Activists from many organizations in Detroit came together on December 6 in Campus Martius Park to say “Hell no!” to the World Economic Forum and its scheduled opening of a so-called Global Center for Urban Transformation in this devastated city. Participants denounced the capitalist consortium and its backers at the noon event, which drew support from motorists and passersby and was covered by Fox News Channel 2 and WXYZ television stations as well as the Metro Times.
The capitalist World Economic Forum is an organization of global elites who promote public-private cooperation as the solution to the many ills caused by the very system they uphold and profit from. Jeff Merritt, the WEF’s head of urban transformation, said, “The World Economic Forum’s … work is really about advancing public-private collaboration to make more sustainable, inclusive cities.” Protesters, however, shed light on the real outcome of this “cooperation,” which they called “taking from the poor and giving to the rich.”
The gathering was held across the street from the Dan Gilbert-owned building where the WEF meeting was taking place. Gilbert is a multi-billionaire capitalist developer who has siphoned off public funds in the form of $1 billion in tax captures for his gentrification of downtown Detroit properties which he has gobbled up for next to nothing.
Gilbert, host to the WEF, is also the unquestioned darling of the corporate media and the white mayor, Mike Duggan, who completely ignore the non-downtown neighborhoods that have been devastated by the banks’ loan schemes and mass foreclosures since 2008. Vacant lots and empty fields now compete with abandoned, vandalized homes in laying claim to these once-vital neighborhoods, while the media and politicians continue to crow about Detroit’s “comeback.”
Bedrock, Gilbert’s development company, was well represented at the invitation-only three-day inauguration of the Global Center for Urban Transformation [sic]. According to the Detroit News: “Wealth creation was one area of improvement that Bedrock CEO Kofi Bonner pointed to in a panel discussion during the summit: ‘We have to fundamentally deal with the fact that we’re dealing with a capitalistic system,’ he said. ‘And in that capitalistic system, in order for people to thrive, they must grow wealth.’” However, Bonner failed to address how banks and financial institutions, including Gilbert’s Quicken Loans, stole 53% of the wealth of African Americans from 2005 to 2010 during the home mortgage foreclosure crisis.
Sylvia Orduño from the People’s Water Board emceed the anti-WEF rally, which was called by the PACT coalition, People Against Corporate Theft.
“We have been fighting for many years, for decades here in the city of Detroit, and this is what residents are calling for,” said Orduño. “They want affordable housing, affordable water, to stop the water and utility shutoffs, to stop the evictions, to have resources for our schools and to have what our residents need. This is an example of what we want to have happen across this city, not these harmful public-private partnerships like the World Economic Forum is about.”
PACT makes big impact
Strangely, while the local big-business media heralded the coming of the WEF in their August 2021 coverage announcing the Global Center for Urban Transformation [sic], the December 6 launching wasn’t covered by any bourgeois media sources until the following evening with an article in the Detroit News. Originally the WEF set an October 25 start date but this was postponed after PACT began organizing opposition.
Lloyd Simpson, a leader of the anti-police murders group Detroit Will Breathe, called it a “victory” that activists forced the capitalist WEF to postpone its plans in October. “So-called public-private partnerships have failed people in Detroit and all around the world. We need to build a new model starting here in Detroit,” said Simpson. “We don’t need any more monumental failures. We want to use tax dollars for people’s needs, not to subsidize private profiteering, which is what these partnerships are all about.”
Other organizers took the mic as well, including Maureen Taylor of Michigan Welfare Rights Organization; Marian Kramer of National Welfare Rights Union; Tristan Taylor from Detroit Will Breathe; Jerry Goldberg of Party for Socialism and Liberation; a representative of the Yemeni Liberation Front; radical pastors Bill Wylie-Kellerman and Ed Rowe of the Poor People’s Campaign; Shea Howell of Riverwise Magazine; and Abayomi Azikiwe of Moratorium Now Coalition.
Stop urban destruction and austerity
Speakers called the WEF’s new project the “Global Center for Urban Destruction” and said Detroit was picked as host because the city is the epicenter of austerity in the United States.
“We see what kind of transformation they did to our city,” said Jerry Goldberg, a PSL organizer and anti-foreclosure attorney. “They put 65,000 people into mortgage foreclosures based on predatory, fraudulent loans. They reduced our population by one quarter, dragging people out of the city. They put our city into bankruptcy based on fraudulent loans, interest rate swaps and other deals that are criminal and then privatized our public services.”
Goldberg added, “The people’s right to survive comes first. These banks, they have nothing for us. They owe us billions of dollars for the destruction they have caused in Detroit and the rest of the country.”
PACT received a video message of solidarity from Jesus Rodriguez Espinosa, editor of the Orinoco Tribune in Venezuela and former Counsel General of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in Chicago, as well as a solidarity statement from People’s United Albany Park, a community organization in Chicago.
Activists have pledged to continue PACT and organize opposition to WEF’s plans to house its project permanently on Gratiot Avenue. Many have raised building “a people’s center for resistance, to create our own world center but not for the capitalists, because why not? Detroit is the center of austerity in the U.S.,” as one leading organizer stated.
Prior to the December 6 rally, organizers received excellent media coverage from BreakThrough News. The International People’s Forum hosted an online event in solidarity on December 4. For more information on this ongoing struggle against the World Economic Forum and its plans for a Global Center for Urban Transformation [sic] in Detroit, visit www.stopcorporatetheft.net.
Feature photo: Protesters rally against the World Economic Forum in Detroit. Liberation photo