Rev. Pinkney vs. the 'Austerity Brigade'

By Mark Anderson

The irrepressible Rev. Edward Pinkney continues shaking up the city of Benton Harbor, Mich., over the governor’s unsettling decision, made a year ago in April, to vest virtually all local government powers in a single “emergency manager.”

This is a huge trend across Michigan, where cities, school districts and other public entities have been placed in such a management straightjacket and given essentially the same lovely “austerity” crash diet that has hammered countless everyday people — from Wisconsin to Greece.

Oddly, Michigan voters are still asked to elect or re-elect people to occupy offices in these affected jurisdictions, even though the elected officials’ authority has been largely dissolved under a Michigan law to make way for such monopoly management. But Pinkney, always a step ahead, helped gather more than 200,000 signatures to seek ballot access in November, so voters can decide whether or not to scrap Public Act 4 — Michigan’s emergency manager law.

The Michigan Supreme Court on Aug. 3 ordered the initiative to scrap the law to appear on the November ballot. Meanwhile, Pinkney held another of his cleverly conceived demonstrations, “Occupy the PGA.” He and dozens of followers protested Benton Harbor’s decline by carrying the likeness of a black coffin to symbolize the potential death of this once-vibrant southwest Michigan town—a decline partly attributed to PA 4, the state law that authorized the financial dictators.

Regarding the 2012 PGA tournament that Pinkney protested in early summer, the area’s snooty “in crowd” who built the pricey Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course along Lake Michigan, in a place called Harbor Shores, and annexed a nearly 30-acre portion of an adjacent city park to make it part of the course. But the land for the entire park was bequeathed to the city in the early 1900s by a man whose daughter died young, so the place was named Jean Klock Park in her memory. The whole property was supposed to remain a park.

At first glance, the park annexation deal doesn’t sound too awful. But a golf course that charges hundreds of dollars for non-member greens fees and can fully operate only 5 or 6 months out of the year can hardly be defined as a huge employment booster. Seasonal tourist dollars will flow during major tournaments, but they are infrequent. And it is unlikely that much money will be steadily spent by course-goers at greater-Benton Harbor businesses.

Pinkney, a feisty black minister who knows how to mix knowledge and street activism into a potent movement, was ... ahem ... circulated as an inmate through several Michigan state prisons by Berrien County’s Republican-led big-business establishment and the judges and newspapers they own or influence. “They” wanted him gone because he wins his battles. He was accused of election fraud several years ago in a complex affair involving the successful recall of an unsavory city official — a recall that Pinkney led, but which was mysteriously reversed.

A lot of the intrigue revolves around the area’s global appliance giant, Whirlpool. And Pinkney, more than any individual in recent memory, has turned an embedded establishment — this one ultimately led by Republican Congressman and Whirlpool heir Fred Upton — on its head by effectively protesting various shady dealings and developments, while also monitoring weekly court hearings to observe whether people, particularly minorities, are getting a fair trial.

Yet, Pinkney strives to give people of any shade a voice in a city government whose elected officials have surrendered their authority to Joseph Harris, a former Detroit financial whiz who was shuffled across the state to Benton Harbor, to exercise his autocratic impulse under PA 4.

Harris once told this writer that he’ll stay in Benton Harbor until those at Michigan’s Treasury say otherwise. He told a gathering of municipal officials how he hires and fires police and fire department personnel, rewrites employment contracts at his leisure and micro-manages city elections for a city commission that has no power.

Managers like him are part of the austerity brigade which includes state governors, and even IMF and World Bank officials. The shakedown runs from bottom to top.

The people must surrender their governments, the necessary and decent paying public jobs, perhaps their souls, etc. to unqualified privatization. Union-busting was carried out further under Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels’ successful “right to work” effort to de-unionize the state.

These managerial knee-cappers will do anything to obtain “market security”—through a mixture of dissolving local governments, nixing anti-trust laws, protecting themselves from justified taxation, and using government to trounce their competitors, all to legally ensure their continued dominance. All the talk about impersonal “market forces” is really about the markets they design and force on society.

Or as the late radio priest, Father Charles Coughlin of Royal Oak, Mich, protested in the 1930s: “Financial welfare is preferred to human welfare.”

Mark Anderson is a journalist who divides his time between Texas and Michigan. Email him at

From The Progressive Populist, September 1, 2012

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