Boggs Center News
James Boggs, “Liberation or Revolution,” 1978
“Why is that, having lived through one of the most momentous periods in human history, a period when millions of people were out in the streets, demonstrating their belief that there is another way for human beings to live together, most people today are far more empty, far more cynical, far more full of self-doubt than our parents were despite their worse condition? There are two main reasons for our present demoralization. On the one hand, once the system began handing out more crumbs and liberals began to win elections for themselves by encouraging people to ask for more crumbs, most people began to look to those in power to solve our problems rather than look to ourselves. On the other hand, those who consider themselves “movement people” began to grab political ideas that had worked for revolutionary struggles in other countries instead of doing the patient theoretical work necessary to work out the political ideas and political solutions that are based on our situation, our history, and our country.”
December 4th, 2017
Thinking for Ourselves
First They Came for Detroit
The Michigan State Legislature is no friend to democracy. Nor is it a friend to cities. Dominated by right wing ideologues, the State Republican majority is once again mounting an assault on all those who believe in local democratic control.
Last week a series of bills were introduced aimed at taking control of local decisions about health care and pensions funded by local communities. These bills, in both the House and the Senate and are backed by Governor Snyder. They are being pushed by Republicans as a way to help municipalities meet pension and health care obligations. The 16 bill package gives sweeping powers to new emergency managers, takes aim at pensions and collective bargaining, and is clearly intended to provide a new mechanism to take over local governments, sell off assets to private interests, and destroy unions.
Under the guise of concern for underfunded retirement plans, the new Local Government Retirement Stability Board (LGRSB), consisting of 3 people appointed by the governor, would require all communities to submit to a five stage process beginning with the assessment of the viability of current pension funding. If funding is deemed inadequate, the community would be required to develop a plan of “corrective action.” If the LGRSB and the local government could not agree, the State Treasurer would declare a financial emergency and appoint a three pension team with powers similar to current Emergency Managers, including setting aside local elected officials, taking control of the budgets, selling public assets and renegotiating contracts.
Of all of the destructive actions taken by Governor Snyder and his right wing supporters, Emergency Management and the removal of local democratic control is the most horrific. It has been directly responsible for the poisoning of Flint, the killing of people, the destruction of public schools, unimaginable suffering through water shut offs, and the whole sale loss of municipal wealth as public assets slip into private hands.
This new wave of legislation, however, is not aimed primarily at large cities with significant numbers of African American citizens. Rather, the first two phases of the proposed legislation would affect more than 900 cities, townships, villages, counties, libraries and park authorities requiring them to turn over financial information to the State. Senate Majority Leader Arian Meekhof, a republican from West Olive, said that about 85% of Michigan communities are at or nearly fully funded and would not require “corrective action.” About 30 communities across the state are now considered vulnerable, including Detroit, Lansing, Pontiac and Warren.
Aside from the flawed logic of requiring all municipalities to engage in a costly and cumbersome process that only affects 15% of them, the reality is that municipal financial distress has been directly caused by the actions and inactions of the State Republican Legislature. First they withhold funds, then they blame municipalities for not having enough money to balance budgets, then they declare a financial emergency and come in and raid the municipality, privatizing services and selling public assets.
Consider that these bills go far beyond the recommendations of the Governor’s own task force empowered to review pension plans in the state. A majority of Task Force members were opposed to the establishment of requirements for all local governments to submit to an emergency process, believing that the local unit, through the collective bargaining process, should have the flexibility to agree upon what works best within their communities.
Right wing Republicans do not believe in local control. They have argued that there is no “constitutional right to local self government” and view it as a threat. Since 2002, Michigan has cut state support for cities more than any other state in the country, reducing funding by 57%.
First, Emergency Managers came for Detroit, Flint, Pontiac, Benton Harbor and Highland Park. Now they are coming for the rest of Michigan. It is clear we who believe in local democracy as both our right and responsibility have much work to do together.
Tawana “Honeycomb” Petty
During this period in my life, I have found myself committed to participating in anti-racism organizing efforts that move beyond black people and other people of color trying to convince white people that they have privilege and white people admitting to that privilege.
Those of us committed to anti-racism organizing need an entirely new conversation, one that has white people digging deeper into the impact racism has had on their own humanity. Drug abuse, domestic violence, suicide, mass murders, etc., are results of the same system that causes intraracial violence within black and brown communities.
I recognize that it is difficult for many to accept that the conditions faced by whites are tied to racism. Racism is a painful existence for blacks and other people of color, and anti-black racism is a deeper level of racism that blacks face, even within “allied” relationships.
As a black woman born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, a city that has suffered under a half-century of propaganda assault because of its predominately black racial demographic, I cannot ignore the impacts of anti-black racism. Anti-black racism has had a direct psychological impact on me and I have witnessed the impact it has had on my city, my entire life.
However, as I have begun to envision and work towards trying to realize the type of world I wish to live in, I have taken note of the impact that participating in such a dehumanizing system has had on well-meaning whites.
Although too many deny it, it has also become easy to take stock of the visible correlation between racism and capitalism.
When whites go into banks and other institutions that have built their wealth on the selling of black bodies through slavery, and are afforded loans and other resources that are quite often denied to the descendants of slaves, that is an obvious connection between racism and capitalism.
When black and brown residents are uprooted from their neighborhoods and their homes replaced with stadiums and upscale hotels or businesses that cater mostly to a white population, those are obvious connections between racism and capitalism.
But, what is less obvious is the psychological impact participating in this capitalistic racism has had on whites. The imaginary bubble that one must create around themselves in order to falsify a peaceful (often suburban) existence from the undesirable (black and brown) population, lends to a level of dehumanization in white people that many don’t speak about.
Instead of confronting these realities in a systemic way, blacks, other people of color, and whites have allowed themselves to participate in a seesaw that reinforces a false hierarchical narrative. Black people and other people of color are on one side of the seesaw and whites are on the other side. This false dichotomy is the privileged and underprivileged seesaw.
This type of rhetoric cannot exist within anti-racism organizing. It will not create the world many of us wish to live in someday. It is the dominant narrative, not the counter-narrative. We need to be committed to the counter-narrative.
If white people don’t begin to look at the impact the system of white supremacy has had on white people, those who have committed themselves to anti-racist organizing will continue to pursue undoing racism as a pet project they can pick up and put down. Undoing racism has to become a lifelong commitment white people make in order to humanize themselves. It cannot be something they do in the black community. Racism is not a black and brown community problem. Racism is something that is inflicted upon the black and brown community.
It is true that unarmed white people are not being gunned down by racist police the way that black people and other people of color are being gunned down. It is true that white people are not being redlined in order to allow for blacks to move into their neighborhoods. It is true that white school districts are not suffering massive school closings and disinvestment at a level that you see happening in black and brown neighborhoods. The system of white supremacy and the policies that are enacted in order to continue that system are vicious and unyielding, and we must do everything in our power to struggle against those policies and supporting forces. In order to do that, we need everyone in the struggle for racial justice to be doing so. This is why forcing well-meaning white people to shrink under white guilt and the false notion of privilege serves the movement for racial justice no real purpose.
Participating with the system of white supremacy is far from a privileged existence. It is a dehumanizing existence. The further connected one is to a system that forces you to look through people based on their racial identity in order to survive or thrive, the farther away from your humanity you have to be.
Climbing the perpetual ladder to the American Dream requires a level of disconnect from what it means to be human that can only be nurtured with larger metal gates, deeper car garages, smaller front porches, and minimal contact with people all around you — even people who look like you.
Is it truly a privilege to be connected to a legacy of lynching, displacement, redlining, etc.? We need new language. We need to pull away from the cycle of ally-ship and begin struggling towards co-liberation. We need whites to firmly believe that their liberation, their humanity is also dependent upon the destruction of racism and the dismantling of white supremacy.
This framing is new and challenging for our movement, but it is one that must be considered if we are truly to avoid revisiting the dynamics we are currently facing in this country another fifty years from now.
On November 29, 2017, I had an opportunity to participate on a panel titled, “Let’s Talk About Race: Standing Together to End Racism” at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Royal Oak, MI. I joined the panel with Professor Peter Hammer of Wayne State University Law School and the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights. He presented on the history of racial inequity in Detroit and SE, Michigan. I presented on much of what I referenced above. We will continue these conversations.
It’s time we recognize that true anti-racism organizing means that we must help each other down from the seesaw.
Riverwise Magazine is a collective effort to highlight and strengthen grassroots movement activity throughout the city of Detroit. Former staff members of the Michigan Citizen Newspaper alongside active members of the James and Grace Lee Boggs Center for Nurturing Community Leadership launched the magazine in 2017 with an eye towards reporting on emerging movements, especially among communities of color.
Riverwise documents the people and places building a more equitable and just city. While government agencies lay down the red carpet for billionaire venture capitalists and corporate ‘tech’ headquarters, Detroit’s ‘underserved’ are projecting visions of a sustainable future.
With a distribution of 10,000 copies a quarter, we are encouraging new ways of thinking about our city in coffeehouses, barbershops, community centers and bookstores. Our work has been supported by a generous grant from the New Visions Foundation and individual donations. We anticipate being able to maintain the current level of funding for basic production for the coming year but we have depended on the volunteer work of authors and artists.
We are now calling on you, our growing readership, to help us support local writers and artists working with us to tell these remarkable stories. Their unique insights and abilities are essential to projecting new ideas and propelling us towards a more humane world.
Our commitment to expand the traditional role of a community publication is paramount to the mission of Riverwise magazine. We provide an independent, visionary voice about the challenges facing our city and our country. This campaign is one step towards aligning our funding structure with the communities we seek to engage.
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
–Fullerton and Field street initiatives: ($50,000)
Riverwise Magazine publication: ($40,000)
Boggs Center repairs. Archiving and meeting space improvements:
You can contribute directly at our website: –
www.boggscenter.org or mail a check to Boggs Center, 3061 Field
Street, Detroit, MI 48214.
Please consider becoming a sustaining member of the Center.
Your ongoing support is critical to us.