Once known as the Motor City, where the middle class was born, Detroit’s auto industry and manufacturing sector have collapsed. Today the city is on the verge of bankruptcy, facing a thinning population and massive cuts to basic services. The new film "Detropia" takes an intimate look at at some of the city’s former members of the middle class as they struggle to make ends meet and refuse to abandon hope. We’re joined by the film’s co-director, Rachel Grady, a private investigator turned filmmaker who, along with her co-director Heidi Ewing, has made several films, including the Academy Award-nominated "Jesus Camp." [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, at the PBS station WGVU. I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn now to a new documentary about one of Michigan’s hardest-hit cities, Detroit. Once known as the Motor City, where the middle class was born, Detroit’s auto industry and manufacturing sector have collapsed. Today the city is on the verge of bankruptcy, facing a thinning population and massive cuts to basic services.
Well, the new film Detropia takes an intimate look at some of the city’s former members of the middle class as they struggle to make ends meet and refuse to abandon hope. I want to turn for a moment to a clip of Detropia.
REPORTER: This is the downsizing of Detroit. You’re watching it live. These are houses that are never coming back. It’s going back to the prairie, and these houses are just disappearing from the landscape.
GEORGE McGREGOR: I want to show you something. All this is empty. They built a new plant in Mexico and took all the work to Mexico.
NICOLE: For factory support, which is the guys that are making $14.35, their new proposal is $11 an hour, which means they would lose $3.35 an hour on their wage.
AUTO WORKER: Why? What do you think you’re going to feel every day going into work?
REPORTER: One of the big hot-button issues in Detroit is the layout of the city, and right now there’s questions about what parts of the city may be shrunk.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I don’t know if y’all understand, but they’re shutting down schools. They’re shutting down futures, basically.
DETROIT RESIDENT: We’re not going to accept any more downsizing. We want to hear about upsizing, big-sizing, super-sizing Detroit.
MAYOR DAVID BING: It’s going to be difficult. The city is broke. I don’t know how many times I have to say that.
STEVE COY: I mean, we looked at Baltimore. We were looking into New York City. And Detroit came up. We can experiment here.
TOMMY STEPHENS: What happened in Detroit is now spreading throughout. There’s no buffer between the rich and the poor. Only thing left is revolution.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s a part of the trailer for the new documentary called Detropia.
Well, for more, we’re joined by the film’s co-director, Rachel Grady. She is joining us from New York City—the film is airing all through Michigan now—private investigator turned filmmaker who, along with her co-director Heidi Ewing, has made several films, including the Academy Award-nominated Jesus Camp.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Rachel.
RACHEL GRADY: Thanks.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about why you chose to focus on Detroit and why you called your film Detropia.
RACHEL GRADY: Sure. We chose Detroit, first of all, because my co-director Heidi is from the area, and it’s a very personal film for her. But as you said, as the birthplace of the middle class, as a place that’s been hard hit by a lot of issues in this country for the last 20, 30 years, we picked Detroit to look at and to try and humanize and hear from the man on the street what’s happening there, what it’s like to live there.
We picked the name "Detropia" — we invented a word, which is always fun — because we wanted to kind of pose the concept, is it a utopia? Is it a dystopia? Was it a utopia? What is the future for Detroit? What is the future for this country? Where are we headed?
AMY GOODMAN: You know, there is a remarkable scene in your film about the UAW. And for listeners who couldn’t see the clip we just showed, I thought it was very interesting that their theme, too, was "We built it," "We built this city," that theme that has now been taken up by the Republican Party and by Mitt Romney. But I want to play a clip, and this has to do with the union meeting, but I was wondering if you could set it up for us, this UAW meeting and when it took place.
RACHEL GRADY: Sure. It happened about two years ago, and the union rep is explaining to the workers from a particular plant that the owners are threatening to move to Mexico, and in order to keep their jobs, they would have to take massive pay cuts. And the guys are reeling from this information, are hurt, confused, and feel like they have an opportunity to fight back.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to the clip.
GEORGE McGREGOR: I’ve been pulling my hair out and puzzling with this and going back and forth with the company on this. And I’ve dealt in a lot of negotiation over my time, but I’ve never dealt with a management like this. And I’ve tried everything. But they’re calling this their last proposal. You’re going to get mad, though, I can tell you that.
NICOLE: For guys that are senior quality mechanical technicians, any of the guys that’s at $18.50 an hour right now, they will be going down to $18, for a 50-cents decrease in pay. All the guys in plant seven that are making $17, they want to move them down to $14.50, which is a loss of $2.50 an hour on the wage. For factory support, which is the guys that are making $14.35, their new proposal is $11 an hour, which means they would lose $3.35 an hour on their wage.
AUTO WORKER 1: Come on! This is ridiculous! We don’t even need to entertain this.
AUTO WORKER 2: George, I’d like to make a motion that we don’t even vote on this, that you return to the company and tell them we refuse to vote on this.
AUTO WORKER 3: I second it.
AUTO WORKER 2: This is hogwash.
AUTO WORKER 3: I second it.
GEORGE McGREGOR: Getting a second?
AUTO WORKERS: Yeah, second.
GEORGE McGREGOR: All in favor of "you decide" say "aye."
AUTO WORKERS: Aye.
GEORGE McGREGOR: A hundred percent. Everybody put your hand up that’s going with that.
AUTO WORKER 4: Don’t even—I don’t even want to go waste my time voting on this.
GEORGE McGREGOR: All right.
AUTO WORKER 5: Talking about it.
AUTO WORKER 6: I can give you even more.
GEORGE McGREGOR: I asked him, I said, "How do I sit down with one of my members, who is already scuffling and making $14.35, sit at the table with their family and got to tell them that "my union, and I agreed, to take a $3.35 pay cut"? I asked her that. I said, "I told you guys, we’re going to—if we negotiate any kind of agreement, it’s going to be a livable wage." What did she tell us about a livable wage, Nicole?
NICOLE: "I don’t care about your guys having a livable wage."
GEORGE McGREGOR: Point blank.
AMY GOODMAN: They didn’t accept it, Rachel Grady, and the plant closed.
RACHEL GRADY: Mm-hmm, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead.
RACHEL GRADY: So, yeah, what we were watching was a couple of things. We were watching people slipping into the working poor right before our eyes. We were watching union guys that were fighting back and trying to use their collective bargaining rights. And basically, what was going on was the company said, "You can’t quit. You’re fired. Your job is gone." And it was—it was very painful to watch the man on the street sort of take that in.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to another clip from your film Detropia, looking at Detroit’s plans to downsize and cut many services, including some bus lines. This is one of the people you follow in the film, Stephanie Ware, and other residents speaking before the Detroit City Council.
STEPHANIE WARE: By name is Stephanie Ware. I work. I make minimum wage. I keep pushing and pushing to improve myself. I have a new job I start this Monday. I get up early in the morning faithfully. I may not have to be to work until 10:00, but I am out there at 8:00 and 7:30, waiting to catch my bus, because I don’t be late for anyone. What am I to do when all I have is the bus? Please, please, don’t take our transportation away. That’s all we have. Thank you.
DETROIT RESIDENT: We cannot take any more cutbacks, period, not only in relation to the buses, but services, period. We’re not going to accept any more downsizing. We want to hear about upsizing, big-sizing, super-sizing Detroit.
AMY GOODMAN: A clip of Detropia. Rachel Grady, take it from there.
RACHEL GRADY: Well, you know, we read in the paper about cutbacks happening. And what does—what does that actually look like? You know, you see Stephanie Ware. You see her trying to do her best to work. And she’s kind of been sold a bag of goods. The country has always told us that if we work hard, we can make it, we can make it to the middle class. And she’s doing her part, but the government is not doing its part. And, you know, it’s not out of cruelty, either. The city is not doing this to be mean to its citizens. It’s actually completely broke. It doesn’t have any money, so it cannot sustain a quality of life for its residents.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re a private investigator. How did that help you making the film Detropia?
RACHEL GRADY: Well, part of being an investigator is actually listening and really hearing what the people think is the story and what the truth is and not imposing your opinion, trying to just stay kind of a blank slate and listen to the man on the street, as I said before, and understand what it feels like, the humanity, in living in a place like Detroit.
AMY GOODMAN: Rachel, you were in Detroit. You showed Detropia to a—at a fundraiser for WDET, a public radio station in Detroit. What has been the response of the people here to how you portray their city?
RACHEL GRADY: I think it’s very painful for them to watch. The people that are left are usually first-, second-, third-generation Detroiters. I think that the whole process has been extremely painful. They feel abandoned by corporate America. They feel abandoned by the promise of a better life. But they know it’s true. They think, you know, we were accurate in their experience, and I think that, ultimately, they want the rest of the world to see that.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much for being with us, Rachel Grady. She is co-director of the film Detropia, that is out now in theaters around the country.
And that does it for our broadcast, as we continue our 100-city Election 2012 Silenced Majority Tour in Michigan. Today at noon, I’ll be speaking here in Grand Rapids at the Wealthy Theatre, 1130 Wealth Street SE; then tonight at 6:00 p.m. in Chicago at the Columbia College Conaway Center at 1104 South Wabash Street. On Thursday at 7:00, we’ll be in Madison, Wisconsin, at the Barrymore Theatre; then on Friday at noon in Eau Claire at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at 421 South Farwell Street; on Friday night, with the Lac Courte Oreilles band of Lake Superior Ojibwe in Hayward, Wisconsin, at the Flat Creek Inn & Suites, Highway 27 South. On Saturday night at 7:00 p.m., we’ll be in Minneapolis, Minnesota, at the Wesley United Methodist Church, 101 East Grand Street. You can check out the details of our site—of the entire tour at tour.democracynow.org.