JoAnn Watson

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JoAnn Watson

Template:TOCnestleft Dr. JoAnn Nichols Watson is a Michigan socialist activist and Detroit City Councilmember. Watson is serving her first full term as a Member of the Detroit City Council, where she has sponsored more than 1,000 laws in 5 years, including: a ban on hand-held cell phones while driving, a ban on smoking in public places, and a law demanding that Receiving Hospital & Hutzel Hospital remain open “in perpetuity”.


Watson is the only woman to serve as the Executive Director of the Detroit NAACP. She was appointed as vice chair of the Detroit Human Rights Commission by Mayor Coleman Young and chaired Women’s Equality Day Celebrations in the City of Detroit for a decade. Formerly, she was a local and national YWCA executive. Prior to her election, Council Member Watson was Public Policy Liaison for Congressman John Conyers, and was a co-founder of the Coalition for Health Care Equity.

Watson has hosted an award-winning radio/television talk show “Wake Up Detroit!” for nearly two decades, and has traveled throughout the Continent of Africa, the USSR, Caribbean and across the nation.

Council Member Watson earned a Journalism Degree from the University of Michigan, where she was active with the peace and justice movement. Currently, she is a board member with: ACLU, NAACP, Vice-President of the Detroit Wayne County Health Authority, Every Church a Peace Church, and SEMCOG. Watson is the mother of four and has garnered more than 800 awards, including an Honorary Doctorate. She holds Lifetime Achievement Awards from the YWCA, the NAACP, the Detroit Human Rights Commission, the SCLC, and a National Award from the National Conference of Negro Women.

Watson is currently helping thousands of citizens avoid foreclosures and water shut-offs & chairs the Anti-Foreclosure Committee of a Tri-County Summit during 2008. Council Member Watson has also played a key role in combating scrap metal thieves by sponsoring 4 tough laws & working closely with law enforcers & lately, she has unexpectedly become the ‘go-to’ person for citizens suffering from home invasions and slow police response.

Council Member Watson led the way to fund 4,000 summer jobs in 2007 & 2008; she provided leadership to re-open the Dexter-Elmhurst Center & works with the Dr. Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, to sustain the African World Festival as the “signature” Ethnic Festival on Detroit’s Riverfront.[1]


Watson has authored hundreds of columns, article, and books including: Should America Pay? The ABC’s of School Finance, Reparations Ray Jenkins’ 40-year quest for 40 acres and a Mule and an urban agenda, which she presented to Presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama in 2008.

Cuban sponsorship

Council Member Watson is sponsoring two young Detroiters who are studying at the Latin American School of Medicine in Cuba, which provides free tuition and lodging for African American Physicians-in training- who commit to return to Detroit.[1]

Peace office

Watson has also sponsored legislation calling for Universal-Single Payer Health care and has sponsored a Resolution calling for a cabinet-level Peace Office to be established in the U.S.A.

Peace Links

During the 1980’s Watson co-founded Peace Links in Detroit (with the Hon. Erma Henderson and the Hon. Maryann Mahaffey), and she visited Moscow, Leningrad and Tblisi, Georgia in the U.S.S.R. in 1989 as a delegate with Women for a Meaningful Summit traveling with the Hon. Millie Jeffrey and the Hon. Debbie Stabenow.[1]

Detroit City Council

JoAnn Watson was elected to the Detroit City Council in 2003.[2]

Meeting with Venezuelan Ambassador

On June 14, 2006, Ambassador Bernado Alvarez Herrera, Venezuela's envoy to the United States met with the Legislative Black Caucus in Lansing with several Detroit city officials, including council members JoAnn Watson, Brenda Jones, Kwame Kenyatta, Martha Reeves and Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick to discuss how to expand his country’s programs that help the poor. He said that his country, under President Hugo Chavez wants to provide heating assistance and free eye surgery to needy Detroiters. Herrera's visit was facilitated by MI State Rep. Lamar Lemmons III. His consulate, General Martin E. Sanchez of Chicago traveled with him. Shortly prior to Herrera's visit, several African American civil rights leaders, including Harry Belafonte and Dr. Cornel West had visited Caracas. Herrera stated that such visits were integral: "They provide a catalyst to the assistance his country is now offering to low-income families and help foster the relationship it wants to build with Blacks in America."[3] That evening, the visitors and city officials attended community reception featuring a "grassroots potluck" dinner, hosted by Michigan Welfare Right Organization which was attended by approximately 150 people. The event was supported by the U.S./Cuba Labor Exchange, Justice for Cuba Coalition, Latinos Unidos, International Action Center and Call ’Em Out. At the reception, Alvarez announced a new program to extend the free eye surgery program begun by Cuba to the U.S. Midwest.[4][5]

PWW gathering

People’s Weekly World fundraising events around the country 2007 showed the strength and vitality of the progressive movement.

In Detroit, friends of the PWW came together to honor Angelo Deitos, Ruth Goldman, Dave Moore, Quill Pettway, Carl Reinstein and Stella Reinstein and Ethel Schwartz, seven longtime heroes whose lives are part of the history of the city. Collectively the seven were involved in the Ford Hunger March, the organization of the UAW, the National Negro Labor Council, fought against segregation, repression and have led lives dedicated to the fight for peace.

Among those paying tribute were Detroit City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson; Mike Kerwin, a leader of the Michigan Labor History Society; Elena Herrada, the director of Southwest Detroit’s Centro Obrero; Steve Noffke from Local 600 UAW and Erica Smiley, the chair of the Young Communist League.[6]

WWP connections

Communist cities

In the mid 2000s the pro Cuban/North Korean Workers World Party developed a relationship with Detroit City Council members JoAnn Watson and Maryann Mahaffey.

According to a report "MWM national conference in Detroit, May 14-15, 2005: What happened to this split in the labor bureaucracy?" by Pete Brown (Communist Voice #36, Sept. 2005). [7]

Next speaker was Clarence Thomas, another leader of ILWU Local 10. Thomas cashed out Holmes' general theme of "protect our leaders who are under attack" by citing the specific case of JoAnn Watson. Watson is a liberal Detroit city council member with whom WWP has been trying to build a coalition. WWP has concocted a new organization, the National Conference to Reclaim Our Cities (NCRC), based on an alliance with Watson and Maryann Mahaffey, the Detroit city council president. Thomas cited Watson as a leader to whom MWM activists should rally in support, saying she is under attack because of her solidarity with the working class...

Clarence Thomas mentioned that Watson has been a prominent leader of the NAACP, as if this were some kind of credential for a working class radical. But when was the last time the NAACP took a radical stand on anything? No, the talk about "attacks" on Watson was just a smokescreen to obscure the real import of Thomas' remarks, which was that he wants MWM activists to take a friendly attitude to Democratic political climbers like Watson. Thomas mentioned a meeting he had with Watson the day before, a meeting arranged by Detroit WWP leader David Sole. And he gave some friendly words of endorsement to Sole's special project, the NCRC coalition with Watson and Mahaffey.

National Conference to Reclaim Our Cities

The Workers World Party instigated National Conference to Reclaim Our Cities was held Friday, November 11 thru Sunday, November 13 in Detroit in the Wayne State University Student Center Ballroom.

People from the throughout the state of Michigan and delegations from New Orleans, Cleveland, Baltimore, New York and other cities will converge on the Wayne State University campus to develop strategies for the rebuilding of urban areas around the country. Under the theme: "Money to Rebuild New Orleans and all U.S. Cities, Not for War," this national meeting of grassroots, labor and peace activists will call for the feeding of the cities and the starving of the Pentagon.

Demanding funds for jobs, housing, Social Security, schools, healthcare and the environment, the conference will focus on the Bush administration's budget which slashed 150 domestic programs while it pushes the spending for war to over half a trillion dollars a year. Organizers of the event say that it is time to launch a struggle to win the right to healthcare, quality education, decent housing, food, utilities, and jobs at living wages.

A partial list of endorsers for this event includes: Maryann Mahaffey, President of the Detroit City Council, JoAnn Watson, member of the Detroit City Council, Donald Boggs, President of the Metro-Detroit AFL-CIO, Nathan Head, President of the Metro-Detroit Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Ed Rowe, Pastor of Central United Methodist Church, Marian Kramer, Co-President of the National Welfare Rights Organization, the Gray Panthers of Metro-Detroit and Workers World Party members David Sole, President of UAW Local 2334and Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor of the Pan-African News Wire.

All day Saturday, November 12, there will be plenary sessions and workshops to discuss solutions to the urban crises across the United States and the role of the increasing militarization of both domestic and foreign policy of the national government.

This conference was open to the general public and was sponsored by the WSU student chapter of the the Workers World Party front Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice.[8]

Supported WWP campaign

JoAnn Watson, WWP leader Abayomi Azikiwe in background

In 2008 JoAnn Watson lent her support to a Detroit Workers World Party anti wall Street bail-out campaign.

Detroit City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson addressed a rally opposing the taxpayer bailout of Wall Street on Sept. 25, 2008.

Michigan Coalition for Human Rights

In 2007/08 2007-08 Hon. JoAnn Nichols Watson, Detroit City Council, served on the Advisory Board of the WWP led Michigan Coalition for Human Rights.[9]

Speaking at the People's Summit

From June 14-17 2009, the Moratorium NOW!-initiated People's Summit was held at Grand Circus Park, Detroit, MI. A "tent city" was built at the location, and protesters camped there for four days of "Active Resistance, Political Discussion and Strategizing for a “People's Stimulus Plans” and an “Economic Bill of Rights” for Working People and the Poor." Moratorium NOW! is a Workers World Party-front organization. Speaking at the summit were Jesse Jackson; JoAnn Watson; Abayomi Azikiwe, Workers World Party; Mike Martinez, FIST, Workers World Party; Baldemar Velasquez, FLOC; Ignacio Meneses, U.S./Cuba Labor Exchange; and Rosendo Delgado, Latinos Unidos.[10]

Endorsed SB 1306

As at Feb. 10, 2011, JoAnn Watson had endorsed State Senator Hansen Clarke's Senate Bill 1306, "which would stop all mortgage foreclosures and evictions for two years." The bill is being supported by the Workers World Party-front, Moratorium NOW!.[11]

Committee to Defend Diane Bukowski and Freedom of the Press

In 2009 JoAnn Watson was listed as a supporter of the Committee to Defend Diane Bukowski and Freedom of the Press[12]

Freelance journalist Diane Bukowski, whose byline appears frequently in far left The Michigan Citizen newspaper, was convicted May 1 2009, on two felony charges stemming from her involvement as a reporter on the scene of a deadly police chase in Detroit on Nov. 4.

Bukowski was arrested as she attempted to photograph the grisly scene and after a state trooper yelled to her, “Who the f**k do you think you are?” Police confiscated her camera, deleted her photos and claimed Bukowski had crossed yellow crime-scene tape, which she denied.

Bukowski was originally charged with one misdemeanor count of obstructing an investigation. But Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy charged Bukowski with five felony counts that totaled a possible sentence of 20 years in prison. The prosecutor’s office later dropped three of the charges.

Bukowski and The Michigan Citizen, a Detroit-based weekly "addressed to African Americans and the progressive community", had a history of successfully fighting for access to public documents from the prosecutor’s office in police brutality and murder cases. Bukowski had written dozens of stories "chronicling police brutality, prosecutorial misconduct and police murders in Detroit. She is well-known in the community as a strong anti-racist fighter and reporter on issues involving foreclosures, utility shutoffs and union struggles".

The "railroading" of Bukowski on "trumped-up charges aroused strong community support from unionists, political leaders and community organizers who formed the Committee to Defend Diane Bukowski and Freedom of the Press. Bukowski and her supporters say this is a clear-cut case of retribution by the cops and prosecutor for her role in exposing the many injustices of the criminal justice system."

A meeting to organize further support for Bukowski and her appeal took place May 7 2009 at the offices of The Michigan Citizen. [13]

Every anti-racist and progressive activist in Michigan has a stake in the final outcome of this case.

MLK Day event

A Martin Luther King Day march was held in Detroit January 2014, concluding with a rally at Central United Methodist Church. The event, chiefly organized by the Workers World Party, was a semi-official Democratic event. The main speakers were former Detroit City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson and long-time US Congressman John Conyers. It had the official backing of the Metropolitan Detroit AFL-CIO and the United Auto Workers union (UAW).

Abayomi Azikiwe, a leading Workers World member, chaired the event, welcoming Councilwoman Watson and Congressman Conyers to the platform.[14]

Maurice & Jane Sugar Law Center

In 2007, JoAnn Watson was a member of the Honorary Host Committee for the Essential: Advocacy for Workplace Justice Reception & Silent Auction. The reception, which was held on Nov. 14, 2007 is the annual fundraising event to benefit the far left National Lawyers Guild-affiliated Maurice & Jane Sugar Law Center for Economic & Social Justice. The guest of honor at the reception was Andy Levin, son of Congressman Sander Levin, and Deputy Director at the Michigan Department of Labor & Economic Growth.[15]

In 2009, JoAnn Watson was a member of the Host Committee for the Essential: Advocacy for Community Justice Reception & Silent Auction which was held at the Atlas Global Bistro, Detroit. The reception, which was held on Nov. 18, 2009 is the annual fundraising event to benefit the far left National Lawyers Guild-affiliated Maurice & Jane Sugar Law Center for Economic & Social Justice. Remarks were made by Steve Tobocman and the Maurice Sugar Voice for Justice Award was presented to Marilyn Mullane, Executive Director, Michigan Legal Services.[16]

Van Jones award host committee

Screenshot of Essential: Advocacy for Community Justice reception (click image to enlarge)

On November 18, 2010, the far left Maurice & Jane Sugar Law Center for Economic & Social Justice presented "The Maurice Sugar Voice for Justice Award" to Van Jones "Human Rights Activists and Green-Jobs Advocate", at the United Way for Southeastern Michigan, 660 Woodward Ave, Suite 300.

Members of the Honorary Host Committee were;[17]

"Meltdown and Recovery in Detroit: The Economic Collapse and a People's Plan for Recovery"

On May 23, 2009, together with The Nation magazine and other organizations, the Institute for Policy Studies helped convene a panel discussion on the effects of the economic crisis in Detroit. "Meltdown and Recovery in Detroit: The Economic Collapse and a People's Plan for Recovery" was an historic gathering of local Detroit activists and national progressive leaders, all offering their perspectives on what caused the economic crisis, how it was affecting Detroit, and what changes need to be made to recover from it.

Moderated by John Nichols and with Congressman John Conyers as keynote speaker, the panel featured Barbara Ehrenreich, Robert Pollin, Grace Lee Boggs, JoAnn Watson, Elena Herrada, and Dianne Feeley.[18]

Detroit M.L.K. Day - 2011

Poster for the event

On Jan. 17, 2011, the Central United Methodist Church hosted a Rally & March for Jobs, Peace & Justice - honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. & the spirit of Detroit. JoAnn Watson delivered a tribute to Rev. Lucius Walker and Willie Ricks, field secretary for SNCC, member of the Black Panther Party and All African People's Revolutionary Party delivered the keynote speech.[19]

Honored CCDS member

In 2011, the Detroit City Council designated its main chamber - the Committee of the Whole Room - as a Peace Zone in memory of Al Fishman, lifelong peace activist who was a member of Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, and participated on the Peace and Solidarity Task Force. The resolution, introduced by Council Member JoAnn Watson, states that Al Fishman was "one of our City’s finest Peace, Civil, Labor and Human Rights activists, advocates and champions, one of our true Citizens of the World." [20]

Detroit Angela Davis gathering

A standing room only crowd of nearly 2,000 people welcomed Angela Davis, October 24, 2012, to Detroit to celebrate the 40th anniversary of her acquittal on charges of murder, kidnapping and conspiracy. The event, held at Fellowship Chapel on the city's northwest side, was a "powerful demonstration of the respect and affection Detroiters have for Professor Davis and her history of struggle for economic, racial and gender justice."

The program included Fellowship Pastor Wendell Anthony, Congressman John Conyers, Detroit City Councilperson JoAnn Watson, Metro Detroit AFL-CIO President Chris Michalakis, Retired Wayne County Circuit Court Judge and civil rights activist Claudia Morcom, Metro AFL-CIO Civil Rights Committee Chair Michele Artt and UAW Vice-President Cindy Estrada.

In his opening remarks, Rev. Anthony described the outpouring as "an expression of Detroiters' love for activism and historical correctness." Councilperson Watson called Prof. Davis "the queen mother of the movement" and brought a testimonial resolution from the Detroit City Council honoring her.[21]

Detroit bankruptcy fightback

In the wake of the municipal bankruptcy filed by Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, on Sept. 7 2014, about 500 people attended a rally sponsored by U.S. Rep. John Conyers, Jr. and chaired by Democratic Socialists of America member Professor Michael Eric Dyson, with panelists including the Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit NAACP; City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson; Al Garrett, president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 25; and columnist Julianne Malveaux. The speakers stressed the need for mass mobilization in the streets to challenge the racist Wall Street attack on Detroit, a majority African-American city.[22]

National African American Reparations Commission

Julianne Malveaux December 1, 2017:


Members of the National African American Reparations Commission with my San Francisco homeboy Danny Glover as he prepares to leave our New Orleans meeting for another engagement. Also pictured, attorney and activist Nkechi Taifa, activist and former Detroit City councilor and my dear sister JoAnn Watson. With the leadership of Dr. Ron Daniels, we are having a most productive discussion.



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 JoAnn Watson, Detroit City Council bio (accessed on June 1, 2010)
  2. Detroit Public Library, Detroit City Council 1919 to present
  3. Pan-African News Wire: Free Eye Surgery, Heating-oil for Detroit Venezuela Ambassador Announces, by Kenneth Snodgrass, circa June 2006 (accessed on Feb. 11, 2011)
  4. Michigan Citizen: Venezuela offers help to Detroit, by Bankole Thompson, circa June 2006 (accessed on Feb. 11, 2011)
  5. Pan-African News Wire: Venezuelan ambassador discusses ‘offensive against poverty’, by Cheryl LaBash, June 30, 2006 (accessed on Feb. 11, 2011)
  6. PW, Saluting the peoples struggle and the PWW by: Dan Margolis December 21 2007]
  8. Pan-African News Wire, October 30, 2005 Event: National Conference to Reclaim Our Cities (NCRC) Friday, November 11 thru Sunday, November 13
  9. MCHR website, accessed Feb. 1, 2011
  10. KeyWiki: People's Summit (accessed on Feb. 11, 2011)
  11. Moratorium NOW!: Endorsers of Senate Bill 1306 (accessed on Feb. 9, 2011)
  12. Defend Diane Bukowski and freedom of the press: Supporters (accessed on Dec. 22, 2009)
  13. Workers World Progressive reporter convicted of felonies, By Kris Hamel Detroit Published May 10, 2009
  14. Socialist Website, Workers World Party uses demagogy to conceal unions’ collusion in Detroit bankruptcy By Thomas Gaist and Jerry White 23 January 2014
  15. Sugar Law website: Essential: Advocacy for Workplace Justice 2007 Event flyer (accessed on Feb. 11, 2011)
  16. Sugar Law Center website: 2009 Essential: Advocacy for Community Justice Reception & Silent Auction (accessed on Feb. 11, 2011)
  17. Sugar Law Center for Economic k Social Justice website, accessed Jan 25, 2011
  18. Youtube, Meltdown and Recovery in Detroit Institute for Policy Studies , Uploaded on Jul 31, 2009
  19. Pan-African News Wire File on Flickr: Poster publicizing the upcoming January 17, 2011 annual Detroit Martin Luther King, Jr. Day March & Rally, Dec. 2, 2010 (accessed on Feb. 10, 2011)
  20. [, IN MEMORIAM Eric Quezada, William (Bill) Friedman, & Al Fishman, Presente, CCDS Mobilizer, Vol. 3 No. 3, Fall 2011]
  21. Peoples World, Angela Davis speaks to 2,000 at Michigan rally, by: Mark Walton, October 25 2012
  22. Detroit’s workers mobilize to defend pensions By Kris Hamel on September 11, 2013