Boggs Center – Living for Change Newsletter – July 8th, 2019

July 8th, 2019

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Thinking for Ourselves

Independence Day
Shea Howell

This Fourth of July Donald Trump staged a militaristic, made for media moment to celebrate Independence Day in the USA. As planes flew over his head, often drowning out the sound system designed to reach his select crowd, about 150 Detroiters gathered on the East side to talk about freedom, peace, art and liberation. The gathering at Feedem Freedom Growers offered a workshop on creating peace zones for life, celebrated the new Fox Creek Artist collective, and provided food from local vendors. Children made art projects and played on tire swings fashioned on the low branches of ancient maple trees.

Detroit Police came by three times. At one point, an officer got on a loudspeaker to yell at people crossing the street. Of course, people were moving freely back and forth between gardens, water stations, art exhibits, and play areas. The street was closed to all but local traffic.

This police intrusion, unasked for and unwanted, reflected the prison mentality taking over our country. It was in line with the words and actions of Trump. Its most brutal expressions are encouraged by him daily.

This police presence is a reminder to all of us that we are at a critical moment in the evolution of capitalist economies. In 1980, with the ascent of Ronald Reagan to power, capital began to shift as primary sources of profit. Prior to Reagan, as industrial capital replaced people with robots and technologies of production, human beings became more important as consumers than as producers. But with Reagan, the use of tax dollars to support consumption by those thrown out of work eroded. Hard won victories by welfare rights organizations and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Poor People’s Campaign, which had protected many of our most vulnerable people from the reality of no longer being needed to produce goods or provide services, were overturned.

Reagan attacked “welfare” as supporting laziness and corruption. He introduced a racialized pretext for ending the public consensus that we had a responsibility to one another to ensure that all people had some level of dignity and the ability to secure food, clothing, education, and shelter. Until Reagan, capital supported public assistance to those made obsolete to production. Capital endorsed using taxpayer dollars to stimulate consumption. Consumption was seen as necessary to keep profits going.

But with Reagan and the development of what has come to be called “neoliberalism,” capital found new sources of profit. It is making money from controlling our bodies. In much the same way as early capital in the US sold human beings into slavery for profit, capital is again turning our bodies into money. Putting elders into hospitals and nursing homes, cramming children into for profit charter schools, stealing dreams of education from people seeking advanced education through for-profit colleges, and forcing people into prison cells and detention centers are now all big business.

In this new evolution of capital, controlling people becomes essential. For capital not only makes money off warehousing us in hospitals, nursing homes, schools and prisons, it makes money off of publicly financing and building these institutions. Municipal debt impoverishes cities while advancing the wealth of a few individuals.

This dynamic is most insidious in the evolution of technologies of control. This week the New York Times published an important article on ankle bracelet monitoring, emphasizing that people who have not been convicted of crimes are often placed by courts into “home monitoring” systems that end up costing them hundreds of dollars. Snared in an ever-expanding criminal net, people are forced to pay daily fees for monitoring, for installation costs, late fees, and outrageous interest rates.

These mechanisms are supported by the Trump policies encouraging the arrest of more people. The “fear of crime” whether by people living in urban areas or immigrants coming across borders is being twisted into a vast financial network.

Since the days of the first poor people’s campaign, the number of people in prison has jumped more than 500%. Increasingly those people in this system are being steered into technological monitoring programs.

This Fourth of July, we gathered to talk of a different kind of future, one without prisons or borders. Gathering to dream together of peace, of a future that embraces children, values art, and encourages joy threatens the foundation of those whose attempt to profit from controlling us.
On the Betsy DeVos Agenda and Raising Our Collective Critical Consciousness for Social Change

Summer Reading Recommendations

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Boggs Center – Living For Change News – June 25th, 2019

June 25th, 2019

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Thinking for Ourselves

Asking Questions
Shea Howell

The future of our city is driven by countless small decisions. Of course, political choices, like giving 200 acres of land to Fiat-Chrysler, or flattening a community for a Cadillac plant, have enormous consequences. But often, the things that touch our daily lives are far less dramatic.

Most of these small decisions happen without much public attention. Small conversations, routine committee meetings, and group planning sessions can be the spark for big changes. Such a moment occurred last week in the Public Health and Safety committee discussion convened to explore the transfer of responsibilities from the Land Bank back to the city of Detroit. This transfer is critical in the upcoming effort by the Duggan administration to pass $200 million bond to accelerate “blight” removal and the tearing down of vacant homes.

What started out as a routine administrative effort to show a power point and move on was quickly turned into a thoughtful discussion by the only two council members present, Janee Ayers, who chairs the committee, and Roy McCalister, who happens to be my representative.

The head of the Detroit Building Authority laid out his case for helping the committee understand the need to shift housing demolition away from the Detroit Land Bank and into the Housing and Revitalization Department (HRD). This shift was motivated by the running out of federal dollars to underwrite demolitions and to lay the ground work for greater “flexibility” in acquiring “targets” to knock down.

It is no secret that housing demolition is a contentious issue.  Since Duggan took office, 18,000 homes have been destroyed. Duggan frequently brags about this. In his speech to the elite of Mackinac Conference he said “We’re going to take down 4,000 houses a year, and in five years by the end of 2024, we will not have a single abandoned house in any neighborhood in the city of Detroit.”

However, many of the homes, now abandoned and suffering from want of care, were created by illegal taxing and foreclosure policies. The persistent over evaluation of poorer neighborhoods and under evaluation of wealthy neighborhoods has been a powerful tool in clearing people out of their homes. The use of foreclosure to drive people out has been especially contentious because Duggan decided to use federal money intended to be used to keep people in their homes to demolish them instead. Since 2008 one in four Detroit homes have been foreclosed. We have shifted from being a majority African American home owning city, to a majority of renters. Often these rents go to faceless companies in distant lands.

In the small committee meeting, Ayers and McCalister asked critical questions based on fundamental ideas about developing people and place. They probed: Who decides what gets demolished? Who decides how and when neighbors are engaged in decision making about what happens in their neighborhoods? Who is responsible for land that is opened up? What is the thinking about using demolition as a way to increase the skills of Detroiters? What is the thinking about how to encourage community driven planning? What about ensuring that we keep people in homes, rather than encouraging abandonment or take overs?

It is clear in the conversation that HRD looks at land as a commodaty to be bundled, “packaged,” and sold. It does not think about it as the place of neighborhood life, where people care for one another and what is around them. It is asking only transactional questions.

Ayers and McCalister introduced transformational questions that open the way for a new dialogue about the kind of city we want, who is responsible for it, and how we enact policies that encourage collaboration and protection for those who are vulnerable.

As the Mayor touts knocking down houses to fight crime, we should all remember that our safety rests in the hands of neighbors who look out for one another, not in” knocking down” “targets” to “package.”

 

The Story of Water
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The People vs Us Ecology

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Join us Saturday June 29th 10:00 am at Eastern Market to demonstrate and educate! The Coalition to Oppose the Expansion of US Ecology will be joined by Detroit and Hamtramck neighbors to advocate for the protection of our water supply and for a healthy environment. Our goal is to keep our neighborhoods safe from the massive increase of poisonous chemical waste being brought into our cities. We think it’s wrong for companies to wreak environmental havoc on POC and low income communities. We’re here to demand that US Ecology + the MDEQ (EGLE) take our concerns seriously and to share information on how you can join in the fight. Bring your signs, noise makers, friends and neighbors!! DETAILS.
LOVE

At the intersection of Grand River Ave. and 15th Street in Detroit’s Core City neighborhood, there is a four-story brick building covered in murals. The most prominent one, spanning the top half of the front facade, is of four hands shaping the letters L-O-V-E. For nearly 20 years, this building was a home for artists and small businesses. Through low-cost studio space, gallery space, and community, it nurtured a kind of creative love, the impact of which is visible along Grand River, and will be felt for many more decades. KEEP READING

 

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Boggs Center – LIVING FOR CHANGE NEWS – JUNE 10TH 2019

June, 10th, 2019

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“Men don’t need to show our manhood, we need to show our humanity” — James Boggs, 1990

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Join the Week-long Celebration

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Thinking for Ourselves

Commencement Days
Shea Howell

This is High School graduation season in Detroit. Across the city new graduates are walking around with caps and gowns. People driving by in cars honk in acknowledgement. In neighborhoods, lawn signs are sprouting up congratulating the students and naming the schools they attended. Front porches display balloons and decorations announcing a high school grad lives here. These celebrations mark the mixture of pride and hope in the achievements of young people. They reflect the enduring faith in our community that education matters.

The joy of graduation was on my mind last Monday at the Detroit Independent Freedom Schools meeting. We had a conversation about working with young people conducted by soon-to-graduate student activists from Detroit Area Youth Uniting Michigan (DAYUM).

One of the questions the students explored was about their worst experiences working with adults. A young woman who had been in the leadership of the school walk outs over the inadequate response to the contaminated water crisis in the schools, shared stories of harassment and intimidation by her school officials. She talked about being called into the principal’s office, made to wait for three hours while an armed guard paced around the room. This happened repeatedly, and she began to see her grades suffer from being forced to miss classes.

Also on my mind was the courageous speech by Tuhfa Kasem, who took the opportunity of her commencement speech to demand a quality education from her institution that she says puts profits above the needs of students and staff. The response by the Universal Academy in South West Detroit was to cut off her microphone.

She gave the speech anyway and a former teacher at the school made the entire event available online.

These instances reflect something we all know about our current system of schooling. It is not helping young people become critical, independent, and creative thinkers. It is intended to silence and control criticism. It advances some individuals at the expense of the larger community. Over and over again young people hear the message that the purpose of education is to get good grades, so they can get a good job. Usually, that job is assumed to be outside of Detroit. A diploma is billed as a ticket out of town.

To achieve that diploma, young people often endure over-crowded classrooms, dilapidated buildings, lack of basic sanitation, and lack of basic resources. They are subjected to forms of control similar to those found in prisons, and given little encouragement or faith in their ability to be creative, caring human beings.

Many of the schools charged with the responsibility of educating our children are nothing more than profit centers for distant corporations. Many make their money as landlords not educators.

The young people of DAYUM represent a very different view. They are concerned about how we develop together to create strong, healthy, compassionate and productive community life.

They are asking us to rethink the distinction between schooling and education and to commit ourselves to finding new ways to develop people as we develop our communities toward a more just and sustainable ways of living.  These young people have already commenced on that journey.

The Renewable Energy Subcommittee invites you to a special evening session. Add your voice to the growing solar movement in Detroit.

6/13 @ 5 pm

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Boggs Center – Living For Change News Letter – June 4th 2019

June, 4th, 2019

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“My vision of a new society in the United States comes out of my life in the United States and my reflections on my experiences and on the history of humanity as I, in my small way, have been able to grasp that history… I have many turning points in my life. I have won some battles, and I have lost a great many. But I would never say that I have won any great victories or lost any war. Because it is out of these struggles, my historical experiences and my reflections on the past and the present that I have arrived at my vision of a new society in America. My life and my struggles have always been full of passion and hope because I believe that wherever human beings are, there resides in them a desire to strive to become more human.” — James Boggs, 1979

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 Thinking for Ourselves

Assaults from Mackinac
Shea Howell

For 39 years, Michigan’s business and political elite have gathered on Mackinac Island to discuss plans and policies for our state. Hosted by the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, this gathering produces some of the most vicious and damaging ideas effecting people. For example, as the Detroit bankruptcy was unfolding, the Mackinac gathering was credited with framing the “Grand Bargain,” pitting pensioners against the DIA and stiffling any creative thinking about how to address financial issues in the city.

This year is no different. The gathering is troubling both for what it addresses and for what it evades.

Education got a lot of attention on the agenda, but there was little sense of urgency. The sessions on education offered no new thinking about our common responsibilities, the kind of education our children need and deserve, or the destruction of local control via emergency management laws. There was no reflection on how the decades of meddling by state level entities have done nothing but destroy public schools and create an abusive environment for children and teachers. To pretend that this gathering has either the intention of the capacity to advance the education of our children is foolish and dangerous.

It is under the leadership of the Regional Chamber, the assembled foundations, and the Mackinac Policy Center that we have endured the drive to “improve” schools through a false “accountability” based on punishing and controlling teachers. They have encouraged the opening of “schools of choice,” and pushed for profit-making charter schools.

Michigan was among the top centers for public education in the early 1990’s and was developing impressive new ideas about urban education. Creating programs that supported children and their families, working on curriculum that emerged from addressing real issues in the community, and fostering African-centered educational philosophies and practices, Michigan’s urban centers offered serious perspectives on moving education away from the factory models of the earlier century.

But as these new ideas of education started to reflect concerns for social justice and cultural integrity, right wing forces reacted. Under the influence of ideologues like Betsy DeVos and the legislators she helped elect, Michigan has fallen to near the bottom in comparison to other states.

Our children, teachers and schools have been under assault. Most of it led by the people highlighted in this Island gathering. The very people who created the problems we face are not likely to have any answers for the future.

Meanwhile, the legislature is refusing to eliminate its most recent weapon, the third grade reading law. This law mandates the retention of children who are falling behind in reading.  Almost anyone who cares about education knows this is a disaster. We are likely to see a six-fold increase in the number of children who will be forced to repeat the third grade. The Governor is quickly backing off of her effort to repeal the law and has come out against a “right to literacy.”

In sharp contrast to the gathering on Mackinac, people around the state are looking for new ways to develop our children rooted in love and compassion. For example, as elites gathered on the Mackinac Hotel porch, the Detroit Independent Freedom Schools begin their summer gardening program with the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. Here is where progressive thinking and commitment to children can be found.

 

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A message from Russ Bellant (russbellant@gmail.com)

Despite clear campaign positions supporting school districts in African American, Latino and low-income districts, Gretchen Whitmer followed her last three predecessors practices by ordering the Benton Harbor school board to close their only high school and send those students to nine surrounding white districts and charter schools. Those districts want those students to boost the state funding to their schools, which guts the Benton Harbor district. Her staff also let it be known that if they do not do what she demanded, she will close down the entire school district ! To add insult to injury, no Benton Harbor school board member was consulted before this edict.

 

Despite pledges last year from the State that the Benton Harbor school board would return to control of their school district July 1, the Whitmer administration from its outset was privately threatening the school district if they did not retain the school district superintendent previously put in place by Lansing. Many thought that matter was resolved but instead Whitmer is now escalating.

 

By way of background to Lansing education dictation, only African-American districts have had “emergency” managers and only African American school districts have been completely dissolved, with others near dissolution.

 

Whitmer’s actual constitutional authority to do this does not exist. The Michigan Constitution gives no power whatsoever over K-12 education to the Governor (see Article V). All power over K-12 is vested in the the State Board of Education (Article VIII), which says that “Leadership and general supervision of all public education…is vested in a state board of education. It shall serve as the general planning and coordination body for all public education, including higher education, and shall advise the legislature as to the financial requirements therewith.” Already some Board members are in opposition to Whitmer’s move and more may speak out..

 

Yet governors and legislators corrupt the Constitution in order to run over Black students, their families and communities. This abuse today is a warning that Detroit schools are not immune. During her campaign, Whitmer said that Detroit schools need a “Detroit solution,” which was not elaborated upon.

 

There is a response forming to stand up to these racist practices, this corruption of power and related looting of community resources, to threats of future abuse and injustice. This Tuesday people from across the state are going to Benton Harbor’s school board meeting to uphold the right of their school district to exist and control their schools. From my point of view it is a message to the Governor to not go down the path of her predecessors or play to the racist corruption of Berrien County, the De Vos empire and their delegation in the Legislature.

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Boggs Center – Living For Change Newsletter – May 29th 2019

May, 29th, 2019

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Thinking for Ourselves

Mayors Matter
Shea Howell

Mayors can make a difference. Chicago’s new Mayor Lori Lightfoot took office this week, becoming the first African American, openly queer woman to head the city. A few days before she took the oath, she announcedshe would stop water shut offs. In unequivocal terms she said, “Water is a basic, basic human right. If you’re turning off water, you are effectively evicting people. And we know that that disproportionately affects low income people of color who are going to be shut off from water services.”

Mayor Lightfoot called water shut offs “heartless,” and said, “When you cut somebody off from water, you’re effectively evicting them and putting them on the street. We will not do that in the city.”

As with Detroit, Chicago has experienced rapidly accelerating water bills. They have tripled in the last decade. In the past 12 years 150,000 households have received shut off notices. Illegal reconnections have actually outpaced the legal ones.

The decision by the Mayor to move Chicago systematically toward a water affordability plan was based on a thoughtful report prepared by her transition team. It is a document worth reading. I especially recommend it to our own Mayor and City Council.

The report also provides a basis for the Mayor Lightfoot to “(resume) leadership in Great Lakes issues” such as climate resilience, restorative infrastructure and aquatic invasive species. “Chicago City government has an absolute responsibility to protect Chicagoans from environmental harms,” Lightfoot said. “This starts with bringing back the Department of Environment to combat climate change and ensure that residents have clean air to breathe and safe water to drink no matter their race, economic status, or zip code.”

These actions are important because they bring into the public sphere values that are badly needed as we develop policies in the face of increasing challenges around access and safety of water.

The values behind the choices the new Mayor is making are essential as we prepare for long term struggles around the role of cities and democracy in our country.  Increasingly we are coming to understand that right wing, corporate forces are aggressively limiting direct democracy in cities. Pursuing state level preemptive actions, right wing, corporate financed legislatures are blocking direct democratic actions by local governments.

The rate of preemption bills introduce by state legislatures has spiked dramatically with the rise of conservative power. For example, “six out of 10 Americans now live in a state where a city can’t pass a minimum wage that’s higher than the state minimum wage,” according to Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, an assistant professor of political affairs at Columbia University and the author of the new book, State Capture: How Conservative Activists, Big Businesses, and Wealthy Donors Reshaped the American States—and the Nation.

We in Michigan have seen plenty of this doctrine in action, from the effort to  limit residency requirements, to forced cooperation with ICE, and emergency management, the State has deemed cities, especially Detroit, as nothing more than administrative units.

Yet the growing power of progressive cities will not be stopped. For centuries, cities have been the natural site of politics.  Part of the deep, structural changes we are finding our way to creating, begins with a new understanding of the power of cities, the purposes and responsibilities of local governments. The new Mayor of Chicago is helping make clear what kind of values are at stake for our futures.

 

 


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(A Father’s Day letter from our friend, Rachel Elizabeth Harding)
Dear Folks,

Today I am honoring my daddy, Vincent Harding, who passed into glory on this day, five years ago – May 19, 2014.

When I think about my daddy and my mama, Rosemarie Freeney Harding, at this juncture of my life, what comes most strongly to my mind is the way they embodied together a tremendous warmth, dedication and depth of spirit in the midst of struggle. They wrapped faith and resistance very beautifully in imagination and a wide, inclusive understanding of family. And they gave me room to find my own way in the world with their support. I am grateful every day to Creator and Creation for my parents. My mama and daddy’s work is, in many ways, the model I take for my own life.
Daddy was a historian in love with the best possibilities and most humane potentials of this nation. He believed that any TRUE democracy the country could claim was created by the great river of struggle of Black people and many allies who were able to envision the United States of America beyond the limited and stultifying sights of the “founding fathers.”

Daddy was a teacher with a marvelous gift of encouragement. He credits my mom with recognizing, sustaining and modeling that gift for him/in him. Over the course of his life, Daddy developed the capacity to listen carefully and intently and to offer guidance, sometimes in just a few words, that sent students in the direction of deep introspection and in search of ancestors (blood and chosen) who could be models for them in “freedom work.” And he LOVED young people and liked to be in the midst of their questioning, probing, challenging, risk-taking energy.

My prayer for this day, is that Daddy’s spirit will enliven and protect the youth in Denver, Bahia, Rio de Janeiro, New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia, Barbados, Boston, New Mexico, California and all the places between and beyond where young folks are looking for new ways to care for one another, to be human with each other, to stand up for poor people, for Black people, for Native people, for the water and the land, for the wellbeing of plants and animals, and to imagine healthy ways for us all to live together in this beautiful, suffering, tenacious world.