In tent city

Apr 15, 2009 at 12:00 am

While doing some research for this week's cover package about surviving the New Depression, News Hits has been paging through Hard Times, Studs Terkel's marvelous oral history of the Great Depression. And one of the things that's jumped off the pages is how much the economic collapse that began with the stock market crash in 1929 radicalized people. From the autoworker sit-down strike in Flint to angry veterans marching on Washington to the protests of farmers losing their land — much of America's underclass was motivated to force change.

Unlike good times, when it's easy to be complacent, letting banks take away people's homes and having kids go hungry is a surefire way to get the masses aroused.

All that history from 80 years ago has us wondering just how inflamed things might get this time around. Here in Detroit, we'll be getting a chance to see just how strong the spirit of protest is these days when the Detroit Economic Club hosts what's being billed as a National Business Summit on June 15-17. The event, as one news story explained it, will be a "'national conversation' to discuss the roles of technology, energy, manufacturing and the environment in bolstering future American competitiveness."

For members of the group Moratorium Now, which began howling about the problems related to foreclosures long before most people were paying attention, the event will be a chance to provide a bunch of rich CEOs with a sharp dose of reality when they show up at Ford Field.

The intent is to set up a tent city at Grand Circus Park. Can you say Hooverville?

People from all over the country have expressed an interest in attending, says attorney Jerome Goldberg, a Moratorium Now leader. They see Detroit as being a harbinger of things to come in other parts of the country if things don't turn around soon.

As the Moratorium Now website points out: "The National Business Summit will be held in a city with record-high unemployment and poverty rates, layoffs, budget cuts, school closings, utility cost hikes and shut-offs and massive home foreclosures. With a registration fee of $1,495, it is unlikely that any victims of foreclosures and evictions, let alone laid-off workers, will be able to attend the National Business Summit. No one at this event will be speaking in the interests of those most affected by the economic collapse."

To find out more about what organizers hope will be "four days of active resistance, political discussion and strategizing for a 'people's stimulus plan,'" go to or phone 313-887-4344.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]