CONFRONTING OUR OWN CONTRADICTIONS
By Grace Lee Boggs
Michigan Citizen, Oct. 29-Nov.4, 2006
I hope this reflection by an activist in her late 20s will encourage reflection and discussion by other activists.
“In the Black Political Study for Social Change, a group of grassroots activists, we discussed the slogan ‘Change yourself to change the world.’ Diehard militant and black nationalist that I believed myself to be at the time, my response was ‘We ain’t the problem. It’s capitalist oppression that creates chaos and insanity in our lives. ‘
It’s obvious that this chaos is directly attributable to capitalism which places profit seeking above the welfare of humanity. It’s also obvious that we must ultimately confront the social and political forces maintaining the current order if we are to usher in a new order. As James and Grace Lee Boggs put it, this is our “awesome task.”
What do we need to do to prepare ourselves for this task? The answer is simple, yet easier said than done. We have to confront our own issues. It is one thing to understand the role that oppression plays in separating us from our humanity. It is another to use this understanding to justify remaining on that level.
Those of us genuinely interested in social change have a responsibility to struggle with ourselves and those around us to confront the myriad of backwards, inhuman, anti-social behaviors that are impeding our ability to struggle.
How can we, as a leadership force, struggle with people to confront the status quo in a contest for power without first asking them to confront the contradictions in themselves? In their communities? How can we ask people to struggle for a just social and economic order when their consciousness has been abused and warped enough to accept the most gross injustices?
Teaching in an urban public school has allowed me to see firsthand just how far we have sunk.
One of my students brought a video to school. It was a series of live, amateur footage of extremely violent scenes in black neighborhoods. It showed black women smashing each other’s heads into car windshields and black men choking, stabbing and robbing each other. In one scene a young black man pours a container of gasoline on a homeless black man lying on the ground, then takes off the man’s shoes and stuffs them down the sewer. When the homeless man gets up, the young dude stabs his feet with the point of an umbrella, laughing as the man yells out in pain.
In another scene a group of young black men beat a black man within inches of his life, and then speculate on whether he is still alive as blood gushes from his mouth. Completely unnerved by the whole thing, I demanded that the student who brought in the video turn it off. Yet most students cheered and laughed, while the few who voiced some concern limited it to ‘that’s messed up.’
Where are we? Can a people so separated from basic human dignity effectively struggle for a social order in which human dignity is placed above economic gain? Malcolm X, who often chided the black masses, dealt with this question. James and Grace Lee Boggs caution against excusing backwards, anti-social behavior simply because the person is oppressed.
This tendency is rooted in Marx’s assertion that workers, when politicized, will rise to the occasion and carry out their revolutionary task of seizing governing power. In our movement, identifying the black working class as the social force most equipped to engage in a struggle for justice, has translated into a tendency to ignore or explain away serious contradictions in our social lives. pI have begun to see that there is nothing inherently glorious about us. This is as true of working people as it is of black ‘leadership.’ Being a worker, especially in the U.S., doesn’t automatically mean that you are capable of struggling for social change. It doesn’t mean that you are automatically prepared to accept the task of changing society or that you even unite with it. And being a self-avowed “leader” or “activist” doesn’t automatically mean that you are worth a damn.
Anyone can claim an idea. But how many are really willing to apply such high ideals in every sphere of their lives? Not just standing in front of a group of people yelling about what capitalism is doing to us, but what we are doing to ourselves.
So it goes right back to changing ourselves first. Before we can fight for humanity, we have to understand and embrace our own humanity and that of people around us. Before we can fully embrace high principles on how society should be organized and governed, we have to embrace principle in our own lives. It’s a simultaneous process.
At this point I am 100% committed to the struggle to put governing power in the hands of the masses. I am also 100% committed to doing what is necessary to prepare the masses to assume governing power.”
Email GraceBoggs Center,
ANOTHER WORLD IS NECESSARY
ANOTHER WORLD IS POSSIBLE
ANOTHER WORLD HAS ALREADY STARTED
Michigan Citizen, Nov. 27-Dec. 3, 2005
We are in the midst of a great transformation, not only
economically but psychologically, culturally, politically,
in our relations with one another, to the Earth, to other
species and to other peoples of the world, and in our
concept of ourselves and of our rights and responsibilities
as human beings.
To an unprecedented degree, as we approach 2006, millions
of us are aware that our present and impending disasters
are not natural but man-made, the consequence of our
limitless pursuit of capital accumulation.
Up to now the main victims of this have been the peoples
of the global South. But now the chickens are coming home
to roost. In our own countries, the United States and
throughout Europe, there are tens of millions who for
decades have been marginalized, living how they can,
without any social safety nets, unemployed, disempowered,
disenfranchised, disengaged, disrespected, and without a
perspective of another positive future.
These people in the so-called informal sector are now being
joined by those who through centuries of struggle and
sacrifices thought they could look forward to a stable and
secure future for themselves and their children.
At this moment and under these circumstances it would be
easy to despair. But this universal crisis is not only
a danger but a promise, an opportunity to advance
ourselves and our societies to a new level, based on a
new vision, new principles and values:
• Respect for the limits of the earth
• Responsibility for community and not just for self
• Concern for posterity into the seventh generation
• Partnership instead of patriarchal relations
• A new concept of Work based on use values and skills
• Resistance to commodification of human relationships
• and of all life
• Local, sustainable and self-reliant economies instead
• of one global dominant economy
• Diversity instead of monocultures
• Restore the joy of living in community with all
• Practice global citizenship to preserve the best
• of our historical traditions
• Social justice and cooperation instead of exploitation
• and competition
• WHAT DO WE DO NOW? HOW DO WE GET FROM HERE TO THERE?
• WE can begin by restoring our relationships to each
• other and to the Earth
• WE can create gardens, for food, health and to create
• a community as a basis for resistance, for learning
• and enjoyment of young and old.
• WE can create new subsistence skills to grapple with
• our present problems and the challenges to come.
• WE can transform our schools from job-and-career-oriented
• institutions to places where children and young people can
• learn the values of teamwork, serving the community,
• self-reliance and the joys of creativity
• WE can initiate discussions in our communities locally,
• nationally and internationally on new visions, a new
• perspective, and the profound historical meaning of the
• great turning during this time in which we live.
• WE can share and spread the word of what people are
• already doing to create a better world.
Grace Lee Boggs, Detroit, Michigan., Boggscenter.org
Maria Mies, Koeln, Germany, Women and Life on Earth (WLOE)
Shea Howell, Detroit, Michigan
Werner Ruhoff, Koeln, Germany
Hilmar Kunath, Hamburg, Germany
Elisabeth Voss, Berlin, Germany
Irina Vellay, Dortmund, Germany
This statement emerged from some of the participants in the
International Workshop on Self-Organizing and Common Self-Reliance,
Cologne, Germany, October 20-22, 2005.
Please show your support by adding your name, place (and if you
wish your organization), circulate to your networks, nationally
and internationally, and publish where you find it appropriate.
In the era of trump.
Grace left us Oct 5, 2015 – Read Graces timely piece In Love and Struggle! Carry on…
Naming the Enemy
By Grace Lee Boggs
A spectre is haunting the American people– the spectre of destruction by capitalism. In its limitless quest for profits capitalism has defiled our human relationships by turning them into money relationships. It has transformed Work from a precious human activity into Jobs which are done only for a paycheck and which have become increasingly meaningless and increasingly scarce as the profits from our labor are invested in increasingly complex machines. It has undermined the Family ties by which human beings down through the ages have absorbed naturally and normally the elementary standards of conduct and the sense of continuity with the human race which make us human. By encouraging us to value material things more than social ties, it has turned us into a society of selfish individualists and materialists, seeking to compensate for the spiritual emptiness of our lives by the endless pursuit of distractions.It has despoiled the Land, Waters and Air on which our lives depend.
Up to now, most Americans have been able to evade facing this destructiveness because it was primarily other peoples, other races, other cultures which were being destroyed. For the sake of westward expansion the Native Americans were massacred and their survivors driven into the world’s first concentration camps. To clear the land and build the agricultural infrastructure necessary for industrial development, millions of Africans were enslaved and the ideology of racism created. Convinced that it was our destiny to rule the entire continent, Americans seized the Southwest from Mexico. When we came to the end of the American frontier, we reached out to Latin America and the Pacific. When capitalist expansion and centralization created the Great Depression, we got our economy moving again by producing for World War II. After the war we used our economic power and monopoly of nuclear weapons to protect capitalism in Europe from socialist revolution and to crush revolutionary struggles in the Third World by supporting and installing military dictatorships.
Ever since World War II it has been able to keep going only by producing weapons of destruction and by turning us into mindless consumers, unable to distinguish between our Needs and our Want, utilizing the mass media with the same cunning with which Hitler turned the German people into collaborators in their own destruction. New shiny cars and appliances have been pushed as sure ways to win love for ourselves. Women (and men) have been turned into sex objects. Credit cards have been promoted as badges of status.
As this brainwashing process has gained momentum over the last few decades, the moral and social fabric of our society has been steadily undermined. Our small towns and communities, in which neighborliness and character were more important than money, have been replaced by suburbs. Our judgment has been so distorted that we now consider “square” those who still value self-reliance and hard work, while we admire the “big spender.” Banks and loan sharks, whom we once viewed with suspicion, we now consider our friends, while more and more we fear those closest to us, our families, co-workers, and neighbors. Crime, mental illness, drug addiction, alcoholism, teen-age pregnancy and venereal disease have reached near epidemic proportions because, instead of depending upon each other for company and comfort (as human beings have done down through the ages), we look to more colorful goods and new, more exciting experiences to make us feel good.
Pursuing private happiness in the form of material goods, we did not care that we were passing on these materialistic and individualistic values to our children. Instead of recognizing that we were breeding criminals by the supreme value we had put on material things, we tried to project the blame for crime onto others. We ignored the growing threat to our health from the Love Canals that were being created by the dumping of industrial waste in our waters and our earth. We closed our eyes to the degrading lives being lived by the millions whom capitalism had already cast onto the Welfare rolls, little dreaming that the same fate was being prepared for us
But now the chickens have come home to roost. While we were collaborating with capitalism by accepting its dehumanizing values, capitalism itself was moving to a new stage, the stage of multinational capitalism. Big capitalists have been swallowing up smaller ones, creating giant corporations who buy and sell other giant corporations all over the world. A few hundred multi-national corporations now move capital and goods everywhere and anywhere, according to where they can make the most profit.
These multinational corporations have no loyalty to the United States or to any American community. They have no commitment to the reforms that Americans have won through hard struggle. Instead of giving more each year, they demand that we accept less or else.
If American workers do not accept wages and benefits competitive with those of Japanese or Mexican or Filipino workers, they do not hesitate to shut down a plant that has been the heart of the economic life of a city or region.. City workers and school teachers find that they are no longer needed; small businesses go bankrupt. So millions of workers, skilled and unskilled, blue collar and white collar, have already been laid off . Whole cities have been turned into wastelands by corporate takeovers and by runaway corporations. Yet our city and state officials, conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican, white or black, continue to compete with one another to offer tax breaks and reduced worker benefits to these corporations, knowing full well they will pick up and leave when they can make more profit elsewhere.
Meanwhile, because American capitalism no longer dominates the world market, our government can no longer afford the reforms with which all administrations since the Great Depression have tried to make capitalism more palatable. So social and Welfare programs are being ruthlessly dismantled; unions are being busted or immobilized; the moral, environmental and civilized restraints on capitalist expansion which have been won only after decades of struggle are being abandoned.
That is why we must now make a second American revolution to rid ourselves of the capitalist values and institutions which have brought us to this state of powerlessness or suffer the same mutilation, the same destruction of our families and our communities, the same loss of national independence as over the years we have visited upon other peoples and other nations.
Our mission is to nurture the transformational leadership capacities of individuals and organizations committed to creating productive, sustainable, ecologically responsible, and just communities. Through local, national and international networks of activists, artists and intellectuals we foster new ways of living, being and thinking to face the challenges of the 21st century.
Living for Change News
Thinking for Ourselves
This year there is a poignant urgency to the celebrations of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Across the country people are gathering to celebrate, honor, and remember the movement and vision that called our country to find its best traditions and just promise. Everyone is mindful that these gatherings are happening in the shadow of the inauguration of a man who is the antithesis of all Dr. King represented.
King would be 88 years old now, an age where many are still offering wisdom and counsel. Yet because of the kind of wisdom and counsel he was compelled to give us, he was killed. That wisdom is best captured in hisspeech given at Riverside Church on April 4, 1967, “A Time to Break the Silence.” That was 50 years ago. It was his most searing indictment of the war in Vietnam, his deepest call to creating beloved communities.
King said, “When I speak of love I am not speaking about some sentimental and weak response…Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality…Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies. We must find new ways to speak and act for peace and justice…If we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.”
The “dark and shameful corridors” are pressing in on us. And so Dr. King’s call to action is fiercely urgent. He asked us to “rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter—but beautiful—struggle for a new world.”
It is this call that is animating renewed energy in our country. Thousands of people are gathering in Washington D.C. and communities across this land to publicly declare opposition to the policies and practices that threaten to poison our souls.
Dr. King said, “It is the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation’s self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation and for those it calls “enemy,” for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.”
In this spiritMovement for Black Lives has called for a Pledge of Resistance and a week of non violent, direct action stating, “The Movement for Black Lives continued in the tradition of civil disobedience and direct action to reclaim the narrative of the Civil Rights Movement from corporate America, Hollywood, and others bent on sanitizing Black history rooted in radical tradition. #ReclaimMLK is a call to connect our contemporary movements, and to eschew respectability in order to embrace the radical courage of our people in the present. Today, as many ask us to “wait and see” and “respect” politicians aimed at hurting us, that original call is even more urgent.”
TheNational Council of Elders is calling for people to move with this courage to organize public readings of “A Time to Break the Silence” and ask hard questions about what it means for us today.
In this last year of life, Dr. King was becoming increasingly aware of the need for revolution. He said, “We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values…When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”
Our country is at a turning point. Dr. Kingreminds us, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable…Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” Now is the time to give new and renewed voice to determine our future together.
Call for Session Proposals
THE 22nd Annual Pedagogy & Theater of the Oppressed Conference
“Breaking the Silence: From Rebellion to Waging Love”
Submit proposals by Friday, January 20th, 2017.
WHEN: June 1st – June 4th, 2017
WHERE: Cass Corridor Commons, 4605 Cass Avenue, Detroit, MI, USA, a city with a rich history of activism and organizing.
WHAT: A chance to LEARN, SHARE, QUESTION, and CONNECT through interactive techniques developed by Paulo Freire, Augusto Boal, and other people working to fight oppression and create justice. Learn more about Freire and Boal and their work at ptoweb.org.
WHO: YOU. Students, teachers, scholars, artists, activists, organizers. People of all ages, places, identities, experiences. If you want to build dialogue and make a more just world, you are invited, you are welcomed, and you are NEEDED.
WHY: The 22 Annual Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed Conference will be held in Detroit, MI commemorating the 50th Anniversary of 1967 Detroit Rebellion and Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech, Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence – in which he called for a radical revolution in values in the struggle against the evil triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism—and looking toward the future. Read more here.
Detroit Visionary Resisters
As the country experiences the turmoil that is American politics, many people in Detroit are showing visionary resistance to the status quo.
Whether it’s Pastor Barry’s call to action, artist, educator Walter Bailey’s hope to transform nature through art, Complex Movements building better futures, or Halima Cassells, Jerry Hebron and others making a life without money, Detroiters are once again exhibiting brilliance and resiliency in the face of adversity.
In 1964, Dr. King said, “Now, this economic problem is getting more serious because of many forces alive in our world and in our nation. For many years, Negroes were denied adequate educational opportunities. For many years, Negroes were even denied apprenticeship training. And so, the forces of labor and industry so often discriminated against Negroes. And this meant that the Negro ended up being limited, by and large, to unskilled and semi-skilled labor. Now, because of the forces of automation and cybernation, these are the jobs that are now passing away. And so, the Negro wakes up in a city like Detroit, Michigan, and discovers that he is 28 percent of the population and about 72 percent of the unemployed. Now, in order to grapple with that problem, our federal government will have to develop massive retraining programs, massive public works programs, so that automation can be a blessing, as it must be to our society, and not a curse.
Then the other thing when we think of this economic problem, we must think of the fact that there is nothing more dangerous than to build a society with a segment in that society which feels that it has no stake in the society, and nothing more dangerous than to build a society with a number of people who see life as little more than a long and desolate corridor with no exit sign. They end up with despair because they have no jobs, because they can’t educate their children, because they can’t live in a nice home, because they can’t have adequate health facilities.”
As we look around at the conditions that plague our communities some 53 years after Dr. King gave this speech, we now know that our dignity and our humanity lies within the hands of those willing to struggle towards Dr. King’s later call for a radical revolution of values.
We now know that we must create while we resist.
“I don’t know what the next American revolution is going to be like, but we might be able to imagine it if your imagination were rich enough.” – Grace Lee Boggs
Luckily, we know a lot of visionaries.
The Boggs Book Shop is open and waiting for you!
evolution in the 21st Century Anthology
…or the classic, Conversations in Maine