Boggs Center Living For Change News letter – March 20th, 2017

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Living for Change News
March 20th, 2017
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Thinking for Ourselves
Beyond Toxic Talk
Shea HowellHow we talk is intimately connected to how we think. Words define our world and give meaning to our lives. Thus, one of the many dangers of this moment is the deterioration of our capacities for political thought. When public values are reduced to single words, blasted in all capital letters on Twitter, we are all diminished. BAD, SAD, FAKE, LIES are judgments devoid of substance, but they infiltrate our consciousness and erode our conversations.

In sharp contrast to this dismal use of language, people around the country are consciously moving to deepen our capacity for reflection, conversation, strategic thinking, and powerful action. There is a growing recognition that actions must be enriched by reflection, that the path to a better future requires collective efforts to create a new vision.

For example,

Movement for Black Lives provides a thoughtful agenda about the kind of future we can create.  They invite everyone to join in the conversation and study of their platform saying, “We have created this platform to articulate and support the ambitions and work of Black people. We also seek to intervene in the current political climate and assert a clear vision, particularly for those who claim to be our allies, of the world we want them to help us create. We reject false solutions and believe we can achieve a complete transformation of the current systems, which place profit over people and make it impossible for many of us to breathe.” They invite us to study, think, argue and act in relation to these broad, visionary projections.Recently,

Movement Generation offered a new Just Transition Zine in both English and Spanish. The Zine “offers a framework for a fair shift to an economy that is ecologically sustainable, equitable and just for all its members.”They explain, “A Just Transition requires us to build a visionary economy for life in a way that is very different than the economy we are in now. Constructing this visionary economy calls for strategies that democratize, decentralize and diversify economic activity while we damper down consumption, and (re)distribute resources and power.  This zine is our offering towards that end – it is a humble point of departure for folks interested in building collective vision and action towards Ecological Justice that does not separate humans from nature, or social equity from ecological integrity.”

This week the Women’s March named its 5th action of the first 100 days

Reflect and Resist. Organizers say the action, “is designed to educate some, and refresh others, through study, reflection, and courageous conversations, so that we can all be empowered by, and learn from, the work of activists who came before us while being mindful not to perpetuate the mistakes of the past. Community is key to activism, so bring your huddles, neighbors, and your march partners back together, collectively choose a book or article to read, or film to watch. Take time to reflect and, together, discuss the topics that they highlight and the issues that women experiencing multiple forms of oppression have faced and continue to face”.The

National Council of Elders is asking us to organize public readings of Dr. Martin Luther King’s Breaking the Silence speech, to reinvigorate his call for a radical revolution of values against racism, materialism and militarism. They ask us to hold conversations following the reading about what his ideas mean for us today.These are just a few of the efforts emerging around our country. They are essential to counter the toxic talk flowing from those in authority. They are acts of resistance and of vision.  All of us need to join in creating these spaces for collective reflection. They are the sources of our best hopes.


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Detroit No More Heroes Event

What We’re Reading

Giving Up Toxic Masculinity To Build Real Resistance
Frank Joyce
Alternet

Fifty years ago the times were tumultuous, as they are now. Activists were fragmented by gender, race, tactics and issue silos then too. The machinery of surveillance and repression by local, state and federal government was intense and about to become more so.

Despite knowing the risk of speaking out, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King stepped forward to offer clarity and direction. His speech, Beyond Vietnam: A Time To Break Silence [3] was delivered on April 4, 1967, to an overflow crowd at Riverside Church in New York City.

Now the speech is receiving new attention, not for reasons of wistful nostalgia but as a vision even more relevant to our times than it was then. To learn more about events already organized to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s “A Time to Break Silence” speech or how to help initiate one yourself, go here [4].

In his speech, Dr. King identified the triplets of racism, militarism and materialism as the legacy we must overcome. Why triplets? Rabbi Arthur Waskow, a peace movement veteran, explains [5]: “Why did Dr. King use the word ‘triplets’ when ‘three’ or ‘triad’ would have been enough? Perhaps because biological triplets share a great deal of their DNA. What DNA do these triplets share? The DNA of subjugation, of top-down power.”

To be clear, Dr. King’s remarks did not incorporate the possibility of ecocatastrophe or the structures of patriarchy and sexism into his analysis and call. Can there be any doubt that today he would?

KEEP READING

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riverwisedetroit.org

contact or summit material info@riverwisedetroit.org


The James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership

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3061 Field Street
Detroit, Michigan 48214
US

Boggs Center – Living For Change News Letter – March 13, 2017

Jimmy and Grace  
 
Living for Change News
March 13th, 2017

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Water Stories of District 7
Monday, April @ 6pm

16400 Warren Ave W, Detroit, MI 48228-3705, United States

Come gather as we hear water stories of District 7. We need to stand together and get the Detroit City Council to pass and implement an income-based Water Affordability Plan Ordinance. Join us for a community meeting to discuss next steps on water affordability in Detroit!


Thinking for Ourselves
Fear to Hope
Shea Howell

Over 400 people gathered at the UAW-GM Center in Detroit to celebrate International Women’s Day. This was the 7th year of Women Creating Caring Communities, initiated by the UAW and Boggs Center. The theme was “The healing power of loving communities.” This was a gathering reflecting honesty, passion and resilience as we talked about our fears and hopes for this moment.

I was part of the opening conversation, emphasizing the question often asked by Grace Lee Boggs,  “What time is it on the clock of the world?’  I shared with the gathering my thinking about what Grace would most likely be saying to us, if she were there, as she had been for the first years of these sessions.

I think she would caution us to not become stuck on Trump. Rather she would be encouraging us to look to the forces behind him. The forces of violence and white supremacy have a long history in America. They are the forces that began the genocide against the indigenous peoples of this land at Plymouth Rock and they are the forces that are carrying it out today at Standing Rock.  They are the forces that stole people from their homes in Africa to enslave them and are now the forces stealing homes from African Americans through foreclosure, school closings, and water shut offs.

At the same time, I think she would insist that we make distinctions between those forces in the past and the dangers and opportunities of this moment. History echoes through the present, but does not repeat itself.

Over the last few years of her life, Grace often said that we were witnessing the growth of counter revolutionary forces and we were in a period of revolution and counter- revolution.  Whatever the United States will become over the next few years, we will not be going back to the way things were. Something new is emerging, and it will be up to us to determine whether that something new will be better, or worse, than the past.
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Grace also liked to remind us that while we do not choose the times into which we are born, we do choose how we respond to the times in which we live. Certainly it is important that we resist the efforts of those forces that are pulling us backwards, for the sake of our own humanity.  But resistance is never enough. In periods of such possibility, we have the responsibility of projecting the kind of futures we want. Visionary organizing, she said, was critical to creating programs and processes that would give us a glimpse of a better future.

Visions don’t come to us out of nowhere. They emerge as we engage with each other in probing conversations about how to solve the problems we face, imagining new possibilities.

Throughout the day, women and men talked together, acknowledging our vulnerabilities, gaining strength from sharing stories of our lives and hopes.  We talked of the importance of listening deeply to one another, opening our hearts as well as our heads.  As the day concluded with sounds of drums and dancing feet, most of us walked away with a new resolve, knowing that we have tremendous power to create communities where love and justice thrive.


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WHAT WE’RE READING

 

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On July 23rd, 1967, the eyes of the world fixed on Detroit, as thousands took to the streets to vent their frustrations with white racism, police brutality, and vanishing job prospects in the place that gave rise to the American Dream. For mainstream observers, the “riot” brought about the ruin of a once great city, and the municipal bankruptcy of 2013 served as a bailout paving the way for Detroit to be rebuilt. Challenging this prevailing view, Scott Kurashige portrays the past half-century as a long “rebellion” whose underlying tensions continue to haunt the city and the U.S. nation-state. Michigan’s scandal-ridden emergency management regime comprises the most concerted effort to put it down by disenfranchising the majority black citizenry and neutralizing the power of unions.

Are we succumbing to authoritarian plutocracy or can we create a new society rooted in social justice and participatory democracy? The corporate architects of Detroit’s restructuring have championed the creation of a “business-friendly” city where billionaire developers are subsidized to privatize and gentrify Downtown while working-class residents are squeezed out by rampant housing evictions, school closures, water shutoffs, toxic pollution, and militarized policing. From the grassroots, however, Detroit has emerged as an international model for survival, resistance, and solidarity through the creation of urban farms, freedom schools, and self-governing communities. This epoch struggle illuminates the possible futures for our increasingly unstable and polarized nation.

GET YOUR COPY TODAY!

 


HELP SAVE THE CASS COMMONS

An Appeal to the Social Justice Advocacy Community in Detroit

From the Eastern Michigan Environmental Action Council
In 2011, the Eastern Michigan Environmental Action Council (EMEAC) received as a gift the property of the First Unitarian-Universalist Church (First UU), located at the corner of Cass Avenue and Forest Street. This property consists of the august church building and sanctuary, as well as the adjoining elegant parish house, which has a spacious vestibule and parlor, a very large social hall, a kitchen, and several floors of multipurpose rooms. Constructed in 1916, the structure has been awarded an historic designation, and occupies a prime site in midtown Detroit, a central hub of corporate gentrification.
Protecting and Securing a Vital Base

Given this synergy of organizational activities over the years, the property has become a true “commons” for social justice advocacy and cultural development. However, the care and maintenance of an aging, 44,000 – square feet facility involves heavy financial responsibilities. Though EMEAC has succeeded in securing grants, a few major rental contracts, and intermittent income from rentals for events such as weddings, workshops and conferences, these strategies have not generated the volume and regular flow of funds required to cover operational costs.

 

An Immediate Goal of $60,000

As major corporations appropriate the heart of the City, dislocating and dispossessing working class neighborhoods, people of color and the poor, we social justice activists who are current EMEAC board members want to secure this valuable, strategically located community center. We are convinced that this base is indeed treasured by many community members. Therefore, we are inviting those organizations and individuals who have created projects and relationships here — relationships and mutual efforts which, in fact, constitute the commons, to join us in implementing a program that will secure this property while advancing our capacities to build movement unity.   Our immediate goal is to raise $60,000. Then we will work to generate an income of $10,000 each month.

DONATE TODAY

 

 


The James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership

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3061 Field Street
Detroit, Michigan 48214
US

Boggs Center – Living For Change News Letter – March 6, 2017

Immanuel Wallerstein – “Resist? Resist! Why and How?”

Commentary No. 444, March 1, 2017

From: FBC Office <fbc-What Resist as a movement needs to keep in mind is the fact that we are in the midst of a historic structural transition from the capitalist world-system in which we have lived for some 500 years to one of two successor systems – a non-capitalist system that preserves all of the worst features of capitalism (hierarchy, exploitation, and polarization) and its opposite, a system that is relatively democratic and egalitarian. I call this the struggle between the spirit of Davos and the spirit of Porto Alegre.

Commentary No. 444, March 1, 2017

“Resist? Resist! Why and How?”

 From time immemorial, persons who feel oppressed and/or ignored by the powerful have resisted those in authority. Such resistance often changed things, but only sometimes. Whether one considers the cause of the resisters to be virtuous depends on one’s values and one’s priorities.

 In the United States, over the past half-century, there emerged a latent resistance to what was seen as oppression by “elites” who enacted changes in social practices offensive to certain religious groups and ignored rural populations and persons whose standards of living were declining. At first, resistance took the path of withdrawal from social involvement. Then it took a more political form, finally taking on the name of Tea Party.

 The Tea Party began to have some electoral successes. But it was dispersed and without a clear strategy. Donald Trump saw the problem and his opportunity. He offered himself as a unifying leader of this rightwing “populism” and catapulted the movement into political power.

 What Trump understood is that there was no conflict between leading a movement against the so-called Establishment and seeking power in the state via the Republican Party. On the contrary, the only way he could achieve his maleficent objectives was to combine the two.

 The fact that he succeeded in the world’s strongest military power heartened like-minded groups all across the world, who proceeded to pursue similar paths with steadily increasing numbers of adherents.

 Trump’s success is still to this day not understood by the majority of leaders of both U.S. mainstream parties who search for signs that he will become what they call “presidential.” That is to say, they want him to abandon his role as the leader of a movement and confine himself to being the president and leader of a political party.

 They seize upon any small sign that he will do this. When he softens his rhetoric for a moment (as he did in his February 28 speech to Congress), they do not understood that this is precisely the deceptive tactic of a movement leader. Instead, they feel encouraged or hopeful. But he will never give up his role as movement leader because the moment that he did this he would lose real power.

 In the past year, faced with the reality of Trump’s success, a counter-movement has emerged in the United States (and elsewhere) that has taken on the name of Resist. The participants understood that the only thing that can possibly contain and eventually defeat Trumpism is a social movement that stands for different values and different priorities. This is the “why” of Resist. What is more difficult is the “how” of Resist.

 The Resist movement has grown with remarkable rapidity into sometimes impressive enough that the mainstream press has begun to report its existence. This is the reason that Trump constantly inveighs against the press. Publicity nourishes a movement, and he is doing what he can do to crush the counter-movement.

 The problem with Resist is that it is still at the stage where its many activities are dispersed and without a clear strategy or at least not a strategy they have yet adopted. Nor is there any unifying figure who is able at this point to do what Trump did with the Tea Party.

 Resist has engaged in manifold different actions. They have held marches, challenged local congressional representatives in  their public meetings, created sanctuaries for persons menaced with state-ordered expulsions, interfered with transport facilities, published denunciations, signed petitions, and created local collectivities that meet together both studying and deciding upon further local actions. Resist has been able to turn many ordinary persons into militants for the first time in their lives.

 Resist however has a few dangers before it. More and more participants will be arrested and jailed. Being a militant is strenuous and after a while many people tire of it. And they need successes, little or big, to maintain their spirits. No one can guarantee that Resist will not fade away. It took the Tea Party decades before they got to where they are today. It may take Resist equally long.

 What Resist as a movement needs to keep in mind is the fact that we are in the midst of a historic structural transition from the capitalist world-system in which we have lived for some 500 years to one of two successor systems – a non-capitalist system that preserves all of the worst features of capitalism (hierarchy, exploitation, and polarization) and its opposite, a system that is relatively democratic and egalitarian. I call this the struggle between the spirit of Davos and the spirit of Porto Alegre.

 We are living in the chaotic, confusing situation of transition. This has two implications for our collective strategy. In the short run (say, up to three years), we must remember that we all live in the short run. We all wish to survive. We all need food and shelter. Any movement that hopes to flourish must help people survive by supporting anything that minimizes the pain of those who are suffering.

 But in the middle run (say 20-40 years), minimizing the pain changes nothing. We need to concentrate on our struggle with those who represent the spirit of Davos. There is no compromise. There is no “reformed” version of capitalism that can be constructed.

 So the “how” of Resist is clear. We need collectively more clarity about what is happening, more decisive moral choice, and more sagacious political strategies. This does not automatically come about. We have to construct the combination. We know that another world is possible, yes, but we must also be aware that it is not inevitable.

 by Immanuel Wallerstein

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FBC Office/ Kelly Pueschel
Fernand Braudel Center
Binghamton University
PO Box 6000
Binghamton, NY 13902
(607) 777-4924

Boggs Center Living For Change News Letter – February 27th, 2017

Jimmy and Grace  
  •     Community Wisdom Shea Howell
    *  Women Creating Caring Communities – International Womans Days – March 11, 2017
    *   Scenes from the rollout of Riverwise, a community-based magazine…
    *  A Letter from Detroit Youth Organizers -Paige Watkins, Julia Cuneo, Dakarai Carter, Kezia Curtis
    *  An Open Letter to the Michigan Civil Rights Commission Tom Stephens 
Living for Change News
February 27th, 2017
final final 2017 wccc 2                    
Thinking for Ourselves
Community Wisdom
Shea Howell

Mayor Mike Duggan delivered his fourth State of the City address last week in an unusual venue. He chose Focus: Hope as the spot. It was a move designed to highlight his central message, time to focus on the neighborhoods. “We’ve improved the basic services but if we’re going to fulfill a vision of building a Detroit that includes everybody then we’ve got to do a whole lot more,” Duggan said.Duggan then listed efforts he intends to take: job training with a clear “path to jobs” though Detroit at Work and a Skilled Trade Employment Program aimed at youth. He emphasized neighborhood investment by philanthropic organizations, promising a beginning $30 million to engage residents in Livernois/McNichols, West Village and Southwest Detroit to create walkable communities, and he promised street sweeping. He even pledged affordable housing and to back the City Council effort to guarantee 20 percent of new units will be set aside in any new project.

He said we can also expect more police officers, a new initiative around healthy pregnancies, and a Detroit Promise to insure that those babies, and current students, have a guaranteed college education when they graduate from Detroit Public Schools.

In spite of all of this, the Mayor’s speech seems more show than substance, more promise than reality.

The first reason for this is the overall framing of the neighborhoods. According to the Mayor, our neighborhoods are only places to be fixed. He does not see any of the creativity, energy or imagination that has been evolving at the neighborhood level for years. Home recipes turned into a thriving sweet potato pie shop, a neighborhood bakery reclaiming lives with returning citizens, bike shops and barber shops, 3-D printing, hand crafted furniture, and flower shops all are anchors in communities long neglected by development schemes. Rather than seeing these as sources of strength to be supported and expanded, the Mayor reduces neighborhood life to nothing more than a vast wasteland he will fix for us.

At the same time, he has refused to look honestly at the inequality his policies have created. Just days before the address, two local professors released a study concluding: “First, by a number of measures Detroit continues to decline, and even when positive change has occurred, growth has been much less robust than many narratives would suggest. Second, within the city recovery has been highly uneven, resulting in increasing inequality.”

The report went on, “Citywide data suggest Detroit is continuing to experience decline that makes it worse off than it was in 2000 or even 2010 in the depths of the national recession. Population, employment and incomes continue to decrease, while vacancies and poverty have increased.”

Perhaps the most important reality for the mayor is his failure to come through with his earlier promises to leverage jobs in the development of the core city. Detroiters are actually losing jobs at an alarming rate. The researchers noted,
“At each geographic level, the number of jobs held by residents has dropped over time, while employment of non-Detroiters has increased…Jobs for those living in the suburbs — who are mostly white — have gone up 16.6%. Meanwhile, jobs for city residents are down 35.5%.”

Had the Mayor heeded the wisdom of the community, we would have a Community Benefits Agreement in place that could already have mandated job training, job placement and increased the number of Detroit Enterprises benefiting from downtown investment.

Had the Mayor heeded the wisdom of the community he would have adopted a Water Affordability Plan to stop water shut-offs and support people staying in their homes.  Instead his blindness to this human rights abuse risks the wellbeing of everyone.

The Mayor is going to have to do a lot more than stand inside Focus: Hope and offer promises. He might start listening to what people want.


Scenes from the rollout of Riverwise, a community-based magazine created by a team of authors, writers, photojournalists, parents, grandparents, students, organizers, activists, artists, educators and visionaries. Check us out online!

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A Letter from Detroit Youth Organizers
Paige Watkins, Julia Cuneo, Dakarai Carter, Kezia Curtis

When we were asked to plan the Youth Day of Vision on behalf of the James & Grace Lee Boggs Center, we knew that we wanted this event to youth-led and youth-centered. For us, that meant involving young(er) people in the planning process from the beginning and letting them control the direction of the event. Our Youth Planning Committee consisted of middle and high school students who are involved in the Detroit Independent Freedom School held at the Cass Corridor Commons.

We started with an introduction to what happened in 1967, inviting the Detroit Historical Society to a DIFS session to teach the students about the uprising and the Detroit 67 Project. This introduction was followed by brainstorming sessions, school visits, and planning meetings to determine what activities would work best for the day, recruit youth to attend, and set an agenda and facilitation schedule.

This may sound like an arduous process for just one event, but we believe that creating powerful, grassroots leadership in the future means giving them the reins today. We guided the young people through the organizing process, from conception to development to completion. This process provides them with the skills to create their own events, advocacy, and activism projects. The Youth Day of Vision was therefore not just about a vision of the future, but a vision of dynamic, transformative, present day youth leadership.

The day of the event, over 60 young people between the ages of 10 and 20 came to the Detroit Historical Museum for a day of investigating the past, understanding its relevance for our present, and envisioning our future. We explored the museum through an engaging scavenger hunt, teased out the differences between a riot versus a rebellion, and imagined ourselves in 1967 through a group role-play. It was exciting for us to see the young people’s visions of the future, which included cures for diseases, regional transportation systems, and diverse, interdependent communities.

At the request of the young people, we kept the space adult-free. The purpose of this careful curation was to allow young people to be themselves, open up, make mistakes, and take charge of their own spaces. We also integrated social media and many different types of hands-on engagement into the day’s activities. You can still find pictures on Instagram & Twitter by searching #DetroitUprising.

Because of this event, young Detroiters were able to more deeply understand the power of community organizing. Armed with this information, the young people heard from youth organizations about ways they could plug in immediately to work towards social justice in their communities.

We are incredibly proud of the young people who organized this event with such bold enthusiasm. We look forward to continuing to work with the social justice activists who attended and who will continue to transform this world for the next 50 years.


An Open Letter to the Michigan Civil Rights Commission on Their Report: “Systemic Racism Through the Lens of Flint”
Tom Stephens First, the Good NewsThere’s much to applaud in the Michigan Civil Rights Commission’s recent report[i] (February 17, 2017) regarding the deep historical and social origins of the now-notorious Flint water poisoning catastrophe.This includes:1.    Exposing the historical story of implicit bias, structural and systemic racialization behind this atrocity adds official recognition to the critical dynamics, particularly the “cumulative and compounding effects” of all discrimination and environmental racism (P. 82), far beyond and much better than the simplistic and limiting notions of individuals’ intentional, subjective racial prejudice that undermine our civil rights laws.  This is a notable achievement for an official government body – especially if it’s followed by policy actions to prevent repetition of such abuses in the future.  I don’t want to be misinterpreted as dismissing this positive aspect of the commission’s work;2.    Calls for specific reforms of the emergency manager statutes to avoid future cases of destruction of local democracy, accountability and the rule of law at the local level are welcome; and

3.    The Commission’s acknowledgement of its own failure to intervene on a timely basis for the benefit of the People of Flint, and their vow to do better in the future, displays sincere reflection and commitment.  It is appreciated.

I don’t want to minimize these good things in the report.  But as a lifelong Michigander who submitted written testimony to the commission that, altho uncited, is very much in line with their ultimate findings,[ii] I feel morally compelled to say that I am seriously dissatisfied with the report.

In brief, I believe it misapplies complex, historical analysis of flexible and only partially developed environmental justice concepts, and especially the distinction between implicit and intentional racism, to blatantly let top policy makers who are responsible for poisoning Flint off the hook for what they did and why.  Let me explain.

Racism without Racists, Poisoning without Culpability

The commission’s “implicit bias” narrative, based on the brilliant work of native-born Detroiter and leading critical race scholar john a. powell, reflects a sophisticated, contemporary and deeply insightful view of the way that racialization works to oppress People of color (and, as the commission notes, to injure Whites as well).  But that welcome perspective should never be employed as a shield for government officials whose implementation of state policies and actions causes harm.  The commission stumbles badly on this vital point of accountability.

The key flaw in the commission’s reasoning runs thru out the report.  It is perhaps most evident in the commission’s express adoption of the word “racism”, but avoidance of the term “racist” in their report, because of “a lack of consensus on the common definition of the [latter] term”. (P. 21)  Much later, near the end of its report, the Commission states that “Racial disparities are too often sustained by structures and systems that repeat patterns of exclusion.” (P. 127)  Unfortunately, the commission’s misapplication of implicit bias theory, and structural and strategic racialization, to excuse policy makers whose unconscious prejudices, ideological biases and plain incompetence and arrogance poisoned Flint, effectively sustains and repeats those very patterns of exclusion.  This is completely unacceptable.   

Excusing Official Misconduct

The commission’s “racism without racists” construct takes back with one hand whatever positive effect it achieved with the other, via their exhaustive discussion of implicit bias, structural and strategic racialization.  While these concepts offer much promise in understanding the attitudes, actions and conflicts experienced by People in our communities, applying them to the acts of policy makers responsible for poisoning Flint is a cop out. 

The Governor and his men claimed, in their campaigns for office and in their “emergency management” policies, policies they re-enacted even after being rejected by public referendum, that they knew what they were doing.  (As Michigan’s great public citizen and Governor Frank Murphy observed in the era of the great depression: “To sacrifice everything to balance the budget is fanaticism.”  That’s what they were doing.)  Implicit bias, structural and strategic racialization should never be allowed as a defense to such official misconduct.  The commission’s failure to recognize this fundamental distinction between ordinary People’s implicit personal social attitudes, and the awful consequences of official actions by policy makers, converts their report in substantial degree from a needed exposé into an unjust, structurally racist cover-up.  

The commission’s inability to place well-deserved blame where it lies with state government leaders is even further exemplified by their rather shocking statement: “We have neither seen nor heard anything that would lead us to believe that anyone in government permitted something they believed to be harmful to continue because of the racial makeup of Flint.” (P. 12)  One must ask in this context, what in the world would it take? 

Long before they admitted it, the top state government officials had significant information that would convince any reasonable person that 1) Polluted water is harmful; 2) Most People in Flint are of color and poor; and 3) They were being forced to use polluted water.  Avoiding the conclusion that “government permitted something they believed to be harmful to continue because of the racial makeup of Flint” under these circumstances is apologizing for decisions and actions that implemented structural and systemic racism, of which these top officials should have known and which it was their duty to avoid and later stop.  The commission’s failure to reach this inevitable, common sense conclusion is an extremely grave, unconscionable error.

Ignoring Critical Relevant Evidence

One of the ways the commission achieves this myopic result is by completely ignoring – in spite of their otherwise comprehensive historical overview – the damning official history of government attacks on environmental justice in the 1980s and 90s, centered around Flint and Genesee County.  As I stated in my written testimony (note 2, below):

“Some 20 years ago, the issues of environmental racism and environmental justice – the disproportionate adverse exposure of People of color communities and the poor to pollution and other environmental dangers – were addressed by environmental agencies and courts in two (2) major cases that arose in Flint: 1) The Genesee Power Station (GPS) case; and 2) The Select Steel case.

The GPS case involved a wood-burning incinerator sited near Flint’s impoverished north end, a community already swamped with other toxic, heavy industrial sources of pollution.  Negotiations with the incinerator resulted in an agreement to significantly reduce the amount of lead paint-contaminated construction and demolition wood the incinerator was allowed to burn. (They originally described their business to state environmental officials as “burning demolished Detroit crack houses”.)

After that partial settlement, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) under Gov. John Engler and Director Russell Harding insisted on a historic environmental justice trial of the allegation that they violated Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act by permitting the GPS, the first such trial ever.  The Genesee County Circuit Court, Hon. Archie Hayman, entered an injunction against granting more air pollution permits in Genesee County after a 1997 trial that included lots of evidence of increased lead poisoning in Flint because of the GPS; the injunction was subsequently reversed on appeal for a procedural technicality.

The Plaintiffs in the GPS case had also filed the first administrative Title VI environmental racism claim with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1992.  After initially losing the file, EPA later found it and opened an investigation, but they have never issued any decision.  Meanwhile, 3 of the 4 Plaintiffs died.

A second major environmental justice case arising in Flint was decided adversely after a bogus, pro forma investigation in 1998 by EPA: the infamous Select Steel decision.  In Select Steel, the same plaintiffs complained about a proposed (never built) steel recycling facility, that would further pollute their already overburdened community.  EPA came under heavy political pressure in both Michigan and Washington, DC, including explicit threats to zero out the budget of their Office of Civil Rights.   EPA rendered a decision against environmental justice that abandoned any meaningful attempts to remedy environmental racism, refusing to use their power to bring public health and environmental quality in Flint up to standards enjoyed in white suburban communities.

In significant part as a result of the Flint Select Steel precedent, environmental racism has found no legal remedy at EPA.

Why did these regulators ignore the pleas of Flint residents who were forced to drink smelly, foul and discolored water for a year and a half?  Because that was the policy of allowing substandard environmental and public health conditions in communities like Flint, conditions that would never be allowed in whiter, more affluent communities.  And that precedent was largely established in Flint in the 1990s.  The ongoing Flint River scandal was the result of emergency management and the Snyder administration’s depraved indifference to health of People in Flint, as well as longstanding, established de facto environmental policy to allow such pollution in these communities.

The Flint River’s lead poisoning is just an extreme case.”

Ironically, on January 19, 2017, EPA finally issued their administrative Title VI decision in the GPS case.  They found the state violated Title VI in their permit process. “… EPA finds that the preponderance of evidence supports a finding of discriminatory treatment of African Americans by MDEQ in the public participation process for the GPS permit considered and issued from 1992 to 1994.”  25 years later, it’s a textbook case of “justice delayed is justice denied.”  The commission should not have ignored this evidence.   

Leaving out Flint’s important role in the attack and rollback against environmental justice perpetuates the very exclusion the commission decries, and allows current state leadership off the hook for implementing racist abuses in Flint in 2014-15.  This seriously compounds the commission’s admitted failure to come to the aid of the People of Flint in their hour of need.  That is why I feel compelled to write this response.

Racist Restructuring is not only about Flint

In addition to erasing the significant history of anti-environmental justice state actions in and around Flint, the commission’s selective application of history leads to other major contradictions.  For example, Detroit’s decline and revitalization is a product of the same history of structural and systemic racism, suburbanization, housing and employment discrimination, capital flight and separate and unequal benefits of crucial infrastructure, all rooted in regional development shaped by implicit bias, that the commission details in Flint.  Indeed, the two cities’ histories of abuse by such structural, systemic forces are inextricably related. 

Detroit, like Flint, was subjected to Governor Snyder’s racist and undemocratic “emergency management” restructuring and asset-extraction policies; instead of contaminated water, Detroit’s structural adjustment involved mass denial of water via shut offs to tens of thousands of families comprising well over a hundred thousand individuals, an atrocity that was condemned by UN representatives as a human rights violation.  This dubious achievement has been widely celebrated in the corporate media as Detroit’s “resurrection”.[iii]  It is not critiqued by the commission, altho it represents another manifestation of the same deep history of implicit bias, structural and strategic racism that is their primary focus.

Ignoring Agency and Power

In political terms, emergency management deprived predominantly African American citizens in the managed communities of their agency in democracy.  Now the commission’s “racism without racists” reframing of the Flint River scandal lets the perpetrators off the hook for their abuses and crimes, by excusing their agency because it “merely” reflected implicit bias the commission believes they shouldn’t be called out on, because it supposedly did not rise to the level of intentional, willful prejudice embodied in state policy.  In addition to devastating democracy by ignoring the crucial role of agency, this is far too charitable to the structurally racist miscreants at the top of Michigan’s power systems.  For the record, neither Snyder nor any of his Republican enablers in the state legislature have lifted a finger to date to fix the deadly problems caused by Michigan’s unprecedented emergency management statute.  There’s nothing unconscious about their racist evil.

Coincidentally, the release of the commission’s report coincides with the release of the justly acclaimed James Baldwin documentary film, “I Am Not Your Negro”.  Baldwin’s simultaneously blunt and eloquent message to American White People perfectly captures the moral blame that should be cast for poisoning Flint, and should serve as a useful corrective to the commission’s tragic evasions of official culpability:

What white people have to do, is try and find out in their own hearts why it was necessary to have a nigger in the first place. Because I’m not a nigger. I’m a man, but if you think I’m a nigger, it means you need it. . . . If I’m not a nigger here and you invented him — you, the white people, invented him — then you’ve got to find out why. And the future of the country depends on that. Whether or not it’s able to ask that question.”[iv]

It is long past the time to stop the “relentless poisonous action” of Snyder and his associates; the systemic, structural and implicit nature of the racist bias underlying their shocking, depraved actions should not be an excuse. 


[i] The Flint Water Crisis: Systemic Racism Through the Lens of Flint (link)

[ii] The Flint River Lead Poisoning Catastrophe in Historical Perspective (link)
I also drafted the original, much stronger version of the Michigan State Environmental Justice Policy that was disastrously watered down by DEQ bureaucrats in 2009-10, under pressure from corporate and white supremacist special interests.  That “Executive Directive” is discussed at length by the commission beginning on P. 100.  The commission’s analysis of this farcical process and the meaningless document it produced is pure tautology: If Michigan had an effective policy against environmental racism, then there would have been a policy against environmental racism that might have been effective.  True.  But that’s not the question.  The question is why the state government’s bad actors did what they did. 

Lansing’s systematic inattention to issues addressed in our communities’ original draft environmental justice executive order, like the  precautionary principle, cumulative impact of multiple pollution sources, communities’ rights to directly petition the state to investigate and remedy environmental injustice, and environmental racism (as well as feral, unregulated capitalism) itself, came after fighting tooth-and-nail against grassroots groups seeking such policies for 30 years.  This notice-and-refusal-to-correct-injustice evidence adds culpability – even willful depravity, in the unprecedented circumstances of Flint in 2014-15 – to the depths of unconscious, implicit bias that undoubtedly plague all levels of the Snyder administration.  This is precisely why I reject the commission’s reasoning and conclusion; they seem to be saying that, since structural and systemic bias are overwhelmingly implicit and unconscious (Nobody in state government endorses “I am a racist”), it would be unduly hurtful to attribute blame where blame would otherwise be due.  I respectfully dissent.

Flip the script: The policies and actions of high officials like Governor Rick Snyder, Transformation Manager Richard Baird, and Treasury Secretary Andy Dillon that exposed the People of Flint to contaminated water were racist.  Fundamentally, environmental racism is the state’s policy.  The Flint River crisis proves it beyond doubt.

[iii] This uncritical corporate and white supremacist backslapping has been debunked by scholarship.  Detroit’s Recovery; The Glass is Half Full at Most “…[B]y a number of measures Detroit continues to decline, and even when positive change has occurred, growth has been much less robust than many narratives would suggest. Second, within the city recovery has been highly uneven, resulting in increasing inequality. … Overall, citywide data suggest Detroit is continuing to experience decline that makes it worse off than it was in 2000 or even 2010 in the depths of the national recession. Population, employment and incomes continue to decrease, while vacancies and poverty have increased.” (emphasis added)

[iv] I Am Not Your Negro; James Baldwin’s Lesson for White America Still Hits Home 50 Years Later


The James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership

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