On July 23rd, 1967, the eyes of the world fixed on Detroit, as thousands took to the streets to vent their frustrations with white racism, police brutality, and vanishing job prospects in the place that gave rise to the American Dream. For mainstream observers, the “riot” brought about the ruin of a once great city, and the municipal bankruptcy of 2013 served as a bailout paving the way for Detroit to be rebuilt. Challenging this prevailing view, Scott Kurashige portrays the past half-century as a long “rebellion” whose underlying tensions continue to haunt the city and the U.S. nation-state. Michigan’s scandal-ridden emergency management regime comprises the most concerted effort to put it down by disenfranchising the majority black citizenry and neutralizing the power of unions.
Are we succumbing to authoritarian plutocracy or can we create a new society rooted in social justice and participatory democracy? The corporate architects of Detroit’s restructuring have championed the creation of a “business-friendly” city where billionaire developers are subsidized to privatize and gentrify Downtown while working-class residents are squeezed out by rampant housing evictions, school closures, water shutoffs, toxic pollution, and militarized policing. From the grassroots, however, Detroit has emerged as an international model for survival, resistance, and solidarity through the creation of urban farms, freedom schools, and self-governing communities. This epoch struggle illuminates the possible futures for our increasingly unstable and polarized nation.
Scott Kurashige is Professor of American and Ethnic Studies at the University of Washington Bothell and coauthor with Grace Lee Boggs of The Next American Revolution.