How Do “We Reimagine? Grace Lee Boggs
We reimagine by combining activism with philosophy. We have to do what I call visionary organizing. We have to see every crisis as both a danger and an opportunity. It’s a danger because it does so much damage to our lives, to our institutions, to all that we have expected. But it’s also an opportunity for us to become creative; to become the new kind of people that are needed at such a huge period of transition. That’s why it’s so wonderful to be here today—that we dare to talk about revolution in such fundamental terms.”
Living for Change News
December 10th, 2017
There’s something amazing growing in the city of Detroit: healthy, accessible, delicious, fresh food. In a spirited talk, fearless farmer Devita Davison explains how features of Detroit’s decay actually make it an ideal spot for urban agriculture. Join Davison for a walk through neighborhoods in transformation as she shares stories of opportunity and hope. “These aren’t plots of land where we’re just growing tomatoes and carrots,” Davison says. “We’re building social cohesion as well as providing healthy, fresh food.”
Thinking for Ourselves
Small Victory, New Questions
People in Michigan can celebrate a small victory this week as public outcry forced the state legislature to scale back its latest attack on local government. The Emergency Management Team provision was withdrawn in the series of bills aimed at pension finances. The proposed package of bills sponsored by right wing republicans to deal with pension commitments would have established a new level of emergency financial managers, setting aside basic local control in the name of financial responsibility. Both Democrats and moderate republicans baulked at the provision, acknowledging the new legislation was more emergency management by a not very different name. Since the disaster in Flint, Emergency Management by any name has not been a popular idea. So the provisions attempting to expand this were withdrawn. Few elected officials are willing to support extending Emergency Managers.
But this is a small victory surrounded by larger questions. Embedded in the issue of emergency management is the deeply held right wing belief that democracy is incompatible with responsible choices. Local control of local decisions do not matter, they argue. In fact it is the official position of these right wing extremists that people have no right to local self-government. This is evident in the continual pursuit of Emergency Managers to replace locally elected governments. Those who lost this time have pledged by to keep the effort to establish emergency management teams alive.
They are supported by the right wing analysis that infuses all levels of government these days. Last spring three republican appointed justices to the US Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Emergency Managers, finding them a constitutional exercise of authority. Judge John M. Rogers, a George W. Bush appointee, wrote that it “undoubtedly is a legitimate legislative purpose” for the governor to be given authority to appoint emergency managers with broad authority to run communities and school districts. The decision affirmed Bill Schuette’s bold assertion that people simply “do not have a Constitutional right to local self government.”
Undergirding this thinking is the belief that local financial distress is the result of mismanagement by local officials. Rogers wrote in his opinion, “The solvency of a local government is the result of the management of the finances of that government,” Or mismanagement. In this perspective, if local governments face financial difficulties it is because elected officials haven’t made the necessary decisions to “discipline” aggressive unions and public employees. They have bowed to political pressures. Or they were just plain corrupt.
Notions of mismanagement and corruption are widely held by the right wing to be endemic to communities governed by African Americans. As the Center for Constitutional Law pointed out, “Since 2013, at one point or another, 56% of the black population of the state of Michigan has lived under emergency management.” Meanwhile just three percent of the white population has endured these circumstances.
This racialized blaming of local officials evades fundamental, systemic problems in financing local governments. As a recent report from the Michigan Municipal League argued, “We have built an unsustainable method for funding local government, and unless the administration and Legislature take steps to correct it, we will be damning Michigan’s future.” The report concludes, “We must reevaluate how we fund the services that matter most and back it with the resources needed to create places that people want. “
The beginning of this reevaluation is a conversation about the intricate connection of democracy and the places where we live. How do we make meaningful decisions? Who is responsible? What are the values that govern our choices? In pursuing these questions we will find our way to a deeper understanding of why cities, communities, and people matter.
Violence is not privilege, it’s detriment
Tawana “Honeycomb” Petty
Violence is not privilege, it’s detriment.
I’m not writing this as someone who has always thought this way. I wrote an entire poem around privilege in my book Coming Out My Box in 2016. However, my thinking has since evolved. The urgency to be free of the system of white supremacy has become even more prevalent.
My mind can no longer connect a violent, oppressive and genocidal system with privilege. I can no longer encourage potential co-liberators to accept their history and collaboration with this system as a privilege. For me, accepting the ongoing legacy of trauma inflicted on blacks and other people of color as a privilege is dehumanizing for all involved. In fact, the terms privilege and ally within the anti-racist organizing movement have been so watered down that mentions make me a bit nauseous and triggered at times.
If someone snatched a child and raped and killed them, would we tell them to admit that they had the privilege of being with that child? Why then would we encourage well-meaning white people who hope to grasp the magnitude of slavery and the current system of white supremacy, to identify their connection to that violent history and current brutality as a privilege? Why are we framing white supremacy as a benefit from our Ancestors’ brutal history of torture (many of whom were children). Why are we framing it as a perk to benefit from our ongoing displacement and marginalization in this country?
Even with the resources gained and protections afforded by the system, based on whiteness, I would much rather hear white co-liberators say, “I recognize my detriment. I am actively struggling against white supremacy, here is how…” Because to identify with those gains with such affirmative language is detrimental to healing and progression in this country. It is detrimental to any real systemic change. If we reframe the connection to this brutality as a detriment, rather than a privilege it removes the optional ally-ship that is so prevalent within anti-racism organizing. If white co-liberators can see their connection to the legacy of slavery, lynching, redlining and other forms of racial violence as a detriment to their humanity, rather than a privilege to their existence, we can begin to balance the racial seesaw a bit.
The argument around privilege verses detriment has been used in the past to think about how whites and blacks relate to the system of white supremacy. However, in those instances, the argument has been that we should refrain from calling white people privileged and instead identify black people as having the detriment. My argument is that this still reinforces the historical hierarchal narrative that got us here in the first place. It is a narrative that makes it a global phenomenon to consistently fail to recognize blacks and other people of color as fully human. I am also arguing that it is the indoctrination into the system of white supremacy and the connectedness to a legacy of violence and brutality towards human beings based on race, that is the actual detriment. Rather than determine a person’s value (privileged or underprivileged) based on what one of my comrades would call, stuff and status, we can begin to reconnect morality with humanity.
It is a mistake to continue to teach black children and other children of color, even those who are without basic necessities, that they are underprivileged. We must begin to take care of their spirit. Society has already told them that they are less than, that they are hopeless and helpless. We must teach them that as we struggle against these systems that seek to dehumanize them, we recognize their full humanity and will do everything in our power to strengthen and restore our villages, so that they don’t have to go without.
Dr. King said, “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” I firmly believe that we all have greater control over the edifice than we have allowed ourselves to believe.
What We’re Watching
This week’s Laura Flanders Show comes from Whitakers, North Carolina and the annual gathering of the Southern Movement Assemblies — a living experiment in popular democracy and local self governance. Plantation politics, monopoly capitalism, incarceration instead of peace: a lot of the worst of the American experience has it roots in the US South, but so does much of the best, from slave revolts, to abolition, to organized labor and civil rights. If the country goes as the South goes, what grassroots progressives do here matters. For this special episode we partnered with Project South, an anchor organization of the Southern Movement Assemblies, and Laura was joined by co-host LaDie Mansfield.Children’s Defense Fund’s National Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Please Support the Boggs Center
With each day we are reminded of the legacy of James and Grace Lee
Boggs as we see the seeds of their work across Detroit, our nation
and the globe, and in the work that you are doing to bring to life
This year we are thinking about centuries as we commemorated the 98th
birthday of James Boggs in May and Grace’s 102nd birthday in June.
Where will we be in 2117? What do we long for our world to become?
These questions are at the root of the work of resisting the
dehumanization of this present moment and our efforts to accelerate
visionary organizing throughout the country.
Over the next few months we plan to raise $100,000 for the
Place-based organizing of Feedom Freedom Growers, Birwood
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