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Governor Snyder Greeted by Angry Protesters at Benton Harbor Festival

May 11, 2011

As he walked a parade route in Benton Harbor on Saturday, May 7, Governor Rick Snyder was greeted with loud booing, chants of “Recall Rick!” and angry cries of “Fascist!” “Get him out of here!” and “You’re an asshole, Rick!”

It was not business as usual at Benton Harbor’s Blossomtime celebration.

This year, an emergency financial manager, appointed by Snyder under HB 4214, the newly expanded EFM law, had just gagged the entire city council. He also suspended all elected boards in the city government. EFM Joseph Harris also fired Planning Commission members and the Brownfield Development Commission, replacing them with hand-picked choices from the governor’s office.

At risk: Our democratic process. And to illustrate that fact, citizens of the city fear specifically that Jean Klock Park, a significant piece of public lakefront property with a beach, is about to be seized. A $500 million development of summer homes with a private golf course is being planned—right on the Jean Klock Park property.

The largest investor in this new elite development is Whirlpool. The company completed its phasing-out of all manufacturing plants in Benton Habor this year. Now it has sets sights on a new cash cow, the luxury vacation development. And the city employees who would have been the most likely to block a public facility from being turned into a multi-millionaires’ enclave are, of course, the Planning Commission and the Brownfield Development Commission members…now staffed by Snyder appointees.

Under HB 4214, Snyder’s greatly expanded EFM law, emergency financial manager Joseph Harris has the right to sell the beachfront park to private investors, just as he has the right to seize any city asset—without citizen input.

Interestingly, Harris was recommended as an appointee by legislator Al Pscholka, the same state representative that sponsored HB 4214.

Asked about the development plan, Pscholka said, “Capital flows to places that are stable. I think we can all agree on that.” Perhaps Pscholka learned that philosophy in his last private-sector job: as the vice president of the development company working on the “Harbor Shores” golf-course-luxury-home plan for Jean Klock Park.

Pscholka was going to be a featured participant in the Blossomtime Parade, but announced on May 6 that he would not be involved in the event after he learned about the potential number of protesters.

Perhaps he made a wise decision. Outraged citizens of Benton Harbor were joined by other Michigan residents. They lined the parade route and barraged Snyder, the Grand Marshal of the event, with unrelenting shouts of protest. At first, Snyder marched while staring straight ahead, but later he attempted smiling and waving, which led to some bizarre film footage (see below).

Some of the attending protesters were organized by Rainbow PUSH Coalition. Its founder, Reverend Jesse Jackson, met with Michigan’s assistant attorney general about the Benton Harbor situation. Later, Rev. Jackson announced that the Coalition is setting up a headquarters in Benton Harbor and intends to launch a lawsuit against the governor and the State of Michigan concerning HB 4214’s unconstitutionality.

The opening salvo of the lawsuit was issued via a petition to the governor on May 3. Benton Harbor’s mayor and City Commission stated that HB4214 violates the Michigan Constitution. It suspends the right of citizens to petition the government for redress of grievances. It takes away the right of Benton Harbor citizens to frame, adopt, and amend their city charter. It violates citizens’ rights to taxation with representation. The petition demands the removal of Joseph Harris on these grounds.

Earlier this year, when HB 4214 went into effect, analysts worried that minority areas and school systems would be specifically targeted by the law. Benton Harbor seems to be a case in point: it is 85 percent Black, and the average income—now that major employer Whirlpool has moved its factories out of the area—has fallen below $9,000 a year. Not only are these citizens vulnerable to power grabs, they tend not to vote for conservatives. Driving them from the state, intimidating them or silencing them through the EFM law allows this financial class warfare to be conducted without obstruction.

Plus, seizing city assets and transforming them into private profit centers benefit those who paid to put Snyder and his team into power in Lansing.

But judging from the reaction of the crowds last Saturday, Michigan citizens are currently refusing to stand silent while their rights are stripped from them. As one protester said, “… unless we the people start getting engaged and make our voices heard, we’re going to lose what we thought we had.”

Here’s a look at the parade and protest:

4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 11, 2011 4:44 pm

    The top photo has been lifted from and the watermark/copyright cropped. This is an extremely unprofessional and unethical thing to do. Please remove it immediately.

  2. Kate Wheeler permalink
    May 11, 2011 6:20 pm

    Thanks for letting us know. We replaced the image.

    We did not crop your watermark–someone else did that. The version we removed came up that way in an image search, and it was not from the blog site you cited.


  1. Governor Snyder Greeted by Angry Protesters at Benton Harbor Festival (via Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy) « The Wobbly Goblin
  2. Michigan Activists Join Together to Repeal Emergency Manager Law « Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy

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