Tuesday, November 15, 2005

National Conference to Reclaim Our Cities Meets in Detroit

Gathering calls for a total break with the Bush administration on the war

By Abayomi Azikiwe, EditorPan-African News Wire

DETROIT, 13 November, 2005 (PANW)--Activists from around the United States gathered at Wayne State University in Detroit between November 11-13 to work on a program for reversing the growing crises in urban areas.

"The National Conference to Reclaim Our Cites" (NCRC) attracted delegates concerned about the $500 billion annual defense budget which is draining resources from the vast need for housing, healthcare, quality education, employment, infrastructural development, food, access to water and utilities, environmental safety and community control of police. Under the theme: "feed the cities, starve the Pentagon," the event took a strong position against the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and called for mass actions around the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott on December 1.

In the welcoming comments made by Andrea Hackett of the student chapter of the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (MECAWI), the host organization, she stated that "I hope all of you will stay long enough to hear our list of speakers who will identify the crisis that we are facing, not just in Detroit but in each city, because it is important to have a dialogue. Visit the literature tables, attend the workshops and move towards a plan of action to reclaim what belongs to the people built upon the wealth of their labor. We have a right to organize and plan to take our cities back."

In the opening plenary on November 12, David Sole, President of UAW Local 2334 in Detroit and a key organizer of the conference, discussed the origins of the NCRC. He recalled that "the city of Detroit announced that it had a $300 million budget deficit and in facing that deficit the city administration called in union presidents from all the various unions representing 15,000 city workers and told us that we had to take a 10% wage cut and take $47 million in medical care cuts. This came on top of two years of wage freezes and inadequate wages before then. At the same time the city announced they were cutting services for the people of the city of Detroit as an inevitable outgrowth of this budget deficit."

Sole then discussed a meeting held between the union leadership and several members of the City Council who were not comfortable with the large budget cuts. After several hours people pointed out practical changes that could be made to mitigate the impact of the fiscal shortfalls. In the end the recommendations did not add up to a lot of savings for the city.

"Some of us raised in that meeting," Sole continued, "that there is one place where there is plenty of money going and that no one talks about and that is the Pentagon budget and specifically the Iraq war. If we don't talk about those funds, then we are just fighting a losing battle. Because you can bring in your own accountants and you can see that the city is broke. You can blame it on a lot of things. In Detroit we have had plant closings and the corporate executives move to non-union areas, they move to the South, they move overseas."

Sole also pointed to the flight to the surburbs where middle-income people have moved out of the city of Detroit. There have also been a diversion of funds to special projects. According to Sole, "they always have money for something they want. A conference center or a stadium. But even given all of these changes over the past decades that have made the city less solvent, the fact is that the money that goes just to the Iraq war, taken from people who live in Detroit and pay taxes, that money alone could more than wipe out the deficit that the city is facing. So there is money in the city but it going to the federal government and not coming back here.....Unless we fight the war we cannot fight for our domestic programs."

Donald Boggs, President of the Metro-Detroit AFL-CIO, also spoke during the opening plenary noting that over $210 billion has already been spent on the Iraq war. Citing statistics compiled by the National Priorities Project, Boggs pointed out that the Iraq war has cost the state of Michigan over $5 billion and the city of Detroit some $369 million, which could have wiped out the budget deficit.

"The president has proposed a budget for 2006 that cuts domestic spending by 7%. Let us be clear what that translates to in the state of Michigan. We will lose another $378 million. For us in Michigan it means that we will be cutting services for veterans, for k-12 education, for our environment, for low income families, for safe communities, for students in college and all of us taxpayers will carry the burden for that," Boggs emphasized.

"Until we get engaged one-by-one and push organizations and push leaders to do the right thing and until we move to resistance there won't be a change in America. We will continue to waste money in Iraq but more importantly, we will continue to change the standard of living in America," Boggs stated.

"With 6.5 billion people living in the world today over half are living on less than two dollars a day. America is the biggest exporter of worker oppression in the world and we need to stop it starting at home. I can only promise you that as long as I am president of the Metropolitan-Detroit AFL-CIO, yes I will push my leaders, but in the final analysis it is going to take the rank-and-file telling us it is time that we do something about the war," Boggs concluded.

JoAnn Watson, who was recently re-elected to the Detroit City Council addressed the plenary saying that "I am blessed to be here representing the left-wing of the Detroit City Council. All organizations need to have a left-wing, uncompromising soldiers willing to take a stand for peace and justice, calling for freedom now and the taking of no prisoners."

Quoting the late Ms. Fannie Lou Hammer of Mississippi who said during the 1960s that "I am sick and tired of being sick and tired," Coucilwoman Watson acknowledged the work of those who planned the conference including Council President Maryann Mahaffey, the Gray Panthers, MECAWI and others.

Watson then paid tribute to the late Mrs. Rosa Parks who provided the spark for the modern civil rights movement in 1955. "Mother Parks was not just a seamstress she was a revolutionary. She was a co-plantiff in a lawsuit designed to reclaim the right of people in Detroit to elect their own school board. In the long seven hour funeral honoring Mrs. Parks someone should have said that she was a revolutionary."

In a recently passed Detroit City Council resolution submitted by Watson, the legislative body of the municipal government has recognized December 1 as a day of action honoring the late civil rights pioneer. The resolution reads in part that: "Whereas, Mother Rosa Parks' passing on Monday October 24, 2005 has made it all the more timely and necessary that we honor, preserve and draw inspiration from her courage and legacy, and that the tragic Katrina hurricane exposed to the world the continuing urgent need even fifty years later to battle racial inequality, poverty and war, the three things that Dr. King came to see as the main enemies of all human progress, and that the Detroit City Council declares December 1, 2005 Rosa Action Day for Equality, Peace and Economic Prosperity for All, and be it resolved that the Council encourages all businesses in the city, both public and private, to conduct demonstrations on December 1st, or allow the many workers and students in the city who will want to attend Rosa Parks commemorative events taking place during normal business hours, to take time off to demonstrate for social justice in the manner of Mother Rosa Parks."

Workshops Discuss Action Programs

In the workshops that took place between the plenary sessions, the conference participants discussed various action proposals related to the conference theme. There were eight workshops held during the course of the late morning and afternoon. These smaller group discussions took place under the following topics: "The Pentagon Budget and the Crisis of the Cities," featuring Fern Katz of WAND and James Anderson of the Employment Research Associates; "Utilities and the Energy Crisis" with Marian Kramer and Maureen Taylor of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization; "December 1: No Business as Usual--National Day of Absence" with Larry Holmes of the Troops Out Now Coalition facilitating; "Police Brutality, Immigrant Rights and Civil Rights" featuring Ron Scott of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, Elena Herrada of Latinos Unidos and Susan Schnur of ATU/Pride at Work; "Housing, Health Care and Urban Pollution" featuring Nellie Bailey of the Harlem Tenants Council and Randy Block of the Gray Panthers; "Our Economy" with Charles Brown of the Detroit Million Worker March Movement, John Riehl, President of AFSCME Local 207 in Detroit and Paul Street, Visiting Professor at Northern Illinois University; "New Orleans and the Gulf Solidarity Movement" with Curtis Muhammad of the Community Labor United organization and Brenda Stokely of the New Orleans Solidarity Committee of New York City; and "Education and the Military" featuring Isis Smith and Kyle McBee of MECAWI and Jenifer Teed of Finding Alternatives to Military Enlistment (FAME).

The final plenary session held saturday evening featured Maureen Taylor of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, Clarence Thomas of the Million Worker March Movement from Oakland, California, Larry Holmes of the Troops Out Now Coalition, Violetta Donawa of the Wayne State University student chapter of MECAWI, Jerry Goldberg of the A Job is a Right Campaign and Brenda Stokely of the New Orleans Solidarity Committee in New York. This plenary session was chaired by Ann Rall of MECAWI.

In a message sent to the conference from Maryann Mahaffey, the outgoing president of the Detroit City Council, she stated that "Social change starts with mobilization at the grassroots level, so let us use this conference as a catalyst for a national movement in which we unite and say no to corporations that take jobs from the middle class and food from our families. Let us say no to this illegal and immoral war in Iraq that is costing us billions of dollars and starving our cities. Let us say no to laws that violate our privacy and civil rights. But let us unite here today and say yes to working toward a truly democratic America where we can all benefit equally."

Final Resolution Adopted by the NCRC

On Sunday morning a roundtable discussion took place where the outcomes of the workshops were reviewed and several action proposals were adopted. The conference delegates at this closing session agreed to support and work towards building the December 1 Day of Absence activities that will take place around the country. These events will commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Rosa Parks' arrest and the beginning of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the civil rights struggle in the U.S.

In addition, a national mobilization in New Orleans scheduled for December 9-10 calling for justice for the communities that have been severely affected and dispersed as a result of the aftermath of Katrina, was endorsed. Also the delegates agreed to work to build demonstrations against the occupation of Iraq on its third anniversary during March 18-20, 2006.

Clarence Thomas of the Million Worker March Movement spoke about the upcoming commemoration of the Haymarket Massacre of 1886 in Chicago which represents the symbolic origin of May Day. The conference agreed to support this event in an effort to reclaim May Day as the holiday of working people in United States.

Moreover, the final resolution called upon the elected officials of major American cities to politically break with the Bush administration on the continuing occupation of Iraq and to set a deadline of December 16 to demand the return of tax dollars slated to go to the Pentagon in order to continue the war.

Conference organizers have pledged to transcribe the action plans that emerged from the workshops, the final resolution as well as other important developments during the course of the conference for distribution to the delegates as well as the broader movement for social justice in the United States.

A commitment was made to continue the dialogue generated by the NCRC and to hold another conference sometimes during 2006.

For more information log on to: http://www.reclaimourcities.org


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