Monday, November 07, 2011

Finley Off the Mark on

From The Michigan Democratic Party:

I am proud to be a part of Wayne State University Law School’s Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights.  It is a good example of how successful people in the private sector and dedicated public servants in government can work together to achieve remarkable things.
As the Center’s associate director and a former clerk to Judge Keith, I’ve had the opportunity to see this Center and the building grow from an idea in the mind of Judge Keith’s network of supporters, mentees and former law clerks to one of the cornerstones of Wayne Law’s programming.
In the nearly 10 years that it took to open the Center, there were many individuals who oversaw and guided its development.  And as Detroit News editorial page editor Nolan Finley correctly pointed out in a recent column, private investors such as A. Alfred Taubman, along with Edsel and Cynthia Ford, provided the vast majority of the funding.  Without their devotion in shepherding this project through to its completion, there would be no Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights today.
But Finley is off base when he claims that some of the Center’s most sincere and dedicated supporters are part of the “1 percent being so harshly targeted by the Occupy Wall Street crowd.”
I disagree.
The “99 percenters” are not targeting philanthropy, which is a critical part of any thriving community. They are instead highlighting the very real, undue influence wielded by a small minority of individuals over those who enact and enforce our laws.
The “Occupiers” are challenging a system where most political decisions often favor that small 1 percent of individuals that wield undue influence.   Those decisions often come at the expense of the larger “99%” group of individuals.
The “protestors” are critiquing institutions that favor a select few over the many – and by “many,” I mean the people who paint America’s buildings, who build its houses, who drive its trucks, clean its offices, pick its fruit, patrol its streets, staff its offices, carry its bedpans, service its computers and, in so many other ways, do the nation’s work every day.
The idea is, simply, that government should be responsive and accountable to all people, instead of a select few. That ideal is the bedrock of our democracy.
But in a country where corporations can contribute millions, anonymously, to influence elections – and in a state where a wealthy financier can seemingly singlehandedly stymie the building of an international public bridge – we are not meeting that ideal.
Finley’s column implies that government can’t be expected to be competent, let alone accountable to all. He suggests “had the government built the center, you can bet the price tag would have been double or triple” the cost.
Actually, the “government” did build the Center.  Wayne State University is a public university.  And it was public employees – like President Allan Gilmour, Wayne Law Dean Bob Ackerman, and Wayne Law Professor Peter Hammer – overseen by a publicly elected Board of Governors, who spearheaded and organized the fundraising effort to ensure the building’s timely completion.
Finely is correct on one point, however.  The Keith Center will work to develop creative solutions that further Judge Keith’s dedication to a basic promise of our Constitution: Equal Justice for Under Law, for all.   We will advocate for a government, for a legal system, for policies, that are balanced and inclusive to everyone, regardless of class, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or ability.
And that is a mission worthy of both the Center’s benefactors and beneficiaries.

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