BENTON HARBOR, MI— Benton Harbor, Detroit, and other cities—a total of six, plus three school districts—no longer have voting power in the state of Michigan. They are under the vicious, undemocratic, Emergency Manager law. Over 50% of the state’s Black voters are under this law.
Benton Harbor is being gentrified by Whirlpool, the corporation that controls the city and its school district, and by Harbor Shores, Whirlpool’s development company. The Emergency Manager law assists their effort. As a result of the redevelopment, thousands of residents have been displaced, and many people have been falsely arrested and imprisoned. Most Michigan residents are unaware of this human devastation. And, some in the city even deny gentrification is going on.
Benton Harbor’s Mayor James Hightower stated at a recent city council meeting, “What I have seen isn’t gentrification. It is rebuilding the community.” In reality, the plan is to rebuild the community without the Black residents.
Gregory Vaughn, Senior Vice-Presidentand Chief Operating Officer of Cornerstone Alliance, a division of Whirlpool, stated at that same meeting, “I can’t think of one project we have done that led to gentrification.”
Rev. James Atterberry said, “Part of the problem is that the people will resist changeeven if it improves the community under gentrification.” This is a common “blame-the-victim” argument.
In addition, Harbor Shoresis pumping water from the Paw Paw River without paying for it to irrigate their Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course. Jeff Noel, Vice-President of Whirlpool’s Communications and Public Affairs, said at the same meeting that, “We have a permit to pump water out of the Paw Paw River. We do not have to pay 99.4% of all of the golf course’s pumped water from rivers and streams.” However, according to Whirlpool Watch, the residents of the city aren’t as lucky. Residents, according to Whirlpool Watch, were metered and “water rates for a typical household in Benton Harbor have burgeoned from $30/month to more than $100/month.”
These examples show that democracy is incompatible with a system based on the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a tiny elite. There is no section of the elitethat will defend democratic rights. That taskfalls to the people.
We are living in a time when voting rights aregutted, affirmative action is killed, American citizens are targeted, and explosions of urban uprisings amid joblessness are taking place, unnecessary deaths occur from a lack of healthcare, and there is failing education coupled with mass incarceration of youth. And, yes, gentrification is alive and well. These are just a few of the crises in Benton Harbor,Michigan and around the country.
We are living under the power of the corporations and dictators, and the city of Benton Harbor is a good example. We must organize, organize, and organize.We must say we have had enough.