Detroit Neighborhoods Day

glb_headshotLIVING FOR CHANGE
Detroit Neighborhoods Day
By Grace Lee Boggs
Michigan Citizen, Aug 8, 2010

This Saturday, August 7, is Detroit Neighborhoods Day. Neighborhoods Day was started in Detroit by Luther Keith and Arise Detroit in 2007

  • to give community residents an opportunity to showcase their pride in their neighborhood;
  • to “forge relationships that can help improve the quality of life for city residents going forward.”

Visiting the Arise Detroit website www.arisedetroit.org my impression is that, up to now, Neighborhoods Day has been mainly an Events Day, a day of parades, visits to libraries and museums, appearances by celebrities and non-profit sponsors etc.

It is not yet “forging the relationships that can help improve the quality of life for city residents going forward.”

One way to forge these relationships might be for Neighborhoods Day participants to re-imagine and reconstitute themselves as members of ongoing Neighborhood Responsibility Councils or 21st century Block Clubs.

These Neighborhood Responsibility Councils or block clubs could organize ongoing activities to bring the neighbor back into the ‘hood. For example:

  • Plant community gardens,
  • Board up vacant houses and seek new owners or renters to rebuild the neighborhood.
  • Provide school supplies for neighborhood children.
  • Work with neighborhood schools to identify activities that schoolchildren can do to beautify and make the neighborhood safer and healthier,
  • Organize community health festivals and farmers markets.
  • Encourage young people to teach computer skills to elders in exchange for cooking, knitting, sewing instructions;
  • Organize Skills Exchanges or Time Banks so community residents can exchange skills and talents and neighborhood potlucks to share food and stories.

The possibilities are endless. Overnight our neighborhoods can become safer and healthier because we are reconnecting the generations and hope is replacing fear.

Some of these activities are already being carried on in Detroit neighborhoods.

They are based on practicing the principles of Transformative Organizing rather than Social Service/Protest organizing, two very different ways of organizing.

During the post-World War II years, Saul Alinsky (1909-1972) practiced and taught Social Service/Protest organizing, codifying his ideas in Rules for Radicals. According to Alinsky, the role of the community organizer (usually someone from outside the community like the young Barack Obama in Chicago) is to rub raw the sores of discontent of the have-nots or masses. This agitation arouses the masses out of their apathy to participate in protest demonstrations, which put pressure on those in power to grant reforms.

By contrast, Transformative Organizing is based on the concept that to change the world, we ourselves must become the change we seek in the world. This view of organizing was first projected years ago by Gandhi.

The 1955-56 Montgomery bus boycott launched the civil rights movement because it was based on Gandhi’s principles of Transformative Organizing. Before the eyes of the world a people who had been treated as less than human struggled against racism not as angry victims or rebels but as new men and women, forerunners of a new, more human society.

Every day it is becoming clearer that we cannot expect solutions to the escalating crises in our daily lives to come from Congress or the White House.

The time has come for us to create these solutions for ourselves by forming Neighborhood Responsibility Councils and 21st century block clubs. To live like human beings from day to day, we need to become active citizens in our own neighborhoods.

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