Don’t brush over L. Brooks Patterson’s bigoted past

Don’t brush over L. Brooks Patterson’s bigoted past | Opinion


Carol Cain did us a backhanded favor with her column praising Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson. She has opened a window into how white supremacy is normalized.

I am proud to be in the loathe-Patterson camp that Cain refers to. I joined back in the early 1970s. That’s when Patterson gained prominence supporting the bitter opposition to Judge Damon Keith’s federal court order to integrate the Pontiac Public Schools. (Notoriously, the KKK bombed 10 of Pontiac’s school buses the night before the integration was to start.)

Upholding the tradition of Albert Cobo, Orville Hubbard and others, Patterson has been playing to the fears and prejudices of white people ever since.

In 2014, Patterson referenced a “prediction” about Detroit, which Cain ignored in her column. Patterson said: “I made a prediction a long time ago, and it’s come to pass. I said, ‘What we’re gonna do is turn Detroit into an Indian reservation, where we herd all the Indians into the city, build a fence around it, and then throw in the blankets and corn.’ ”

Carol Cain: L. Brooks Patterson at 80 is likely to continue to set his own course

More: How Democrats could pick Brooks Patterson’s Oakland County successor

She also missed, or dismissed, his statement to the same New Yorker writer about the city: “Anytime I talk about Detroit, it will not be positive. Therefore, I’m called a Detroit basher,” he said. “The truth hurts, you know? Tough s***.”

It seems that, in Cain’s world, such “foot-in-mouth” statements are fine because they prove what a charming “no filter” kind of guy Patterson is. She says he’s set in his ways, like others who are 80 years old. “They are who they are,” she writes.

How twisted is that? Doesn’t “no filter” mean that he is saying out loud the actual bigoted thing he believes?  And call me an optimist, but I refuse to accept the idea that the only future for young bigots is to become old bigots.

Should we give Patterson the benefit of the doubt because his actions are out of sync with his unfiltered words? No. In deeds, Patterson has also been consistently anti-Detroit. His long campaign to take away control of Detroit assets such as Cobo Hall and its water and sewage system are examples. So is his militant opposition to regional transit.

Throughout his career, L. Brooks Patterson has been empowered by the reverence, deference and selective amnesia of scores of journalists, editorial writers and politicians. Cain’s apologia that poor Brooks is misunderstood is just the latest instance.

That’s how systems work. People are complicit in different ways. Some Catholic priests are pedophiles. For decades, many non-pedophiles enabled them. In the Jim Crow system, some whites owned restaurants that wouldn’t serve blacks. Some just cheered them on.

So it is with Cain and Patterson. She says he’s not a bigot and that she wouldn’t have him on her public affairs show if he were — implying that she’s not a bigot. Has Carol Cain ever written a column in which she did label someone a bigot, especially someone in a position of power? Not to my knowledge and yes, I have looked.

And if she hasn’t demonstrated that she knows who is a bigot, how could she know who isn’t?  Or does she know but isn’t willing to say so in public, thus joining a conspiracy of silence and denial?

It took decades for an alliance of pedophile victims and courageous Catholics to begin successfully challenging that entrenched system. So it must be in confronting white supremacy. The perpetrators and their enablers compel us to decide what values we truly hold.

Frank Joyce is a longtime Detroit-based activist and writer. In 2018, he received the Bishop Coleman H. McGehee Jr. Champion of Justice Award from the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights (MCHR). He is currently writing a book about how to end white supremacy. 

Boggs Center – Living For Change News Letter – January 10th, 2018

January 10th, 2019

grace and jimmy


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Thinking for Ourselves

Weaponized Words
Shea Howell
As we begin a new year, crises are intensifying. At the same time, our capacity to think clearly, to act boldly, and to envision alternative paths toward a just future are under unprecedented assault.  Concepts and conventions of the past are worn out, no longer providing insight or inspiration.

In a recent interview, cultural critic and scholar Henry Giroux talks about the “Language of Neoliberal Education” and the crisis of ideas.

He observes: “Neoliberalism has upended how language is used in both education and the wider society. It works to appropriate discourses associated with liberal democracy that have become normalized in order to both limit their meanings and use them to mean the opposite of what they have meant traditionally, especially with respect to human rights, justice, informed judgment, critical agency, and democracy itself. It is waging a war over not just the relationship between economic structures but over memory, words, meaning, and politics.”

Giroux goes on to explain how concepts that once propelled and inspired generations to work toward more meaningful lives are distorted and stripped of meaning. He says: “Neoliberalism takes words like freedom and limits it to the freedom to consume, spew out hate, and celebrate notions of self-interest and a rabid individualism as the new common sense. Equality of opportunity means engaging in ruthless forms of competition, a war of all against all ethos, and a survival of the fittest mode of behavior. The vocabulary of neoliberalism operates in the service of violence in that it reduces the capacity for human fulfillment in the collective sense, diminishes a broad understanding of freedom as fundamental to expanding the capacity for human agency, and diminishes the ethical imagination by reducing it to the interest of the market and the accumulation of capital. Words, memory, language and meaning are weaponized under neoliberalism.”

As we approach this new year, a critical challenge for us is to create language and ideas that make reality clear, that project visions worthy of sacrifice, and that compel actions for justice.

Giroux helps us understand that the current crises of racialized capital are about more than economic gain and consolidation of power. These are crises created to gain control of thinking and culture. He explains this “crisis of ideas” saying:

“At a time when civic culture is being eradicated, public spheres are vanishing, and notions of shared citizenship appear obsolete, words that speak to the truth, reveal injustices and provide informed critical analysis also begin to disappear. This makes it all the more difficult to engage critically the use of neoliberalism’s colonization of language. In the United States, Trump prodigious tweets signify not only a time in which governments engage in the pathology of endless fabrications, but also how they function to reinforce a pedagogy of infantilism designed to animate his base in a glut of shock while reinforcing a culture of war, fear, divisiveness, and greed in ways that disempower his critics.”

As the touchstones of the past erode, we are faced with the challenge of finding new ways to make collective judgments that move us toward a more human, responsible, and sustainable future. To begin reimaging how to think and act more clearly, we would do well to take seriously the Masai greeting, “How are all the children?” We are a long way from being able to offer the expected response, “All the children are well.” But this is a place to begin. Protecting and enriching the lives of our children can guide our understanding of “what needs to be done” by each one of us.
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The Drag Queen Story Hour
Rich Feldman

In 1990, Janice and I moved from Detroit to Huntington Woods because we needed to find and actually create a space for our son, Micah, who had many labels (fine and gross motor delays, severe visual motor delay, primary speech and motor delay, developmental dyspraxia, and was eventually diagnosed with the words: mental retardation (now labeled as an intellectual disability).

When we moved to Huntington Woods, which is 3 miles north of Detroit’s 8 mile, it was a choice that was determined by the needs of our child.  Prior to that, I had lived in Detroit for two decades after moving from Ann Arbor, Michigan where I was active with SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) as a student.

When we moved to Huntington Woods, we were told it was integrated. To the folks telling us about our new neighborhood, they meant Jewish and Non-Jewish, not recognizing the racial and economic homogeneity of the area. I bit my tongue but it worked out for our family.

I continued to work on the line at the Ford Truck Plant and eventually as an elected UAW representative and for the international Staff. Most importantly, I maintained and built strong relationships with Detroit and continued working with James and Grace Boggs.  Over time it became clear to me that Huntington Woods is a progressive community and strongly committed to human rights of all people.

I share all this because recently, I had the privilege to attend a community meeting with more than 150 people who clearly, passionately and with a soulful love of all humanity embraced and defended the continuation of the “Drag Queen Story Hour at our Library.”  The community support came in the wake of oppotion to the story hour by a Huntington Woods city commissioner. Matthew Dolan from The Detroit Free Press wrote “…in recent months, some local residents and national anti-gay groups have voiced opposition to the Huntington Woods Library’s Drag Queen Story Time event, as well as similar efforts around the country, calling them a threat to small, impressionable children.”

In the most moving moment of my life in this bedroom suburban community, I saw and listened to more than 30-40 people share personal stories of their depth of love and respect for Raven Divine Cassadine, a Huntington Woods native who is featured at DQSH. The voice of a young person transitioning captured the hearts and minds of all present. There were many folks from across the county and Detroit representing the LGBTQ communities. On this evening it was more than Jewish and non-Jewish.

As I sat in the audience with other neighbors, I was honored to live in a community where the hunger to be part of a journey to become more human was dominating the voice of “othering.”

For the past two years, I have been working with folks in liberal, suburban communities and conservative counties to find ways to break our silence as it relates to racism, sexism, ableism, materialism and militarism because we need a radical revolution in values.

The voices of humanity spoke clearly and loudly in Huntington Woods on this night because folks are asking and answering the call to respond to “bring out the best in ourselves.” This was a public outcry in response to the challenge and viciousness of the counter-revolution. The road that evening was a road toward the beloved community.  Thank you residents of HW. Thank you librarians of the world.

Drag Queen Story Hour - Back Benatar















Boggs Center – Living For Change Newsletter December 11th, 2018

December 11th, 2018




Thinking for Ourselves
Shea Howell
Beyond Lame Ducks


Throughout Michigan people are rallying to challenge the Lame Duck actions of the state legislature. Protest, public demonstrations and outright mockery are tactics being deployed against a secure, smug legislative body. Many groups are placing their hopes in the Governor. They are urging us to call Gov. Snyder’s office and ask him to veto these lame-duck bills. I will join this effort, but I hold out little hope that this governor will be moved to reject the full array of bills being jammed through this legislature.  

What is happening in Michigan, and in a host of other places around the country, is the result of a concerted effort by right wing republicans to develop effective practices to undermine democracy. They are finding ways to curtail people center policies that challenge corporate interests. The actions by the republican dominated legislature are not the result of panic at having lost the three major elected offices of the state to Democrats. Rather, these are actions that have been evolving over the years to blunt the will of people to curtail the power of money and corporate interests.

Republican ideologues and the corporate interests that back them have long understood that democracy is not their friend. The passage of the Voting Rights act in 1965 aimed to eliminate legal barriers such as literacy tests and poll taxes at the state and local levels. These practices were aimed specifically at preventing African Americans from voting. The new Voting Rights Act ensured federal oversight in places where less than 50% of the non-white population were registered.  Since the passage of this Act, right wing interests and white supremacists have been seeking other means to exert their control. They have consistently undermined the Act itself, resisted its reauthorization, and under Trump, are actively moving away from any federal challenges to state voting practices.

Meanwhile, State governments, like Michigan, Wisconsin, and North Carolina, have been pushing to find new ways to undermine democracy. These efforts have been developed and refined by right wing think tanks and politicians for decades. Tactics such as moving polling places, gerrymandering districts, restricting numbers of polling stations in urban areas, denying student voting, demanding picture IDs, and steamrolling legislation to undermine citizen initiatives are all thriving, often literally under the cover of night. Certainly, without much public notice or oversight.

At the center of the lame duck efforts in Michigan, there are two consistent strategies emerging. First there is the effort to limit the power of public referenda, either by first passing and then gutting popular initiative such as raising the minimum wage and providing sick leave for people.  This tactic is combined with efforts to eliminate the capacity of local governments to pass legislation. 

The Michigan legislature is after every local expression of protection of the environment from stripping local officials to overseeing tree planting to monitoring septic tanks. The legislature fears the changes that people are willing to make when they directly meet together in face to face, person to person, efforts to create new ways of living.

As we resist these right wing moves by the lame ducks, we need to think about the larger implications for public decision making. Representative democracy is now more than 200 years old. In these last 40 years, we have seen a persistent erosion of the centuries long effort to expand the notion of who is a citizen, how they are represented, and how such representatives are held accountable. From the Supreme court deciding elections against the popular vote to the decision eight years in, Citizens United the country is experiencing “a wave of campaign spending that by any reasonable standard is extraordinarily corrupt.”

Direct democracy, where people engage with each other to determine what matters, needs to be fostered at every level. By strengthening our most immediate and direct relationships we can begin to create new political practices that will point us toward a new democratic future.

The list of bad bills in Michigan’s ongoing lame-duck legislative session

Rich Feldman
Hurt People, Hurt People

As a citizen of Oakland County, as a Jewish American and as I retired UAW union member and elected official, I believe we are at critical times that we break our individual and collective silence.  

During the past year, I have been challenged to think about my childhood in the 1950s and 1960s, as a young kid in Brooklyn, NY.  I vividly remember the pictures and stories from the Holocaust and also watching on television the pictures of angry, viscous white people and police hosing, screaming, yelling, encouraging dogs to bite, beating and arresting the children and citizens of Birmingham Alabama.  It was the television coverage of the Birmingham Children’s March of 1963 which lead to MLK’s “I Have a Dream speech first given in Detroit and then Washington DC.    Just as vivid in my mind are the pictures of the murder and bludgeoning of Emmitt Till and the courageous act of Emmett Till’s mother to have an open casket. I remember clearly how this led to Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. 

I was fortunate to be raised in a family that was clear about good & evil and the fact that the barbaric white rage we were witnessing were on the wrong side of that (White Supremist Rage or Nazi Violence).  

These past few months, I was in Pittsburgh and visited memorials of the 11 Jewish Americans killed as they attended the Tree of Life Synagogue.  I have also watched immigrant children placed in cages and now I watch families and children being tear gassed at our borders.    
As I grew up and learned more about “Good Germans” and more about children, immigrants and refugees who were denied entry into the US during the 1930s and 1940s, this silence has become more significant.   Many of you know this story and tell your children and grandchildren about the: 

 “In May 1939, the German liner St. Louis sailed from Hamburg, Germany, to Havana, Cuba, carrying 937 passengers, almost all Jewish refugees. The Cuban government refused to allow the ship to land, and the United States and Canada were unwilling to admit the passengers. The St. Louis passengers were finally permitted to land in western European countries rather than return to Nazi Germany. 254 St. Louis passengers were killed in the Holocaust.”

What has changed?  

We continue to go along and be more concerned with our comforts and our “own.”  Even when the tragedy in Pittsburgh makes it clear that we live in dangerous times, we remain silent to the other. Thus we are silent.   While a small number of religious activists and community social justice organizers have organized caravans to the border and there have been some conversations about racism, immigration, most of us go back to business as usual.  Do we go back to business as usual because we are hopeless or because we have no moral compass or vision of a more human human way to live and relate?  

We have a special responsibility to break our silence NOW:

Thus I call upon synagogues to declare themselves Sanctuary Synagogues.

I call upon the social justice committees to commemorate MLK’s 2019 birthday with listening to, reading and creating sermons in January based upon the words of Martin Luther King’s 1967 speech:  Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence. 

In this speech he challenged us to overcome the evil triplets of racism, materialism and militarism and create a life based upon a radical revolution in values.

Lastly, I share this tool that we look forward as we speak out against injustice”  I call upon every synagogue to place on their websites and share on facebook the 3 minute video by Vincent Harding:   I am a citizen of a Country that does not yet exist :

As a Citizen of Oakland County, I think it is time to speak out loudly and clearly that Brooks Patterson is an obstacle to creating a new unity in our region.   Brooks Patterson once supported the KKK and defended their burning of buses in the 1970s. He has done everything he could to ridicule, belittle and disrespect people in Detroit and uphold the materialist values of Oakland County.  We need to break our silence and the Jewish Community can lead the way in demanding that Oakland County become a Sanctuary City based upon values of compassion, empathy, caring and human dignity for all.  Contact me if you want to join with others to create a Democracy Circle to Break our Silence in your synagogue, community or city.

As a retired UAW international staff person, I pledge to continue to create conversations with workers who find it easier to blame and condemn than engage and create a future that is based upon the principles of love and solidarity.   

Hurt people, hurt people.  If we remember our own histories, maybe we can create a county, a community and workplaces that are an alternative to the current narrative driven by hate and violence which are dominating our area and our country.

poletown fb


GM Plant Closing: Poletown Lives! + Community Conversation
6:30 – 8:30 PM
WSU Law School
471 W. Palmer St.
Detroit, MI

(See last night’s Poletown coverage on PBS, here)

What We’re Watching and Reading

Community tells Wright Museum Board “We are tired of the slave narrative”

– Facing Race: Racial Justice Now and Forever!

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Boggs Center – Living For Change News – December 3rd, 2018

December 3rd, 2018

grace and jimmy



Little War on the Prarie

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Thinking for Ourselves

Thinking for Ourselves
Shea Howell
Poletown Lives

Much of the country was shocked by the announcement that General Motors (GM) is closing five production plants in the U.S. and Canada. Two of the closing are in the Detroit area. The Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant, known as the Poletown plant, after the community leveled to enable its construction, will be closed. So will the Warren Transmission Plant. Other plant scheduled for closure are in Lordstown, Ohio, White Marsh, Maryland, and Oshawa, Ontario. About 14,000 people will be affected directly: 8,000 of them salaried workers, and slightly more than 6000 factory workers. GM will reduce its total workforce by about 15%. GM stock went up by 5 percent when they announced the decision.

Most industry analysts agree that these closures were inevitable. Auto economists point to a lack of demand for the smaller models produced in these plants and dropping markets in China and the U.S. Even long-time critics of the auto industry said that Mary Barra, the CEO, “needed to do something before losses mounted.”

Donald Trump reacted angerly to the news, tweeting, “Very disappointed with General Motors.” He is, “looking at cutting all GM subsidies, including electric cars.” Many folks were quick to point out that Trumps anger is a lie, noting that the closings have been directly caused by Trump’s protectionist tariffs.

Certainly an argument can be made that Trump’s trade wars with China contributed to this decision. But the closures reflect longer term strategic choices by GM.

Such is the way of capitalism.

For me, this announcement evoked memories of hot, emotional meetings in civic centers and church halls, as the people of Poletown gathered to resist the destruction of their community for a Cadillac plant and the promise of 6000 jobs.

In 1980 the community organized against GM, Mayor Young, the Detroit City Council, the UAW, and the Archdioceses. They attracted national attention in a battle to resist Michigan’s Quick Take law.  But in July of 1981, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled private economic development justified taking homes, businesses, and schools from people. The last hold outs, mostly older women, who had occupied the church basement for 29 days, were forcefully removed by a 60-man SWAT team. The wrecking ball slammed into Immaculate Conception almost immediately. The first Cadillac Eldorado rolled of the line four years later.
The plant never employed 3000 people. A little more than 1500 will affected directly by this closure.

The fate of Poletown and the Cadillac Plant bring us to sharp questions: What are the real costs of development? What are the long-term implications of using public money and power to benefit corporations at the expense of community? What are the real costs to people and place? Who really benefits? How do we develop our ways of living that protect people and the places we value?

In the short run we traded the homes and memories of nearly 4000 people, 140 small businesses, six churches and one hospital for unfulfilled economic promises. We violated people and the places they loved to produce gas guzzling luxury cars. The powers that be convinced themselves and most everyone else that there was no alternative but to destroy a community in order to save it.

This logic, and the devastation it brings, has been repeated over and over again.  It is repeated today. At the time of Poletown one church leader said, “The overall good of the city is achieved by cutting away a certain part. When you’re trying to make something grow, you prune.”

Poletown calls us to look deeply at the choices we are making, at whose lives and hopes matter. Poletown reminds us that we must find better ways, if we are to develop our city, our people and new ways of living that will carry us to the future.

What We’re Watching and Reading




The American Empire Will Collapse Within a Decade, Two at Most

Fighting to Keep Wright Museum Connected to the Community and the African Legacy


Boggs Center – Living For Change News Letter. – October 31st, 2018

October 31st, 2018

grace and jimmy

It has been a week of hate crimes and violence across the country.

Please join us at interfaith press event to condemn recent acts of violenceand extremism targeting the Jewish community, immigrants, African-Americans and the press, and call for unity and mutual support.

We must loudly proclaim our positive vision of a strong, multi-cultural democracy, and affirm the importance of pluralism and freedom of the press.

1 PM, Thursday, Nov. 1st
Islamic House of Wisdom
22575 Ann Arbor Trail
Dearborn Heights, MI

Speakers & Attendees Confirmed So Far:
Imam Elahi, Islamic House of Wisdom
Rev. Ed Rowe, Methodist Federation for Social Action
Rev. Paul Perez, Office of Peace & Justice, Michigan Conference of the United Methodist Church
Imam Mustapha El-Turk, Islamic Organization of North America
Rabbi Ariana Silverman, Downtown Synagogue
Rashida Tlaib
*more to be confirmed*

RSVP to:



Thinking for Ourselves
Shea Howell
Weaponizing Water

Gary Brown, the director of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, recently revealed that the Duggan administration is once again threatening to use water shut offs as a weapon to clear people out of neighborhoods.  Brown had scarcely concluded his interview with Bridge Magazine when Food and Water Watch released its first national assessments of water shut offs for non-payment of bills. The report entitled America’s Secret Water Crisis: National Shutoff Survey Reveals Water Affordability Emergency Affecting Millions,  is a stark condemnation of the approach Duggan is taking to the water crisis.

Duggan and Brown would do well to consider the key findings of the report. It concludes:

  • We estimate that 15 million Americans experienced a water shutoff for overdue bills in 2016.
  • The average water utility shut off one in 20 households for nonpayment that year.
  • The most water shutoffs are concentrated in the South: Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and Florida.

Detroit figured prominently in the report. Of the 73 municipalities that responded to the survey, Detroit ranks number 9 in percentage of shut offs. We are the largest city outside the South to experience these shut offs.

The report explains, “the highest shutoff rates occurred in lower-income cities with higher rates of poverty and unemployment. Water service is exceedingly unaffordable for low-income households in Detroit and New Orleans, in particular. More than one in five households in these cities receive water bills that exceed 9 percent of their income.”

Shut off policies and high water bills especially effect communities of color. The report noted, “Overall, communities of color had higher water bill burdens. This pattern was seen among the cities with the highest and lowest shutoff rates.”

Things do not need to be this way. Two cities do not use a shut off policy at all for non payment of bills, Eau Claire, Wisconsin and Leominster, Massachusetts. Several cities have either adopted, or are moving toward real water affordability based on income, not use.

The truth that Brown, Duggan and the corporate elite refuse to admit is that water shut offs make no economic sense. As economists have demonstrated time and again, a water affordability plan based on income is a much smarter way to collectively support public utilities. Such a plan rewards conservation, supports vulnerable families, improves public health, and expands consciousness of our responsibilities as stewards of the waters that support us.

Yet Duggan and his cronies have refused to address this logic. Instead they have avoided any substantial effort to provide a rational water policy.

Now Gary Brown has made it clear why. The administration sees water as a weapon for ethnic cleansing.

This was clear from the first day of Emergency Management when Kevyn Orr tried to sell the water department to private interests. Ultimately that effort lead to the establishment of the Great Lakes Water Authority, the loss of control of the department by the city, and a deal that will earn Detroit less per year than it is currently paying the consultants to review the water system.

Duggan of course denies he intends to close down any neighborhoods. But the reality is that the current pattern of persistent water shut offs, foreclosures, school closings and lack of adequate transportation make life more and more difficult throughout much of the city.

Detroit has the opportunity to provide visionary, thoughtful policies for water usage. There are broad citizen coalitions that have spent decades clarifying the simple ideas that water is a human right and a sacred trust. These organizations have already crafted affordable water policies and have led the way in water conservation and consciousness.

It should be clear to everyone Duggan is weaponizing water in his drive to remake Detroit as a whiter, wealthier city. Evidence keeps mounting that he is ignoring those who have an inclusive justice vision of how we can live together.

What We’re Watching

Pulitzer-prize winning Journalist, Author and Activist Chris Hedges, discusses modern day consumerism, totalitarian corporate power and living in a culture dominated by pervasive illusion.



Assembly & Training in Detroit, November 8-12, 2018


Assembly & Training in Detroit, November 8-12, 2018