While Detroit and other urban centers in Michigan are targets of national and local criticism for financial instability, there are not enough positive discussions devoted to developing real solutions.
That’s what one public policy group aims to fix with a long-term national initiative to educate citizens on the economic benefit of free market policies.
Saturday marked the launch of the Fredrick Douglass Society’s (FDS) Urban Economic Solutions initiative with a 6-hour conference at the Wayne County Community College downtown campus.
Notable speakers at the conference included Stacey Swimp, President of the Fredrick Douglas Society, Rev. CL Bryant, political activist and public speaker, Hansen Clarke, U.S. Congressman (D-13), Clarke Durant, Co-founder and former CEO of Cornerstone schools, Tim Bos, founding organizer of the Michigan Freedom To Work Coalition, and James Muffet, President of Citizens for Traditional Values.
Swimp said a major goal of the FDS is to offer a better life to people in cities like Detroit through policies that open a free market for businesses competition, including right-to-work legislation and school choice.
“When people share solutions it’s always something that seems to be centralized on government,” Swimp said. “We promote a full repeal of the Davis-Bacon Act and the State prevailing wage. These have genesis in Jim Crow laws. Most people don’t know that.”
Swimp said his policy group aims to ban union-only project labor agreements because they stall economic growth and screen out small, minority-owned businesses that are not unionized.
Through its Urban Economic Solutions initiative, the FDS plans to educate, inform and empower people on these policies through localized workshops, seminars and town hall meetings asking citizens to look for less help from the government and offer up with new, independent ideas. The initiative is funded through private companies and fundraisers, he said.
Swimp said his passion to empower people to demand a free market system is a personal goal. As a Detroit native and a product of the inner city, he overcame great hardship before he set higher expectations for himself. “We can’t pull up the ladder behind ourselves,” he said.
Throughout the conference, speakers brought ideas and solutions on how to revitalize Detroit and other Michigan cities going through financial hardship.
The keynote speaker at the conference was Rev. CL Bryant, a political activist and public speaker who is leading a national movement to empower people through free market solutions and Christian values.
His advice to Detroiters was to collaborate with trustworthy people and set up collective investment groups to help rebuild the city.
“What has happened is we have become so suspicious of each other that we can’t work together,” Bryant told the audience. “Bring men of good report together and say, ‘let us reason together’”.
Bryant compared government aid programs such as food stamps and Section 8 housing to modern-day slavery.
“In order to run away, the salve had to say to the master, ‘I don’t want your food, I don’t want your housing. The spirit of the runaway slave is the same spirit of those who came here on the Mayflower. Whether your relatives came here on the mayflower or came here in chains on a slave ship, they risked their lives for liberty.”
Bryant said he is part of a group of 20 men who pledge to bring $3,000 to a meeting every three months. “Through the power to work together we have bought apartment complexes and put people to work revitalizing them and used them to house the elderly,” he said. “If you don’t have $3,000, bring $300. It adds up.”
His message to Detroiters is to be honest with themselves about the poor quality of life in the city and then work with purpose for a change. “If Detroit is honest about sloth and misuse of funds Detroit can begin to clean up and revitalize a once magnificent city,” Bryant said.
Bryant urged Detroiters who have lived in the city all of their life to spend time somewhere more economically prosperous and “smell something fresh” in order to come back and recognize the “odor” they have lived with in Detroit for so long. Only then, he said, will people be dissatisfied enough to act.
Other speakers offered varying solutions. Muffet spoke to the importance of Christian family values and said collective ownership is not the answer. “When everyone is responsible, no one is responsible,” he said. “What belongs to you, you take care of.”
Muffet slammed the government welfare programs for funding single-parent homes. “If you reward people for having children out of wedlock, you condone horrific unintended consequences,” he said. Muffet laid out drastic statistics showing children from two-parent homes have less likelihood to fall to violence and poverty.
In another speech, Congressman Clarke promoted his Ban the Box legislation proposal, which would make it illegal for a company to require a job applicant to disclose their criminal history before the interview process. Clarke touted the legislation as an economic boon citing statistics that one in four Michiganders have a criminal record that prevents them from getting a fair chance at employment.
“I want everybody to get a second change because it’s one of the most politically effective ways we can stimulate our economy,” Clarke said. “ For returning citizens, if we give them the opportunity to work, to demonstrate their ability, they’re going to be gainfully employed, they’re going to buy more things, employers are going to have to hire more people to be able to sell those products and services.”
Tim Bos, of the Freedom to Work Coalition, said a large part of Detroit’s and Michigan’s economic resurgence could come form Right To Work laws that would make unions compete with non-unionized labor to better serve the public, especially in Detroit where public education has failed children, he said.
“It’s unfortunate because unions have not fulfilled their purpose to protect the rights of children. There are teachers who are worth their weight in gold but there are some flat out lousy teachers and the unions do a great job of protecting them as well,” Bos said. “We don’t want to bust unions. I love unions because their goal is to go to work for their members. But I don’t want to be forced to hire someone if I don’t feel I need them. It all boils down to freedom.”
Another notable speaker was Clark Durant. As co-founder of Cornerstone Schools, a successful group of Detroit charters, Durant spoke to how school choice, limited government standards and competition improve the quality of education.
Durant said Detroit’s revitalization would have to come from the bottom up, not from the top down. “It’s something the people have to want and work for,” Durant said.
He said three things have to happen in Detroit before it sees real economic turnaround. First, public safety needs to improve for people to feel safe in the city. Second, Detroit needs to remove economic barriers that discourage businesses from locating in Detroit. These barriers include high city taxes, costly business operation permits that often take months to acquire, and high insurance rates.
Thirdly, he said Detroiters must take ownership of the land in order to maximize resident’s abilities. “We need a Homestead Act in Detroit,” he said, referring to federal legislation enacted in 1862 that allowed Americans to become owners of undeveloped government land if they showed they could improve and develop the space. “We need to unleash human capital.”
Saturday’s conference was sparsely attended, drawing in approximately 15 attendees throughout the day.
“People don’t get excited about new ideas sometimes. It takes time,” said Swimp. “We’re in it for the long haul.”