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“We are still fighting for justice against Whirlpool and
the Emergency Financial Manager (EFM) in Benton Harbor.
We might be driving the EFM out of town. We’ll know
soon. We need to keep up the fight.”
- Rev Edward Pinkney
Photo/Brett Jelinek, Olafimages.com

By Salvador Sandoval

I had the privilege of interviewing the Rev. Edward Pinkney. Rev. Pinkney gained national recognition for leading the impoverished, overwhelmingly Black community of Benton Harbor, Michigan in its fight against the corporate takeover by Whirlpool Corporation. The struggle highlights the growing fascist danger in this country that arises when government and corporations work together in the corporate interest, trampling democratic rights, and overturning democratically held elections.

Once a thriving part of the Midwest, Benton Harbor sits on prime lake-front property near Lake Michigan. Whirlpool is the largest employer in the area. It has long held plans to take over this valuable land.

In the early 1990’s jobs began to disappear. Production was shifted to lower wage areas in Mexico, or taken away by labor replacing technology, which caused massive unemployment in Benton Harbor.

In 2003-2004 the former CEO of Whirlpool advocated for a $500 million marina/golf course complex that would take 530 acres of Benton Harbor, thus privatizing the city’s only beach.

Rev. Pinkney and the community mounted a campaign to oppose the take-over, despite the stranglehold control Whirlpool had with six city commissioners favoring its plan. The campaign led to the successful recall of a key commissioner in Whirlpool’s pocket.

Thereafter, in a staggering series of events, the recall was over-turned, Rev. Pinkney was charged with voter fraud, and he was acquitted. Then he was placed on parole after a second court of all white jurors found him guilty of hand carrying an absentee ballot.

He was subsequently charged and convicted of parole violation. He was given 3 to 10 years for quoting the Bible in criticizing the judge and penal system for mistreatment of prisoners! This sentence was overturned by the Michigan Appellate Court.

Since that fateful day in 2005 when the control of Benton harbor was challenged, the political landscape of Benton Harbor had changed. In 2008 four commissioners favorable to the Benton Harbor Community have been elected, effectively breaking Whirlpool’s stranglehold control.

Unable to take the lakefront property by its accustomed means, Whirlpool took the land it wanted anyway. This travesty was accomplished through actions of the Michigan State appointed Emergency Financial Manager Joseph Harris. By the authority of the new state law an EFM can be a person, corporation, or person beholden to a corporation.

Thus Benton Harbor, Michigan became the first victim of Michigan’s new Emergency Financial Manager law (EFM), but it likely won’t be the last. Already 5000 teachers in Detroit have been laid off, in violation of their union contracts.

The case of Rev. Pinkney and his continuing battle with the corporate control of Benton Harbor has tremendous implications for the rest of the country, given the state budget shortfalls. At issue too is the fact that many corporations do not pay taxes.

It is important that all of us heed this warning. As Reverend Pinkney stated, “this could be coming to your town next.”

This article is excerpted from a longer version published in the Sept-Oct. edition of the Tribuno del Pueblo.


We are still fighting for justice against Whirlpool and the Emergency Financial Manager
in Benton Harbor. We might be driving the EFM out of town. We need to keep up the fight.

— Rev. Edward Pinkney






By Brandon Jessup

Here’s something I really didn’t want to see happen—at least not under Michigan’s new version of the Emergency Manager Law. Flint Mayor Dayne Walling announced that the city’s finances would be placed under preliminary review.This leads me to believe that, yes, a fifth community will be placed under emergency management.

This comes at a time when a majority of labor unions are negotiating new collective bargaining agreements. Public safety employees across the state are bargaining with their local governments to save cost and discuss concessions that will keep cities afloat. Flint's elected officials are doing exactly what Benton Harbor, Pontiac and Ecorse city councilmen, mayors and commissioners did respectively: they have pledged to co-operate. Rightfully so—if you haven’t done well managing the finances of the municipality you’ve been elected to govern, the state should step in and review what’s going on. That’s not my main bone to pick about Michigan’s Emergency Manager law. This law creates bureaucrats on steroids with powers of both branches of government.

Here’s why this process is so dangerous. Under Michigan’s Emergency Manager Law, once the process starts, you’re pretty much sledding down an ice mountain at a 60-degree angle in a sled with greased skids. Before Flint’s city council knows what hit them, the doors to Flint’s City Hall will be locked. Would you want a “mayor” that could:

• Eliminate public contracts with employees and contractors.
• Sell public assets without the vote of city council or public input.
• Dismiss your local city council or other elected officials without reason.
• Refuse to engage in collective bargaining with public employees.
• Set budgets and contracts two years after their last day in office.

That’s not a mayor—that’s a dictator. Any elected official that sees Public Act 4 as a means to gain financial stability is trampling the constitution and rights they swear to protect. This situation in Flint is growing as odious as Michigan’s Emergency Manager law. There’s a deal being made between Lansing and Flint. The 83,000 voters in the city will be paying the bill. I pray that the next 30 days of preliminary review aren’t just window dressing for the inevitable in Flint. However, I think the die has been cast. The only option for the people of the city of Flint is the best option: Lean on Democracy and pick up a petition to repeal Michigan’s Emergency Manager law.

Brandon Jessup is Chairman and CEO of Michigan Forward of Detroit which launched the state wide petition drive.This is an edited version of a more comprehensive article. For further information go to michiganforward.org.


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