Women Creating Caring Communities By Shea Howell

  • Thinking for ourselves

    Women Creating Caring Communities

    By Shea Howell

    April 18, 2012

    Nearly 200 women gathered on April 14th in Detroit to celebrate Women Creating Caring Communities. This was the second gathering bringing together women from unions, block clubs, churches, schools, and community organizations to engage in collective thinking about how to strengthen our communities. Women from Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids and Traverse City joined the mostly Detroit area gathering for discussions and workshops on schools, creating communities of compassion and safety, and stopping foreclosures.

    UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada and Detroit philosopher-activist, Grace Lee Boggs set the tone for the day. Cindy Estrada talked about the dangers and the opportunities that we face. She said that over the last year, as she has been travelling around the country, she has become convinced that there are two very different visions emerging for our future. On the one hand, there are those who are fueling fear and anger, trying to divide people to protect their own power and privilege. On the other hand, there are those, like the women and men gathered at the conference, who are trying to create a future based on the vision of the beloved communities that have been such a part of the best in our country.

    Estrada talked about growing up in Southwest Detroit where she experienced the capacity of people to turn to one another for support and love in tough times. She urged the gathering to see that “tough times are also transformational times” and that “we are creating the future for ourselves and our children” by the choices we make.

    Vice President Estrada was followed by author-activist Grace Lee Boggs who talked about how much living in Detroit has helped her to think differently about “what time it is on the clock of the world.” Boggs said that we have reached a time when we can talk about “how do we make a life, not just a living.” Women, she said, have an important contribution to make in “reimagining work as the work of caring and creating our communities anew.” Reflecting on her 7 decades of activism, Boggs shared her conviction that “what we do matters” and that “what is important is to know what kind of world we want to create.”

    The featured speaker, Rana Elmir, of the American Civil Liberties Union emphasized the theme of the gathering, From Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street. Ms. Elmir spoke of her own journey as an activist. She said it began in 8th grade. As a daughter of Lebanese immigrants, she had always been a model student, quiet and hard working. But one day, having finished her math test before everyone else she took out a pad to doodle. Her teacher came over and told her to put away the pad and take out her books. But Ms. Elmir explained she had left her books at home. The teacher replied, “I don’t know what they do in your country, but here in America we bring our books to class.” Suddenly, Ms. Elmir found herself yelling at the teacher, pointing out that this was her country. She also surprised herself with the number of names she was able to shout as she left the room.

    Later, her mother supported her in standing up, but admonished her for dehumanizing the teacher. Her mother insisted that she needed to find ways to defend her own humanity without diminishing the humanity of others. It was that lesson that Ms. Elmir took to a life of activism, including her efforts to protect the emerging democratic movement in Tunisia. Tunisia and the Arab Spring, she said should “inspire all of us to be fearless, to know that no one is without hope, no one is without power.” It was a message welcomed by women in Michigan today.

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