On August 27, the Ypsilanti City Council voted in favor of a resolution that allows for only the city, state and national flags to be flown within its council chamber. This meant that the gay pride and Black Lives Matter flags flying within the chamber were removed, causing quite a bit of controversy. However, while I and many others support what both flags stand for, voters must put pressure on elected officials to support these two movements not just by displaying their symbols but also by supporting a clear policy agenda that will benefit both communities.
When a City Hall raises the BLM flag, such an action needs to have a clear policy agenda behind it. Without any, this is an empty, meaningless platitude. Ever since the election of Donald Trump, signs and flags stating, “Black Lives Matter,” “All Are Welcome Here,” “Immigrants are Welcome,” and so on have become quite popular. This is especially true in the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti area. At first glance, such symbols instill a certain hope that many Americans and elected officials want real equality in this country for black Americans and the LGBTQ community.
However, when one looks deeper, these messages are often nothing more than empty words that people and elected leaders showcase to feel better about themselves, while actually doing nothing. Now, I am not attacking anyone who displays such signs or flags but without a clear policy agenda behind them, they are nothing more than virtue signalling.
Republicans have been hiding behind symbols such as the American flag and supposed “love of country” for years but when one looks at their actual policy agenda, it is anything but that. They are not the only ones that do this. Unfortunately, when one looks at the actual policies in place within Washtenaw County and it's cities, it becomes clear that elected officials hide behind symbols such as the BLM flag and “All are Welcome Here” signs.
The Ann Arbor metro area, which includes Ypsilanti, is the eighth most racially segregated metropolitan in the entire US. Landlords are allowed to systematically keep those with section 8 housing vouchers locked out of richer, more affluent communities. The image below shows how those with vouchers are pushed either west of Ann Arbor, to the south side of Ypsilanti or West Willow.
When looking at the demographics of individuals who qualify for housing vouchers, it becomes clear that this is not just a problem of classism but one of racial discrimination. Over 70% of voucher recipients are black, while the median income is just under $15,000. “All are Welcome Here,” unless you are poor and black.
While many in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti are rightfully opposed to the removal of the two flags from the Ypsilanti council chambers, in reality it means absolutely nothing. It is a lot easier for elected officials to simply wave the BLM flag than to actually implement policy that will economically and racially integrate neighborhoods throughout the Ann Arbor metro area. Just as it is a lot easier for Democrats and Republicans to celebrate MLK Day than to actually implement policies that will address the entrenched racial discrimination within America. If equality and civil rights were a top issue to Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor politicians, these signs would be replaced with “Section 8 Housing Voucher Recipients Welcome Here” but that is not nearly as catchy.
If elected officials do absolutely nothing about the real discrimination of those with housing vouchers in the coming years, the controversy will not come even close to this flag situation. We have to stop allowing those who can make real change in our communities to continue hiding behind political symbols. Our country is obsessed with them and while they are important, policy is the only thing that will actually make a difference.