When news broke that Detroit would be filing for bankruptcy I braced myself for the incoming artillery.
There would be the usual Detroit jokes. The usual bashing and photos of abandoned buildings. All of the things I have come to expect whenever Detroit or Michigan are in the news.
I have yet to unclench my teeth. You guys keep bashing and now Washington is in on the act.
This is what happens when Democrats run your town for decades!
This is what happens when UNIONS are in charge!
My jaw is now locked so hard it hurts.
I can’t do this anymore. This fight over the place I was born and raised is now on my weekend morning shows while I sit in Los Angeles, my adopted home. That’s right, I live in Los Angeles.
Yes, let me have it. I left.
I left Detroit.
I abandoned the city and state like so many others. I suppose it doesn’t matter the reason. My husband works in the entertainment industry. His job is LA-centric and that’s just how it goes.
But what you may not understand is that if I could go back, I would. If I could find a way to be part of the solution, I would. In fact, I am and I have. But none of that matters when you have Detroit Guilt the size of the Detroit River because you live in Los Angeles and can not be a practical, present part of the solution.
We ex-Detroiters…we are a hearty bunch. We find each other in states from California to Florida and band together. My husband laughs. He calls us the ‘Michigan Mafia’ because no matter where we go, inevitably I find someone from Michigan and we bond over our home state.
We bond over whatever reason we left and we feel the need to defend and remember. Remember all the things we love and all the things we want to help fix. The people. The food. The culture.
We may be Democrats or Republicans but when we talk about the fall of the city we talk about corruption. Something neither party can escape. And something this lifelong Dem always assumed was rampant in big city politics – especially Detroit’s. I never associated my party with the city’s leaders because the city’s leaders were always in trouble. Corruption, unfortunately, has been a mainstay since my childhood in Detroit’s City Hall.
Luckily, good ideas and smart people have always been a mainstay too. Just enough to show me the potential and the glorious past. Just enough to always leave me with hope things will get better.
That hope has never left. Not then. Not now.
We can argue if you think it’s the union’s fault if you want. I find that pointless and an attack on workers. Hard workers. People who, like my grandfather, needed the unions to make sure he could provide for his children and collect a pension. Yes, that word – pension- that has all of DC in a tizzy. The pension that all workers bargained for and received and were promised. I don’t care if times are tough and hard decisions must be made. Promises were made many, many decades ago and I don’t see millions being taken from executive pay. This is just one more way to screw the worker. And now they are finding ways to do it DECADES later. From the very people who kept Detroit going. From the very people who stayed and worked and raised families and poured money into the local bakeries and boutiques and bars. From the very people who gave to your kids’ fundraisers even when times were tough and brought a six-pack when they wanted to bring an expensive bottle of wine. Because that is what Detroiters DO. What hard workers DO.
They also honor their word.
Maybe that’s what all of this comes down to…it’s the people of Michigan. The ones that haunt my dreams and call me back.
There are abandoned homes and cities and areas all over this country. There are bad parts of town in every major metropolitan area. We hear about them in passing on the news every single night from shootings, to stabbings, to press conferences about revitalization. What is it about my hometown that makes me feel responsible even after leaving so long ago? People move all the time. In this day and age, people move and move and move some more. How many of them still pine for their ‘home’ and still slip and call it ‘home’ when home is clearly 3,000 miles on another coast?
Detroit isn’t a punchline. It isn’t some Democrat or Republican legislative hole where bad ideas go to thrive and good ideas are abandoned. There is certainly plenty of blame to go around and there has been for many years. I know where I place much of the blame and it has nothing to do with political party and much more to do with fear of the ‘other.’
How many of you can tell me right now where the line is back ‘home?’ And you know exactly which line I’m talking about.
When I lived in Metro-Detroit it was right around Beaconsfield. Maybe a street or two over. One side of the street looked beautiful. The other in a constant state of disrepair. Just around the corner is where the liqueur stores and pawn shops and iron bars on the windows began. Just around the other corner you had to squint to find the start of a pothole…even in winter.
When white flight completely emptied the city of a race, it also took many of the jobs. Did you know Detroit’s suburbs are some of the richest in the US?
“Oakland County, for example, is the fourth wealthiest county in the United States, of counties with a million or more residents. Greater Detroit — which includes the suburbs — is among the nation’s top five financial centers, the top four centers of high-technology employment, and the second-biggest source of engineering and architectural talent.” -Robert B. Reich, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration.
Not hard to believe when everyone I know moved out of the city and into the suburbs, my father and mother’s families included, and my family keep moving further north. By the time I moved out of Michigan my parents were near Port Huron. They are now in Florida. The remainder of my family in Michigan are all in suburbs and have been for decades.
So who remains? That line tells the story. It always has. The line between black and white.
They want to say it comes down to pensions. Unions. Republican Governors. 8-years of a Republican President. Decades of Democrat Mayors. No. I say it comes down to what is always comes down to: that line.
I watched as a kid as our school just over that line got more money than the other. We heard on the news about textbook shortages. About preschool being non-existent for the poor kids because their parents had to work two jobs and still couldn’t afford the extra it would cost. I remember getting involved, by way of working on student newspapers, at places like Focus:HOPE. I remember having a very hard time understanding why the funding was always there for crisp, white, new football uniforms at some of these schools yet not a dime for much-needed classroom materials.
That line was a tricky one. It hurt to realize you grew up in one of the most segregated regions in the country.
It’s one of the rare things I despise about the city I love.
There are some big messes that need cleaning in Motown. Really big. But nothing is going to get fixed if all the nation has are jokes and punch lines or the ludicrous idea that my grandfather, as he lays in his nursing home on the West Side (of Detroit) should suffer a deduction in his pension. And yes, I said ‘the nation.’ Because while I am happy to leave many things up to a state and it’s locals…Detroit is bigger than us all.
Even if I throw away the guilt of leaving, and add in helping, this Detroit mess will take innovation and tech and creativity and well.. you get the idea. So I don’t think limiting the pool of talent is wise or advisable if we are truly serious about getting the job done.
Not to mention, showing the city off as an example when different people can reach across the aisle.
And I think I realize why all this Detroit Guilt after all: it’s because Detroit really is about the people – making Detroit like family. Nothing making you more angry, or more proud than family. And nothing makes you feel more guilty.
Family also beckons you home. You may not be able to live with them any longer, but you certainly don’t leave them abandoned. You also may not visit as much as you’d like either, but you make sure you keep up with, at the very least, the latest news through relatives.
Detroit is family. And family is forever.