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By Ellen Creager, Detroit Free Press (TNS)

As a tourist destination, is Detroit like Berlin?

Germans think so.

They see both cities as having the same gritty, urban, post-industrial heritage, fueled by the pulsing beat of techno music. In Detroit, Berliners feel a kindred sensibility of old troubles, lingering decay, layered with current energy and optimism.

And they’re full of ideas for Detroit to attract visitors and new residents. Among them?

“Cancel the 2 a.m. curfew, and many people would come,” says Lutz Leichsenring, of Clubcommission Berlin, a city that pulsates with 334 music venues, including round-the-clock clubbing and all-night parties.

Techno was invented in Detroit. Now Berlin is not only Germany’s capital but a global electronic music hotspot, which helped to change the image of Berlin to a young city.

The Berlin folks–visitBerlin tourism officials and artistic creative development brains–were in Detroit this month, and they met by invitation with counterparts in the arts community here and public officials.

“They told us, ‘You have a very romanticized view of Detroit,’ ” admits Mario Husten, chairman of Berlin’s Holzmarkt Cooperative, who focuses on urban creativity issues. “I don’t think so.”

The reason? Detroit may not be appreciated by everyone, but it has one thing that soulless, bland cities don’t have: a unique, authentic, creative culture. That quality is more important than money, he says: “Economy follows culture, not vice versa. You can’t buy culture.”

For me, the Berliners’ enthusiastic embrace of all things Detroit was a breath of fresh air. But it also says a lot about Berlin, too. The powerful city that rose and fell with the Third Reich in World War II was ruthlessly chopped in half by Russia and the Allies after the war. When the Berlin Wall came down 25 years ago, it revealed deep emotional tears in the reunified city and miles of dilapidated city buildings.

“Berlin was a severely wounded city,” says Burkhard Kieker, CEO of visitBerlin, adding that music, clubs and creative culture were the first positive healing forces there. “Crucial was the courage of the people to take their fate into their own hands.”

It’s been an exhilarating uphill climb for the city of 3.5 million since then.

Did they give in to despair, an emotion many metro Detroiters have felt in our darkest days?

“No, never,” says Husten. But tourism officials showed photos of the barren, gray city center of the past and the lively, colorful thriving city of Berlin now.

The city also did other things they think Detroit could copy.

They invited as many discount airlines to fly into Berlin’s airport as possible.

They have a vital, well-operated public transit system. (Sadly, no Detroit M-1 rail is going to be matching that anytime soon.)

They attracted artists and creative types with very low-rent studio space and embraced spontaneous types of projects and artwork and people. Detroit is all that.

The Detroit journalists at the meeting were both flattered and perplexed when the Berliners said there even is a small theater in Berlin that shows only Detroit-themed movies.
I never heard of it, but, hey, I’m all for it.

Of course, any tourist who has visited Berlin knows it could never be mistaken for Detroit. It has 6,000 new hotel beds just this year. It has 180 museums. It has 400 galleries. It is the nation’s capital. Berlin is now the third most visited European city behind London and Paris.

Still, the Berliners have an affection for Detroit. They want to help. They believe in the power of art and creative ideas to heal ragged wounds of the past. And that is kind of inspirational.

___
(c)2015 Detroit Free Press. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Bryan Debus via Flickr

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Eric Holder

The failure of major federal voting rights legislation in the Senate has left civil rights advocates saying they are determined to keep fighting—including by suing in battleground states. But the little bipartisan consensus that exists on election reform would, at best, lead to much narrower legislation that is unlikely to address state-level GOP efforts now targeting Democratic blocs.

“This is the loss of a battle, but it is not necessarily the loss of a war, and this war will go on,” Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general and Democrat, told MSNBC, saying that he and the Democratic Party will be suing in states where state constitutions protect voting rights. “This fight for voting rights and voter protection and for our democracy will continue.”

“The stakes are too important to give up now,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which for years has operated an Election Day hotline to help people vote. “Our country cannot claim to be free while allowing states to legislate away that freedom at will.”

In recent weeks, as it became clear that the Senate was not going to change its rules to allow the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to pass with a simple majority, there have been efforts by some lawmakers, election policy experts, and civil rights advocates to identify what election reforms could pass the Senate.

“There are several areas… where I think there could be bipartisan consensus,” said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, in a briefing on January 20. “These areas are all around those guardrails of democracy. They are all about ensuring that however the voters speak that their voice is heard… and cannot be subverted by anyone in the post-election process.”

Becker cited updating the 1887 Electoral Count Act, which addressed the process where state-based slates of presidential electors are accepted by Congress. (In recent weeks, new evidence has surfaced showing that Donald Trump’s supporters tried to present Congress with forged certificates as part of an effort to disrupt ratifying the results on January 6, 2021.) Updating that law could also include clarifying which state officials have final authority in elections and setting out clear timetables for challenging election results in federal court after Election Day.

Five centrist Washington-based think tanks issued a report on January 20, Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform, which suggested federal legislation could codify practices now used by nearly three-quarters of the states. Those include requiring voters to present ID, offering at least a week of early voting, allowing all voters to request a mailed-out ballot, and allowing states to start processing returned absentee ballots a week before Election Day.

But the report, which heavily drew on a task force of 29 state and local election officials from 20 states convened by Washington’s Bipartisan Policy Center, was notable in what it did not include, such as restoring the major enforcement section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was removed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. It did not mention the Electoral Count Act nor growing threats to election officials from Trump supporters.

“This won’t satisfy all supporters of the Freedom to Vote Act, but this is a plausible & serious package of reforms to make elections more accessible and secure that could attract bipartisan support,” tweeted Charles Stewart III, a political scientist and director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. “A good starting point.”

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