Opinion: GM’s Poletown closure proves we should treat corporations like people

Originally published in MetroTimes

There is something jarring about flipping between the news stories of General Motors’ Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant closing and Fiat-Chrysler’s new east side facility breaking ground. When a plant opens, public and private sectors invest together, with millions in tax subsidies, land deals, and other incentives from local government. When a plant closes, the company doesn’t pay back what they were given for one simple reason — they don’t have to. Government either needs to stay out of the “economic development” game or learn how to write some more fine print when they invest public funds. Continue reading

Called to Say- Marija’s Story

I met Marija twice. The first time when I was working as a property surveyor around Hamtramck. I took pictures of properties and recorded data from the sidewalk. I saw this eager woman with a strong accent standing on her porch and, before I knew it, she was dragging me by my upper arm into her front door so she could show me her water bill. Way too high, apparently. She asked me if I had a boyfriend and said I was “mental sick” when I said “no.” I loved her accent and her intimate aggressiveness. She was a funny stranger who made an impression, and that was it.

The same day that I met Marija, I met another memorable person the next street over. Strange story short- his house became my house when I moved in 18 months later. I’d forgotten all about Marija until I saw that stocky old-world frame standing at the fence of my new backyard one sunny day. Once I heard that incredible accent again, I knew she was the woman with the water bill!

She was a neighbor in the truest sense, we talked about our homes, our yards, our bills, my cat, our other neighbors. When I stopped by, she would usually be watching a game show on TV. When she came to my house, I was usually working harder than she thought was reasonable and she would remind me that I really was mental sick.

She was the stereotypical fretful grandma, clucking at me for unknowable offenses and even getting mad about things that really didn’t affect her, like my lack of a hat on a cold day. She had a temper and she often aimed it at me, but I liked her friendship more than I minded her harshness. I’d just let a few weeks go by until some neighborly topic cropped up or I happened to walk by her door, and we’d be back at it again. I wasn’t the only one she was hard on- I’ve never been in a place of business with Marija where she didn’t extract some kind of deal from the workers or the customers. Thanks for the free coffee, Marija!

I know exactly why I loved her. She instantly helped to make my new house a home. She was part of the infrastructure of my growing community. It meant everything to know that she was there and that she cared. I saved many of the voicemails that she left me because I just loved the way she sounded and what she had to say.

Sometimes, on a drive to the Comcast store, or a visit to Randazzo for discount produce (and free bananas), Marija would tell me about her life. Continue reading

The Policy Path of Detroit’s Destruction

As published in Riverwise magazine

How state policy legalized the destruction of Detroit.

Detroit is a city with so much to lose and so little to spare. Popular narratives which attempt to describe Detroit’s struggles resort to abstract reasoning, such as the ‘invisible hand of market forces’. Other times, corporate submission to global market trends is blamed for the exodus of a once-thriving auto industry. However, when we trace the path of exploitative policy decisions at the state level in recent decades, we see that our own state laws have aided, if not forced, the hand of destruction. Detroit has suffered an inverted urban renewal process, through which homes are turned to blight, homeowners to renters, and neighborhoods to fields. This is the story of a predatory scheme that Michigan lawmakers, developers and special interests have devised during Detroit’s recent history.

Continue reading

Gravity

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What god or scientific force
would put the sun and moon on course
to grant us an eclipse?
What trick of serendipity
would let their size appear to be
a truly perfect fit?

On other days, they squared with Mars,
or some assembly of stars
in geometric rhyme.
The triangle protracts through space
then flattens, and, with winking face,
to you they do align.

A lesser mind would lie prostrate
awaiting predetermined fate
for minor mortals, we!
Another might dismiss as chance
this rare celestial mating dance
and fail to truly see.

But you and I stared at the sun,
unblinded, and we did not run
from night that dawned in day.
The lightless moon haloed in flame
subdued the sun, a moment, tame
but we were unafraid.

They say a line’s the shortest path
between two points, but space is vast
and beauty’s in the arc.
And those who travel by ellipse
are grander for their scenic trips
slow twirling in the dark.

Clock hands anchor from one point
two passengers, a single joint
who intersect in time.
Coincidence is all life is
and love’s the greatest gift it gives
for those who let it shine.

What randomness or holy act
would put me back along thistract
in your sweet gravity.
I’ll travel round the sun again
But this time, we’ll be hand in hand
and love within our reach.

Hamtramck Water Woes

Also published in the Hamtramck Review

One thing that unites all Hamtramck residents is our distress over our water bills. Bills seem to get higher and higher every year, even as we confront challenges to the quality of our water. This year, Hamtramck has simultaneously shifted toward automated water meter while reducing our ability to lower our bills by saving water. Long-standing issues are being aggravated by the threat of lead contamination and the risk of water shutoffs for those who can’t afford to meet the growing costs.

Have you ever taken the time to truly understand your water bill? You might be surprised that the biggest part of the bill is the not the water usage itself, but the sewerage charge. Next there is the water charge and, lastly, a mysterious sanitation fee, which is actually a garbage pick-up fee which some claim to be a “double tax,” since it is already covered by property taxes. Hamtramck has an ordinance which prohibits residents from challenging their water bills, so the only true choice you have is to pay or not pay, to have water or not.

In my own home, I analyzed the historical usage and costs. I found that the measured water usage in my home was the same in 2006, 2010 and 2016. The usage was the same but the cost went up from 230 in 2006, to $341 in 2010, to a whopping $676 in 2016! The increase may have been somewhat obscured by the transition from quarterly to monthly billing in 2014, but the total annual cost increased even as the individual bills went down. Continue reading

Election Day

I woke up at 6am. Very tired. I had gone to be at 2 or maybe 3 while Molly, Evan and an affable neighbor sat at the dining room table stickering and cutting papers like elves and manipulating spreadsheets. One of the elves left me a present at the bottom of the stairs- it was my assignment for which polling locations I needed to go to put down signs with my name on them. Temporary billboards.

The polls open at 7am and we wanted to have volunteers at every polling place with literature in hand, but there are over 30 locations and 13 hours of voting, so we had nowhere near total coverage. The signs would have to do.

I took a moment to sit on my front porch step and take it all in. It was dark and quiet still, I knew it would be a long day.

Continue reading

Margo

Video

Its a long way between can and do.
You’re at the strange age- not young but so new-
staring at the vastness of space from your mattress on the floor,
Praying for that small grace to rise once more.

Work another long day that ain’t working for you.
Bringing home that minimum wage is the least you can do.
Don’t you know that pain doesn’t pay-
check your baggage at the door.
Building up that small strength to smile once more

Hey Margo-o-o, its OK
you’re feeling low-low-low, so lonely.
Baby girl, you know that it happens
just sit tight till it passes.
And don’t forget its OK to be lonely.

It’s another shit date that you’re gritting through.
Hopes were high, but, no way- this cupid don’t shoot.
Can you jump your heart into beating?
Ain’t it feeling any more?
Holding out that small faith to love once more.

Hey Margo-o-o, its OK
you’re feeling low-low-low, so lonely.
Baby girl, you know that it happens
just sit tight till it passes.
And don’t forget its OK to be lonely.

(Courage my friend, you do not walk alone)

Flower, Honor, Tenor

Video

My baby gardens at night,
She gets that midnight dirt inside of her fingernails.
I wonder what it feels like
To hear the secrets of the earth that she never tells.
And so what- maybe she’s crazy,
to spend her time creating beauty she’ll never see.
But when the moon hits the sky
I wanna find her, wanna flower, wanna garden at night.

My baby prays to the light,
She gets those noonday rays on back of her eyeball lids.
I wonder what it feels like
To see the majesty of god in the roy-g-biv.
And so what- maybe she’s crazy,
to give her sight to a divine that will make her blind.
But with the sun in my eye,
I wanna find her, wanna honor, wanna pray to the light.

My baby sings through the fright,
she’s got the note antidote for those salty tears.
I wonder what it feels like,
to know the lullaby that tucks in your deepest fears.
And so what- maybe she’s crazy,
to chose the serenade instead of the fight or flight
But when the terror runs high
I wanna find her, wanna tenor, wanna sing through the fright.

Mama Song

Video

My mama knows when I am aching,
she can feel it in her soul.
My mama knows the smile I faking,
when I’ve got nowhere to go.

And in my older years, it’s hard to keep my pride up on the shelf.
But mama gives it when I ask her for some help.

(She tells me)
Show me where it hurts,
so I know exactly where to send my love.
Show me where it hurts,
so I know exactly where to send my love.

I wanna feel the peace awaken-
shadows fading from our eyes.
I wanna stop the earth from shaking-
separate the truth from lies.
But, with these recent fears, it’s hard enough to trust in my own self.
And so I seek her when I’ve got nobody else.

(She tells me)
Show me where it hurts,
so I know exactly where to send my love.
Show me where it hurts,
so I know exactly where to send my love.

Mama Mama Calling.
Mama Mama Crying .
Mama Mama Calling.
Bring Your Love To Me.

(And she’ll say)
Show me where it hurts,
so I know exactly where to send my love.
Show me where it hurts,
so I know exactly where to send my love.