|Thinking for Ourselves
August 14th 2017
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|Living for Change News
August 14th, 2017
|Thinking for OurselvesHard Truths
Shea HowellBefore the tires screamed in Charlottesville, many Americans were deeply troubled by the images of white men, holding torches against the night, chanting, “You will not remove us.” “Jew will not remove us.” These are images we had hoped belonged to a distant, bloody past. Now it is clear. They intend to seize the future, returning the country to its worst, most violent and vicious days.
The people gathered at the Unite the Right March came to protest the decision by the city of Charlottesville to remove a statue of confederate general Robert E. Lee. This decision, prompted by a petition circulated by an African American high school student, is part of a larger effort by people to rethink our history and what values we represent in public life.
Over the last few months several cities have engaged in fierce debates about the past and future. In St. Louis, after intense controversy workers removed a confederate monument from Forest Park in June. In Frederick, Md., a bust of Roger B. Taney, the chief justice of the United States who wrote the notorious 1857 Dred Scott decision denying the humanity of African Americans, was removed in May from its spot near City Hall. In New Orleans four Confederate statues were taken down, the last under the dark of night, because of the intensity of the protests.
In each case the majority of the people in these cities struggled with hard questions about white supremacy, racism, and whose lives matter. In each case, the majority of people agreed that public monuments to the confederacy should go. They are not who we are or who we want to represent us. They are not who we want to shape our future.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu gave a moving, thoughtful speech about the decision to take down these statues. He said:
“First erected over 166 years after the founding of our city and 19 years after the end of the Civil War, the monuments that we took down were meant to rebrand the history of our city and the ideals of a defeated Confederacy.
It is self-evident that these men did not fight for the United States of America, They fought against it. They may have been warriors, but in this cause they were not patriots.
These statues are not just stone and metal. They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for.
After the Civil War, these statues were a part of that terrorism as much as a burning cross on someone’s lawn; they were erected purposefully to send a strong message to all who walked in their shadows about who was still in charge in this city.”
Standing in public squares and parks across our country, these monuments are themselves the product of a white supremacist movement that emerged during the First Reconstruction. Calling themselves The Cult of the Lost Cause, defeated defenders of slavery had one goal, in Landrieu’s words, “Through monuments and through other means — to rewrite history to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity.”
There is no question that the forces that sought violence in Charlottesville have always been with us. The KKK, the American Nazi Party, the Christian Identity Movement, Birchers and Militias have consistently organized to stop the efforts of people to move toward justice and peace. They depend on violence and fear.
There is also no question that the election of Donald Trump has given them renewed energy and license to accelerate their efforts. He has supported and encouraged their violence.
But these forces go far beyond the likes of Trump. And they are being engaged and defeated around the country. The people of Charlottesville, New Orleans, St. Louis, Fredrick, and all the other towns and villages who have gathered together and decided to consciously work toward a better future, offer all of us a glimpse of the ways forward.
Yes, we must condemn the violence of the KKK, Nazis and neo-fascists. Yes, we must resist the white supremacist, at every turn. But fundamentally, we must do this by turning to each other and facing the hard truths of our history. There is no other way to construct our futures.
What We Owe
August 7th 2014
Public Private Partnerships (PPP) are a key weapon in privatization. This is a soft sounding term for a vicious set of practices. PPPs are often the vehicles that shift public dollars into private hands, turning essential goods and services into profit centers. Healthcare, education, water, energy, public safety, housing, transportation and even military services are turned into profits at the expense of people. The justification for this is the logic that companies, driven by competition and business imperatives, will provide better, cheaper services.
Globally, people are resisting these efforts. We have experienced the flaw in the logic that confuses private gain with public good. The single minded focus on growth and bottom line thinking have brought us greater poverty, income inequality and ecological disaster. Since 1980, the beginning of the austerity politics of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, global GDP has grown 630%. Yet we experience greater inequality in spite of all this growth.
Amina Mohammed, special advisor to the UN says, “Inequality is one of the keychallenges of our time.” She explains, “This affects all countries around the world. In developed and developing countries alike, the poorest half of the population often controls less than 10% of its wealth. This is a universal challenge that the whole world must address.”
In a recent article exploring shifting attitudes toward capitalism, Martin Kirk explains, “There’s something fundamentally flawed about a system that has as its single goal turning natural and human resources into capital, and do so more and more each year, regardless of the costs to human well-being and to the environment.”
“Because that is what capitalism is all about; that’s the sum total of the plan. We can see it embodied in the imperative to increase GDP, everywhere, at an exponential rate, even though we know that GDP, on its own, does not reduce poverty or make people happier and healthier.”
Bottom line thinking isn’t thinking at all. It substitutes numbers for values. We in Detroit know this all too well. We have seen our highest performing schools closed under emergency managers because they were too expensive. We have seen nearly 100,000 people cut off from water, risking the health of our community, and we have seen an entire city poisoned to save a few dollars. This kind of bitter experience is shared with growing numbers of people everywhere. And it is changing how people think about capitalism and corporate power.
A YouGov poll in 2015 “found that 64% of Britons believe that capitalism is unfair, that it makes inequality worse. Even in the US it’s as high as 55%, while in Germany a solid 77% are skeptical of capitalism. Meanwhile, a full three-quarters of people in major capitalist economies believe that big businesses are basically corrupt.”
This is why the emerging movement to (re)municiplize essential services is so important. A new study by the Transnational Institute documents a growing global consensus that corporate power and public responsibility don’t mix. They report, “Evidence is growing that such policies are bad for public budgets in the long term, and lead to poor services and a loss of democratic accountability. As a result, many local authorities are now looking to remunicipalise public services.”
The research “shows there have been at least 835 examples of (re)municipalisation of public services worldwide in recent years, involving more than 1,600 cities in 45 countries.”
Local governments are not only taking public services back from private partnerships, but they are beginning to set up new local authorities to provide services essential to protect their people.
One example is that of the Nottingham City Council (population 532,000), who set up its own energy company. They believed too many low-income families were struggling to pay their bills.. A public company concerned with protecting the right to energy was the best way to help them. Named Robin Hood Energy, the local government offers a cheaper service and is beginning to drive down energy prices throughout the region.
These efforts provide the opportunity for all of us to rethink what we owe each other. By asking fundamental questions about our responsibilities to one another and the earth that sustains us we have the capacity to create new, imaginative solutions.
“…essence of dialectical thinking is the ability to be self-critical. Being able to see that an idea you had or an activity you had engaged in which was correct at one stage can turn into its opposite at another stage; that whenever a person or an organization or a country is in crisis, it is necessary that to look at your own concepts and be critical of them because they may have turned into traps.” Grace Lee Boggs
July 11th, 2017
Shea HowellThere are no easy answers or quick fixes now. Each passing day it is clear that the institutions and shared practices that many of us called upon to make our world a little better are no longer capable of providing solutions. Instead they are supporting the brutality required to protect the property and privilege of the few.Consider the courts. Over the last few weeks we have seen police officers set free in spite of clear evidence they shot people to death without cause. It took uprisings, organizing, and courageous prosecutors to even bring police officers to trial for killing African Americans in plain sight. In every case there was overwhelming visual evidence that these individuals posed no threat or made any aggressive actions. Yet juries decided cops were justified in shooting people to death out of fear for their own lives.
We are also witnessing the transformation of the Supreme Court. Already dominated by right wing, conservative views, we now have a court backing power and corporate privilege. Its recent decision to uphold the President’s executive order restricting immigration was all the administration needed to move forward with discriminatory, senseless and brutal restrictions, targeting Muslims.
Courts have always been unreliable avenues for justice. The Supreme Court does not recognize the sanctity of human life. Historically it has placed property over people. In the Dred Scott case it defended slavery by defining human beings as property. Within a few short years it began defining corporations as people.
Over the last decade the Court has extended this doctrine of corporate personhood. While individual protests are limited, corporations are granted free speech to spend unlimited money in support of federal, state or local candidates. While Muslims are targeted, corporations are granted freedom of religion and the right to refuse to comply with federal mandates.
In the early years of the republic, the only right given corporations was the right to have their contracts respected by government. But the Civil War changed all that. As industry advanced and railroads spread, corporations needed ways to raise money and protect themselves from liabilities. As Columbia University professor Eben Moglen explains, the adoption of the 14th Amendment was a corporate boon.
“From the moment the 14th Amendment was passed in 1868, lawyers for corporations — particularly railroad companies — wanted to use that 14th Amendment guarantee of equal protection to make sure that the states didn’t unequally treat corporations.”
This provided the basis for the expansion of the idea that came to fruition in Citizen’s United where a divided Court decided 5-4 in 2010 to extend full First Amendment rights to corporations. For the first time corporations are able to spend as much money as they wish on candidates for public office.
During the height of the bankruptcy trials in Detroit we learned that courts are no friends of justice. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes said he had no power to protect people from irreparable harm from massive water shut-offs in spite of agreeing that many people would suffer. He said financial interests have to be protected. There was no law guaranteeing a right to water.
There was a law guaranteeing the right to a pension. In fact pensions were explicitly protected in the Constitution of the State of Michigan. The judge, however, said that law didn’t matter. Thus 80% of the Detroit Bankruptcy cost was borne by pensioners.
Further we learned that Free speech did not include imaginative public art and courageous acts of civil disobedience. These would be punished as harshly as possible, threatening people with prison and twisting laws to avoid even the possibility of basic justice.
We need to insist on basic human rights in the court system, but we should have no illusions about the real work ahead of us in creating new systems of just relationships that protect people and respect the earth.
Aurora Harris is a dynamic Michigan poet, educator and water-rights activist. She is co-founder of We The People and the host for The Broadside Lotus Press Poets Theater.
9 p.m. Friday, July 14, 2017
John R Stage
(On the sidewalk at the entrance to the Science Center on John R.
Rain venue: Detroit Film Theater DIA.)
WHAT WE’RE READING
Who Do We Choose to Be?: Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity
Margaret J Wheatley
The Detroiters, a short film will premier at the DIA’s Detroit Film Theatre on July 22nd at 6pm
In 2016, Caldodecultivo, a Colombian artist collective, after being invited to Detroit by Ideas City and participating in a residency at Popps Packing, was moved to discover the true narrative of Detroit by documenting the work of spoken-word artists based in the city.
Following the screening, Caldodecultivo and the artists that appear in The Detroiters will discuss their work with the audience.
Detroit Poetry Society (Sheezy Bo Beezy, Domino LA3, Rocket(!!!)Man, Intellect, Gabrielle Knox), Deonte Osayande, Halima Cassells, Tawana “Honeycomb” Petty, Bryce Detroit, Sol’le, Billy Mark, Underground Resistance (John Woodward, Cornelius Harris, Mark Flash, BlakTony Horton, De’Sean Jones), Marsha Battle Philpot, MavOne
DIRECTED BY: CALDODECULTIVO
UNAI REGLERO, GABRIELA CÓRDOBA VIVAS y GUILLERMO CAMACHO.
MUSIC: UNDERGROUND RESISTANCE
The Detroiters will also screen at the 5th Annual Sidewalk Festival of Performing Arts in August.
|The James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership
3061 Field Street
REClaiming The Organic Intellectual
by Grace Lee Boggs
CAAS 6-7-2016- final6 click here
Thank you, Jim Chaffers, for those warm introductory remarks. They remind me of the talks that Jimmy and I gave every November for 20 years in your class on Urban Design and Social Change in the Department of Architecture, mostly on Citizenship and Community.
And thank you, Kevin Gaines and CAAS, for inviting me to keynote the 40th anniversary celebration of the University of Michigan’s Center of African American and African Studies.
I very much appreciate the opportunity this gives me to discuss a question which has been troubling me for some time and which I believe should be troubling everyone in this room.
In light of the historic struggles and sacrifices that gave birth to Black Studies and Centers of African American Studies, we need to ask ourselves why these studies and these centers have been mainly producing university professors and not leaders for the struggles now needed to resolve the urgent and complex issues facing our whole country and especially black communities?
My hope, frankly, is that our discussion around this question will be so lively that it will spread to other campuses and other communities all over the country.