By Ryan Felton
The Southwest Detroit folks who have long railed against billionaire Manuel ‘Matty’ Maroun’s endless capability to stop the Gateway Project for a new bridge from moving forward turned the tables and stopped something themselves.
For 40 minutes the Ambassador Bridge’s truck ramp leading on to Fort Street was halted after more than 150 protesters created a human barrier at the exit.
Led by the Bridgewatch Detroit group in coalition with Occupy Detroit, the demonstration began at the corner of 18th and Lafayette around 5 p.m. on Thursday. Handouts were passed around to those in attendance detailing their reasoning.
“The Bridge Company steals property, parks and streets without permission, builds without permits, and hides like a coward under the false umbrella of Homeland Security,” the handout stated.
Just after 5 p.m. two impressive and detailed Matty Maroun floats arrived draped with signs that read “I bought a legislature for $6.6 million.” A small jet flew above the Detroit skyline just as the sun broke through with a sign reading, “1% QUIT PLAYING GAMES. CREATE JOBS NOW.”
Moments before beginning their march a few blocks from the bridge, a Bridgewatch leader announced, “There will be civil disobedience today.”
It was clearly reiterated, as stated on the handout, that the peaceful action “concludes at 6 p.m.” Some demonstrators then linked arms and led the march toward the bridge chanting, “Stop Maroun madness” and “Take back Fort Street.”
Initially met by a light police presence, the group moved out to the exit ramp without confrontation. A resident from the neighborhood stepped out in front of the group with his dog, stopping directly in front of a semi-truck. Reminiscent of the famed Tiananmen Square photo, the tank man of Ambassador Bridge created the most moving moment seen in any event related to the now two-week Occupy Detroit movement.
“I’m very appalled by what Mr. Maroun is doing,” said Mike Kerwin of UAW Local 174 who’s lived in Detroit since 1950. “We need to get away from this monopoly of this billionaire. We need a public bridge.”
After 10 minutes, semi-trucks could be seen backed up on the bridge directly above Fort. Police cars started arriving in droves as the crowd that initially stood on the outskirts for support swelled to the front line creating a larger mass.
“The people are trying to build a bridge that they own,” said Tom Cervenak, executive director of People’s Community Services of Metropolitan Detroit. “If Del Ray goes down the tube it will be because of Matty Maroun, and that’s the fact.”
As 6 p.m. crept up, border patrol guards arrived and police began inching towards the crowd. An officer produced a stock of plastic restraints which are used in situations of protests or mass arrests.
But, demonstrators stuck to the plan, exiting promptly at 6 p.m., eliminating any potential for confrontation. They migrated back toward the dividing line of the bridge and the neighborhood.
Once traffic started moving again, numerous drivers offered abrasive honks of approval with one noticably mixing in a why-did-you-hold-up-traffic-I’m-on-a-time-schedule-and-have-many-things-to-do type flip-of-the-bird.
Maroun has been criticized for his company’s recent ad campaign opposing a new crossing between Windsor and Detroit being built, urging constituents to ask local legislators to invest in fixing local roads instead. The proposed second bridge would be publicly owned and privately operated, creating competition with the Ambassador Bridge.
“This is the only way we can make a statement,” said Gary Wagaman, Occupy Detroit supporter. “He’s practically bought everyone out.”