Just because they're poor doesn't mean they don't deserve democracy or public parks.
Time for an uprising in Benton Harbor - Chicago Sun-Times
Everything has been stripped from Benton Harbor’s residents. The industrial jobs that used to provide a ladder into the middle class have been shipped abroad. The call center jobs that replaced them employ few at a poverty wage. The failing tax base means that public services are starved. The schools struggle to educate children from mean streets; these children are often hungry and without adequate health care or stable homes. The good teachers flee; the schools fail or are taken over, a shuffle that substitutes motion for real action on poverty.
But Benton Harbor may become to economic justice what the small town of Selma was to civil rights. For in Benton Harbor, the powers that be now are wreaking the final indignities on the town’s beleaguered residents — stripping them not only of their schools, but of their democracy, taking away not only their jobs, but their public parks.
Benton Harbor’s finances are a mess. How could they not be in a town stripped of jobs and hope? So, the state has stripped its residents of their democracy. In what is accurately termed “fiscal martial law,” the state has named a czar to run the city. That appointee, Joseph Harris, has issued an order essentially stripping the elected city council of all powers. No money can be spent, no taxes raised or lowered, no bonds issued, no regulations changed without his approval. Benton Harbor’s residents now live in a dictatorship imposed by a Republican governor famous for his belief that the poor should be punished and the rich rewarded.
This appointed dictator claims breathtaking powers. He can sell public assets, dismiss pension boards and take control of public pension funds and revoke labor contracts. What triggers this takeover? The law is remarkably vague. The governor may act if a payroll is missed, if there are complaints of late bill payment, if pensions are underfunded, if there is a significant budget deficit, a term that goes undefined.
This takeover is a recipe for the worst abuses of oppression, cronyism and corruption. And here, too, Benton Harbor is the example. One of the few citizen treasures in Benton Harbor is the Jean Klock Park, a half-mile of sandy dunes on the edge of Lake Michigan. It was bequeathed to the children of Benton Harbor by the Klock family in 1917 in memory of their daughter.
But developers backed by Whirlpool now want to appropriate a large portion of the park to turn it into a Harbor Shores golf resort with a 350-room hotel, two marinas, a 60,000-foot indoor water park (for members only), and a fancy golf course open to all who can afford a $5,000 entry fee and be approved by the club. The town’s citizens have resisted this development, which is under litigation.
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