I was in Benton Harbor, Michigan, today, protesting alongside residents of Benton Harbor and the Michigan AFL-CIO – which sponsored today’s rally – who are calling for the recall of Public Act IV, a law giving Emergency Financial Manager (“EFM”) Joe Harris, appointed by Governor Rick Snyder, sweeping powers, such as the right to un-elect elected officials and reject union contracts. In fact, one of Harris’ first acts as EFM was to strip elected officials in Benton Harbor of their power; he recently rescinded a resolution passed by the City Council declaring his appointment and takeover unconstitutional; and he’s even threatened to lock the former elected officials out of City Hall.
The protesters were also outraged at the incestuous political relationships between Snyder, Whirlpool Corporation, and other political cronies. To many of the residents – and, admittedly, to me – it looks like a standard land grab: Jean Klock park, on the lakefront in Benton Harbor, seems, to Snyder, to be a dandy place to build a private golf course . . . with a $5,000 membership fee. You can read all about the ins and outs of Benton Harbor’s plight, and the politics inherent in it, here. Jesse Jackson and Operation Rainbow PUSH is opening an office in Benton Harbor to aid that beleagured community.
Today, the protesters numbered in the hundreds, and gathered at City Hall in Benton Harbor for speeches before marching from City Hall to the bridge which separates Benton Harbor from its more affluent (and more white) neighbor, St. Joseph. Governor Snyder was the Grand Marshall of the Blossomtime Parade, but wasn’t warmly received. He walked briskly, staring straight ahead . . . no baby-kissing going on there, wasn’t glad-handing the parade-watchers.
County and local cops – and some private guards – were present at the event.
During speeches at City Hall, a section of concrete about ten feet long fell off the front of the handicapped ramp. It appeared that a woman was mildly injured, and ambulances arrived.
One of the worst things I heard at the protest today, during one of the speeches, was that when Snyder came into power, there was a $500 million education surplus; Snyder seized it, and instead bestowed it on corporations as tax incentives. Despite the surplus he had going in, however, his new budget proposal calls for a $200 per student cut in education spending.
You know, this is the second protest I’ve attended in Benton Harbor – and each time I’ve been struck by the strength of the residents in the face of powerlessness, and their zeal in working to regain their community. The ACLU is assisting Benton Harbor, filing Freedom of Information requests to gather information as to the origin of the law that would give Snyder’s appointee, Harris, such broad powers. As reported by michigancitizen.com, “The ACLU of Michigan says their FOIA requests seek to understand the intent of the law, the scope of authority and oversight, the implications for cities and school districts and the involvement of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (MCPP) — the drafters of the legislation.” This Mackinac Center, apparently, as reported by rightwingwatch.org, “the largest conservative, state-level policy think-tank in the nation. The Michigan-based organization promotes market-driven policies on a wide range of issues and espouses limited government principles.”
Limited government is right: Apparently, to them, “new sheriff in town” isn’t just a catchy phrase.