U.S. Congressman John Conyers, Jr., left, and Rev. Jesse Jackson, right. (Todd McInturf / The Detroit News)
Detroit — Encouraging civil disobedience, the Rev. Jesse Jackson criticized the state takeover of Michigan's largest city on Friday, calling on citizens to fight back with Detroit days away from being controlled by an emergency financial manager.
"It's time for a major mass civil action in the city of Detroit," Jackson said in the auditorium of Detroit's Coleman A. Young Municipal Center amid wild applause. "Detroit cannot be reduced to a rummage sale to the highest bidder."
Jackson spoke at a press conference Friday along with protesters of Michigan's new emergency manager law that begins Thursday and Gov. Rick Snyder's appointment of Washington, D.C., bankruptcy attorney Kevyn Orr as Detroit's emergency manager. They said emergency management "usurps democracy by taking the voting right of more than 2.3 million Michigan residents."
City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson, Jackson and protesters also announced plans to challenge the constitutionality of Michigan's new emergency manager law. A federal lawsuit will be filed next week, they said, and it will be discussed at 10 a.m. Saturday at Historic King Solomon Baptist Church in Detroit.
U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Detroit, joined in on Friday and pointed to cities such as Ecorse, Highland Park, Flint, Benton Harbor and Hamtramck that have been under control of emergency managers but argued their economies still continue to flounder.
"(The emergency manager law) has not only not served to repair cities' finances… but have sometimes worsened them," said Conyers, who along with Rep. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, is asking the Government Accountability Office to investigate the impact of emergency managers in Michigan as the state prepares to take over Detroit's finances on Monday.
The Rev. Charles Williams II, who is pastor of Historic King Solomon Baptist Church, said Saturday's meeting will prepare people for actions happening in the coming weeks as they continue to seek federal intervention.
While Williams would not detail specific plans for any organized protests, he said some will continue with "Internet activism," while others will be trained in "nonviolent civil disobedience" and participate in demonstrations.
"This is a movement that's necessary. We want to make sure that our message has gotten out there and is not getting thwarted," he said. "We're saying the EM doesn't exist. We're not going to meet with him. We believe his position is anti-democratic and disenfranchises our vote.
"We're going to continue to send this message until we get justice."
Williams is also a representative of the National Action Network, which will join in the legal action in an effort to "get movement around this egregious law," he said.
Jackson said state intervention does not prove to help communities fix their finances.
Organizers also said on Friday that no dates have been set yet for protests.
"It'll be soon, and very soon," said Jackson when asked when the first "mass protest" would be held.
They also said people already are engaging in the "slow down in Motown" by causing traffic congestion on area freeways in protest of the emergency manager appointment.
Detroit lawyer Herbert Sanders announced that a "litany of individuals and potentially organizations" will file a lawsuit next week against the emergency manager law. Among those joining the lawsuit to be filed in federal court in Detroit is Jackson's Rainbow PUSH Coalition.
Sanders also said the Saturday event will be a "major meeting" that will be orchestrating other forms of civil disobedience.
Michigan's new emergency manager law takes effect Thursday and gives emergency managers more powers to manage financially distressed municipalities and school districts. Orr begins his job as emergency financial manager of Detroit under Public Act 72 on Monday and transitions into emergency manager under the state's new law on Thursday.
Earlier this week, members of the Council of Baptist Pastors announced plans to join the Detroit branch of the NAACP, AFSCME Council 25 and the UAW to file a lawsuit to block an emergency manager.
Charlie Langton, a Metro Detroit legal analyst, said there are a couple potential claims that could have merit in a legal challenge to the emergency manager law.
One claim, Langton said, is that the new act is "substantially similar" to a former law repealed by voters in November. A second, he says, would be based on disagreement with the law transition and the powers that Orr should be granted.
Langton added he doesn't believe there's a voting rights issue. While the law may take away salary and financial duties, Detroit's City Council and Mayor Dave Bing will remain in office, he said.
"They are still there. No one is eliminating their job, they just don't have as many powers," Langton said, noting there will still be an election for mayor and council this year.
"The worst argument for undoing an emergency manager is voting rights. They have not lost the right to vote."
Jackson and other civil rights supporters have been staunch critics of state takeover. Following Orr's appointment this month, some City Council members have voiced concern over what role they would play in Detroit's turnaround.