By Diane Bukowski
March 1, 2012
DETROIT – Hundreds of people who helped gather 228,000 signatures on petitions for a referendum to repeal Public Act 4, the “Dictator Act,” rallied Feb. 28 to celebrate their victory, then rode buses to Lansing the next day to hand boxloads of petitions over to the Secretary of State.
The State Board of Canvassers has 60 days to validate the signatures. Only 161,000 signatures are needed to put the referendum on the November ballot. If they are certified, according to state law, PA 4 will be frozen until the people of Michigan have their say.
Brandon Jessup, the young founder of Michigan Forward who initiated the referendum drive and tirelessly coordinated the campaign, with the help of Michigan AFSCME Council 25, was jubilant as he announced the final total at Council 25’s Detroit headquarters Feb. 28. At the time it was 218,297, but it had surged upwards by the next day.
“It was all of you and the thousands of volunteers across the state, 2500 of them, who talked to their families, their friends and their neighbors, who made this possible,” Jessup said. “It was you who told Detroit and Michigan to hold the line, help is on the way.”
Jessup appeared to have lost a few pounds during the months since the grueling campaign began in June, 2011, but he did not let that get in the way of his stirring speech.
“It was the spirit of the fight for self-determination that motivated us,” he told a cheering crowd. “We spoke to [Gov. Rick] Snyder and told him he can create the conditions for rebellion if he wants to, but he can only hold back the headwinds for so long. He will pay in November for taxing pensions, cutting children and families off welfare, closing schools, and appointing emergency managers like Pharaohs, because 1.5 million people will be going to the polls to vote for ourselves!”
Language in PA4 indicates that emergency financial managers established under PA 72 are folded in under PA 4. If it is indeed frozen, that should mean numerous frozen EM’s across Michigan.
The apparent referendum victory appeared to have thrown the camp of Michigan Governor Rick Snyder into some confusion. State Attorney General Bill Schuette has said that if the signatures are certified, PA 4’s predecessor, Public Act 72, would be back on the books. He has yet to establish a legal rationale for that. Meanwhile, legislators are scrambling to come up with bills to prevent the freezing of PA4 and its emergency managers.
State Treasurer Andy Dillon extended the deadline for Detroit’s emergency review team to report back to March 28, and meanwhile Detroit Mayor Dave Bing has announced he is working on a package with Snyder to “restructure” Detroit and its finances. Their negotiations sound suspiciously like what has happened in Inkster.
Inkster’s review team has recommended a “consent agreement” to Dillon, meaning the city council and mayor have agreed to its terms. It appears that Mayor Hilliard Hampton may be endowed with the powers of an emergency manager if it clears.
Jessup said he came up with the idea for the referendum after Pontiac City Councilman Kermit Williams, who gave the invocation at the rally, approached him. Pontiac was the second city to fall victim to the dictates of PA 4 after Benton Harbor, and after three emergency managers now has the city’s entire assets on the auction block.
“Poverbs 31 tells us to open our mouths and speak for the cause of the poor and the needy,” Williams said during his prayer.
“Today is a great day for Detroit, the citizens of Michigan and of the nation,” Attorney Herb Sanders told the crowd. Sanders entered the fray with his sleeves rolled up on behalf of AFSCME Council 25. He is one of the attorneys who at the instigation of Detroit Councilwoman JoAnn Watson filed suit to stop PA4.
“We faced a mountain of despair, but now we can talk about the hope we have for the people of Michigan,” Sanders said. “There have been over 60 pieces of anti-labor, anti-poor legislation passed in Lansing since January of last year. But every signature gathered represents a stone of hope as it relates to the mountain of despair, and we plan to take those stones to Lansing tomorrow to build a mountain of hope.”
AFSCME Council 25 Secretary Larry Roehrig is from Flint, another victim of PA 4. He segued from Sanders talk, saying, “If we have enough stones, they will become an onslaught of projectiles, from people of all faiths, all colors, from Detroit, Marysville, Saginaw, Benton Harbor, Monroe and everywhere. This is the toughness of my union brothers and sisters.”
Council 25 President Al Garrett reminded the crowd, “This is just a first step. Next we need a constitutional amendment to make sure that every worker in the state of Michigan has a right to belong to a union. The pension tax has to be on our agenda to be repealed. We have to stop the cutbacks in public workers’ wages and benefits.”
Garrett said the AFSCME International Union had provided funds to pay clerical workers to enter the petition signatures into databases for use in the upcoming campaigns, recognizing that PA4 and other Michigan legislation is part of a “coordinated attack by ultraconservatives across the county.”
He introduced AFSCME International Secretary Lee Saunders, who ticked off peoples’ victories so far in other parts of the country.
“Gov. Scott Walker took collective bargaining away in Wisconsin, but the people there have since recalled two state senators and in a couple of weeks will have more than a million signatures to recall Walker,” Saunders said. “We needed 251,000 signatures in Ohio to put collective bargaining on the ballot, and collected 1.3 million! We won that vote by a 2 to 1 margin!”
Maureen Taylor, president of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, said they had appealed to the U.S. Justice Department to monitor the PA4 referendum process in Michigan, but were told that they could not intervene because it was a “local issue.”
The Justice Department is headed by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, President Barack Obama’s appointee. So far, that Department has failed to initiate an investigation of the use of PA 4 to disenfranchise predominantly Black cities across Michigan, as requested by U.S. Congressman John Conyers (D-Detroit). The Democratic Caucus of the Judiciary Committee on which he sits has however issuing a scathing report condemnding PA 4 for violations of the Voting Rights Act. (See separate story.)
Several speakers at the rally, however, took the opportunity to connect the PA4 campaign with the campaign to re-elect President Obama in November.
There was no discussion of alternatives to the Democrats and Republicans, both of them funded during the class war that is happening across the U.S. by the infamous 1%. The 99% have weighed in so far in Michigan to defeat Public Act 4, but it remains to be seen if they will take on the battle that Occupy Wall Street has called for, on a mass level, instead of focusing solely on the voting booth.