April 2nd, 2019
The Boggs Center would like to extend our love, respect and admiration to the Highlander Center for its 87 year legacy and commitment to social justice.
We are bereaved to learn of your recent fire, and offer our support as you continue your decades long contribution to the betterment of humanity.
In love and struggle, Boggs Center Board
A Message from the Highlander Center
As most of you know, a devastating fire burned down our main office early Friday morning. Thankfully no one was inside the building and no one was injured.
We also found a symbol connected to the white power movement spray-painted on the parking lot connected to the main office.
While we do not know the names of the culprits, we know that the white power movement has been increasing and consolidating power across the South, across this nation, and globally.
Since 2016, the white power movement has become more visible, and we’ve seen that manifest in various ways, both subtle and overt. They’ve targeted and exploited working class and cash-poor white communities searching to find a sense of belonging, dividing them from people who support efforts to improve the material conditions of all people. Their attempts to increase in size and scale impact the realities of our daily lives here because the majority of Black people in this country reside in southern states. As islamophobic attacks become more prevalent, we’re hyper-aware that the majority of Muslims in this nation are Black people. We know that anti-Semitic attacks have rocked the Jewish community. We know that anti-immigrant forces are consolidating, attacks on reproductive freedoms abound and the politics of the federal government’s executive branch are speaking to the privilege-based fears of the white power movement, emboldening them in ways the 21st century hasn’t seen.
Even in the face of these realities, the southern freedom movement is alive and well. Our folks are winning campaigns. They’re organizing and base building. People are fighting for progressive policies and using direct action to hold people in power accountable.
Highlander is a sacred place built by communities of the most affected people and it has become a home to those who believe in freedom and collective liberation here in the south, across the U.S and around the world. Because of our history we are not surprised that this space, one where marginalized people working across sectors, geographies and identities show up consistently, has been repeatedly targeted over our 87 years of existence.
The safety of our people is and has always been our first concern. The investigation is nowhere near over. We are continuing to survive and monitor the process that takes more time in a rural geography with limited public resources. The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office will continue their investigation. The Tennessee Bomb and Arson people will continue to do theirs. We are not confused about how rarely people are ever charged with arson; however, we are surviving and monitoring these investigations.
This is a time for building our power. Now is the time to be vigilant. To love each other and support each other and to keep each other safe in turbulent times. Now is not the time to dismiss how scary things are, which makes it even more important to have concrete assessments of concrete conditions, and sophisticated strategies to build a new world.
What’s next for Highlander is that we will continue to be that sacred place, that movement home, that place where strategy is developed, that place where principled struggle happens, that place that accompanies movement, that place that incubates radical work, and that place that demands transformative justice.
We love you all, we appreciate your patience and questions, and please continue to be vigilant.
Thinking for Ourselves
The arch of universe bent a little closer to justice this week. The massive, toxic trash incinerator that has been poisoning Detroit for more than 3 decades announced it is closing down. This marks a victory for one of the most sustained, imaginative, and persistent campaigns for environmental justice anywhere.
Across Detroit people who pulled babies in carts to protest pollution can now share the good news with their grandchildren. All of us will be able to breathe more freely and can look forward to summer days, no longer assaulted with air that suffocates us and infuses our bodies with noxious poisons.
I vividly remember going to one of the first hearings held by the Environmental Protection Agency with James and Grace Lee Boggs more than 30 years ago. James had agreed to give testimony against the incinerator on behalf of the Detroit Greens. He argued that the incinerator was taking us in the wrong direction. Its need for trash to burn to produce electricity depended on increasing consumption and waste. Instead, he argued, we should be developing policies to decrease our consumption and encourage recycling and reuse. He also talked about the finances of the project, predicting that Wall Street banks would become an increasing burden on city finances. He concluded his remarks reminding people that our major hospitals, meat packing, and fresh food centers all were in the path of daily cancer producing pollutants. People were being placed at risk every time they ate something or went to the hospital to be cured of the asthma or cancer caused by that very air.
Jimmy was followed by Harold Stokes, a life-long environmental activist and champion of justice. Harold had on a tee shirt from the Evergreen Alliance saying “Stop the Incinerator.” I remember him pointing to his chest and reading the slogan, explaining that was why he was offering testimony. Then, with a dramatic gesture, he ripped the shirt off, revealing another. Then another, and another, and another, and another, and another, and another. Each one had a strong message, all from different groups, all saying “stop.” The last one was a beautiful stencil of a single blue bird. Harold walked up to the panel and asked them to look closely at the bird. He wanted his grand-children to be able to see such beauty, to hear its song. He warned that if the incinerator continued, it would be a death sentence to such fragile life.
The final testimony I remember from that day was from the Gross Pointe Junior League. Dressed for tea, a young mother read her remarks. I was not prepared for the depth of her testimony. She explained her group started talking about the smell of the incinerator at social gatherings. They had seen some of the protests and had started to wonder if the air carrying the smell was carrying other things into their community. They developed a process to test air quality systematically and had found alarming levels of pollutants, well above the levels allowed by the EPA. They had also found that in the first three months of the year, the air contained especially high levels of lead, cambium, and mercury as well as toxins related to the burning of plastics. The three months after Christmas, she said, were the worst, because toys and batteries were tossed away.
All of the concerns voiced that day proved to be true. For years these arguments have been repeated, deepened, and become more insightful. But their basic truth continues. Now at long last, after causing countless debilitating conditions and deaths, after extracting more than $1.2 billion from the city, this week it will end.
There are many lessons to learn from this long struggle. Those charged with the responsibilities of protecting people and our planet would do well to consider the critical role community members play in assessing public policies. Learning to listen to voices motivated by care and compassion, rather than corporate greed, protects life.
High school students gathered Sunday in Midtown in Detroit to remember protests a year ago to support safer schools, including making clean water available and stopping gun violence.
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