By Kris Hamel, Workers World, June 17, 2009
Tent City, Detroit
June 16—Hundreds of poor and working people have gathered at the National People’s Summit and Tent City in downtown Detroit to put forward the people’s vision of a future with guaranteed jobs and income, universal health care, housing and utilities, and all rights that working class people are currently denied under the capitalist system.
More than 330 people registered for the four-day event. They have come from throughout metro Detroit and Michigan—even workers from the Upper Peninsula are at Tent City. Workers and activists from Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and more are represented.
The People’s Summit and Tent City, based in Grand Circus Park from June 14-17, was called in response to the National Summit of big-business CEOs and executives being held at the General Motors Renaissance Center—GM’s world headquarters.
“They’re going to regret the closing of 14 plants and the laying off of General Motors workers, because the workers are fighting back!” said Frank Hammer, a retired United Auto Workers International representative and leader of the Autoworker Caravan, as he opened the rally after a militant demonstration outside the big-business summit today.
More than 500 workers, including many from around Michigan and Ohio, marched in front of the GM Renaissance Center demanding jobs and human needs, not corporate greed. “The workers have spoken—keep the plants open!” was one of many chants that thundered from East Jefferson Avenue as dozens of cops and private thugs stood in formation guarding the privately owned Ren Cen.
As the workers marched and rallied for jobs, Richard Dauch, CEO of American Axle and Manufacturing, Inc., addressed the capitalists inside, along with former Michigan Gov. John Engler.
Dauch wrested tremendous concessions from striking UAW workers in 2008, cutting wages and benefits in half. Workers were promised their jobs would be saved, but now Dauch has broken that vow and the American Axle plant in Hamtramck, Mich., located within the city of Detroit, has closed.
Engler was rewarded for his gutting of welfare and education in Michigan with his appointment as president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers.
The People’s Summit and Tent City opened with a dynamic State of Emergency Fightback Rally on June 14. A host of speakers reiterated the theme that workers and poor people must fight back to reclaim their right to jobs, homes, equal quality education, and social and economic justice. “I declare a state of emergency!” said state Sen. Hansen Clarke, sponsor of a bill in the state legislature for a two-year moratorium on foreclosures and evictions.
Other speakers included Detroit Councilperson JoAnn Watson; the Rev. Ed Rowe of Central United Methodist Church, a base of many struggles for social and economic justice; Maureen Taylor of Michigan Welfare Rights Organization; Teresa Gutierrez of the May 1 Coalition in New York City; foreclosure-fighting attorney Vanessa Fluker; Sandra Hines of the Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures and Evictions; Marguerite Maddox of Paws with Cause, a disability-rights organization; youth and union organizer Dante Strobino of Durham, N.C.; recently- convicted people’s journalist Diane Bukowski, who was charged with felony counts while trying to report on pedestrian deaths resulting from a police chase; and Baldemar Velasquez of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee.
Special sessions at the People’s Summit on June 14 discussed the immigrant rights struggle. Organizers with Fight Imperialism, Stand Together (FIST), a militant national youth organization, talked about the problems facing students and young workers today. Another special session heard from Dieter Ilius of the German Metalworkers Trade Union.
June 15 started with a mass leafleting outside 36th District Court, three blocks from Tent City. Activists distributed hundreds of “Know Your Rights” leaflets to homeowners and renters facing foreclosures and evictions. 36th District Court is the busiest foreclosure court in the United States. A militant picket line and demonstration demanding a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions took place outside the court at lunchtime.
A “Corporate/Banker Devastation Tour” caravan departed Tent City for the GM Ren Cen to pick up big-business meeting participants who were “cordially invited” to see the real Detroit and what corporate greed has done to the city’s people. None of them had the guts to board the van and face reality. Nevertheless, many out-of-town People’s Summiteers and some media joined the tour and viewed foreclosed homes, abandoned neighborhoods and closed plants.
A special session on organizing mass protests outside the G20 summit to be held in Pittsburgh heard from dozens of people with ideas on how to build a broad-based coalition to challenge the mass meeting of capitalists from the richest countries on Sept. 24-25. Special sessions on the crisis in education and how to fight foreclosures provided an opportunity for activists to exchange ideas on furthering these struggles.
Hundreds of People’s Summiteers marched from Tent City down Woodward Avenue to the GM Ren Cen on June 15. “Bail out the people! Not the banks!” and other chants echoed loudly throughout downtown Detroit as marchers carried banners and signs demanding jobs, health care, education, immigrant rights, jobs not jails for youth, reproductive justice for women, an end to foreclosures and evictions, and many other demands.
In the evening a rally to stop police brutality and killings denounced the many injustices of the criminal injustice system that incarcerates millions of oppressed people. Speakers included Larry Hales of FIST, himself a survivor of police brutality and ongoing harassment; former prisoner Joshua; Kevin Carey and Charlotte Diggs of Detroit People’s Task Force, who are investigating the many irregularities in the Detroit Crime Lab; Ron Scott of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality; and LeiLani Dowell of FIST, who chronicled the police brutality and injustices facing lesbian, gay, bi and trans people.
June 16 began with a militant demonstration led by people with disabilities in front of the Grand Circus Park station of the Detroit People Mover, an elevated rail system that is inaccessible to people in wheelchairs. Participants marched and wheeled down Woodward Avenue to the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, where they spoke out at a session of City Council. Councilwoman JoAnn Watson commissioned the council’s research department to begin an immediate investigation into the lack of elevators at the Detroit People Mover stations so as to implement meeting the needs of Detroiters with disabilities.
Musicians, poets and spoken-word artists have rounded out the days at the Tent City with performances after each evening’s rallies. A delicious dinner has been prepared by volunteer activists and served every evening to more than 300 people at Grand Circus Park.
The People’s Summit and Tent City has received widespread coverage by the big-business-owned media. Every day the people’s struggle has been highlighted on local television, radio and in newspapers.
The strength and success of the People’s Summit and Tent City, the feeling of fightback and solidarity expressed by all its participants, will not end when the final tent is taken down on June 17. There is the sense here that this is the beginning of a mighty struggle to reorder the priorities of society, to demand and fight for jobs and all human needs and to put corporate greed and the profit system into the dustbin of history where they belong.
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