuttle those who needed it back to WCC.
It was a fine group of folks. Veterans of Benton Harbor protests were there, as were people from the tri-cities. High school kids were there with their teachers. UM students made a good showing as well. All were peaceful and reasonable — even when folks from the gated community showed up to gawk.
I took my kids (9 and 12). They were surprised when I was the only (loud!) voice to answer the first bull-horned call of “Tell me what democracy looks like” with “This is what democracy looks like.” But then others joined in, and my kids relaxed (realizing I was not a wacko, but rather just slightly more “in the know” than those around us). The kids quickly got into the chants and sang “We Shall Overcome” as loudly as I did by the time we reach Parker Mill. My 9 year old even jumped into the front line with me and ‘preachers’ for a while.
While I have no hard and fast objections to MLK day being a day of service, I feel we, as a society, have softened its potential meaning a bit too much with this association. This is the first time I’ve taken my kids to a protest instead of a service project on this day, but it fostered good discussions for us. King and the civil rights movement in general have become sanitized and stripped of their confrontational and political messages. I wanted my kids to see this side of the movement and feel the responsibility to challenge as well as serve. My kids go to schools in Ypsilanti, a struggling public school system that is vulnerable to the emergency manager legislation. Their stake in what this governor and this legislature does is potentially greater than mine. Today gave me an opportunity to say that to them fairly directly. And they sang. And they chanted. And they felt the power of the group.
My daughter’s favorite sign (sorry I don’t have a picture of it) read: This is Martin Luther King Jr Day, not King Snyder Day.
I’ve been enjoying reading the comments left on the AnnArbor.com site. They’re hilarious. Most folks, it would seem, are pissed that “these people” would come in from Detroit, and God knows where else, and close down Geddes for three hours. The word “selfish” is being thrown around a lot, as is the word “intimidation.” Apparently, standing respectfully outside an elected official’s neighborhood, when said official refuses to come to your community, and address you directly, is an act of intimidation. While some of the AnnArbor.com comments support the right of the protesters to air their grievances, most folks, it seems to me, are of the opinion that Detroiters should keep their problems in Detroit, and not disturb our lives of relative comfort…
“Sure, the people of Detroit are having their public libraries closed, and their kids are being forced into classrooms of 60, eliminating any chance they might have of getting a good education, and improving their lot it life, but why should we have to take another route, on this one afternoon, between our gated communities and one of our two Whole Foods stores?”
Clearly, it’s these people from Pontiac, Detroit, and Benton Harbor that are being selfish, and not those of us who are rallying around Snyder for keeping our taxes low, right?
Regardless of what you might think of these first six cities that were taken over by Emergency Financial Managers, at the behest of the Governor, I don’t see how, in good conscience, anyone could lash out against these struggling people who are being to told to sit by as their elected representatives are being pushed aside, and their community assets are sold off to the highest bidder, all while Michigan businesses are being given generous tax breaks. It’s unconscionable. I can see being disgusted with the inept, and often corrupt, leaders of Detroit, but how can anyone think that the way to remedy the situation is to further cut public school funding, and break contracts with city employees? I’m sorry that you had to cower in fear, behind the curtains of your suburban estates, for a few hours, folks, but these people, who happen to be Michigan tax payers just like you, are being told that their votes don’t count, and that they’re kids aren’t entitled to the same public education that your children are getting. If I were you, I’d stop complaining about having to take a different route to Starbucks, and just be thankful that, for the time being, these folks are just chanting and carrying signs.