Use Public Money to Defend Our Lives!

The following is the speech D.A. Roehrig made in a meeting in Detroit.


I am a Detroit city worker, running for Wayne County Community College Board of Trustees, District 2.

Detroit looks like a war zone because it is one. It’s a casualty in an escalating war on working people: failing public schools, services, neighborhoods and a lack of decent paying jobs, if there are any jobs at all. The infrastructure of the city and many surrounding suburbs is often 80 to 100 years old. It’s crazy to think that in a hundred years one government after another has not been able to update something as basic and necessary as sewers. So rains often bring flooded streets and basements. The electrical system is a mess.

Driving down Woodward into downtown, you might think things are improving, but if you live in the neighborhoods you know better. Roads look like third world countries. Drive around the district I’m running in, the bridge over 94 and Mt Elliot has makeshift supports bolted into the crumbling concrete just to hold it up. Anyone gotten off at Davison and Oakland lately? The service drive is a minefield. Millions go to “help” Mr. Ilitch build an arena and a stadium, because apparently he doesn’t have enough money to build it himself. The money for that arena was taken from a fund for infrastructure development, yet the infrastructure everywhere in workers’ neighborhoods is collapsing. Snow sits, water rushes out of broken mains.

This is what workers pay for, with tax mills often twice as high as many better-maintained areas. Despite trillions in bailouts, banks won’t even maintain the properties they foreclosed on. But this bankruptcy lets them make out like the bandits they are.

Millions are paid to the bloated staffs of the emergency financial managers and their consultants, while our lights are repossessed by DTE, water is cut to thousands of households. What – in 2014, they can’t clear snow? They can’t provide electricity? Surrounded by water, people still struggle to drink and bathe? In 2014? Seriously?

You hear the refrain, all the time, that government can’t do it, it’s too inept, there isn’t enough money. Well when the government wants to organize hundreds of thousands to go to war, it seems to do it just fine. To bail out the banks, it found trillions of dollars. Public schools work very well in rich neighborhoods. It’s not can they – it’s whether the Democrats and Republicans want to do it. It’s whose interests they are committed to serving.

They pretend that the whole purpose of government is to take care of society’s members. To do publicly what each individual can’t do alone. That’s the problem though. The Democrats and the Republicans, bought by the banks and big business, carry on government essentially to take care of the needs of the banks and big business – with a little bit left over for the politicians themselves.

Detroit, Inkster, Hamtramck, Highland Park, Allen Park and other cities where workers live are broke only because the bosses, banks and big business were given money taken from city and social services, taken out of our tax money, taken out of our wages and benefits.

What if instead of paying for Ilitch’s new stadium, the money went to fix broken roads and bridges? What if the money spent dealing death overseas was used to invigorate the public education system? What if the trillions both parties gave to the banks were used to fund free college, social programs, modernize infrastructure, fund culture, and clean up the parks and pollution from the environment! Imagine how many jobs this could create! Imagine how many more people would be employed! Instead of rotting in poverty and demoralized, people could truly be productive. No one would want for work. Put everyone to work so none of us would have to work so much. If good well-paying jobs, jobs you could really live on, were created to solve the problems we face… imagine what a world it would be. We could get rid of the desperation that drives many to crime, the stress over money that tears apart many families.

There are trillions and trillions of dollars, just sitting there right now, money that could be used to do those things! Economist David Cay Johnston estimates the amount of liquid capital of big U.S. companies, capital that could be turned quickly into cash, is between six and eight trillion dollars at least. This doesn’t even take into account what the banks control. So the money is there that could be used for our needs.

But we have to put our hands on it, put it to use, for us, for our interests! Take the money the capitalists took from us, the wealth our labor produced. 

I’m running to say that wherever we are, we must say enough! No more sacrifices, no more layoffs! We need to start to build our forces so we can fight to have neighborhoods that are safe and maintained, schools that don’t just warehouse but imbue children with a love of learning and an access to culture, a college education that doesn’t turn you into an indentured servant, and most importantly jobs, not minimum wage jobs – even ten and eleven dollars isn’t a living wage – but decent jobs. 

Because in 2014 we shouldn’t be living like this. We don’t have to, the money is there. But it’s up to us, and only us, it’s up to working people to fight to put our hands on that money. Let’s not wait till everything is gone... let’s get to work now, preparing for a working class fight, based on a working class policy.

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