May 25th, 2020
“We never know how our small activities will affect others through the invisible fabric of our connectedness. In this exquisitely connected world, it’s never a question of ‘critical mass.’ It’s always about critical connections.” —Grace Lee Boggs
Thinking for Ourselves
In the last six months Michigan has experienced two potential nuclear disasters. Both were due to rising flood waters. In late November the Revere Dock collapsed, spilling unknown amounts of limestone and aggregate materials. In the course of the investigation of his spill, it was discovered that the site also stored nuclear waste material, forgotten by the most recent owners. The Environmental Protection Agency has since found uranium, lead, toxic chemicals and heavy metals in water samples at the site.
This week the entire city of Midland was flooded as two dams burst under the pressure of rising water. Midland is the home of Dow Chemical and one of the most toxic Superfund cleanup sites in the country. The site also contains a nuclear research reactor.
As the waters rise and carry these surface contaminants down into the rivers and Great Lakes water shed, shorelines are eroded and the underwater sediments stirred up. Allen Burton, a professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Michigan explained,
“You worry about the speed of the current, this wall of water coming down the river,” he said. “It just has a huge amount of power.”
In both cases, officials assure us there are no radioactive effects. Thus far the water from Revere has been contained, and the nuclear plant was shut down due to the Coronavirus.
Even so, everyone knows that the flood waters are carrying the wastes of centuries of industrial poisons. We also know they are carrying the oil from the engines of the newest cars, now under water, the chemicals stored in homes used to clean and protect them from bacteria, and the untold toxic materials used in businesses, manufacturing centers, schools, and churches. We all know that the Fermi plants are just down river, watching the waters rise. And we know that Fermi has the worst safety record in the US.
Flood waters, like the coronavirus, remind us that we are all connected. They warn us that we cannot return to” normal.” We need a completely different way of thinking about our responsibilities to each other, the earth and the waters.
This new way of thinking is not likely to come from our officials. They continue to deny reality, especially in Detroit. Here Mayor Duggan and Gary Brown insist water has been restored everywhere. Yet two weeks ago we delayed the Riverwise editorial meeting, as one of our members stood out side to stop a water shut off of her 95 year old neighbor. This week volunteers gathered at churches to distribute water to people who do not have it in their homes.
At the heart of this contradiction is the insistence by the city that people need to contact them to get their water restored. Placing the burden on people who have been shut off, and may not even know of the restoration efforts, comes from a deep disrespect of those who could not afford high bills, and from a lack of fundamental understanding of government responsibility. It also comes from the fact that the city keeps poor records, and hides those from public view. As a recent article in Michigan Advance explained, the numbers kept by local governments are murky.
Charlotte Jameson, program director of legislative affairs, drinking water and energy at the Michigan Environmental Council (MEC), says Michigan’s deregulated reporting system makes it almost impossible to know exactly how many residents are still living with their water shut off…It’s incredibly difficult to know what is happening at any given water utility because they’re regulated at the local level…So there’s very little access to data, very little transparency in terms of how utilities do rate making, very little transparency into their operations, who they’re shutting off and who they’re not, why they’re shutting people off. We just don’t have that information.
What we know is that we need a comprehensive, thoughtful, and visionary approach to the waters that sustain us. We also know that the values of the past that cast water as a resource to be used and tossed away, that limits access to it by the ability to pay, and that denies our deep connections, are ideas that are killing us. It is time to craft a way of living that begins with the basic understanding that water is a human right and a sacred trust. There is no other way to ensure our future.
Covid Could Be Death Sentence We Don’t Deserve
Disability Justice, Community, & Intentionality
Honoring Stacey Park Milbern #StaceyTaughtUs
Stacey Park Milbern passed away on May 19, 2020, her 33rd birthday. Her friends, community, and family — people she met and people who longed to meet Stacey immediately began telling their stories, #StaceyTaughtUs. Her first of many many memorials included a virtual celebration with over 500 registered guests on Zoom with a 150 car parade throughout Oakland, CA with ASL (American Sign Language) and live captioning. This growing collection of stories demonstrate how much people want to fight like hell, while building the world that centers the lives of disabled, queer, and BICOP. She lived in the possibilities of what it can be. She not only practiced living in the “beloved community,” she lived it. Every #StaceyTaughtUs story is evidence of that.
My brother, Micah Fialka-Feldman is who he is for many reasons (as we all are) — but when he connected with young disability leaders — they shaped my brother (and therefore our family’s story) in powerful ways. He saw his disability as an identity with history, pride, community, activism, and brilliance.
Stacey Park Milbern was one of those shapers. Stacey got “it.” The “it” that says people with intellectual disabilities must have their voices and presence at the disability justice table. The “it” that says we must, both, live in and for a reimagined world — where the lives of disabled people are dignified, honored, and supported — in a beyond capitalism, racism paradigm. The “it” that says we must always be learning, thinking, questioning, in conversation with our communities. The “it” that says we can not use a lack of familiarity with difference to stop us in for getting together. That’s what Stacey taught me.
Micah was introduced to Stacey and her deep demand for creative justice when Micah attended the National Youth Leadership Forum, a national disabled led youth leadership project, in the early 2000s. This National Youth Leadership Forum (NYLF) connected him with other disability activists around the country. Micah, excited by his deepening understanding of his own identities shared this growing knowledge with our family. Given connections to various disability organizations (including NYLF), our family worked with the Allied Media Projects to see how disability justice could be brought into the work of the Allied Media Conference which had recently moved to Detroit in 2007. Stacey and a cross-section of disability organizers worked with AMP to make Allied Media Conference creatively accessible and weave in workshops and themes about disability justice. Years later, this eventually led to the first ever Disability Justice track.
Stacey reflected on this collaborative work in a December 2008 NYLF Newsletter. “I have been thinking a lot about an event I went to this summer, the Allied Media Conference (AMC)…It was amazing to see young people taking the city in their own hands. Through the AMC, I had a chance to really get to know an NYLN member, Micah Fialka-Feldman. He welcomed me to Detroit. Since I was new to the AMC community, he made sure I always knew what was going on. He made sure I had what I needed to participate. Conference organizers told me about how Micah and his family had worked with them to make sure that access wouldn’t be an issue for anyone. As a result, many disabled people attended the conference. Disability issues were on the table. Unlike other events, many workshops focused on integrating a disability analysis into broader social justice work. It was a transforming experience for me. I owe a lot to Micah for it…[then she described Micah’s lawsuit to sue Oakland University for housing discrimination]… I hope you will join us in talking about what access really can mean and how it can change how we interact with the world.”
Stacey continued to be connected to visionary activism in Detroit and the work of Grace Lee Boggs as she grew personally and politically. As Catherine Kudlick, Professor of History and Director of Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability at San Francisco State University wrote, “She was a co-founder and promoter of Disability Justice, a second wave of the disability movement that combats the disproportionate negative impact of ableism on people of color, queer, trans, and others who are multiply-marginalized. She called out and showed with each of her projects — and indeed with her very existence — the benefits that come from abandoning capitalism’s narrow definitions of who has worth. For example, last fall when the claims of activists proved true in the face of PG&E’s bungled planned power shutdowns, Stacey organized grassroots relief and protests. With the arrival of the pandemic, the Disability Justice Culture Club, which she ran out of her home, took on even greater significance and reach. In April, she partnered with Longmore on some of the pathbreaking work she was doing as co-chair of the Crip Camp film impact campaign!
Stacey wrote in 2009 an article titled, “On the Ancestral Plan: Crip Hands Me Downs and the Legacy of Our Movements,” I speculate that Grace Lee Boggs is loving the conversations happening right now about disability in the context of what it means to be human, and as Grace’s friends the Fialka Feldmans said to me last week, would ponder that the reason to add disability justice to social justice is not just because it’s another element of diversity or representation, but rather because disability justice (and disability itself) has the potential to fundamentally transform everything we think about quality of life, purpose, work, relationships, belonging. As a new colleague Ria DasGupta said in a meeting about cripping college campus this week, “we can no longer afford add and stir politics.”
Catherine Kudlick continued, “Stacey came to all of this from her perspective as a biracial Korean-American queer woman who arrived in the SF Bay Area from a southern fundamentalist Christian upbringing. She was forthright, demanding, focused, all while being unnervingly vulnerable with a giggle that could cut through every kind of bullshit. She never lost sight of the biggest goals, all while making you feel like you were the most important person in the world.”
Too often our movements work in silos. Too often we speak about intersectionality but leave out the voices and bodies of those most marginalized. Too often we speak about what the government isn’t doing. May you honor Stacey by building a bigger table, with chairs of various sizes, empty space for chair users, virtual spaces for folks who can’t physically be at the table and with a belief that by making access radical and intentional, our world will grow into beautiful possibilities.
To learn more about what #StaceyTaughtUs check out this syllabus of videos and articles written by her.
If you did not know of Stacey Park, take time to sign up for one of Crip Camp’s Virtual Camp Series each Sunday. Stacey’s vision and force are behind the themes, the speakers, the accessibility, the outreach of it. You will fall in love with the possibilities of a future that centers disabled lives.
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Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership
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Detroit, Michigan 48214
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From my front porch
March 24th, 2020
After This? Care
What will our world look like after this virus? This is the question we all need to be talking about now, even as we struggle with managing our new day to day reality. One of the most hopeful signs that we can come out of this crisis better than how we went into it is the emerging recognition of how interdependent we are on one another for our health and well- being. For example, this week in New York, facing the most severe outbreak of the escalating virus, Governor Andrew Cuomo offered a version of what is becoming a commonly understood value. He said simply, “We need everyone to be safe. Otherwise no one can be safe.”
After decades of public policies that have encouraged individualism, selfishness, greed, dehumanization, and destruction, we are all facing the reality that our lives are indeed linked. None of us can be healthy or whole, as long as some of us are not.
Nowhere is this shifting of perspective clearer than in the struggle by people for clean, affordable water. For decades people have been advocating two basic ideas: water is a human right and a sacred trust. They have been offering sensible policies embodied in water affordability plans that base payment for water on household income, rather than usage. A key aspect of these plans is that they would stop the draconian water shut offs that in Detroit, for example, meant that between 2014 and 2018, 112,000 households went without water, some for months and years. In cities and towns throughout this land, people shut off from water because they could not pay high water bills cannot do the most basic first line of defense against this virus. They cannot wash their hands. They cannot protect themselves, their children or their neighbors.
Two weeks ago, less than 5 cities took the demand to provide clean, affordable water to everyone, regardless of ability to pay, seriously. Today more than 289 communities have stopped water shut offs. Nearly 128 million Americans who could not turn on the tap to wash their hands, clean their homes or prepare their food, can now do so. This is a major contribution to our collective health. This must become the new reality for us.
In Detroit, we are suffering the consequences of long term shut offs. This Friday a broad coalition of activists, community organizations, and faith-based groups held a press conference to demand that the mayor and governor take swift action to restore water to the more than 9000 homes currently shut off. In spite of the Governor’s order to turn the water back on, the city had been moving slowly. By Thursday they had only managed to turn back on 434 houses.
The coalition is calling on the governor and the mayor to provide residential water access through emergency potable water stations in the city. They also are asking for bulk water, sanitizing products, and disinfectants to be made immediately available to people. Organizers explained that much of the independent water deliveries that people have come to depend on are no longer possible. And the City is moving too slowly to provide water. Meanwhile, bottled water is in short supply as people throughout the metro area have purchased large quantities, emptying selves and limiting supplies.
Many communities around Michigan and around the country are facing the same problems as Detroit. Weeks, months and sometimes years of living without running water has resulted in crumbling systems, not quickly fixed. More and more people are recognizing that the notion of shutting people off from water was a mean spirited, self-defeating notion of government that harms our collective well-being. The Michigan congressional delegation is leading the way in creating new national policies and understandings about the values we need to come out of this crisis. Reps. Rashida Tlaib, Debbie Dingell, and Dan Kildee sent a letter to congressional leaders, asking congress to shield people from high water bills and water shutoffs.
After this crisis, we should all be thinking about our responsibilities to one another and to the earth on which we depend very differently. We are learning, slowly and painfully, that creating ways of living that emphasize care for all is our only way to survive.
On Being with Krista Tippett
The singular writer and thinker on how kindness and compassion can blossom in times of emergency.
(Gaia and Shekhina Speak: Earth, Water, Fire, Air © Arlene Goldbard 2020)
“What can console us in the face of the Great Unknown? I thought I understood that safety was always an illusion: any of us could be struck down at any moment. But having the illusion of safety erased, that’s uncertainty of another magnitude, so vastly out of proportion to the “normal,” default reality that words can’t do it justice.” KEEP READING
January 15th, 2020
Global Water Summit
Cass Community United Methodist Church
Thinking for Ourselves
Finding New Ways
The possibility of war with Iran cooled a little this week, thanks to the mature decisions of the Iranian government. Unlike President Trump, who took the most extreme action offered him by his advisors, Iran chose a limited show of force, firing 16 missiles into a base housing Americans in Iraq. Miraculously no one was hurt. But in the tensions caused by Trump’s decision to kill Maj Gen. Qassim Suleimani, 176 people were killed when a civilian passenger jet was shot down by Iranian defense forces, fearing it was a missile attack.
None of this needed to happen. The justification for it has been slippery at best, with the President claiming he was preventing an “imminent” attack, even while other State Department officials call it “a mistake” to use such language.
Certainly the U.S. has a long and sordid history of assassinations, many of them in the middle east. But this killing appears to have been done on a whim, an impulse born of frustration. The shadows of this decision will be long. They will weave into the fabric of these last two decades of war, where the U.S. has taken international violence to new levels. We have claimed the right to strike anyone, anywhere, anytime, if we think they endanger us. We justify torture and perpetual imprisonment. We pick up civilians off streets and drop them in “black holes.” We act without accountability to the opinions of other nations. Yet all of these actions have consequences, some we have seen, many unfolding in generations to come.
In the wake of this week, the drive toward impeachment seems a small response. We have come to the point where those who control the triggers of some of the most deadly weapons of war cannot be trusted to make considered decisions. We are, as Dr. King said, a nation with guided missiles and mis-guided men. We have come to this place as we step by step believed we should protect our own comforts at the expensive of the rest of the world.
At the end of his speech against the Vietnam War, delivered at Riverside church, Dr. King said, “We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.”
Surely finding these new ways to peace is our most urgent task. Such a task requires radical rethinking of how we live and what we value. But as the actions of this week so clearly show, those in authority stand against all that is sacred, cherished, and loved by most human beings. We have no choice but to fine these new ways of being.
The Padre Guadalupe Carney Latin American Solidarity Archive (CLASA), a rare collection of Spanish and English books, human rights reports, independent newspapers and newsletters, and social justice papers broadens its message of social justice to the Detroit Mercy community with speakers and exhibits of art, photography, and archive documents. Most events take place on the McNichols Campus. Check out their slate of free events starting tonight!
Moms 4 Housing: Meet the Oakland Mothers Facing Eviction After Two Months Occupying Vacant House
Changing Time , Shea Howell
Boggs Center Living for Change Newsletter (boggscener.org)
December 29, 2019
We are at the beginning of a new decade. Across the political landscape, people are reflecting on the 2010’s and the first decades of the new millennium. Among liberal and progressive voices, despair seems the primary result of these musing. The New York Times year end editorial explains “Fear and distrust are ascendant now.” They cite the 16 year high in hate crimes, growth of nationalism, attacks on civil rights and democratic institutions, climate catastrophe, and distrust in the mechanism we have established to create more human and just futures as the accumulated results of our actions and inactions.
What is most obvious is how little these reflections offer guidance in the present or help us think about the future. The concerns that dominated the first decade of 2000 did little to prepare us for the viciousness of the next ten years. Today, the depth of crisis we face is far deeper than the problems of new technologies or recurring outbursts of anger and fear. Short term thinking, even attempts to look at the cycles of our own short history, as the Tmes does, are efforts to evade the magnitude of the changes we must make, the choices that are in front of us.
Grace Lee Boggs helped us understand this as she often explained we are in a moment of transition “as great as that as the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture or from agriculture to industry.” These changes happen rarely in human experience, and our consciousness of them is only beginning to emerge. Living in the midst of epoch change makes it clear that attempts to strengthen old ways of thinking and acting only compound the problems we face.
Instead we need to think about how the cornerstones of the industrial era: the deadening of the natural world, extractive cultures and industries, mass production, corporate organization, representative democracy, hyper rationalism, and hyper individualism, have all brought us to the point where this could well be the last millennia of the human experience.
So much of our attention turns toward what is slipping away. We have only weak frameworks to understand what is emerging that is life affirming, holding the possibilities of a future. That is why I think it is important for those of us working toward a just future to spend some time revisiting Marx and the Communist Manifesto.Marx, perhaps more than any other philosopher-activist, captured the emergence of the new industrial era out of the old dying feudal arrangements. Consider this passage:
The foundation of the dying epoch was the separation of human life from nature, the turning of natural world into “resources” for economic profit. The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones.
Marx goes on to say, in what was one of Grace Boggs’s favoriate passages:
All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.
This is why Detroit matters so much as a touchstone toward a better future. Here, as one of the first places shaped and reshaped by the industrial era, and one of the first to be utterly abandoned by capital, we have been forming a future on values that emphasize our connections with one another and the earth on which we depend. What we do matters. And in times of great change, what each of us does can and will have profound, unpredictable effects.