Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, with cap, marching down Woodward in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Detroit Walk to Freedom., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Tens of Thousands Commemorate Great Walk to Freedom in Detroit
Moratorium NOW! Coalition brings anti-austerity program for cancelling the bank debt
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
Saturday, June 22 represented a highpoint in Detroit when tens of thousands of people gathered on Woodward Avenue in Midtown and marched downtown to Hart Plaza. The demonstration marked the 50th anniversary of the “Great Walk to Freedom” held on June 23, 1963 where hundreds of thousands made a profound statement in support of the passage of a federal civil rights bill and the end to discrimination in employment and housing in the city.
The 1963 march was led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Rev. C.L. Franklin, leader of the Detroit Council for Human Rights (DCHR), Benjamin McFall, a leading businessman and official at New Bethel Baptist Church where Franklin was pastor, Rev. Albert Cleage, pastor of Central Congregational Church, Walter Reuther, president of the United Auto Workers, James Del Rio, an educator and politician, among others. The march was the largest demonstration for civil rights in United States history up until August 28, 1963, when the March on Washington was held attracting an estimated 250,000 people.
It was at the conclusion of the Detroit march during a rally at Cobo Hall that Dr. King delivered an earlier version of his “I Have a Dream” speech. King had been developing the speech from at least 1962, but the address delivered in Washington has become the most widely known.
King’s speech at Cobo Hall in Detroit on June 23 was released by Motown Records later in the year. Nonetheless, many people over the last fifty years never realized that the Detroit speech given two months earlier than the March on Washington address echoed similar themes.
Some of the organizers and family members of those involved in the Detroit Great Walk to Freedom have claimed over the years that the size of the June 23 march was far larger than police estimates of 125,000. James Del Rio, who was photographed in the leadership of the march on June 23 as a key organizer of the event, said that there were between 400,000-500,000 people who participated.
Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, and the daughter of Rev. C.L. Franklin, said in a recent interview with the Detroit Free Press that "You couldn't tell me there were not a million, million and a half people on Woodward that day. I'm accustomed to appraising numbers of people simply because of my concerts. I'm looking at the miles it covered. You had people everywhere in every corner and on every side and that went on for a very, very long way down Woodward. That was a lot more than 100,000 people." (Free Press, June 21)
Moratorium NOW! Coalition Intervenes in the Commemorative March
A “Make the Banks Pay” contingent was organized by the Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shut-offs for the 50th anniversary commemorative demonstration down Woodward on June 22. A banner entitled “Fight the Racist, Anti-Democratic, Union-busting bankers’ EM, Cancel the Debt: Jobs, Pensions, City Services, the Banks Owe Us!”
5,000 leaflets calling for the cancellation of the bank debt supposedly owed by the people of Detroit were distributed to the marchers. Hundreds of signs produced by Moratorium NOW! Coalition made it into the hands of marchers saying “Cancel the Debt”! “Stop Debt-Service Payments to the Banks”! “No Emergency Manager, Make the Banks Pay”!
The Moratorium NOW! Coalition has called demonstrations against the Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr at several public venues. On June 29 at 1:00pm there will be a strategy meeting convened by Moratorium NOW! Coalition that will involve numerous organizations committed to the struggle to overturn emergency management and to preserve pensions, healthcare benefits, jobs and city assets.
In a meeting called by the EM with labor unions on June 20 held at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center (CAYMAC), City Hall, Orr didn’t bother to show up. His representatives presented an ultimatum to the unions that would force a cut in pensions and healthcare benefit elimination for retirees. Retirees would be forced into Medicare and Obamacare.
Orr also announced an investigation into the operations of the two pension funds, one for the general employees and the other for the police and fire departments. The corporate media has been filled with stories about alleged bad investments and reckless spending on perks made by the trustees of the pension funds.
According to Bloomberg Municipal Market on June 21, “Detroit workers not already vested in a city pension would be excluded and many retirees would be moved to federal healthcare programs under cost cuts the emergency manager outlined for union leaders. For those covered by a plan, benefits would be frozen and some would be switched to 401 (k)-like defined-contribution savings accounts, under Orr’s proposal.”
This same article goes on to note that Orr had not “determined how much to take him from future or current retirees, pending an actuarial analysis. Automatic cost-of-living raises would be eliminated, and worker contributions into the system would rise.”
The two municipal pension systems have set aside $5 million to fight proposed changes by Orr. Orr has threatened that if concessions are not granted by the labor unions then he is prepared to take the City of Detroit into bankruptcy where through the federal system pensions, healthcare benefits, city assets and services could be subject to liquidation by the court. Activists in the Moratorium NOW! Coalition have been following developments in similar situations such as Stockton and San Bernardino, California where bankruptcy proceedings are pitting civil servants, pensioners and elected officials against the banks, bond-holders and their insurers.
Organizers for the Moratorium NOW! Coalition are demanding that the pensions and healthcare benefits for city workers remain untouched through the re-structuring process. The bonds related to the pension obligations of the city have labeled as “unsecured” by Orr and his backers in the financial institutions and corporations.
Orr declared a “moratorium” on $2.5 billion in debt which would theoretically encompass both debt-service and principal payments. There have been reports in the corporate media that Orr is telling creditors that they may be forced to accept “pennies on the dollar” for their claims against the city.
Even Bloomberg reported that “The proposal, laid out at two sessions led by Orr’s advisers on municipal restructuring, provoked angry responses from some union leaders who said Orr was dictating unpalatable benefit cuts for workers to help erase deficits and avoid bankruptcy. “ (June 21)
Nonetheless, it will take a mass struggle led by the workers and pensioners to reverse Orr’s plans for massive benefit cuts in order to guarantee payments of fraudulent debts to the bankers and capitalist bondholders. The Moratorium NOW! Coalition has obtained over 3,000 pages of documents related to loans and bond issues for the city of Detroit dating back nearly a decade. These documents indicate the disadvantageous situation the majority African American municipality has been placed in as a result of the loss of jobs, predatory lending and the avaricious role of the banks.
Moratorium NOW! Coalition is calling for an investigation of the banks and other financial institutions in the economic ruin of the city. The purported probe ordered by Orr is only designed to provide a rationale for a total bank-led seizure of the more than $5 billion pension system.
Note: For more information on the Detroit economic crisis log on to moratorium-mi.org and detroitdebtmoratorium.org .