James and Grace Lee Boggs, ‘Rediscovering the American Past,”
Revolution and Evolution in the Twentieth Century, 1974
After fighting a bloody civil war allegedly to free the slaves, then declaring them legally free, the North allowed them to be put back into a state of servitude equal to or worse than that of slavery. In exchange for the opportunity to develop the West and the North as they saw fit, the Northern industrialists gave back to the Southern slaveholders the right to exploit blacks as they saw fit. Once again, the nation had put economic development, economic expansion, and the material self-interests of the individual ahead of all human considerations. Economics was put in command over politics, degrading politics to a tool of economics—to “dirty politics.” Once again, it was confirmed to those already in the country and to the millions of immigrants still to come, that the pursuit of economic development and economic expansion was the ideology of this nation whatever the cost in terms of human development.
November 20th, 2017
Place, Memory and FutureThis week I attended two gatherings that offer much hope for our future. The first was the annual Fall meeting of the National Council of Elders at Haley Farms in Tennessee. I was reminded how much we need the combination of place and memory to think about the future.
The Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) cares for Haley Farms. In 1994 CDF became responsible for what had once been the home of Pulitzer Prize winning author Alex Haley. It is now a place of gathering where thousands of people have come to walk the hills, study in the library, or reflect in the chapel to renew and expand their thinking. It is filled with the spirit of struggles for liberation.
The main farmhouse is now a lodge that welcomes people home. Surrounded by a wide porch offering rocking chairs that bear the names of people now gone, Haley reminds us the longing for freedom persists in this land.
The Council was fortunate to spend time with a group of women from across the south gathering to talk about abolishing prisons and supporting other women as they return to communities. They recognized that the present system has created a cradle to prison pipeline that depends on locking people up as a source of its own profit and power.
One strategy in creating more liberated lives is the use of restorative justice. We learned of the efforts in Nashville to bring restorative justice practices not only to the schools, but to the courts, prosecutors, and jails. We learned of the use of art to open imagination and consciousness through a wonderful project where students were given two items, a school desk and prison uniform, to create an artistic statement. Displaying these creations in front of the courthouse, police, judges, lawyers, prosecutors and jurors had to confront images of chained bodies, money pouring out of pockets, and handcuffed bibles as young people expressed how their souls are being sold and destroyed. In simple yet powerful ways, new images become a basis for change, opening new ways to see our world.
We also heard much about the developments of Project South that has spent more than three decades supporting movement work and advancing the practice of democracy. Through popular education, collective action, and imaginative programs, Project South has been evolving the work of People’s Movement Assemblies as a way to create new forms of governance. Recognizing that we must find ways to not only care for one another, but to make decisions about our lives and communities, Project South has been pushing the edges of our thinking about local control in the face of a hostile state.
After returning briefly to Detroit, I went to the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership in Kalamazoo. There a small group of activists rooted in the Midwest had gathered to think about the importance of our region in creating new ways of living and being.
It was a rich few days, stimulated by a visit to the Sweet Water Foundation in Chicago.
Sweet Water practices Regenerative Placemaking, creating “safe and inspiring spaces for healthy, intergenerational communities that transform the ecology” of neighborhoods. Blending urban agriculture, art and education, Sweet Water is a vivid example that we already know some of the pathways to a better future.
This year as many of us gather to celebrate the ties of family and friends, we should hold fast to those places and memories that sustain us as we imagine the world we want and so need to create.
When it comes to the internet, our connections are generally controlled by telecom companies. But a group of people in Detroit is trying to change that. Motherboard met with the members of the Equitable Internet Initiative (EII), a group that is building their own wireless networks from the ground up in order to provide affordable and high-speed internet to prevent the creation of a digital class system.
“Was it a privilege to be taken by your grandfather to a picnic and watch people laughing and smiling while an African American human being was being lynched?
Was it a privilege to have an ancestor throw human beings to the sharks and the sea during the Middle Passage?
Was it privilege to watch dogs and firehoses be set of people peacefully protesting for that most basic civil right of voting?”
The audience, mostly older Christian European Americans progressives from throughout the United States and Canada, were challenged and uplifted by Nelson’s gently stated, but oh-so-provocative questions, originally posed by activist and theologian Ruby Sales. (More information about Ruby Sales can be found at: https://onbeing.org/programs/ruby-sales-where-does-it-hurt/)
The questions changed the tenor of the moment, bringing both reflection and tears to the audience, many of whom later pointed to these questions as the single most important moment of the 75th Anniversary celebrations at Kirkridge.
Joyce and Nelson ended the final panel with a favorite song written by Vincent Harding, (For a brief video and pictures and to learn more about Vincent Harding, please see https://onbeing.org/programs/vincent-harding-is-america-possible/)
A few years ago, Janice Fialka joined the Board and introduced Nelson and Joyce Johnson from the Beloved Community of Greensboro, NC (https://www.belovedcommunitycenter.org/) to the Kirkridge community. For the 75th anniversary celebration, the Board of Directors invited Nelson and Joyce to share their stories, vision, and testimony of more than 50 years of commitment and transformation in Greensboro, NC.
As keynote presenters, the Johnsons also provided an historical analysis linking the birth of our nation with the interconnected growth of racism and capitalism. They recalled their on-going work and success creating Beloved Community in Greensboro. In the early years of their work, they organized workers and students at North Carolina A&T, North Carolina University, K-Mart, and at Smithfield Foods and Meat Packing. This unifying work excited the ire of local capitalists, who collaborated with local police and nearby KKK to attack a peaceful protest on November 3, 1979, resulting in the deaths of five protesters.
In 2006, The Truth and Reconciliation Commission released a report which condemned not only the KKK and the American Nazi Party, but also the Greensboro Police Department and the city itself for being responsible for the events of November 3, 1979, as well as the subsequent cover-up. After the recent attacks in Charlottesville, the Greensboro City Council finally apologized for the events of 1979, but the Johnsons are waiting to see if the apologetic words are matched with appropriate actions.
The Johnson reminded the gathering: the struggle and commitment to heal continues. From their work with the Moral Mondays Movement to their current organizing with the new Poor People’s Campaign, Nelson and Joyce have never separated spiritual work, social transformation, healing and a commitment to peaceful revolution. As such, their work and activism now join Kirkridge Retreat and Study Center’s illustrious history of social transformation.
Located on a ridge of the beautiful Kittatinny Ridge of northeast Pennsylvania, overlooking the Delaware Valley, Kirkridge has been a Christian and interfaith retreat center since the 1940s. Originally built to be place of Christian social engagement, or as its founder John Oliver Nelson put it, a place where activist pastors could both “picket and pray.”
In the intervening years, it provided safe and brave spaces for peace activists like the Berrigan brothers, and more than 40 years of retreats for gay, lesbian and transgender folks More recently, it became home for a large group of Courage and Renewal Fellows to study and train in the works of Palmer Parker to deepen work in educational and community settings It has also become a center for progressive music and culture, hosting music workshops with singers and composers like Carolyn McDade and Ysaye Barnwell, as well as hosting the annual Bread for the Journey Poetry gatherings.
In the past few years, it has sponsored and developed the Together It’s Possible (TIP) Program. (https://www.facebook.com/TIPTogetherItsPossible/), a groundbreaking self-advocacy program for young adults with intellectual disabilities, and their families and friends. Each week, the group gathers in a glassmaking studio the group assembled on the grounds of Kirkridge. Not only do they transform glass bottles and other glass refuse into stunning works of jewelry, housewares, and artwork, they also provide support, community, and advocacy for each other. Funds from the sales of the glass works, supports additional training, travel and opportunities for the participants.
TIP is a vivid demonstration of the power of collective action and the necessity to recognize and develop the capacity of all people. Visitors are encouraged to visit Kirkridge and meet the young men and women and their families who show by their actions the movement towards inclusion and the beloved community. They remind us, as disability activist Dan Wilkins often says: “A community that excludes even one of its members, is no community at all!”
In the presentation of Johnsons, in the work of Together It’s Possible, and the legacy of Kirkridge thoughtful and spirit-centered social change, the entire audience was challenged and uplifted to address the moral bankruptcy and spiritual destruction present in contemporary culture. Because these rifts are deep in our souls and rooted in our history, the audience was asked to find new ways to undo “the evil triplets of racism, militarism and materialism,” generate a radical revolution in values and build the beloved community. A sense of that community was present in the dedication of a new barn with the songs and music from the Riverside Church Choir of New York City and a reading of the stories of Kirkridge, organized by Shaun and Wes Nethercott.
Kirkridge Retreat and Study Center offers itself as a place to do this hard work, a “thin place,” where diverse people can work together to move beyond our historic failings, heal our divisions and build a new culture and nation centered in love, community, and human dignity. As Kirkridge’ enters its second 75 years, let us break the silence about the moral, spiritual historical destruction of our nation’s soul, as we recognize the material benefits arising from the oppression of African-Americans and other people of color. The Johnsons and Kirkridge ask us to look beyond our greed, grow our souls, and build a Beloved Community for all.
In one of the greatest PR successes of all time, close to 100 percent of Americans believe the United States has a volunteer military. It does not. What the United States does have is a recruited military.
The distinction matters for many reasons, most importantly because overcoming profound public misunderstandings on this and other realities of the U.S. killing machine is essential to building a vigorous anti-war movement.
Before we zoom in, let’s zoom out.
Just as a fish may not know it’s wet, few Americans have any idea of just how pervasive militarism is in defining who we are as a nation and as a people. From the massacre of indigenous people to the suppression of slave resistance, we are steeped in brutal and relentless slaughter. We are also utterly and completely immersed in language designed to confuse and obscure just how much killing and destroying we do.
At the very core of our identity is the idea that “freedom” requires that we kill, kill, kill. “They died for our freedom,” rings throughout the land, not just on Veterans Day or July 4, but every day. While we say they died, what we also mean is that they killed. As Donald Trump and General Kelly put it, “that’s what they signed up for.”
To be clear, there is a cohort that does join the military voluntarily. Many are the children of active duty and retired military personnel. Many are low-income for the simple reason that the military offers a place of relative stability and opportunity. Some join out of sincere support for the mission of the U.S. military and/or because they are attracted to the military way of life. But however many genuine volunteers there are, there are nowhere near enough of them to meet the Pentagon’s staffing needs. Which is where the recruiting machinery comes into play.
As an exercise, try keeping track of how many times a day you see or hear something that in some way glorifies the use of force, either in personal conversation or more commonly from the media. Yes, any version at all of “thank you for your service,” counts, whether it refers to a “first responder” (isn’t that a clever phrase), or a citizen, or a soldier.
Instead of just letting all that praise and worship wash over you, pay attention. Notice how often you see military references at sporting events. This is not an accident. It is but one component in the Pentagon’s vast recruiting operation.
Consider this little nugget from a Wall Street Journal article on the debate over whether Roger Goodell should continue as Commissioner of the National Football League.
Remember that the NFL was cultivated into prominence by Pete Rozelle, a pro-war conservative. In the 1960s, Rozelle hired a World War II veteran-turned-filmmaker, Ed Sabol, to produce highlights, commercials and documentaries that marketed the sport as patriotic and militaristic. Sabol’s NFL Films made football feel more American than baseball. His work was so critical to the league’s wild growth that in 2011 he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The same honor had been bestowed on Rozelle in 1985, while he was still commissioner.
Back in 2015 Senators Jeff Flake and John McCain rocked this boat a little by questioning the Pentagon’s relationship to sports:
“The Pentagon has paid more than $9 million to professional sports franchises the past four years, including $6.8 million to stage ‘paid patriotism’ events, Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain disclosed Wednesday.
“The events ranged from full-field displays of the American flag to enlistment and re-enlistment ceremonies and emotional reunions of returning servicemembers and their families.
“’What is upsetting is when you see activities like this that people assume when they go to games are paid for out of the goodness of the heart by the owners and the teams, and then to find out the taxpayers are paying for it. It kind of cheapens (it) and it’s simply not right,’ Flake said at a news conference with McCain to release the report.”
Needless to say, the effort by Senators Flake and McCain to illuminate this activity had no impact whatsoever.
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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