Lying down to stand up

While the state's movers and shakers are enjoying the high life up at the annual policy conference held on ritzy Mackinac Island this week, a state legislator from southwest Detroit and some of her constituents will be laying their concerns on the line.

Actually, it's their bodies that will be laid down, and the lines they'll cover will be those painted on Fort Street (after this issue goes to press).

Instigating the protest is Democratic state Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who is attempting to draw attention to a pair of issues she sees as linked: The announced closure of Southwestern High School and the lack of a "community benefits agreement" that would assure residents of the Delray neighborhood that they will get some perks in return for supporting the construction of a new downriver bridge to Canada.

"I am not giving up! The disinvestment of our community because of the New International Trade Crossing has begun," Tlaib said in an e-mail that found its way to the Hits' in-box last week.

"They are closing our high school — Southwestern High School. While they are schmoozing at the Mackinac Conference on May 29th (Tuesday) at 4 p.m., please join me in lying down on Fort Street in front of Southwestern High School in protest of the closure and Governor Synder's continued opposition to putting anything in writing for a community benefits process.

"I can't do this alone, so please help bring a voice to our families who are being stripped of any opportunities to a better life!

"I hope you will join me in fighting back!"

Part of what Tlaib and members of the Community Benefits Coalition want is a firm commitment that the people of Delray will be taken care of if Snyder is successful in getting the New International Trade Crossing built. That includes a commitment to job training and the hiring of people from the area to work on the project, as well as such things as the monitoring of noise and air quality, and a commitment to green space and other amenities. The coalition also wants assurances that there will be access to new housing for the estimated 700 people who will be displaced if the new bridge — which continues to be fiercely opposed by Manuel "Matty" Moroun and his family, owners of the Ambassador Bridge — is eventually built.

"Because there's nothing in writing, no commitment from the governor, the residents here are being left in the dark," Tlaib said. "That's creating fear among the residents of Delray that's there's going to be a new bridge in their community with no benefits for them."

Concerns about abandonment dovetail with community outrage over the decision to shutter Southwestern High, Tlaib's alma mater.

"The disinvestment [in] Delray already started," Tlaib tells the Hits. "To try and take away our high school — a high school that is one of the most important stabilizing things in this neighborhood — is devastating," Tlaib says.

Last month students at Western High School — which is where Southwestern students will go if their school is shut down — walked out in protest of the planned closure. Among other things, they said, their school is already overcrowded. 

Detroit Public School officials say that massive population loss over the years has left tens of thousands of desks empty throughout the district and that consolidation is vital.

Adding insult to that injury, says Tlaib, is an effort spearheaded by DPS Emergency Manager Roy Roberts to place on the ballot a proposal to increase Detroit's property tax millage. If it does get approved, Tlaib says, that measure would raise an additional $87 million annually for the city's beleaguered schools.

"I thought he was brought in to reduce the district's debt, not increase our taxes while, at the same time, closing our schools," says Tlaib.

So, while Roberts and others are rubbing elbows at Mackinac Island's swank Grand Hotel, "drinking wine and eating cheese and crackers," she and her fellow protesters will be "doing everything we can to draw attention to the injustice that exists here."

They may be lying down, but they're not about to let anyone walk all over them without putting up one hell of a fight.

News Hits is written by Curt Guyette. You can contact the column at 313-202-8004 or [email protected].

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