Thinking for ourselves
By Shea Howell
March 6, 2012
I looked forward to hearing Angela Davis and Grace Lee Boggs discuss philosophy and revolution last week at the Empowering Women of Color Conference hosted by the University of California-Berkeley. It was because of Angela Davis that I came to Detroit and because of Grace and James Boggs that I stayed.
In the early 1970’s I came to Detroit with the National Alliance Against Racism and Political Oppression for a convention. Angela Davis gave the welcome speech. Before she spoke, Congressmen John Conyers and Charles Diggs, Mayor Coleman Young and the entire Detroit City Council presented her with the keys to the city, honoring her courage, commitment, and sacrifice for the Black Freedom Movement. John Conyers, especially, had played an important role in bringing national attention to the horrible prison conditions she endured while being held for trial on charges of murder relating to the Soledad Brothers.
I thought then that any city that was willing to so boldly honor a woman who had been on the FBI most wanted list for years, who had challenged the racism and militarism of this country so forcefully, must be special place. In honoring Angela Davis, Detroit, newly emerging as a city forged by Black political leadership, began to redefine itself by claiming a tradition of justice, political struggle and values that were very different than those of much of America.
Now, more than 35 years later, Dr. Davis began the conversation with Grace Lee Boggs saying she wanted to talk some about that tradition noting, “the Black Radical tradition is recognized all over the world. There are two struggles that have international stature, the anti apartheid movement and the black freedom movement. No one on the planet has not heard the name Nelson Mandela and very few who do not know Martin Luther King.” She concluded, “The Black struggle for freedom here in the Americas has had profound implications for people struggling for freedom everywhere.”
Dr. Davis paused to acknowledge the “absolutely formative role” that Grace and James Boggs played in the evolution of that tradition and then went on to talk about revolution.
She said, “Revolutionary approaches require us to open up and make our ideas and our movement more capacious so that what is revolutionary is not narrow and exclusive but broad and inclusive and the linkages and connections that we must make as we move toward revolutionary struggle are of the sort that are evoked by women of color feminism.”
Grace Lee Boggs began her part of the conversation talking about the importance of philosophy and challenging how we think. Born before the Russian Revolution and participating in virtually every movement for change since the 1930’s, Dr. Boggs she has “learned that how we change the world, and how we think about changing the world, has to change.” She quoted Einstein saying, “’Splitting the atom changed everything but the human mind, and thus we drift toward catastrophe.’ And he also said ‘imagination is more important than education.’ The time has come to reimagine everything.”
Boggs encouraged the audience to engage in “visionary organizing” that went beyond protest to creating alternative ways of working, living, teaching, learning, caring for one another and for the earth.
Dr Boggs invited everyone to come to Detroit where new ways of living are emerging in the midst of the city, long abandoned by capital. Here, in Detroit, she said, people have responded to the crisis we face as not just as a danger, but also as an opportunity. An opportunity to “grow our souls” and to “create the world anew.”
The next day, on March 3 2012, the Mayor of San Francisco and the Board of Supervisors declared Grace Lee Boggs Day, honoring her work for justice, reminding all of us that cities are essential in redefining what America will be.