Detroit rally backs Obama economic recovery program

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DETROIT — 2009 is beginning as those who voted for change imagined: grassroots groups are turning the hope that blossomed last November into action. In this hard-hit city, organizing is under way to change things from the bottom up.

City Council Pro Tempore JoAnn Watson, members of ACORN and representatives from labor held a press conference and rally at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center here this week to call for action on the severe crisis gripping Detroit, with an official unemployment rate now over 20 percent.

Watson says a federal “Marshall Plan,” like the massive U.S. project to rebuild Europe after World War II, is needed to rebuild this city's economic structure, with an emphasis on green technology. An outspoken advocate for saving the region’s manufacturing jobs, she traveled to Washington last month to tell the U.S. House Committee on Housing and Banking why 'bridge' loans to the auto industry were vital to Detroit.

ACORN member Charles Jackson told the gathering, 'People are suffering, houses are being foreclosed on, food and fuel are costing more and people are losing their jobs. Congress needs to stand behind President Obama and support an economic recovery bill that will bring help to those Americans most in need — the low- and moderate-income people.' The people in his neighborhood 'can't wait any longer,' he said.

To help low-income people ACORN is calling for extended unemployment benefits through the end of the year, a 20 percent increase in food stamps, funding to provide jobs in low-income areas and additional rental assistance to 400,000 people through the Housing Voucher Program.

Al Benchich, retired president of UAW Local 909, said, 'The problem isn't that autoworkers make too much money; it's that most people don't make enough.”

Benchich also had gone to Washington last month to lobby Congress to save auto jobs. 'We need to reopen plants that are closed, build wind turbines, solar panels and high speed mass transit,” he said. “We've got things that need to be made, we've got plants that are closed that could be making them and we've got people not working that could be working to do the work.' He called for working hand in hand with President Obama to reinvest in the nation’s infrastructure, stop home foreclosures and shape an industrial policy that will create new jobs, provide health care for everyone.

Jamesie Morgan, an ACORN national board member and chair of its Detroit branch, told the crowd, 'We need to get this going not just for Detroit but the whole state of Michigan. We've got to fight for the things we need. We can't lie down. We've got to come together and we've got to get other people involved.”

“If you don't get involved in your life, who will care about you?” she asked.

Jobs with Justice leader Bill Bryce noted, 'There is very little justice and there are very few jobs.” Under such conditions, Bryce said, his organization will never run out of things to do. He spoke about the importance of supporting the Employee Free Choice Act to allow workers to freely unionize.

'This is a very hopeful period, an exciting time to be an organizer in America,” Bryce said, “because we see opportunities the likes of which we haven't seen in decades.'

jrummel @ pww.org