City Takeovers and the Destruction of Democracy

Black Agenda Report Executive Editor Glen Ford says city takeovers are about dispossessing black and brown folks so corporations can put their tentacles into the furthest nook and cranny of local governments

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

Once the second-largest U.S. gambling market, Atlantic City, well, it’s seen better days. Its mayor is threatening to declare bankruptcy. To discuss this and what is happening to other cities in similar situations, I’m joined by Glen Ford. He’s the executive editor and founder of the Black Agenda Report. So good to have you with us again, Glen.

GLEN FORD, EXEC. EDITOR, BLACK AGENDA REPORT: Thank you so much for the invitation.

PERIES: So Glen, give us some contextualization of what’s happening to Atlantic City.

FORD: Well, you know, this is more than just a tale of one city or two cities, but a tale of many American cities. Everybody in the world knows by now that the water supply of Flint River, Michigan, was poisoned. But the nature of the crime is not really discussed in full, and that’s what we need to be talking about.

The villain here was an emergency financial manager system, a dictatorship that was put in place by the governor over not just Flint, Michigan, but by all of the majority black or heavily black cities of Michigan. So this crime against the 100,000 residents of Flint, Michigan, whose water was poisoned, was really rooted in a crime against democracy that was being committed against most of the black people in the state of Michigan. Half of the black folks in the state of Michigan effectively were disenfranchised, denied an effective right to vote by this emergency financial manager system. And the result was, of course, this horrific poisoning of the water of Flint. But something that was not so dramatic but still just as soul-killing, which is the death of democracy in black Michigan.

And all of this happened without a peep of complaint from the Democratic administration in Washington. And the reason that there was not a peep of complaint over the disenfranchisement of half of black Michigan was because this is a bipartisan policy. Not a Republican policy, but a Democratic and Republican policy, to take the power of the vote, to dilute the power of the vote, and to give it basically to bankers and corporations.

And the greatest impact of this creeping power of corporations over even local affairs, which has now become a juggernaut, the greatest impact has been on the local schools. And that’s been the case in Michigan, where the same emergency financial manager system has been in place over the Detroit schools, has caused them to deteriorate in ways that makes Detroit look like a third world country. And much of that happened under a Democratic governor.

So schools have been the real focus. And when we talk about that kind of [encroachment] into the democratic sphere, New Jersey actually takes the cake. The city that I was born in, Jersey City, New Jersey, was the first big city school system to be taken over in the nation. And that was back in 1989. And then the governor took over the school system in Newark, the largest city in New Jersey. And then Patterson, the third-largest city. So democracy was stolen from many of the black folks and brown folks of New Jersey well before the beginning of this century, because that is how corporations get to put their tentacles even into the furthest nook and crannies of local government.

And now, Atlantic City is facing a takeover by the governor of New Jersey. And he’s a Republican, but he has the support not only of the president of the New Jersey Senate who’s a Democrat, but also of the head of the local Unite Here union, which puts the health of the casinos above the value of the franchise of the people of Atlantic City. So we see not just a bipartisan kind of conspiracy to dilute the vote of the folks of Atlantic City and the rest of New Jersey, but one that even unions have been engaged in.

So when we look at what’s happening in Flint, and the terrible neurological damage that the kids there face because of the poisoning of their water, well, that’s something that everybody can [ID] with, everybody can agree that that’s a great tragedy. But the same forces that poisoned the people of Flint, Michigan are also stealing democracy, stealing the right of parents to have something to say about their kids’ education all across the country. And we ought to be upset about that as well.

PERIES: Now, one of the things that we can focus on here is one of the solutions being proposed in order to generate revenue is the privatization of water. Glen, tell us examples of how this kind of–besides Flint, Michigan, which you eloquently point out here. What other examples are there of it going wrong?

FORD: Well, we know that the history of the privatization of water in the United States has been one of deep corruption. And in fact, I saw one study that showed that not one instance of the privatization of water supplies in municipalities in this country has resulted in a situation in which there were not widespread charges of corruption. And universally, the price of water goes up.

But you know, water is something that everybody understands, everybody has to go to the, to the tap. But all kinds of structural systems have been taken over without benefit of the popular vote. One of the ways that corporations rule is by agencies like, well, in my area, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which is totally a corporate-run affair, although it has quasi-public status. That is, it acts like a government, but it’s not elected by any government.

And yet the decisions made by the board of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey will impact on whether people are going to have jobs, or whether they’re going to have good schools or bad schools, or whether they’re going to even be able to live in the area. And there are port authorities, that is, agencies just like them, all across the country. And every year they decide more and more about what the economic and, inevitably, social and political destiny of those localities will be.

PERIES: All right. Glen, we’re going to be watching this, as I hope you will be, and coming back to report on the Real News Network. Thanks for joining us today.

FORD: Thank you.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.

End

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