Though Geddes Road is usually filled with rush hour traffic on Monday evenings, last night it was packed with protesters hailing from all across Michigan, waving banners, flags and signs reading, “Legalize democracy,” “Refuse to be silenced” and “Dictator Snyder.”
A crowd of about 1,000 people marched down Geddes to protest outside the gated community where Republican Gov. Rick Snyder lives. The rally was in opposition of Public Act 4, a law Snyder signed last March that allows for an emergency financial manager to temporarily replace elected city officials and take control under instances of bankruptcy.
Many people attended the protest, held on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, to support the importance of democracy, making claims that the policy is a threat to the democratic system.
“Dr. King marched and gave his life for the right to vote,” one megaphone yielding protester chanted. “He marched so that all Americans can cast their vote. If we cannot vote, we do not have an America.”
Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel wrote in an e-mail statement to the Daily that the governor appoints emergency managers to make certain that citizens are protected when dire financial circumstances arise.
“The last thing the Governor wants is to have to appoint emergency managers, as he views that as a failure point,” Wurfel wrote. “However, he and the state have a critical obligation to protect the health, safety and welfare of its citizens and to ensure that residents are not cut off from basic services … and taxpayers are protected from the consequences of a municipality failing to take action.”
Residents of Benton Harbor, Pontiac, Ecorse and Flint — all cities currently under control of emergency managers — spoke out at the rally about the abuses of management in their cities.
Alison Woods, who identified herself as a “former resident” of Benton Harbor, said the emergency financial manager law has impacted the city’s credibility.
“The voice of Benton Harbor is not being heard any longer,” Woods said. “City officials, city managers don’t matter. It’s just a lot of corruption going on whether or not people don’t see it.”
Flint resident Cheryl Jordan said though an emergency manger is brought in to remedy a failing government, their complete control over the city can lead to devastating results.
“The emergency manager has extensive powers and can sell public assets, whatever he chooses,” Jordan said. “… We hope he is going to be a benevolent dictator, but there is no guarantee that that will be so.”
Jordan said she fears that in losing the right to control the government by electing leaders, other civil liberties may also be dismissed.
“We live in the land where there is supposed to be democracy, and we have none in our city,” Jordan added.
Ann Arbor resident Martin Vega also said he feared democracy was in danger, adding that he is concerned about the possibility of the implementation of an emergency financial manager in Detroit and how it may impact the city’s African American community.
“It is a flagrant violation of civil rights that disenfranchises a large group of people, disproportionately African Americans,” Vega said. “If an emergency manager is installed in Detroit, roughly half the African American population in Michigan will have lost its vote on a local level.”