August 7th, 2018
Thinking for Ourselves
Shaping Our City
Detroit has always been shaped by the impulses of white men. It was established in 1701 in the midst of war by white men pursuing land and access to the wealth of the natural world. Over the centuries, war and violence, pursuit of personal wealth, and destruction of the commons have been part of our legacy. But so, too, are the moments of resistance to these efforts. Chief Pontiac forged one of the largest armies contesting imperial expansion on the globe. Henry Ford’s mechanized industrial production, made possible by publicly financed streets, water and sewers, was contained by the humanizing thrust of the labor movement, emphasizing the dignity of people who work. Many of our streets bear the names of those who wantonly killed, enslaved, stole and sold other human beings. Yet we also honor the Abolitionist, the outlaws, and the troublemakers and peace seekers.
Today, as we pass the five years since the beginning of the bankruptcy declaration, we see a resurgence of personal greed overwhelming the public good. Powerful interests are attempting to force their vision for the future on all of us.
The figure to emerge most clearly in this post-bankruptcy era is that of Dan Gilbert. Hotels, casinos, restaurants, former police stations, and failed jails are only part of an estimated $2.15 billion in investments in the downtown area. These investments are supported in large part by public funds. The public funds are justified with the argument that only public financing and creative tax incentives make it worth the risk for people to invest in the city. Such public financing, we are told, will trickle down, providing jobs to Detroiters, whose tax dollars are leveraged in these deals.
Like many of the most brutal ideas of this present moment, this notion was fostered in Michigan, in the battle for Poletown. There, in 1980, for the first time, corporations and government elites joined forces to argue that the public need for jobs justified the government’s ability to take a community and give it to a private corporation for the development of a for profit business. In this case it was the community of Poletown where 3,500 people were forcefully removed. Their homes, businesses, churches and schools were leveled for a Cadillac plant.
Of course, the promised jobs never materialized. Nor the revitalized economy. But General Motors got its plant, and the profits that flowed from it. Years later, after pain, disruption and death, the Michigan Supreme Court said, opps. In 2004 the Court reversed its support of the “quick take” legislation, finding it unconstitutional.
But the intellectual foundation had been established and it became normal for City Councils, County Commissioners, and State Legislatures to provide tax incentives and a range of tools for to shift public money into private hands.
Such mechanisms contributed in no small part to the Detroit bankruptcy and to the chaos in our public schools.
Meanwhile forces of resistance continue to press for alternatives, to find ways of building a sustainable, just, and inclusive city.
Around the country cities are experimenting with progressive polices that promise affordable housing; access to clean, affordable water; corporate accountability; sustainable development; and protection for vulnerable people.
Detroit, once a leader in visionary municipal development, has fallen under the control of a small group of men who think narrowly about advancing their own wealth. This path only leads to violence and destruction.
Yet throughout the city people are advocating for a different vision. People press for a real water affordability program, such as the one designed here, but adopted by Philadelphia. They are working to evolve affordable housing plans and rent controls, drawing on ideas from Richmond to NY. Community land trusts and benefit agreements are evolving with sophisticated reporting mechanisms, as in Houston. Visionary ideas are everywhere in our city, just not in the halls of this administration or Gilbert’s board rooms.
Sunday, August, 26th
Please join Black Scroll Network History & Tours and historian Jamon Jordan on a tour of important sites connected to the Black militant liberation movement. We will visit and teach/learn about sites connected with: The Republic of New Afrika, the Black Panther Party, the 1967 Detroit Rebellion, the Algiers Motel, the Shrine of the Black Madonna, the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X and SO MUCH MORE!
Bus Tour is $25
SIGN UP HERE
Most years, this last week in July is the only time that the media turns its attention to people with disabilities. But this year has been different.
As Donald Trump and the counter-revolution take advantage of the systemic breakdown of Western Civilization, we are witnessing a massive re-alignment of those in power. I had the opportunity to be with people this summer in Toronto and Cape Cod who are asking fundamental questions about what this means as we work to nurture leadership, create community, and develop spiritual warriors for our movements to envision and create local, sustainable communities.
These two gatherings represent some of the essential rethinking that many people are now doing about this moment in human history
While some will say we are at the end of another civilization, others will say we are at the end of an epoch. Those who have been reading Living for Change and the work of James and Grace Lee Boggs recognize that we are at a crossroads. We are not going back to the way things were, but there is no guarantee the “next system will be better.” That is why what we do individually and collectively matters so much.
At both gatherings I had the opportunity to be with people from the around the globe who recognize that this is a dangerous time, but also an opportunity to engage in local transformative work, and leadership development. We talked of preserving the values and principles of interdependence, compassion, and generosity of spirit so that we can create communities that care for our elders, our children, our earth.
Meg Wheatley led one of the gatherings. It was a week long study session based upon her recent book “Who Do We Choose To Be? Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity.” Each day focused on probing one of the following issues:
What time is it on the clock of the world?
The pattern of collapse: Lessons for leaders
The dynamics of living systems: Lessons for leaders
Leading an Island of Sanity
Who do we choose to be?
Joanna Macy also attended the gathering, bringing her spirit, intellect ,and decades of commitment to creating new ways of living and being. She understands that at the “end of Empire we must find ways to lift up hope. You can learn more about her here.
What is hope? Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.
Earlier in the month I attended the Toronto Summer Institute on Inclusion.
At this gathering we showed the film: Intelligent lives which profiles our son Micah, and also Naieer and Naomi on their journey. The film captures how they successfully challenge labels, IQ testing ,and preconceived notions of people with intellectual disabilities (mental retardation).
In the course of these conversations I thought about the often used phrase: “It takes a village to raise our children.” It is becoming clearer to me that we also should consider, it takes our children to create a village.
We also showed An American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs. Folks were excited to learn about Detroit and eagerly received Riverwise magazine. The daily conversations revolved around how we consciously create community.
Deamon Harges of Indianapolis, Indiana, calls himself a Roving Listener. He is creating power through deep listening.
“By listening, he discovers the gifts, passions, and dreams of citizens in his neighborhood, using them to build community, economy, and mutual delight.”
Daemon was joined by Caitlin Childs of Atlanta, Georgia. Caitlin Petrakis Childs is a thirty-something, white, queer, intersex, femme, vegan, community organizer. Caitlin is a visionary spirit and organizer of the future while totally rooted in the present. She has worked successfully to create inclusive urban farming and food security models across Georgia with folks who have intellectual disabilities. Her organizing fosters community, dignity, and engagement.
As I reflect on these two gatherings I know that over the next few months much of the country will focus on elections. Trump is already organizing his post election Veteran’s Day parade to celebrate War and Militarism. We know the depth of the counter revolutionary, white supremist forces backing Trump will not disappear in an election. Thus it becomes critical that we deepen our own efforts, expanding our thinking, our organizing and our connections.
Since the Detroit Rebellion of 1967, James and Grace Lee Boggs emphasized the need to think dialectically, to commit ourselves to place, and re-imagine the concepts and practice of revolution as well as our vision of a new city. Grace and James also emphasized the need to study place and history.
As I participated in these gatherings, I am so grateful for their gift to me to know our history, locally, nationally and globally. Having this longer view helps me understand that our work in Detroit creates the possibilities that a more inclusive, sustainable and loving epoch can emerge.
We are at the end of an epoch that began more than 600 years ago. That epoch began with pushing people form the land into cities, burning women as witches, the rise of capitalism, the slave trade, racism, individualism, white supremacy, patriarchy, scientific rationalism, and reductionism. Now we are witnessing the decline of the Nation State and the limits of a so called democracy that represents corporate powers. The illusions and delusions that there are scientific and economic solutions to our current fears, pain, and hungers have been laid bare.
Where do we go from here? What time is it on the clock of the world? How do we face these new realities with hope and vision? Can we, as theologian, friend and historian Vincent Harding hoped, become “a citizen of a country that does not yet exist?”