Living for Change News
November 28th – December 5th
We Have Much To Learn From Cuba
Grace Lee Boggs – 1996This was my first visit to Cuba and it was only for a week. My sense was that the Cuban people, by recommitting themselves to the struggle for socialism, are beginning to recover from the crisis caused by the loss of Soviet aid. In the process they seemed to be creating an alternative vision for Third World countries and perhaps even for deindustrialized cities like Detroit which must now rebuild, redefine, and respirit themselves from the ground up. The highlight of the visit was attending the 17th Cuban Trade Congress, the theme of which was Se Puede Multos Juntos- Together We Can.
The Congress gave me a sense of how real and how spiritual the struggle for socialism is in Cuba, how it is energized not only by necessities of physical survival but by love and the profound conviction that by working together we can resolve our contradictions, create a better and more just world for ourselves and our children, and advance the evolution of the human race….
The Congress ended with a two and a half hour speech by Fidel. I felt enormously privileged to be watching the 70-year old bearded revolutionary, the only one of the great 20th century leaders who is still with us, still developing his ideas before our very eyes….
“We must apply and expand our positive experiences, do with what we have, make better use of what we have, treasure the knowledge of our people, continue to live by the values we have developed during the revolution. We must improve a lot, gain greater knowledge, day by day, progress. We need more initiative, more creativity; we need to combine moral with material incentives. Our enemy hated us just because we have done what we consider to be more just and noble, because we want the very best not only for our people but for all the people in the world. That is why we are so proud and happy to call ourselves internationalists, socialists, communists.”
The vision of self-reliance projected by Fidel is clearly an idea whose time has come for people all over the Third World, a combination of decentralization and centralization which offers an alternative to the capitalist road of economic development imposed by the IMF and the multinationals, which is causing such impoverishment and immiseration in Africa and Latin America.
In Detroit and other de-industrialized cities of North America, we increasingly face the choice between two roads of economic development. Is our only option developer-driven casino gambling, new sports stadiums, suburban-like subdivisions inside the city built for the middle class-all of which reinforce capitalist values and consumerism, thus breeding more crime and violence? Or can we struggle together to build cities that are more self-reliant, growing our own food and producing our own clothing and shelter in environmentally-friendly worker-owned and cooperative enterprises, thus internalizing the concepts of efficiency and self-sufficiency, accounting and control, and setting an example of productive work for our young people?
One night we went to a block party, and as the community activist in the delegation, I made a brief presentation. I said that I had to come to Cuba to learn how to make the revolution in the United States which would liberate people all over the world. I described the devastation in Detroit following our abandonment by multinational corporations and the struggles we are now engaged in to rebuild our communities and our cities. I said I wished that I could bottle the spirit of love of people, love of community, love of country that I found in Cuba and take it back with me. The United States is not a developing Third World country, but we have much to learn from Cuba.
Excerpt from Grace Lee Boggs, “Cuba: Love and Self-Reliance,” Monthly Review (December 1996).
Dear Friends and Comrades of the Boggs Center,
We are deeply grateful for all of the support you have given to us over the years.
As we face a tremendous moment of both crisis and opportunity, we feel an enormous responsibility to continue the commitment to revolutionary and visionary work and resistance that was at the heart of the lives and works of Grace and Jimmy.
We also believe that at this “time on the clock of the world,” their vision of possibilities for a new America are not only relevant, but urgent.
As 2016 comes to an end, we are asking for your support.
Please visit our website to make a donation or send checks to
3061 Field St
Thinking for Ourselves
With Donald Trump’s pick of Betsy DeVos to head the US Department of Education, the country is in store for a direct assault on public education. This is not hyperbole. Betsy DeVos has been the main architect of the systematic destruction of Detroit Public Schools and all those schools in Michigan serving poor, urban, black and brown children.
Devos is widely acknowledged as the “main driver of the entire state’s school overhaul.” In Detroit this “overhaul” has been a disaster. For most of her adult life Betsy DeVos has pushed an extremist, right wing corporate agenda to privatize schools, attack unions and promote conservative values.
As educational leader Diane Ravitch noted, DeVos “does not hide her contempt for the public schools.” National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen Garcia said, “her efforts over the years have done more to undermine public education than support students.”
Destroying local democratic control has been a key strategy in her efforts to privatize public education. After a failed effort in 2000 to get vouchers into the Michigan Constitution, DeVos launched a national organization to encourage pro voucher candidates and conservative values. Today they claim a 121-60 win-loss record. She heads the American Federation for Children that dumped millions into efforts to promote schools of choice.
DeVos has millions to dump. Her husband Dick DeVos is heir to the Amway fortune and her brother is Erik Prince, the founder of the notorious private security firm Blackwater. Blackwater reinvented itself since being exposed for murders in Iraq and is tied to the security forces at Standing Rock.
In 2014 Mother Jones documented the investment of the DeVos and Prince families in ideologically extreme causes. They reported:
THE DEVOSES sit alongside the Kochs, the Bradleys, and the Coorses as founding families of the modern conservative movement. Since 1970, DeVos family members have invested at least $200 million in a host of right-wing causes—think tanks, media outlets, political committees, evangelical outfits, and a string of advocacy groups. They have helped fund nearly every prominent Republican running for national office and underwritten a laundry list of conservative campaigns on issues ranging from charter schools and vouchers to anti-gay-marriage and anti-tax ballot measures.”
The failure of her schemes to improve education in Detroit is well documented. Detroit has the second largest share of students in charter schools, 44 percent, coming behind New Orleans. Every year nearly $1 billion of taxpayer money goes to charter schools, most of them for profit enterprises and most doing a miserable job. In addition they are defunding public schools, forcing students to endure deplorable conditions and impossible learning environments. The failure of the DeVos initiated programs have lead to a recent federal lawsuit claiming the state has utterly failed in its obligation to provide basic literacy for children.
Just as Detroit shows where DeVos will try and take the country, we also have some solutions. We have a long history of independent, culturally strong schools that have supported and loved our children. Networks of teachers, parents and students are coming together to develop new forms of education that engage students as “solutionaries,” using their imagination and creativity to solve community problems.
Recently the Detroit Independent Freedom Schools emerged as an alternative to the destruction of public education. Inspired by the freedom schools of the African American liberation movements its mission is to create “free, African-centered, loving educational experiences for Detroit children and families, to mobilize community volunteers and resources, cultivate community strength and self-determination, and build movement-based futures.”
Information about the schools can be found at the Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management and through the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American history that hosts one of the five active sites on Saturday mornings.
The election of Donald Trump brings a vast, right wing force together to turn every public activity into a private profit center. It will attack basic notions of democracy, decency, and public trust. But in many places people have been resisting these very forces for a long time. We need to draw on the lessons we are learning to protect our children and secure our futures.
The Detroit Community Technology Project (DCTP) is excited to present the “Teaching Community Technology Handbook”. This 100+ page handbook will take you through the history of popular education while offering a step-by-step guide to developing community rooted technology workshops and curricula. The handbook introduces Community Technology as a series of educational practices, combining theories and methods by Paulo Freire, Myles Horton, Grace Lee Boggs, Bernice McCarthy, Susan Morris, Grant P Wiggins, and Jay McTighe.
Thoughts on Learning
This morning I woke up early around 3am to spend a few hours reading from & about James Baldwin & Richard Wright. Why? I have no clue, Spirit just moved me to do so. As a child I was introduced to them around 3rd grade attending Nataki Talibah School House of Detroit.
At Nataki We learned about Africa as the Mother of Civilization & its People the Originators of Math, Sciences, Writing, & Everything. We were introduced to so many Black figures through our other subjects because it was a part of our overall curriculum. African History or Black History was not labeled as such, it was labeled as History. Neither was African American Literature, it was simply Literature.
We learned about every Civilization, Kingdom, Dynasty, Tribe, from around The Continent. We learned Geography and about The Diaspora from an African Centered perspective. We learned the truth about the Slaughter of Native Americans & the fake history that was created to glorify & reframe the atrocity that took place. We learned about all of the atrocities & triumphs.
Arts & Culture was just as Important as our Academic Subjects, so much so, that it was infused into all our other subjects. We were taught sciences along with arts and historical figures, the same in math & each subject.
I Loved the cool, authentic, animated poetry of Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Nikki Giovanni (who visited our 3rd grade classroom & I got to talk to her & read her my haikus). I also Loved reading the many AutoBiographies & Biographies of colorful figures such as Malcolm X, Billie Holiday, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Langston Hughes, Zora Neal Hurston, Countee Cullen & so many, many, many, many more.
My Mom has always been an avid reader and at home we had designated reading & study time. She gave me homework outside of my school work. She also introduced me to Plays & Detroit Writers. I’d have to do book reports & summaries just for her. And she’d actually read them & correct them & make me do rewrites.
I struggled through reading fiction, I found it uninteresting & preferred Real Life stories. I actually am still that way today, I cannot pull myself to read fiction, it feels like torture. I Prefer Non-Fiction, except for Octavia Butler. I’ve read All of her books & Love them.
When I moved back to NYC to live with my Dad in Middle School I attended a mixed school and was in Honors classes. We read “The Diary of Anne Frank”, lots of Edgar Allen Poe & Shakespeare, & a bunch of other stuff on your typical 7th grade reading list.
When I asked my 7th grade teacher who happened to be Caucasian if we were going to read any Black Authors, I was met with “we have to accomplish our required reading list. why don’t you do that on your own?”
Needless to say, I suffered from culture shock. Not only because I was physically & socially separated from other Black & Brown students through being in Honors classes, but because our stories weren’t valued as a necessary part of our Education.
This is how I ended up spending so much time at the library. I followed my Teacher’s advice and fortunately, the Librarian was a Black Woman, who I had gone to for refuge. She would smile so big when she saw me & hand me at least 3 or 4 books everyday. “I can’t read all this”. “Yes you can, I’m just putting these aside for you, you’ll have til the end of the month”.
It was mostly fiction. Because of her, I read the actual works of Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, & so many others whose Biographies I had read in elementary school at Nataki. If she hadn’t pushed me I wouldn’t have read any of those books on my own. She helped me get outside my comfort zone and learn about literature and writing. She would also discuss the books with me as if I were an adult helping me understand the nuances in language and descriptions that seemed foreign to me at the time. She was Awesome.
When I got to Public high school in Detroit, we had lots of writing assignments but very limited reading assignments. We only had reading assignments from our text books. And those only contained short stories. I was in honors classes my entire high school career.
I don’t remember much of anything we read back then. But I do remember that I Loved my Teachers, well the ones that were toughest on me. I remember Mrs. Tinsley & Mrs. Ellis, my 12th & 11th grade English Teachers. They gave us such a hard time. Our school work was so easy. I would go to them after class & they’d give me extra assignments & suggest books to read. I’d go to the Teachers lounge during lunch & discuss the books with them. Sometimes they’d kick me out. They’d give me extra writing assignments. And they wrote me recommendation letters to get scholarships & to get into Howard University.
When I got to Howard University, we had to test into our levels. Despite being in National Honor Society & graduating with All A’s, I tested into the remedial levels. This devastated me. I had received 6 different National Academic Scholarships (only one person in the country wins based on a written essay). I had been in Honors forever. How could this happen?
Well, they have different standards. I had to take the remedial classes that garnered zero credits in order to take my required classes. I attended summer school and also took extra credit classes and got all A’s in order to catch up. Thank goodness I did.
Anyhoo, I think about what kind of world we would be living in if everyone everywhere learned about the origin of African history as basic world history, if any of these Black Authors, Historians, & figures were introduced from a young age throughout everyone’s educational careers, if everyone learned about the contributions of African People throughout the Diaspora over the course of time.
And then I think about the work I’m involved in with Detroit Independent Freedom Schoolsl and how I’m learning from Dr. Mama Aneb House of the historic S.N.C.C (Student NonViolent Coordinating Committee) that emerged from Ella Baker and was led by Stokely Carmichael aka Kwame Toure & all the work they did.
And I think about our Legacy, and about the Young People we’re impacting & who are impacting us right now.
One of these days I’m going to write a long piece about my trips to Cuba in 1976, 1981, 1992 and 2001. I’m going to write about how when I first got off the plane in Havana as a Black teenager from Atlanta, Georgia (recently transplanted to Philly) I was enthralled to see all those beautiful Black people who looked like my family and spoke Spanish.
I’m going to write about the handsome, sweet Cuban boys who flirted with me and about how I went to a socialist children’s camp in Varadero Beach and spent a summer with kids from all over the non-capitalist world.
I’m going to write about returning home and feeling absolutely BOMBARDED with advertising because billboards and commercials are everywhere in the US and few and far between in Cuba. I’m going to write about how my lifelong love affair with the orishas and ñañigos started in Cuba and finally settled me in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil at the Terreiro do Cobre.
I’m going to write about how Cuban babalawos have repeatedly given me erudite, lifesaving advice and affirmation that I carry with me to this day, how I felt safer walking down the streets in Havana at night than I have ever felt in any US city.
I’m going to write about visiting in the “special period” and having my heart rended by the suffering of the Cuban people who did not have rich relatives and friends in the US to send money for them to buy food on the blackmarket. How it felt like the whole country was a quilombo, a fugitive slave community with people making ways out of no ways, in the dark.
I’m going to write about how Cuba gave me a diasporic Black identity.
I’m going to write about the negro viejo in Santiago who knew the details of my mother’s miseries without me ever saying a word. I’m going to write about going with my brother-poet Vincent Woodard to a consultation with Ifa in 2001 and returning home days before the US turned into a fortress. And there is a picture somewhere of me on a hill two people away from Fidel and how all my life he stood for the insistence of Third World People, Oppressed People, People of Color, Black People — to be Free. To be self-determining. To live literate, healthy, productive, culturally-rich lives of solidarity out from under the fetid thumbs of the oligarchs of the USA. Fidel, more than anybody living into the 21st century, represented that EFFORT. And when I got the news he died, I felt like I’d lost another father.
WHAT WE’RE READING
Identity Politics and Left Activism
The biggest internal debate absorbing the world left for at least the last seventy-five years has been whether identity is a left concept and therefore a left concern. In 1950, most activists on the left would have said no. Today a majority would say yes, indeed. But the debate remains fierce. KEEP READING
The Power of the Movements Facing Trump
It is much too early to say to what extent President Trump will enact his campaign promises as government policy and, indeed, how much he will actually be able to do in office. But every day since his election demonstrations have sprung up throughout the United States to express outrage, apprehension and dismay.
Moreover, there is no doubt that once in office Trump and his administration will continually do and say things that will inspire protest. For at least the next four years people in the US will rally and march against his government, regularly and in large numbers. Protesting against threats to the environment will undoubtedly be urgent, as will be the generalized atmosphere of violence against people of color, women, LGBTQ populations, migrants, Muslims, workers of various sorts, the poor — and the list goes on. KEEP READING
The Boggs Book Shop is open and waiting for you!
Among many other titles, don’t miss…
Ron Scott’s – How to End Police Brutality
evolution in the 21st Century Anthology
…or the classic, Conversations in Maine