Proposal P, to be voted on during the Detroit primary Aug. 3, affords Detroit the best opportunity for a better future since the first term of Mayor Coleman Young. Proposal P puts people, not property, at the center of development, and invests in the community’s basic needs: water affordability, public safety, environmental justice, affordable housing, broadband access, public transportation and a strengthened community benefits ordinance.
To most people, these sound like good things, but establishment interests are flooding the airwaves with opposition advertisements. The fight over Proposal P is a good example of asymmetric warfare. The community groups that helped draft, and now support Proposal P, do not have anywhere near the same resources and dark money as the Proposal P opponents. Opponents of Proposal P are commanding the high-dollar airwaves while proponents of Proposal P are armed with handouts and a campaign of knocking door-to-door canvassing.
When I observe such asymmetric warfare, I usually pause and ask: What are establishment interests so afraid of? Are they this afraid of the most significant resurgence of democracy in Detroit since the dark days of emergency management? Are they afraid of average Detroiters standing up for their basic needs? Are they afraid of grassroots community members demanding an end to “business as usual”?
Opponents of Proposal P are defenders of the status quo, of going along and getting along. But how have establishment policies served the needs of average Detroiters? Business as usual in Detroit spends hundreds of millions of dollars in public subsidies for private development projects for billionaires.
As public money is diverted to private projects, Detroiters are told to be patient. They are told that the benefits will “trickle down” to them over time.
In truth, these benefits remain tightly controlled in private hands. Little is trickling down anywhere. At the same time, Detroiters have faced waves of water shutoffs, tax foreclosures, inadequate bus service, threats to public safety, disinvestment and abandonment. These are exactly the problems Proposal P is designed to address.
All the while, the establishment’s messages opposing Proposal P are basically telling Detroiters that Detroit residents do not know what is best for them. The ads imply that policy should be left to the professionals and not the citizens. This is misguided.
The policies behind Proposal P are both credible and essential. Human capabilities theory represents leading international economic thinking about best development practices. Investments in human capabilities put people, not property, at the center of development.
Human capabilities theory radically redefines poverty not just as the absence of income, but as impairments to the fundamental capacities necessary for full human functioning. Proposal P addresses these basic human needs and ensures that Detroiters will be afforded the fundamental capacities needed to meet their full human potential. This is forward-leaning, visionary thinking.
Proposal P is not just a set of progressive policies, it is an effort to address the deep moral needs of our times. Proposal P resonates with the civil rights principles behind the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign and his March on Washington for Jobs and Justice. This vision is being carried on today by the Rev. William Barber. His call for a moral rival resonates with the policies of Proposal P.
The establishment’s calls for business as usual is a far cry from the call for a moral revival. Just as in Dr. King’s time, the establishment cautions oppressed people to be patient and tells them to wait for the normal political process to ensure their basic rights. As Dr. King wrote in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, the time for waiting is over.
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have never yet engaged in a direct-action movement that was “well-timed” according to the timetable of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now, I have heard the word “wait.” It rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity. This “wait” has almost always meant “never.”
Yet the establishment still tells Detroiters to “wait” and calls for greater patience to give trickle-down economics just a little more time.
The time for waiting is over.
The time for Proposal P is now.
Peter Hammer is the director of the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights and a professor at the Wayne State University Law School.