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Michigan Activists Join Together to Repeal Emergency Manager Law

May 15, 2011

Public Act 4, the signed version of HB4214, has been called “financial martial law” that can be waged against any city, town, or public school system in Michigan. GRIID recently reported on the EFM situation in Benton Harbor, where the law is being used to plan the seizing of public property to build an elite private vacation enclave. Despite reassurances at the time of its passage that the  “extremes” of the law—such as firing elected officials, and targeting minority communities—would likely not be used because of political pressure, we are already seeing those exact actions put into play.

Now a group of Michigan activists have decided to stop the law cold—with a repeal effort.

Michigan Forward, a Detroit-based nonprofit, has been at the forefront of the repeal effort. Brandon Jessup, chairperson of the group, told GRIID that he was motivated to bring down Public Act 4 because Michigan citizens must “come to grips with this corruption—to speak up and call it corrupt.”

Citing corporate profit gambits that the EFM law allows such as “public parks being enveloped, water systems privatized, and the dangerous level of control that’s defined” in Public Act 4, Jessup says that the Michigan Legislature doesn’t appear to care about the consequences of what they’re doing.

“Snyder said during his campaign that he didn’t need Detroit’s vote,” Jessup told GRIID. “Our urban core needs to be renewed, not torn down and ‘developed’,” he added.

Michigan Forward is working with several groups in the state, including Rainbow PUSH Coalition, which is setting up a headquarters in Benton Harbor, and the Highland Park NAACP.

And now a northern Michigan activist group has also joined Michigan Forward to launch the drive to collect signatures for Public Act 4’s repeal. Reject Emergency Managers is a grassroots group working out of Traverse City. Spokesperson Betsy Coffia states that the name of the group indicates “our real focus, although we support the recall/repeal efforts and overall awareness over all the damaging policies and laws coming out of Lansing.”

In a recent interview, Coffia explained that she was “personally on the phone with my legislators and the Governor’s office prior to [Public Act 4] being signed, and said ‘make sure that you protect local populations, that they have the right to vote, to recall…they should have a say in whether their properties get sold.” None of those protections ended up in the final version of the law. At that point, she and other activists in Traverse City started to study Public Act 4 to determine what avenue could be used to overturn the legislation.

In order to repeal the law, first a petition needs to be drafted. Next, activists must collect 161,305 signatures of voters who want the EFM law repealed. That represents 5 percent of all Michiganders who voted in the election for governor.

Once 161,305 valid signatures are collected to meet the November deadline, the repeal will be placed on the 2012 ballot. However—and this is an important point—the signatures by themselves will suspend the law until the vote.

Michigan Forward submitted a petition to the Board of Canvassers on Friday, May 13. On Monday, May 16, press conferences will be held in Detroit, Traverse City, and Benton Harbor to launch the effort. The drive to collect signatures will start at the beginning of June.

Brandon Jessup explained to GRIID that signatures will not be held while being collected, but will be released in blocks as soon as they are available and verified. Even after the united groups obtain the 161,305 signatures needed, they will continue to collect signatures until the November deadline.

Jessup says that Grand Rapids will be crucial in the collection of signatures, and plans to launch a canvassing effort here. GRIID will keep readers informed, and you can also check Michigan Forward’s website and Reject Emergency Mangers’ Facebook page for up-to-date news on the repeal effort.

Here’s a video created by Flint Public Development which shows citizen outrage over Public Act 4. The video was recorded in Benton Harbor during the Blossomtime parade. Betsy Coffia appears in one interview. She explains problems with the legislation and describes the repeal process:

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