Boggs Center Living for Change News January 9th, 2017

graceandjimmylfcheading with border

James Boggs, What Does the African American Experience Teach us About Democracy and Equality? 1980

The question is not how to make other non-black Americans less racist while we become more like them every day. As long as we continue to think that this is the main question, our social, economic, and political relationships will get worse instead of getting better. In fact, they will be getting worse even when they seem to be getting better. As we go towards the 21st century, blacks more than any other group in our country—because of our historical role in this country and also because we will always remain at the bottom of this society as long as it remains capitalist—need to recognize that we must give leadership to the entire nation by projecting new concepts of social and political relationships that go as far beyond Democracy and Equality that were created 200 years ago as those concepts went beyond the aristocratic and feudal relationships and concepts of Europe.

 

Living for Change News January 9th, 2017

It wasn’t all unrelenting doom and gloom in 2017.

Thinking for Ourselves Shea Howell EM Shadows
It is easy to think democracy has been restored to Michigan. The faces of Emergency Managers no longer loom out at us in the daily news. Kevyn Orr has disappeared from Detroit. He is now partner in charge of Jones Day’s Washington D.C. office.
Darnell Earley is gone from Flint and Detroit.  Although in early February he is expected return to view as he is likely to be charged with involuntary manslaughter for his role in the poisoning of Flint water.
Detroit has an elected school board. They selected a new superintendent and reports are that some stability has returned. The governor’s office reported that for the first time in more than a decade, “there are no emergency managers in any cities statewide.”
Rarely reported, however, is that standing in the shadows are financial review boards, limiting the scope and nature of decisions elected officials can make. From water rates and school closing to merit pay, local democratic controls remain out of the hands of local officials, and voters.
Financial management continues as both a theory and practice of the right wing republican dominated state legislature. At the close of the state legislature in December, Democrats and a few bold republicans offered legislation to repeal emergency management legislation. In response, the governor’s office reiterated that the state has a “legitimate purpose in intervening” in local governments. Likewise the proposed legislation dealing with pension funds originally depended on establishing authoritarian emergency management boards.
It is hard to imagine a more clearly failed policy. The role of unchecked, unilateral authority given to emergency managers in the name of financial responsibility is clearly to blame for the devastation of Flint. Two decades of emergency managers left Detroit Public Schools with greater debt, more chaos, and less support for students and teachers than when elected boards were in charge. The New York Times assessed the experience of emergency management saying:
In Flint, emergency managers not only oversaw the city — effectively seizing legal authority from the mayor and City Council — but also pressed to switch the source of the financially troubled city’s water supply to save money.
In Detroit, the schools are on the brink of insolvency after a series of emergency managers dating to 2009 repeatedly failed to grapple with its financial troubles, while also falling short on maintaining school buildings and addressing academic deficiencies.
Supporters of Emergency Management often point to the Detroit bankruptcy process as a sign of the success of the policy. This success is embedded the corporate narrative that Detroit is “coming back.” For these supporters this means Detroit is becoming whiter, wealthier, and more supportive of corporate take-overs of public assets and responsibilities.
In the midst of the Detroit bankruptcy process, the fundamental problem of emergency management thinking emerged in the water shut off crisis. In order to make city assets valuable on the open market, Orr ordered a crack down on overdue residential water bills. This set off an assault on our communities that brought universal condemnation to the city and those who backed the shut off policy.  It revealed the essence of emergency management bottom line thinking that overshadows the essential interests of people.  In his ruling refusing a moratorium on water shut offs, Judge Steven Rhodes, later emergency manager of Detroit Public Schools explained, “Detroit cannot afford any revenue slippages.” Thus he denied a moratorium on shut offs, even as he acknowledged the irreparable harms being done to people. Economics, not people, matter.
The current legislation enabling emergency managers needs to be repealed. Statewide, voters have already said this law is undemocratic. Our task is to create local governments as essential places for people to practice meaningful democracy.  This possibility is what frightens those in authority.

 

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Boggs Center News – January 3rd, 2018

graceandjimmylfcheading with border

Grace Lee Boggs, “The Black Revolution in America,” 1970

Any fundamental change in this system must begin with the concept of the individual as the maker of history, responsible for creating his social environment, convinced of his actions as historically significant, and therefore of how he thinks, feels, and judges and the positions he takes on social issues as not only personally but socially relevant. This sense of one’s personal-political value cannot be developed in private or in secret. It has to be developed (a) in relationship with others with whom one feels a sense of community; (b) in the course of actual and continuing struggle and conflict with those in power; (c) over issues in which positions taken or decisions made can be evaluated in terms of their consequences; and (d) with the perspective of finally taking power which will bring both the authority and responsibility to create new forms of social organization.

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Living for Change News January 3rd, 2018

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
SO LONG 2017

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Thinking for Ourselves

Shea Howell     A New Year

The turning of the year is a time for reflection and recommitment.
Many of us are glad to see 2017 end. As the new year arrives we find ourselves drawing on fragile signs that longings for peace and justice persist, emerging in the resistance to acts of inhumanity that mark those in authority. Throughout the country people are recreating ways of living together based on values that hold the promise of protecting life and restoring health to our communities and the earth.
These signs of hope are revealing a tension in our country as we confront the limitations of a federal system dedicated to protecting power and privilege while destroying much of what people cherish. Increasingly those in authority disregard the passions of people and the values necessary to sustain life.
As the national political leadership demonstrates petty, greedy, and destructive behaviors, state and local leaders are stepping forward to provide methods of establishing alternative values.  People are organizing new forms of democratic practices as communities practice making meaningful decisions about our futures. Local resolutions of resistance, inventive policies confronting real problems, participatory budgeting, and people’s movement assemblies are all emerging as vibrant practices of an enriched democracy.
A fundamental distinction is emerging between we, the people, and the national government.. For example, as the US officially withdrew from the Paris Accord on climate change, 20 States, 50 cities and host of universities and civic organizations reaffirmed a commitment to the Accord goals for reducing carbon emissions and promoting renewable energy. As limited as these goals are, it is an important step and reveals the weakness in such federal decision-making.
Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg explained the new America’s Pledge action saying, “It is important for the world to know, the American government may have pulled out of the Paris agreement, but the American people are committed to its goals, and there is nothing Washington can do to stop us.”
Marking a new level of cruelty and fear mongering, the Trump Administration announced it is considering a policy on immigration separating children from their parents if they are caught crossing the border without documentation. This move, coupled with the recent tweets from Trump announcing his decision to tie protection of young, undocumented immigrant Dreamers from deportation to building a wall along the US southern border highlights the importance of Sanctuary spaces.
California is currently leading the way on how states can create counter power bases to protect people.The California effort takes effect this week.  A recent report noted:
“This sanctuary state act contributes to building community and state-level resistance to the White House attacks against the growing “sanctuary” movement among communities, institutions and local and state governments in California.”
“As signed, the bill does away with several local deportation practices, such as local police arrests for “civil immigrant warrants”, and it helps to ensure that spaces like schools, health facilities, courthouses and other spaces are safe and accessible to all.”
“State Senate President Kevin de Leon, the lead author of the bill said, “With today’s signing of SB 54 into law, one of the most important parts of that legal wall of protections is now in place. Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions will not be able to use California’s own law enforcement officials in an effort to round up and deport our fellow Californians.”
As we approach this New Year we face a federal government that is increasingly abusive, capricious, and dangerous to life. Confronting it requires our rededication to creating new governmental forms and sources of power that reflect our best hopes for ourselves, one another, and our futures.
A Poem for Erica Garner Tawana Honeycomb Petty
What becomes of the broken hearted? Ventricles rotted with despair
Your father lost his air for us You shared your grief with us Y’all gave your lives for us

A lineage of reluctant Ancestry Two bodies Deceased prematurely Molded out of tragedy
Like Whitney and Bobby Kristina We grieve your tragic endings Though we watched you suffer publicly
May the air be clearer where you are May the universe heal your broken heart May your father gain his breath at sight of you
Dear Erica, we mourn for you We sympathize with you We agonize for you
May we be better human beings because of you

 

A Poem for Erica Garner
Tawana Honeycomb Petty

What becomes of the broken hearted?
Ventricles rotted with despair

Your father lost his air for us
You shared your grief with us
Y’all gave your lives for us

A lineage of reluctant Ancestry
Two bodies
Deceased prematurely
Molded out of tragedyLike Whitney and Bobby Kristina
We grieve your tragic endings
Though we watched you suffer publicly

May the air be clearer where you are
May the universe heal your broken heart
May your father gain his breath at sight of you

Dear Erica, we mourn for you
We sympathize with you
We agonize for you

May we be better human beings because of you

_____________________________________________

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Reflections on Midwest Conversations Lisa M. Perhamus

 

In the spirit of Conversations in Maine, during which time James and Grace Lee Boggs and Freddie and Lyman Paine, spent reflective time with comrades, deeply engaged in questions about revolution, evolution and the politics of seeing the human dignity in one another, a small group of political activists from Detroit, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and Chicago convened in Kalamazoo, MI in mid-October for a similarly reflective retreat, Midwest Conversations.  A more multi-voiced reflection of Midwest Conversations, and the echoes of the work of James and Grace Lee Boggs’ Conversations in Maine, will be part of future Bogg’s Center Living for Change writing, but here are a few of my reflections…

The idea of the retreat was conceptually simple:  Engage with one another in humanizing ways about our work and let our dialogue with one another emerge organically.  One of the lessons that I learned from Midwest Conversations was that the implementation of the retreat was more complex, for how does a group of leaders work with a strong sense of intentionality and purpose without the clarity of conventional leadership?  In alignment with the wisdom of adrienne maree brown’s concept of emergent strategy and of “longing, a will to imagine and implement something else” (p. 21), we embraced our struggles with horizontal leadership and our questions about the idea of accompanionship rather than leadership.  We, a group of people who mostly did not know each other but who cared deeply about the political questions facing the human race at this historical moment, also collectively worked to figure out the authentic, courageous and loving connective tissue that had brought us together for this retreat.
We began our first evening together with adrienne maree brown’s idea that a few people gathered together, in a particular place, in a particular moment, could have a conversation that could only flow in those conditions—our job was to find that conversation with each other.  This was an idea from emergent strategy, and proved to be a powerful one, as people who were meeting for the first time dialogued in ways that only they could, and dialogued in ways that were rich and meaningful as we began the retreat.  Coming back together as a larger group felt, to me, more tentative, more cautious, laced with uncertainty about what our time together would be like.  In emergent strategy, adrienne maree brown, states two critically important principles.  First:  Trust the people.  Second:  What you pay attention to grows.  People in the group who felt the tentativeness and cautiousness articulated a desire to develop a set of Common Agreements for our group conversations to help build trust.  Trust the people.  Folks did develop such agreements and the trust that it helped to foster deepened our work together and our relationships with one another.  Folks paid attention to the need for strengthening our connection with one another, and our attention to nourishing the tissue bonding us in the retreat allowed our work together to grow and deepen.  These are important principled lessons—lessons that saturate the human need for connection amidst today’s fragmentation and fractures.  In the face of hostility, trauma, violence and division, people are uniting in social movements; in political discussions around kitchen tables; through the galvanizing power of social media; and through innovation hubs that are making different ways of living current realities.

flip 2

Midwest Conversations folks were able to see the power of growing neighborhoods; repurposing artefacts; and building local economies through the regenerative power of humanity when visiting the Sweet Water Foundation in Chicago on day number two of the retreat.  The work of the Sweet Water Foundation and its co-founders, Emmanuel Pratt and Jia Lok Pratt, demonstrate a third important principle of emergent strategy:  There is not a social problem that nature has not already solved; our job is to find how nature has navigated the problem so that we may learn.  It was a powerful day of learning.  As one participant articulated, what we witnessed happening at Sweet Water was, “Beyond my imaginary.”  As Grace Lee Boggs stated, “A different future is possible, if our imagination were rich enough.”
We spent the last day and a half of the retreat articulating what we were learning; stretching our collective growth; laboring through difficult moments; crying in moments of recognizing trauma; and feeling the graciousness that we all stayed at the proverbial table through it all.  I do believe that James and Grace would have demanded no less of us and would have respected our willingness to keep working, even through the hard times–and laughed with us through our moments of the pure joy of getting to know one another.  Mia Henry, Executive Director of the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership, really helped us weave our experiential growth together and her modeled “accompanionship more than leadership” style highlighted the possibilities of living the future we want for tomorrow, today. ACSJL provided us a space that acknowledges the ancestral land upon which we were meeting; the Center’s partnership with neighborhood communities; its respect for the natural environment; and its commitment to social justice with the Kalamazoo College community.  Through learning about the work of ACSJL, Midwest Conversation participants experienced first-hand the elements outlined in emergent strategy.
On our last afternoon together, I felt that we needed all of the energy of our collective to help us bear witness to the traveling Jim Crow Exhibit that we went to at the Kalamazoo Museum.  There is no escaping the racism that was on full display in that exhibit, or ways to alleviate the pain I felt about the apparently cavalier way many white people seemed to flow in and out of that exhibit.  History matters. As a retreat group, we spent some of our time that evening talking about what we had experienced, but, to be honest, we did not spend enough time—or perhaps there is never enough time.  Perhaps the idea of time is part of the root problem of having difficulty envisioning a different future.  I am reminded of adrienne maree brown’s, emergent strategy, words in her chapter about fractals.
“We hone our skills of naming and analyzing the crises.  I learned in school how to deconstruct—but how do we move beyond our beautiful deconstruction?  Who teaches us to reconstruct?  How do we cultivate the muscle of radical imagination needed to dream together beyond fear?  Showing Black and white people sitting at a lunch counter together was science fiction…When we speak of systemic change, we need to be fractal.  Fractals—a way to speak of the patterns we see—move from the micro to the macro level…We must create patterns that cycle upwards. We are microsystems” (p. 59).
The next morning, our last morning together, was, in my experience, truly a collective, microsystemic, upward movement toward change that nourished and strengthened our connective tissue.  We generated questions organically and dialogued passionately about pressing dilemmas many feel faced with in doing justice work. It was a dialogue time designated for articulating our thoughts, feelings, ideas—a time for sharing work we are doing that is going well and for seeking collaboration about the things that feel more disheartening in our justice work.  On this last morning together, we articulated “take-aways” AND a stronger connective tissue.
We ended in a circle, sharing our reflections of the retreat.  During this circle, as during many of our times together throughout the retreat, I wished that we were audio-recording our conversation the way that Grace Lee Boggs had done during Conversations in Maine. Within our small group there was tremendous wisdom, passion, vision, commitment—born of pain, living, studying, partnering, loving.  To have recorded our conversations together would have been tremendous.  But, we can each carry the conversations with us into our next conversations, and in that sense, Midwest Conversations really happened in the spirit of Conversations in Maine.  The Conversations in Maine are still happening, as the upcoming reprinting of the text evidences, and the Midwest Conversations will continue.  I believe this will happen because of the power of the experience—thanks to the Boggs Center, ACSJL and the Sweet Water Foundation.  I also believe that our ongoing experience is echoed in adrienne maree brown’s emergent strategy:
‘What are the root problems in my community, and what do deep foundational, rooted solutions look like?’ (citing the Ruckus Society’s operating principles).  This is thinking from a place of healing, more than dominating others with our beliefs.  It is not enough to adhere to these values, however—we want to see our beliefs in practice.  Now, how does it feel (to release assumptions)? (p. 66).

I believe that the Midwest Conversations will continue with formal and informal partnerships; move forward with continued shifts in thinking; enrich new friendships; nourish a sense of knowing that we are not alone in doing justice work; and strengthen the somatic knowledge we each now embody as we dialogue together.  We, along with our neighbors, are the change we want to be.IMG_7517 2

 

 

2017/18 Riverwise Magazine Harvest Edition!

Riverwise Magazine Harvest Edition!

Riverwise’s latest edition is out around town!

The new edition of Riverwise Magazine is out in your favorite stores and community spaces. Enjoy these reflections on a season of active imagination, seeds sown, love labored, growth, and manifestations of the work that feeds our souls! Regardless of the weather or political climate, the Detroit we are fighting for is full of life; so this edition highlights voices of radical hope.

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Expanded capacity means helping to sustain artists, writers, all content creators, and the small team that supports contributors. Growing the reach of our work also includes relaunching our website as a resource of accessibility for our readers and our community. Riverwise Magazine is growing: we are growing our story-telling capacity, a digital commons, our community spaces, and growing new voices and a new vision for Detroit’s future; Riverwise’s growth includes you!

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Boggs Center – Living for Change News – December 10th, 2017

 

 

 

Jimmy and Grace Lee Boggs

How Do “We Reimagine?  Grace Lee Boggs
We reimagine by combining activism with philosophy. We have to do what I call visionary organizing. We have to see every crisis as both a danger and an opportunity. It’s a danger because it does so much damage to our lives, to our institutions, to all that we have expected. But it’s also an opportunity for us to become creative; to become the new kind of people that are needed at such a huge period of transition. That’s why it’s so wonderful to be here today—that we dare to talk about revolution in such fundamental terms.”

Living for Change News

December 10th, 2017

There’s something amazing growing in the city of Detroit: healthy, accessible, delicious, fresh food. In a spirited talk, fearless farmer Devita Davison explains how features of Detroit’s decay actually make it an ideal spot for urban agriculture. Join Davison for a walk through neighborhoods in transformation as she shares stories of opportunity and hope. “These aren’t plots of land where we’re just growing tomatoes and carrots,” Davison says. “We’re building social cohesion as well as providing healthy, fresh food.”

WATCH How Urban Agriculture is Transforming Detroit

 
Thinking for Ourselves

Shea Howell
Small Victory, New Questions

People in Michigan can celebrate a small victory this week as public outcry forced the state legislature to scale back its latest attack on local government. The Emergency Management Team provision was withdrawn in the series of bills aimed at pension finances. The proposed package of bills sponsored by right wing republicans to deal with pension commitments would have established a new level of emergency financial managers, setting aside basic local control in the name of financial responsibility. Both Democrats and moderate republicans baulked at the provision, acknowledging the new legislation was more emergency management by a not very different name. Since the disaster in Flint, Emergency Management by any name has not been a popular idea. So the provisions attempting to expand this were withdrawn.  Few elected officials are willing to support extending Emergency Managers.

But this is a small victory surrounded by larger questions.  Embedded in the issue of emergency management is the deeply held right wing belief that democracy is incompatible with responsible choices.  Local control of local decisions do not matter, they argue. In fact it is the official position of these right wing extremists that people have no right to local self-government. This is evident in the continual pursuit of Emergency Managers to replace locally elected governments. Those who lost this time have pledged by to keep the effort to establish emergency management teams alive.

They are supported by the right wing analysis that infuses all levels of government these days.  Last spring three republican appointed justices to the US Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Emergency Managers, finding them a constitutional exercise of authority. Judge John M. Rogers, a George W. Bush appointee, wrote that it “undoubtedly is a legitimate legislative purpose” for the governor to be given authority to appoint emergency managers with broad authority to run communities and school districts. The decision affirmed Bill Schuette’s bold assertion that people simply “do not have a Constitutional right to local self government.”

Undergirding this thinking is the belief that local financial distress is the result of mismanagement by local officials. Rogers wrote in his opinion, “The solvency of a local government is the result of the management of the finances of that government,” Or mismanagement. In this perspective, if local governments face financial difficulties it is because elected officials haven’t made the necessary decisions to “discipline” aggressive unions and public employees. They have bowed to political pressures. Or they were just plain corrupt.

Notions of mismanagement and corruption are widely held by the right wing to be endemic to communities governed by African Americans. As the Center for Constitutional Law pointed out, “Since 2013, at one point or another, 56% of the black population of the state of Michigan has lived under emergency management.” Meanwhile just three percent of the white population has endured these circumstances.

This racialized blaming of local officials evades fundamental, systemic problems in financing local governments. As a recent report from the Michigan Municipal League argued, “We have built an unsustainable method for funding local government, and unless the administration and Legislature take steps to correct it, we will be damning Michigan’s future.” The report concludes, “We must reevaluate how we fund the services that matter most and back it with the resources needed to create places that people want. “

The beginning of this reevaluation is a conversation about the intricate connection of democracy and the places where we live. How do we make meaningful decisions? Who is responsible? What are the values that govern our choices? In pursuing these questions we will find our way to a deeper understanding of why cities, communities, and people matter.

 

 

Violence is not privilege, it’s detriment
Tawana “Honeycomb” Petty
eclectablog

Violence is not privilege, it’s detriment.

I’m not writing this as someone who has always thought this way. I wrote an entire poem around privilege in my book Coming Out My Box in 2016. However, my thinking has since evolved. The urgency to be free of the system of white supremacy has become even more prevalent.

My mind can no longer connect a violent, oppressive and genocidal system with privilege. I can no longer encourage potential co-liberators to accept their history and collaboration with this system as a privilege. For me, accepting the ongoing legacy of trauma inflicted on blacks and other people of color as a privilege is dehumanizing for all involved. In fact, the terms privilege and ally within the anti-racist organizing movement have been so watered down that mentions make me a bit nauseous and triggered at times.

If someone snatched a child and raped and killed them, would we tell them to admit that they had the privilege of being with that child? Why then would we encourage well-meaning white people who hope to grasp the magnitude of slavery and the current system of white supremacy, to identify their connection to that violent history and current brutality as a privilege? Why are we framing white supremacy as a benefit from our Ancestors’ brutal history of torture (many of whom were children). Why are we framing it as a perk to benefit from our ongoing displacement and marginalization in this country?

Even with the resources gained and protections afforded by the system, based on whiteness, I would much rather hear white co-liberators say, “I recognize my detriment. I am actively struggling against white supremacy, here is how…” Because to identify with those gains with such affirmative language is detrimental to healing and progression in this country. It is detrimental to any real systemic change. If we reframe the connection to this brutality as a detriment, rather than a privilege it removes the optional ally-ship that is so prevalent within anti-racism organizing. If white co-liberators can see their connection to the legacy of slavery, lynching, redlining and other forms of racial violence as a detriment to their humanity, rather than a privilege to their existence, we can begin to balance the racial seesaw a bit.

The argument around privilege verses detriment has been used in the past to think about how whites and blacks relate to the system of white supremacy. However, in those instances, the argument has been that we should refrain from calling white people privileged and instead identify black people as having the detriment. My argument is that this still reinforces the historical hierarchal narrative that got us here in the first place. It is a narrative that makes it a global phenomenon to consistently fail to recognize blacks and other people of color as fully human. I am also arguing that it is the indoctrination into the system of white supremacy and the connectedness to a legacy of violence and brutality towards human beings based on race, that is the actual detriment. Rather than determine a person’s value (privileged or underprivileged) based on what one of my comrades would call, stuff and status, we can begin to reconnect morality with humanity.

It is a mistake to continue to teach black children and other children of color, even those who are without basic necessities, that they are underprivileged. We must begin to take care of their spirit. Society has already told them that they are less than, that they are hopeless and helpless. We must teach them that as we struggle against these systems that seek to dehumanize them, we recognize their full humanity and will do everything in our power to strengthen and restore our villages, so that they don’t have to go without.

Dr. King said, “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” I firmly believe that we all have greater control over the edifice than we have allowed ourselves to believe.
What We’re Watching 

 

This week’s Laura Flanders Show comes from Whitakers, North Carolina and the annual gathering of the Southern Movement Assemblies — a living experiment in popular democracy and local self governance. Plantation politics, monopoly capitalism, incarceration instead of peace: a lot of the worst of the American experience has it roots in the US South, but so does much of the best, from slave revolts, to abolition, to organized labor and civil rights. If the country goes as the South goes, what grassroots progressives do here matters. For this special episode we partnered with Project South, an anchor organization of the Southern Movement Assemblies, and Laura was joined by co-host LaDie Mansfield.Children’s Defense Fund’s National Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio.

 

SPECIAL REPORT: Self Governance

 

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