MetroTimes – Detroit: canary in democracy’s coal mine?
Originally published in The MetroTimes: https://www.metrotimes.com/detroit/detroit-canary-in-democracys-coal-mine/Content?oid=25867508
By Linda Campbell, Andrew Newman, Sara Safransky and Tim Stallmann
These actions – including attempts by President Donald Trump himself to interfere with the work of the boards – have drawn scrutiny and outrage from around the United States and beyond. Yet many Detroiters, whose democratic voices are being placed on the chopping block by Republicans, are neither shocked, nor surprised by the past week’s events.
As an example, in 2012, Republican Governor Rick Snyder and his allies in the state legislature enacted a new Michigan Emergency Management Policy (Public Act 436), giving them emergency powers to replace democratically elected leadership in cities under fiscal crisis, the largest of which were majority-Black cities, with their appointees. This institutionalized disenfranchisement led directly to the Flint Water crisis and the nation’s largest municipal bankruptcy in Detroit, as we discuss in the Atlas.
What’s more, in 2012 Michigan voters – and especially Black urban voters – had already voted against these proposed Emergency Management powers (then known as Public Act 4), in a historic and hard-fought ballot referendum. However, Republican Governor Rick Snyder and his allies in the State Legislature responded to this electoral show of force by simply repackaging the rejected Public Act 4 as Public Act 436 and passing it in the legislature, as if the entire ballot referendum over the EM legislation, which occupied political headlines for the better part of a year in Michigan, had never happened. Sound familiar?
Despite these efforts, the 2020 general election showed that the vote in Michigan’s majority-Black cities would not be held back. Just as importantly, it showed that the over 250,000 Detroiters who cast ballots were not brought out by the Democratic party machine, but by a massive grassroots effort. Moreover, all of this door-to-door, spade-in-the-ground work succeeded in the face of efforts by right-wing political operatives to suppress voter turn-out with tactics including robocalls targeting Detroiters. Despite these roadblocks, the personal health risk of voting during a pandemic, and more restrictive statewide voting laws, we witnessed increased rates of voter participation and turn-out in cities across Michigan.
Some Republican commentators have reacted to this herculean effort in Michigan cities with allegations of fraud that can’t come close to being justified by facts. Indeed, all that many Republicans have to offer are racist insinuations about the illegitimacy of voting in majority-Black Detroit. It seems Monica Palmer, the Chair of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers, and her colleagues in the Republican party consider the mere existence of the Black vote – and the grassroots energy underlying it – to be a polluting force in the American body politic.
The turnout in Detroit and other majority Black cities on Nov. 3 is already becoming the subject of mythmaking. Republicans, who have made avoidance and denial the cornerstone of their political strategy on all things they can’t control, will simply continue to pretend it didn’t really happen. The Democratic party will try to claim Detroit’s grassroots energy as their own great victory, but such claims are as fantastic as the pronouncements of Hillary Clinton’s “inevitable” victory were in 2016.