Protesters rally against World Economic Forum in downtown Detroit

click to enlarge Tristan Taylor, organizer for Detroit Will Breathe, speaks at a rally against the World Economic Forum in downtown Detroit. - Steve Neavling
Steve Neavling
Tristan Taylor, organizer for Detroit Will Breathe, speaks at a rally against the World Economic Forum in downtown Detroit.

Protesters converged in downtown Detroit to rally against the World Economic Forum, saying the not-for-profit group of global elites is not welcome in a city where capitalism has left hundreds of thousands of residents living in poverty.

The World Economic Forum advocates for public-private partnerships that take scarce tax resources from residents to subsidize billionaire developers, protesters said at Campus Martius.

Detroit, where nearly half of the population is impoverished, has spent hundreds of millions of tax dollars in the past decade on private projects, such as the Red Wings arena and downtown buildings, that do nothing to help struggling residents.

“Neoliberalism and so-called public-private partnerships have failed the people of Detroit, they’ve failed working-class people around the world, and we need a new model for working-class people, starting here in Detroit,” Lloyd Simpson, an organizer with the activist group Detroit Will Breathe, said at the rally. “Public-private partnerships have been monumental failures. We don’t need anymore of that in this city or any city.

“We’re proposing that we use tax dollars for the needs of people, not to subsidize private development and private profiteering because the people of Detroit and working-class people everywhere know better how to spend their money than corporations and people who do the bidding for corporations like [Mayor] Mike Duggan.”

Billionaire and QuickenLoans founder Dan Gilbert invited the group to the meeting in downtown this week. Gilbert’s real estate company, Bedrock, is also partnering with the World Economic Forum to create a new Global Centre for Urban Transformation that will be headquartered in one of Gilbert's downtown buildings beginning in October. According to a press release, the Centre "seeks to increase public-private collaboration in cities and advance more inclusive and sustainable models for urban development."

Protesters held signs that read, “Jail Dan Gilbert for theft,” “Stop Gilbert’s theft of Detroit,” and “Stop capitalist looting of Detroit.”

Shea Howell, a community-based activist and Oakland University professor, described the World Economic Forum as “billionaire elitists whose only effort is to destroy democracy, loot the people, and pollute the planet.”

“We will not welcome them to our city. We do not welcome them to our plant,” Howell said. “It is time for us to develop a new vision for the kind of world we want to become.”

Instead of using scarce tax dollars to subsidize projects for billionaire developers, the city should be improving access to clean water and affordable housing, putting more resources into schools, and helping residents facing evictions and foreclosures, activists said.

Tristan Taylor, an organizer with Detroit Will Breathe, pointed to a recent University of Michigan study that found that an increasing number of Detroiters are living in substandard houses with moderate to serious maintenance problems, and the rate is highest among Black households.

“What the city of Detroit should do is make billionaires pay their taxes and give home repair grants to residents who for decades were the only thing that kept this city afloat when everyone else was gone,” Taylor said. “Detroit will no longer be the place that is the laboratory of neoliberalism. We refuse, and we reject it.”

Jerry Goldberg, an activist and protest organizer, said the big banks and corporations that make up the World Economic Forum are responsible for much of Detroit’s decline.

“We see what kind of transformation they did to our city,” Goldberg said. “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.”

He 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.”

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Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling is an award-winning investigative journalist who operated Motor City Muckraker, an online news site devoted to exposing abuses of power and holding public officials accountable. Neavling also hosted Muckraker Report on 910AM from September 2017 to July 2018. Before launching Motor City Muckraker,...
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