What About Detroit?
You may have heard that the Governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder, has appointed an Emergency Financial Manager to help sort out the financial situation of a city that has been in steep decline for half a century. Whereas in the 1930s, Detroit was the fastest growing city in the world, it is now shrinking at a rate faster than any other city. In the 1940s, Detroit was the Arsenal of America, with the auto factories switching over from making cares to planes and tanks and other tools for the American war effort. During that era, and soon afterward, people from all over the nation and the world flowed into the city with the promise of good paying jobs. Detroit was the foundation of the idea of a blue-collar American Middle Class. Such is no longer the case. Detroit is symbolic of the lost American manufacturing base, and the question is -- what is the future.
The Emergency Financial Manager (EFM) is an extremely controversial appointment. There are questions here about whether the rights of the voters are being usurped, even as questions about the viability of the city and its services are in play. In many ways, the conversation is polarized. I found it interesting how my more Progressive friends from outside the area were decrying this move, but the city is at a tipping point. The local government has proven incapable of addressing the problem. I don't know if the EFM will help or not -- that remains to be seen -- but if something is not done soon, then the signs of a new thing happening in Detroit will collapse under the weight of the city's financial burden. And if the city goes under, then the surrounding metro area, which has tried to see itself as immune from the woes of Detroit will likely suffer greatly. To create an analogy that looks back to the "bailout" of GM and Chrysler, Detroit is GM and Chrysler -- heading into bankruptcy -- while the suburbs are like Ford. The two are intertwined. If one goes down, the other likely will be dragged down as well.
I came to the Detroit area five years ago. I'm a West Coaster. Michigan doesn't define my identity. And yet, I have come to feel deeply the weight of the region's issues. I believe that God has called me to this place at this time to participate in the work of rebuilding the region. I may pastor a small suburban church, but I believe that together we can and should make a difference.
This is why I have been involved in trying to connect my denomination, the Disciples of Christ, to efforts to make a difference in Detroit, initially through Motown Mission, and then later in the creation of a partnering Disciples effort called Gospel in Action Detroit, with the help of Rippling Hope Ministries. We're entering year three of that effort. It is also why I became a founding member of the Metro Coalition of Congregations, an effort to organize suburban congregations to make a difference in the community, through creating power to confront the powers that be. This is my story -- my passion, my calling.
The question then is -- what are we facing? There are signs of rebirth in Detroit, especially in certain pockets in downtown and midtown, along the Woodward Corridor -- where my congregation originally was located. There are signs that the auto industry is healing, but wages are down, making it less possible for people to enter into the Middle Class through this industry.
The other evening I watched a film, which I think tells the story fairly graphically. It reveals the realities that the city faces. But it also serves as a warning -- Detroit's woes could come to a city near you. I am embedding the trailer for that film, Detropia, so you can get a sense of the realities. All is not lost. There is hope, but there is difficult and challenging work ahead. Take a look, and then rent the film (I got my copy to view through Netflix). And perhaps you might consider joining us in the work here in Detroit through Motown, MCC, and Rippling Hope!