Thursday, June 18, 2009

Reports on the People's Summit in Detroit: Activists Take Over Grand Circus Park For Days

Activists take over Detroit park for Peoples’ Summit

This week, Detroit is home to two national summits addressing the current U.S. economy and visions for the future. The National Summit convened by the Detroit Economic Club featured the CEOs of Citigroup, Dow Chemical, and Ford. While attendees say the messages of the National Summit have been positive, activists don’t feel the meeting is addressing the real problems. In response, they have convened an alternative People’s Summit and Tent City, which continues through today. Sacajawea Hall reports from Detroit.

Activists in Detroit, joined by supporters from 10 different states have taken over Grand Circus Public Park in the heart of the city - around the clock - as an alternative to what they call a big business summit. Kris Hamel, People's Summit organizer:

“I don’t know anybody personally that can afford $695 to go to a summit in order to throw in their 2 cents about what our future should be, that’s why we’re having the people summit and tent city to have really the voice of those who are the victims of these people at the business summit.”

On Tuesday, 200 people, the majority of them retired or laid off autoworkers, demonstrated in front of the National Summit at GM headquarters. Organizers plan to address the needs of workers and the poor by developing a People’s Stimulus Plan and Economic bill of Rights. Sacajawea Hall, FSRN, Detroit.

Sacajawea Hall

Corporate bailouts draw ire of Detroit protesters

Tue Jun 16, 2009 4:53pm EDT
By Nick Carey

DETROIT, June 16 (Reuters) - Protesters rallied outside a gathering of corporate executives, politicians and academics in downtown Detroit on Tuesday to protest bailouts for the country's financial sector, and demand jobs and healthcare for all Americans.

"We need jobs. We need jobs and healthcare," said retired postal worker Glenn Shelton. "Instead of bailing out all the rich folk, we should be bailing out the poor folk."

"I'm not against companies making money," he added. "But if they exploit people or the environment, that's wrong."

The high-profile gathering, dubbed the National Summit, is being held here to discuss key issues facing America, including future industrial and energy policy. Speakers so far have included such Wall Street notables as Vikram Pandit, the embattled chief executive of Citigroup Inc (C.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), which has received $45 billion in government aid following disastrously risky bets in the subprime mortgage market.

The summit comes at a time when the country is some 18 months into a recession that has left the financial community and real estate sectors battered, and forced automakers Chrysler LLC and General Motors Corp (GMGMQ.PK: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) into bankruptcy. It has also pushed unemployment to its highest level in 26 years.

As if to emphasize the scale of the problems the United States currently faces, the summit is being held at GM's Detroit headquarters, which dominates the city's skyline.

"I need a job, I have eight children and need to feed my family," said Raymond Sanders, an unemployed construction worker. "I'm only 54, I can still work hard."

The crowd of several hundred outside GM's towering complex included a number of retirees and unemployed auto workers -- a reflection of how badly the auto industry has been hit by the downturn. In warm summer sunshine, they carried banners touting slogans such as "Being poor is not a crime! Job or income now" and chanting "Not one dollar, not one dime, cutting wages is a crime."


Michael Stenvig, a high school teacher from Hamtramck in Detroit where auto supplier American Axle & Manufacturing Holdings Inc (AXL.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) is based, said he had come because the company is moving jobs to Mexico and because of corporate mismanagement across America.

"I'm here to protest the corporate decisions that do not help working people," Stenvig said. "The executives who are gathered here are the same people that led us to an almost total collapse of the U.S. economy."

The loss of jobs to Mexico will leave the Hamtramck "blighted by a future wasteland," he added.

"Part of my job is to help high school graduates find work," Stenvig said. "It is impossible to do that now."

"There is no work because the low-paid, part-time work high school kids used to do is being done by their parents."

Long in decline, Michigan had the highest unemployment rate in the nation in April at 12.9 percent, compared with 8.9 percent nationwide. Almost one in four people in Detroit -- where GM is still the largest employer -- are out of work.

"Families are being torn apart, people are losing their homes and there are no jobs," said Prisscilla Cooper. "Something is wrong with the system if we can only get work if we're willing to work for free."

There was a great deal of concern in the crowd for the future of the auto industry and its workers. As part of efforts to cut costs and compete with Asian automakers like Japan's Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), U.S. car makers have installed a two-tier system where new workers receive $14 an hour compared with $28 for their longer-term colleagues.

"I'm concerned about the next generation of auto workers," said Gregg Shotwell, a retired union activist who used to work for GM and auto supplier Delphi Corp (DPHIQ.PK: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), which is trying to work its way out of bankruptcy. "They can't live on what the automakers pay them."

"When I joined GM we were given a full plate with benefits and good pay," he added. "We're not even giving the next generation an empty plate."

"We're giving them a broken plate." (Reporting by Nick Carey, editing by Matthew Lewis),0,4240550.story

Jackson leads protests at Detroit business summit

Associated Press Writer
6:39 PM CDT, June 16, 2009

Labor activists and the Rev. Jesse Jackson held two demonstrations in downtown Tuesday, protesting unfair economic conditions for workers in the wake of massive government bailouts for banks and the auto industry.

It was timed to coincide with the National Summit, a three-day meeting of business and government leaders in Detroit.

Jackson exhorted about 150 people in Grand Circus Park to "fight for a new covenant with America," including a moratorium on home foreclosures, lower interest rates on student loans and a redistribution of stimulus funds from "Wall Street to Main Street."

"Stimulate the roots at the bottom, not just the leaves at the top," Jackson said. "In these last few weeks, we've seen the president fight for a stimulus package. The banks were said to be too big to fail but the poor not too numerous to suffer."

Earlier in the day, about 150 protesters gathered in front of the Renaissance Center, home to the world headquarters of General Motors Corp., chanting, "your job is next." Inside, people attending the National Summit were working to craft a plan to keep the U.S. competitive in manufacturing, energy, technology and the environment.

To the beat of bongo drums, demonstrators picketed in front of the building for an hour and fifteen minutes.

"It's not just about autoworkers, it's about everybody," said protester Jack Kemp, 48, who has worked assembling GM trucks and buses for 24 years. Autoworkers "are the only ones left that have any benefits. The younger workers can never, ever attain what we've reached."

The protesters then marched about a mile to the park, site of a tent city organized by a coalition led by opponents of home foreclosures.

There, speakers took to a small stage to offer their often angry sentiments about the effects of GM's bankruptcy on the local community, America's lack of a single-payer health care system and the need for a living wage.

"Downtown in the Renaissance Center, we have people just like the auto task force," said the Rev. Edwin Rowe of Central United Methodist Church. "They are not talking to us. They are not talking to the people whose lives are being destroyed by the decisions they make."

The Rev. David Bullock of Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church asked the crowd to consider the burden of student loans in harsh economic times. Bullock is president of the Detroit chapter of Jackson's Rainbow PUSH coalition.

"Where am I going to find the type of employment that is going to allow me to lower that debt? Even if I file for bankruptcy, I will still own that student loan debt. There's a problem with a system that puts the burden on the back of intelligent students," said Bullock.

The protests drew activists from as far as Atlanta, Boston and Raleigh, N.C., came for the protest.

Half of the 14 facilities GM plans to close or put on standby between now and the end of 2010 are in Michigan, affecting around 8,640 jobs. Michigan has the nation's highest unemployment rate at 12.9 percent, and at least half a million workers already are receiving unemployment benefits in the state.

Said Imani Henry, 40, a New Yorker who traveled to Detroit for protest: "This is ground zero."

June 16, 2009

Rev. Jesse Jackson rallies workers


In a speech at the People’s Summit at Grand Circus Park in Detroit today, the Rev. Jesse Jackson used the recent protests in Iran as an example for American workers to follow, telling his audience “it’s time to stand up and fight back for the American Dream.”

Jackson compared the Iranian demonstrations to the American presidential elections of 2000 and 2004, when supporters of the losing Democratic candidates didn’t protest the results.

In his speech to a couple hundred of supporters, Jackson and other speakers sought a moratorium on foreclosures and improved health insurance, industrial and trade policies.

Jackson turned his attention from the chaos overseas to the National Summit held at the Renaissance Center.

“This is not a land for the few. This is a land for the people.”

“You have to get the stimulus down to the people. The money must be sent to the people, not Washington.”

Nick Davenport, a 21-year-old college student, agreed with Jackson. “We as a nation have the resources to solve most of the problems in the U.S. I think it’s wrong for people to make that much money when there are so many problems that could be solved by redirecting those resources,” he said.

Jackson expressed the need for an “even playing field.”

“Free trade is not free if it’s not fair,” he said.

Retired city worker James Bates, 67, says he experienced an uneven playing field while working in the auto industry and likes the aim of the People’s Summit. “It’s about the workers. It’s about what the government is doing to workers,” Bates said.


June 16, 2009

Activists protest National Summit


Activists rallied Monday in front of the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit to denounce corporate leaders participating in the National Summit, who they say are responsible for the current economic crisis.

Protestors chanted, "Bail out the people, not the banks," while holding signs that cited a range of issues including home foreclosures, evictions, layoffs and school closings.

The demonstration was one of several events the People's Summit and Tent City will host this week to promote awareness of the economic crisis and opposition to the summit.

Other events Monday included a protest at the 36th District Court and a tour of Detroit's neighborhoods, citing the impact of abandoned homes and closed factories.

"People are being thrown out of their homes," said Sandra Hines, 55, of Detroit, who is undergoing her second home foreclosure since 2007. "We got a total breakdown in America ... and no one seems to be concerned."

Business leaders from major companies including Ford Motor Co. and Dow Chemical Co. are meeting at the Renaissance Center through Wednesday to discuss America's future in the global economy.

David Reese, 48, of Detroit said he hoped the demonstration would persuade leaders to focus on people in Detroit and other affected cities.

Chrysler "has been bailed out by Fiat, but who is going to bail out the American people?" Reese said.

The People's Summit Presents an Alternative

Kyle Norris (2009-06-15)

DETROIT, MI (Michigan Radio) - It's called The People's Summit. It's happening in Detroit's Grand Circus Park and continues until Wednesday.

The event is sponsored by The Moratorium Now Coalition to Stop Foreclosures and Evictions.

Abayomi Azikiwe is with the group. He says Michigan can play a big role in a genuine economic recovery program. But he says change needs to come from the bottom up and not the top down.

"That is the only way history has been made in this country," he says. "If you look back at origins of the labor movement in the 1930s, it came as a result of strikes and direct action. If you look at the civil rights movement, it came out of the direct action of the people. We feel during this period it's going to take that same independent action to reverse the economic crisis in the United States."

Event organizers have several demands for the federal government. They include a moratorium on foreclosures, the creation of job programs, and national health insurance.

June 16,2009

People's Summit in the Motor City -- for the People only

By Garrett Godwin

DETROIT, MI--This week, the city of Detroit will have two summits: the National Business Summit that started Monday and The People's Summit, which started Sunday outside the GM Renaissance Center. So, what's the difference?

Well, the People's Summit is in "The Spirit of Dr. King" with the purpose to bail out people, not banks during this financial crunch of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. "We take installations from [Dr. King]" said Abayomi Azikiwe, journalist for the Pan-African News Wire. "He drew the difference between the war in Vietnam and the racism in the United States. That's why he was assassinated. People didn't understand what he was doing: focusing on the war and poverty [in the North], and linking racism to the South."

This independent summit is a rally for jobs against layoffs and cutbacks. It was developed two years ago, where signs of the economic recession was about to show not only in the United States but the entire world. Both the Moratorium Now Coalition Group and the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War and Injustice began challenging home foreclosures and performed demonstrations to the state legislature, and pleaded with Gov. Jennifer Granholm to used her "emergency powers" to prevent home foreclosures for an extended period of time: give owners enough time to make their payments, which is one of the main goals for this summit. The only response from Granholm? Things weren't that bad. But it did, as Granholm called for moratorium, but it never came to fruition.

The National Business Summit, to them, is all about "big business" -- where experts, advisors, and the CEOs of corporations discuss plans of rebuilding the economy, and that is through their profits and portfolio. In other words, it is at the expense of the workers while they get richer, and the People's Summit is the response to this, where people decide it is time step up and get organized; it'll be at the Grand Circus Park up until Wednesday afternoon.

Like the Poor People's Campaign, the purpose of the People's Summit is economic justice: dealing with job loss and unemployment, housing care, poverty, the enforcement of an Economic Bill of Rights, and so forth. Like Dr. King, the summit advocates civil rights for all people -- including gays, straight, bisexual, and transsexuals. "If you talk about equality", said Abayomi, "you have to have diversity."

Abayomi also explained about President Barack Obama being compared to Dr. King, Jesus Christ, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt -- as well as the problems that endured in the late 1960s and the problems we have today. "It's a little bit different, but it's the same thing" he states. "These two factors -- the war at Iraq and Afghanistan, and the economic crisis -- contribute to this. President [Obama] isn't a civil rights leader. He is a political leader. He supported the war in Iraq, but he was against the war. Dr. King is an anti-war activist. You couldn't say [Obama] is an anti-war leader in the sense Dr. King was.

"The times are different. But the stimulus package hasn't created any jobs, so it's going slow. People are still losing jobs. We want effective methods. We want a real economic recovery."

Garrett Godwin writes for NewsBlaze from Michigan. Contact him by writing to NewsBlaze.

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The stadium's last gasp... and other musings on the state of Detroit

Why efforts to promote Detroit through music strike a sour note

For Detroit to rise, walkable neighborhoods are key

By Larry Gabriel

As this is the Summer Guide issue of Metro Times, I cast my eye toward the warmer months and speculate. Things have already heated up this season, with urban camping, certainly a thrill in this water winter wonderland of ours. You've probably seen pictures of the tent city at Grand Circus Park, where the People's Summit took place these last few days. Today they're packing up and out of here, at least that's the way it was scheduled.

I can't say what happened at the People's Summit as I'm writing this a couple of days before it kicked off. However, I do have something to say about the National Summit at the Marriott Renaissance Hotel, which organizers of the People's Summit saw the need to counter with their own event. The National Summit was organized because "it's time to start the conversation on how to transform America's economy," according to Beth Chappell, president and CEO of the Detroit Economic Club, which convened the gathering.

Their agenda covers manufacturing, technology, energy and the environment. But based on the speakers listed on the National Summit website, I have a hard time seeing how these folks are going to transform the economy in any way other than to enrich themselves. They're the same people who brought us the recession we're enjoying at the moment. Come on now, former Michigan Gov. John Engler is not a guy who has any ideas that are good for working-class and poor people. Along with honorable John, other speakers include honchos from Dow Chemical, Delta Airlines, Generation Investment Management, Exxon Mobil Corp., Fortune Magazine and others of the usual unfettered capitalism cronies.

One feature of the National Summit was the C-Suite, which their website says: "Provides a unique opportunity to engage cross-industry CEOs, senior government officials and subject matter experts in a private, luxurious setting." It was probably similar to the luxurious setting at the tent city, where various leftists of varying stripes covered similar subject matter but from a vastly different perspective.

But the main thing from the People's Summit that catches my imagination is the tent city itself. I can relate to that. A few years ago I saw a couple of tents pitched on the land just east of the Belle Isle bridge on the riverfront. Over time I saw folks who seemed to be living there fishing and cooking on an open fire. Homeless people pitching a tent on a nice piece of land and rustling up some grub from the river seemed a good idea to me.

Maybe we should create a city campground for those who have had their mortgages foreclosed. We already have people farming some of the wide-open fields around here. Why not a camp in the city? Throw up some tents on Belle Isle, in front of the old Michigan Central train station or a few blocks over at the Tiger Stadium site. There don't seem to be any other plans for the old ballpark.

OK, camping out there isn't the best idea. Maybe you could devote your summer to hanging out at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull to witness the last pieces of the stadium being dragged away. If enough people do that, the peanut vendors may come back to make a little cash from the crowd. Bring your own chair; the bleachers will not be open.

I lived my first 12 years practically in the shadow of Tiger Stadium. I could watch the fireworks displays set off there from my upstairs window. Sometimes my friends and I would go over on game days to hang around and see if anyone with extra tickets was giving them away. Even if there were no tickets forthcoming, generally some usher would let us in after the game got started. Then we could run around in the bleachers.

Sure, I've got some fond Tiger Stadium memories, but I'm not all broken up about knocking down the place. If the preservationists had been able to create something there, I'd say good for them. But after nearly 10 years of grasping at straws, the place has seen its last gasp. Folks who have the kind of money it would take to do something with the former stadium (the types who would attend the National Summit) didn't step up to the plate.

However, they have cast their eyes at some of our struggling businesses. Last week it was reported that six establishments downtown and one in Dearborn are getting special treatment from Detroit's Downtown Development Authority. The Atheneum Hotel and the Seldom Blues restaurant are among businesses that owe loan repayments to the DDA, which decided to let the struggling businesses pay only the interest on their loans for 18 months. That's a good thing. But it also underscores how these days when businesses struggle, they get bailed out, but when people struggle, they have nobody to bail them out but themselves.

It wasn't always such an uneven playing field. In the early 1970s, my father was out of work and suing Ford Motor Co. for a medical retirement. He'd contracted a permanent nasal infection after years of breathing toxic fumes in the paint shop. The mortgage on our house was held by a local bank. He called his mortgage officer and got the same deal these downtown businesses just got. Pay the interest on your mortgage and don't worry about the principal. These days, your mortgage has probably been bundled and sold to someone else. The ultimate mortgage holder could well be in China, and there's no calling up to ask for special terms during times of hardship. Our neighborhood association has a hard time finding out who actually owns some of the foreclosed houses sitting empty in our neighborhood. You could spend your whole summer trying to figure that out.

Another topic to speculate about this season is the future of Detroit's political scene. There will be new faces on City Council, just as there is a new one in City Hall. Well, Mayor Dave Bing is not a new face, just one we're not used to seeing as a politician. We'll see some new faces on council — at least two because Barbara-Rose Collins and Sheila Cockrel aren't running for re-election. Familiar names and faces tend to have an advantage (witness Martha Reeves), but other than former television newsman Charles Pugh, former Detroit Police Deputy Chief Gary Brown and the incumbnents, the 167 candidates seeking the nine council slots aren't well-known. The current disillusionment with council that I'm hearing doesn't bode well for current council members, with the possible exception of Kwame Kenyatta. His outspoken yet evenhanded manner during the calamitous past year seems to have set him apart from the rest.

There could be big turnover this year, but that's even more likely to happen in the future if Detroiters for Council by District suceeds in its petition drive to get the question on the fall ballot — and then gets the votes out to pass it. And based on what I'm hearing around town the district plan is likely to pass if it's on the ballot. Now that might change if local heavy hitters come out swinging hard against it when we get close to the election.

And finally, is it possible to get through the summer without obsessing about something Kwame Kilpatrick did? Last week the news was about his new $1.1 million home. As long as the guy is paid up on his restitution — which seems to be the case at the moment — I really don't want to know what he is doing. As they say, we must move on.

Larry Gabriel is a writer, musician and former editor of Metro Times. Contact him at

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