“Who’s Detroit’s top corporate thief?” and “Biggest money leech in Michigan named” should have been the [accurate] headlines. Instead, when Forbes announced its list of the 400 wealthiest people in the United States on Oct. 5, the news in Michigan was rife with stories touting the state’s top billionaire, Dan Gilbert, founder of Rock Financial and Quicken Loans, owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Bedrock Detroit founder and mover.
Gilbert, a white darling of the Detroit ruling class and its corporate media, came in 23rd nationally in the wealth rankings. In April, the Detroit-born capitalist was noted as gaining more wealth in 2020 than Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Warren Buffet, who ranked fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively, on Forbes’ World Billionaires List. Gilbert came in 23rd on that wealth accumulation list as well. Forbes stated: “A new billionaire was minted every 17 hours on average over the past year. Altogether, the world’s wealthiest are $5 trillion richer than a year ago.” When socialists and revolutionaries refer to the “ruling class” or “the bourgeoisie,” these are the people they mean.
Gilbert’s name is anathema to a broad coalition of Detroit activists who have fought for years for social and economic justice in a majority African American city whose wealth and governance has been deliberately and systematically stolen by the banks, financial institutions and wealthy capitalists.
Gilbert’s Bedrock corporation has gobbled up downtown sites for development, which are subsidized by taxpayers to the tune of an estimated $1 billion. This public money is desperately needed by the Detroit Public Schools system with its decaying infrastructure and unsafe drinking water that have drawn national attention. Or it could be used to provide repairs for the 90,000 Detroiters who live in inadequate housing, i.e., housing in need of electrical or heating work, or lacking hot or running water.
So when the World Economic Forum, a capitalist consortium organized to set neoliberal governmental policies worldwide, announced it was going to establish its “Global Center for Urban Transformation” [sic] in late October in downtown Detroit under Gilbert’s leadership, activists in the city sprang into action.
People Against Corporate Theft was organized and began meeting weekly to strategize a response to the WEF coming to Detroit. Among the grassroots organizations involved in PACT are Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, Detroit Will Breathe, Moratorium NOW! Coalition, League of Revolutionaries for a New America, Coalition for Police Transparency & Accountability, Yemeni Liberation Movement, Swords Into Plowshares Peace Center and Gallery, Party for Socialism and Liberation, Hoe Army, Riverwise Magazine, Garage Cultural, and Eastern Michigan Environmental Action Council.
Exposing code words for corporate thievery
A bold statement issued by PACT lays out the class character of this struggle:
The World Economic Forum, an organization of the capitalist elite, with representatives of Bank of America, Citi, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, HSBC, Barclays and the European Central Bank among others, are meeting in Detroit. They are setting up a temporary base of operations in Dan Gilbert’s Compuware building for what they are calling the “Global Center for Urban Transformation” with an official launch announced for October 25th while the permanent site is being built on Gratiot Avenue.
The WEF is an agency that upholds and facilitates multinational corporations’ control, exploitation and greed. They cloak insidious corporate thievery in words like “transformation,” “future city,” “public-private collaboration,” “economic growth” and “revival” in campaigns to persuade the public to go along with their agendas.
Detroit was chosen because it exemplifies the most extreme contradictions in the current stage of capitalism. For the past eight years [Detroit Mayor] Mike Duggan, backed by [former Gov.] Rick Snyder and now by [Gov.] Gretchen Whitmer, has made it clear that the profiteering of corporations off of public space and resources is more important than the needs of Detroiters. The mayor has done everything in his power to ensure the exponential spread of gentrification that is pricing everyday people out of the city.
Instead of redeveloping badly needed wastewater infrastructure, the mayor is putting in bike lanes. Instead of creating a citywide publicly funded housing affordability plan, he is leaving poor and working-class people to the whims of the market amid skyrocketing rents and stagnant wages. Instead of returning the $600 million in over-taxation of property taxes, he is pushing subsidies for billionaires to carve up the 7.2 square miles of downtown rather than address the material needs of a majority Black city in which well over 30% of people live in poverty.
The people of Detroit say NO to the World Economic Forum and the same bankers who pillaged this city. They are the ones who created the ongoing structural inequality in Detroit. They are not here to save us. The people of Detroit and the world deserve governance in the interest of the public, not the private entities that have exploited us.PACT
The Oct. 25 opening of WEF’s temporary site for its Global Center for Urban Transformation has been postponed until Dec. 6. Nevertheless, PACT will be holding a demonstration and speak-out Oct. 25 at noon at Campus Martius Park across from Gilbert’s headquarters in downtown Detroit. Activists vow to continue organizing to expose the true character of Dan Gilbert, the WEF, and their doings in Detroit.
Feature photo: Thousands of foreclosed, abandoned and destroyed homes litter Detroit’s 143 square miles. Liberation photo