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Hrp: Toward Community Control

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An Interview with Jerry DeGriek, Nancy Wechsler, and Genie Plamondon


SUN: Ecology seems to be a big issue n this election, at least people are talking alot about it. What do you think about it?

GENIE: When we think about ecology we see it in terms of planning for the whole city. We don't think just in terms of what kind of soap we use. Alot of people think we would, but we don't, we've expanded. Like I said, we think in terms of the way the whole city is being planned, where roads are being laid, why they are being laid there. The Scarlett-Mitchell Woods is one of the biggest issues of the 3rd Ward, where they want to tear down one of the last remaining really beautiful woods in Ann Arbor and build a school there. We know there's a need for a school, but there is a lot of other land available. Perhaps the land being planned for Lansky's junkyard would be even better used to put up a school. Part of the reason they 're having such a problem trying to figure where to put schools is because of the poor, uncoordinated city planning that exists in Ann Arbor. And now they're having problems figuring out where to put this school. We don't feel that tearing down a whole woods to put up a school is the right way to be dealing with t at all. They're also planning on expanding the airport. They're planning on doing that before dealing with problems like pollution, before figuring out ways to have less cars, and therefore less pollution.

SUN: You've been going out meeting people door to door. What have been people's reactions to you and to the Human Rights Party?

GENIE: Well that's bound up with the first question you asked. One of the most important things about this campaign is that we're going door to door, talking to people, and letting them see how serious we are. Alot of people ask whether we're serious enough and whether we're capable of taking over the job. But then when they hear us talking about issues that are so close to them, like Lansky's junkyard and Scarlett-Mitchell Woods, and hear us supporting what their views are, they support us. That's one of the most important things we can do, and have been doing, you know, going around and finding our directly from the people in the communities what are the issues we should be directly addressing ourselves to.

SUN: We would like to know what the Human Rights Party thinks about the whole issue of community control. We know that you talk about that alot, but people don't know exactly what you mean by it.

JERRY: Community control is a system by which the people who use services and the people who work in institutions that provide services make the decisions about how they're to be run. With community control people will be able to take much more of a part in the decisions that affect their lives.

SUN: The Republicans charge that community control is impossible, that it won't work, that "there will have to be an election everytime you want to purchase envelopes or squad cars."

JERRY: Well that clearly s not what community control s. We don't want t either very centralized so that one board will be deciding policies throughout the city, or so decentralized that each individual thing is brought to a vote. But you do want a svstem where people who use work in a service will be able to vote for representatives directly who will make policy for that service, instead of the situation now where a very small group of big-money interests really runs things.

SUN: One of the big issues in the election is what used to be called the Packard-Beakes bypass and is currently called the Ashley-First bypass.

JERRY: Well that's very interesting, just the name change, because all along when the city was talking about it and when it was reported in the press, it was known as as the Packard-Beakes bypass, which I think most people would vote against. Then they put it on the ballot in the form of a bonding proposal, and it's suddenly the the Ashley-First bypass. It seems to me that that was done deliberately to confuse people so they wouldn't vote against it.

Anyway, the Packard-Beakes or Ashley-First bypass is a highway which is going to run through the heart of the black and low income First Ward community. It is a highway that no one wants, no one except the downtown businessmen that is. It will cause more noise and pollution, go right by parks and playgrounds and people's homes are going to have to be wrecked. The only reason that they are doing this is to make it easier for cars to get downtown so that the downtown businessmen can make more money. That's the city's main concern.

There are many issues involved: First, the issue is clearly racist. Such a highway would never even be attempted in a white neighborhood. There would be too much uproar, so it would never even be proposed. Secondly, is the the issue of community control. The people in these neighborhoods who are going to be most affected, are opposed to the bypass, and yet their words were completely ignored by City Council. Thirdly, it's a whole issue of transportation and planning. It seems to me that the answer to our transportation problem is not going to be more roads and automobiles. Already the automobile areas of the city, especially the downtown area, are being choked by pollution and cars. What we need is more planning to move towards a comprehensive mass transportation system which is going to move to create an alternative means of transportation. As a start, the present bus system should be increased so that it runs on weekends and in the evenings. We should also try to merge the city, University and school bus systems. The Transportation problem is not going to be solved with more roads.

SUN: Nancy, you used to be a member of the Tenants Union. What s happening with the housing situation in town?

NANCY: Well, I was one of the people who began the Ann Arbor Tenants Union, so my ideas on housing are definitely from a tenants point of view. I'd say we need more tenant-controlled low-cost housing and also some form of rent control. There wasn't even any rent control in Ann Arbor during the wage and price freeze! Also, tenants should organize together in the Tenants Union to struggle against landlords, who basically try to gat away with as much as they can!

SUN: You've been going door to door alot in the 2nd Ward, which is a heavily student ward. What have you found to be the most important issues to the people in your ward?

NANCY: I think housing and transportation are the two things people start to talk about right away. The fact that they can't find housing that they can afford, it's usually in bad condition, and the fact that if you don't have an automobile in Ann Arbor, there's no way to go shopping. People realize that we need a good transportation system. One of the things that I think is most interesting is that the interests of students and lower income people in Ann Arbor are very similar. Housing and transportation are the most important issues to lower income people and to students.

SUN: What are your views on the Ann Arbor Tribal Council and the whole range of activities involved with t. What kind of relationship would you see between City Council and Tribal Council?

NANCY: That's a complicated question. The Tribal Council tries to serve alot of people's needs immediately with such things as the Free People's Clinic, Drug Help, Ozone House, and those kinds of programs. We have a community of people who need those services, and those needs are not being met by city government. It's good that there are people in town who are actually trying to deal with it, but the Human Rights Party is trying to deal with it on a political basis, because it's up to the City government in the end to provide those services, to subsidize them, and for all services to be under community control. So I see that both groups are really working together. One is providing the services that are not being met and at the same time serving as a model for future programs. And we' re going to continue to push city government to provide them in the future.

SUN: Genie, you're part of the Ann Arbor Tribal Council. How do you see your work with Tribal Council fitting in with City Council?

GENIE: Running for City Council is just like an extension of the work l've been doing in the community since 1968. The Tribal Council is trying to find entire alternatives to the cultural, political, and economic systems that are available now. We are a viable part of the community, the community of young people. This whole new culture that is growing up is a viable part of the community, and we don't have any kind of representation on City Council now. Just like there are no women on City Council now either. So being on City Council would be a chance for us to have some representation and a say in the way that the city is being planned.

SUN: Could you talk a little about the contradictions between the Democrats words and their actions? They just came out with a new platform that's seemingly very progressive; it recommends the legalization of marijuana and other things like that. What did you feel like when the platform came out?

JERRY: Well, I felt that the Human Rights Party has already accomplished the traditional goal of third party movements in this country, that is to make one of the two major parties change their position one way or the other. However, I feel if that's all we do, we will not have attained a full victory at all because what the Democrats say they will do n their platform is a totally different thing than what they end up doing. That's one of the major differences between the Human Rights Party and the Democrats and Republicans. For example, when the Human Rights Party says it will work for the legalization of marijuana, it doesn't mean we will simply support a state-wide effort to legalize marijuana, as do the Democrats, because people would still be getting busted, as they are now. We would change the local ordinance to something like a $.25 fine for possession, use, or sale; This would accomplish two things. First, it would make it absurd for the police to continue to bust people, which is fine, and secondly, if anyone was busted, they would be prosecuted under 25! city ordinance.

The Democrats have come out with a progressive position on marijuana, but t doesn't mean much as long as they continue to leave the ninety-day law on the books. They clearly are not willing to take the necessary steps so that people won't be busted for marijuana in the city. It's all talk and even when the Democrats passed their very limited ordinance last spring. which did lower the penalties, t took months before Krasny started prosecuting under the city ordinance and not the state law. Not only s there no community control of the police, there isn't even city council control! The police are allowed to do for the most part whatever they want.

SUN: The Human Rights Party is running three women candidates for city council, and right now there, aren't any women on Council. If one or more of you win, what effect do you think t will have on government?

NANCY: I think it will force the city government to deal with sexism and to start hiring more women and minorities. But I don't believe that you should vote for women just because they are women, it depends on what her views are. For example, I would urge all women to vote for David Black, the HRP candidate in the fourth ward, and not for Mona Walz, the Democrat.

It's important that we have women with good politics on the City Council and beyond; it's important for women growing up to know that they can become involved, they don't need to lead a dull, passive life, and they can have good things to say.

SUN: Genie, there's been alot of confusion as to the connection between the Rainbow People's Party and the Human Rights Party. Since you're part of both the RPP and HRP, could you help clear that up?

GENIE: They are two distinct parties. The Rainbow People's Party is not an electoral party. We're a democratic-centralist organization and our main work has been in the community, with the Tribal Council and the Parks Program, putting out the Ann Arbor SUN, you know, community services like that. As we were discussing among ourselves how to relate to electoral politics, we decided that the only honest way that we could do it would be through relating to the Human Rights Party, which is a really open, public, democratic party. The party's policies are set at open meetings We knew that would be the only way we would relate to an electoral party.

SUN: What do you feel can be accomplished by being on City Council now?

GENIE: That's the major question people ask. We've got a chance of getting two, and possibly three seats on City Council. At first we had to really question whether we should get into electoral politics and try to get into the existing system at all, but we found that we really would be able to do some concrete things immediately, like redirecting the city budget.

Right now one-third of the city budget goes into the. police and fire departments, and yet the police have shown with all that money they have not been able to deal with the rising crime rate. We feel that the major reason is that they haven't analyzed the situation correctly. They don't understand that 50% of crime is directly drug related. You know, people who are addicted to drugs now, because they are illegal, have to go out and steal from people to support their habits. We feel through our experience with the Summer Concerts and the Psychedelic Rangers, that we have been able to successfully cut down on the drug problem in Ann Arbor. We've probably been one of the most successful cities in the country in doing that. If we were on City Council we would be able to redirect the priorities of the police department, we could cut down on the amount of money that would go into the Police Department by coming up with some progressive programs to deal with the drug problem, and consequently the crime problem. By doing that we would be able to give less money to the police and redirect the city's budget to deal with people's problems and fund the services that people need.

SUN: Nancy, how are the Democrats reacting to your Candidacy?

NANCY: The Democrat says that everything we say is what the Democrats proposed a couple of years ago, and of course we know that just isn't true. Mayor Harris is a Democrat, George Wallace is a Democrat, and Sheriff Harvey is a Democrat. What is the Democratic Party? That's a question we all have to ask ourselves. The Ann Arbor Democratic Party says they're not the same as the Michigan Democratic Party, that they're more liberal. The other day I heard something about the 3rd Ward Democratic Party not being the same as the Ann Arbor Democratic Party. Well, all I can say is when you vote for the Human Rights Party, you know what you're voting for.

SUN: It's also the stigma of being part of the Democratic Party. Anyone who is tied up with the Democratic machine is tainted by it.

NANCY: Right. Morris is a Democrat. He's very much a Democrat. He's supported their positions down the line. However, we don't attack them personally. We have very great political differences. We feel that people have to vote for people from a party that represents their views. The Democrats try to convince people that they really have to vote for the lesser of two evils, that if they voted for the HRP, they'd be splitting the vote, and the election will go to the Republicans. On the whole most of the people are seeing through that. In fact, in the 2nd Ward, the Democrat will probably come in last.

SUN: You really think you have a chance to win then?

NANCY: Yeah, right. Most of the people who have just registered to vote, registered because there was a third party. People who never have considered voting for a Democrat or a Republican are alienated about politics on the whole, and electoral politics specifically. They've just recently been able to feel that there is a viable alternative, that there is something worth getting involved in, that's the Human Rights Party. That's the way I felt myself a couple of years ago. I wouldn't have registered. People would come to my door and ask me to register to vote and I would just laugh. But now there's a third party and there's real reasons for people to get involved in electoral politics.


Ward            Precinct               Location                              Address

1                      1                 Northside School                  912 Barton Drive

1                      2                Community Center                625 N. Main St.

1                      3                Jones School                        401 N. Division St.

1                      4                North Campus Commons     2101 N. Campus Blvd.

1                      5                Thurston School                   2300 Prairie St.   

1                      6                North Campus Commons     2101 N. Campus Blvd.

1                      7                Huron High School                2727 Fuller Rd.


2                      1                YM-YWCA Building              350 S. Fifth Ave.

2                      2                Michigan League                  227 S. Ingalls St.

2                      3                Angell School                      1608 S. University Ave.

2                      4                Bader School                      2775 Bedford Rd.


3                      1                Burns Park School             1414 Wells St.

3                      2                Burns Park School             1414 Wells St.

3                      3                Tappan School                   2551 E. Stadium Blvd.

3                      4                Allen School                       2560 Towner Blvd.

3                      5                Pattengill School                2100 Crestland Dr.

3                      6                Pittsfield School                 2543 Pittsfield Blvd.

3                      7                Mary Mitchell School          3550 Pittsview Dr.

3                      8                Stone School                      2800 Stone School Rd.

3                      9                Stone School                      2800 Stone School Rd.


4                      1                Eberwhite School                800 Soule Blvd.

4                      2                Bach School                        600 W. Jefferson Ave.

4                      3                Pioneer High School           601 W. Stadium Blvd.

4                      4                Dicken School                    2135 Runnymede Blvd.

4                      5                Eberwhite School                800 Soule Blvd.

4                      6                Lawton School                   2250 S. Seventh St.

4                      7                Yost Field House               1116 S. State St.

4                      8                Pioneer High School          601 W. Stadium Blvd.


5                      1                 Wines School                  1701 Newport Rd.

5                      2                 West Park Shelter           215 Chapin St.

5                      3                 Slauson School               1019 W. Washington St.

5                      4                 Mack School                    920 Miller Ave.

5                      5                 Haisley School                 825 Duncan St.

5                      6                 Lakewood School             344 Gralake Ave.

5                      7                 Fire Station No. 3             2130 Jackson Ave.