Wednesday, August 10, 2005

From the People's Tribune, July 2005

The People's Tribune has offices in Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Atlanta, and Oakland, CA.

Benton Harbor, USA - Taking a Stand Against Corporate Power

There are so many moral outrages being perpetrated today against the American people by the wealthy and the corporations - and the government they control - that it's impossible to keep track of them all. But we at the People's Tribune want to call the attention of our readers to a particularly outrageous attack on the people of the southwest Michigan town of Benton Harbor, not the least because it represents what is happening, or will happen, to the majority of the American people if we don't stand up and fight.

Benton Harbor is a town of 12,000 that is 92 percent African American and with an unemployment rate of 70 percent. It is plagued by poverty and police brutality, and by the aarrogance of the Whirlpool Corporation, which is the largest employer in the area and dominates the local government. Community leaders, led by the Rev. Edward Pinkney of the Black Autonomy Network Community Organization (BANCO), organized in recent months to urge voters to recall a city commissioner who is backed by Whirlpool. When the recall was successful, Pinkney was arrested April 18 on trumped-up "vote fraud" charges. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison.

The community is not taking this attack on its leaders lying down. They are actively resisting, with marches and rallies, and with demands for an investigation of the justice system in Berrien County. People from other parts of Michigan and from surrounding states have been coming to Benton Harbor to support this struggle.

This most recent attack on the pepole of Benton Harbor is part of a long history of such attacks. In June 2003, there was an uprising in the city in the wake of the police killing of a young man.

The corruption that is evident in Benton Harbor - among the police and in the judicial system, and in the corporate domination of local government - represents more than just an evil situation for the people of Benton Harbor. The attack on Rev. Pinkney represents the latest assault on democracy itself. We are now being told that if we dare to use the vote to make our will felt, our organizations will be threatened and disrupted, and our leaders might be thrown into prison - or worse. Similar struggles are under way in cities and towns across the county, as people of all colors and nationalities step forward to demand that their government do something aobut the spreading poverty, unemployment and hopelessness in our country.

Benton Harbor is just a manifestation of the larger situation in Michigan and in the US as a whole. From 2001 to 2002 alone, the number of people in poverty in Michigan grew by 25 percent, and the number has grown more since then. The loss of tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs, and the cuts in pay and social services in Michigan have affected millions of people, and there seems to be no end in sight. A similar sceario is playing out in many other states, and people are organizing to demand a government that will represent their interests.

Americans should be outraged at what is happening in Benton Harbor, just on general principles. This kind of corruption and repression can't be tolerated in what is supposed to be a democracy. Is this the America we want? Do we want an impoverished America, where the right to speak our minds and organize ourselves to demand justice is gone, replaced by the open dictatorship of the giant corporations? Or do we want a just and democratic America, where society is organized to guarantee our needs? This is what the struggle in Benton Harbor is about. All of us have a stake in the outcome. In Benton Harbor and in every such town across America, we must defend our leaders when thay are attacked. We must make clear to the wealthy masters of our country that we know that they are rich precisely because we are poor, and that we intend to defend democracy and have a government that will represent our interests and will do what is necessary to end poverty once and for all.