Boggs Center Living For Change News – October 15th, 2019

October 15th, 2019
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 Thinking for Ourselves

Rising Waters
Shea Howell

Water protectors continue to push the Mayor and his administration to develop a comprehensive policy reflecting two fundamental principles: water is a human right and a sacred trust. This week two reports underscored the need for us to think more deeply about the waters that give us life.

First, the Army Corps of Engineers provided their predictions for Great Lakes water levels though 2020. It appears that we will once again be facing high waters throughout the region. Currently, all of the Great Lakes are well above normal, reaching 100 year highs. For this month, Lakes Huron, St. Clair, and Erie are all around 3 feet higher than normal.

Across Detroit this has meant flooded homes and streets, washed out roads, flooding on Belle Isle and other city parks, and shoreline erosion. Hazardous sink holes are appearing on roads and walks. Blocked catch basins increase dangers to health and well-being. And the city offers little coordinated response. It is shifting the burden to home owners and has little more to offer than a sand bag strategy depending on volunteers. This is not only inadequate to the level of climate change we are experiencing, it is courting disaster.

The second study illustrates additional concerns about the high water levels. Erosion caused by water flow and the coming ice packs increases the disruption of toxic sediment.

Representatives from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) offered this assessment, “The entire Detroit River shoreline needs remediation.” This conclusion is based on nearly 900 samples taken from along the shore line. “Significant amounts of mercury, lead, asbestos, cyanide, chromium, pesticides and more were found.”

The highest levels of contamination are near the old industrial sites. While the buildings are now gone, their legacy lingers deep in the soil. At the river bend an old copper facility and fuel dock have left behind the highest concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHS), toxic chemicals released from burning trash. A bit further down, the Uniroyal Tire site is now covered with grasses and has the highest concentration of a range of poisonous contaminants. A sediment sample taken from the river bank was left unanalyzed over one weekend and eroded its polycarbonate container.

This degradation of the land and waters is the result of the ways of thinking that dominated the extractive, industrial culture that shaped our city. To pretend that we can simply go about business as usual only intensifies the depth of the climate crisis we face. After two hundred years of industrial production and waste, we need to systematically work to revitalize the soil and waters upon which we depend.

Water protects of We the People and the Peoples Water Board are continuing to press for a deeper understanding of our need to think in holistic, interconnected ways about the qualities necessary for life in our city. Central to these questions is restoring and regenerating the waters that give us life, ensuring that all of us have access to safe, affordable, protected and cherished waters.

Every day the Mayor ignores these deeper questions brings us closer to disasters of his making. In 1920 it was possible to believe that water and land were simply backgrounds to the stuff of city life. But today, on the eve of 2020, such thinking is no longer acceptable. It belongs to a dangerous, destructive past.

We can imagine a future that holds water and life sacred. It requires only the  political will to bring this vision into being. Waters are rising.

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Boggs Center – Living For Change News Letter – October 10th, 2019

October 10th, 2019

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October 15 is the 50th anniversary of the massive local demonstrations against the US war on Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia. It’s an opportunity to explore myths about the antiwar movement and helpful lessons for today. So that’s what I’ll try to do.  I hope you can come and especially encourage young people to attend. Peace, Frank Joyce

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 Fifty years later—The antiwar movement then and now. 

Swords into Plowshares Peace Center & Gallery

Tuesday, October 15th, 7 p.m.

Lecture and discussion is Free
light refreshments served.

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Thinking for Ourselves

Lighting Fires
Shea Howell

The possibility of repealing the third grade reading statute that requires mandatory retention of students falling below state standards dimmed this week. Republican lawmaker Pamela Hornberger, who chairs the House Education committee, withdrew her support of a provision she helped draft last January to repeal the “read or flunk” portion of the law.

Hornberger’s flip is not much of surprise. What is critical for those of us who care about the education of our children is to take a close look at her reasoning. In justifying her “change of heart” she demonstrates just how dangerous it is to have state legislators dabble in educational policy.

News accounts of Hornberger’s shift say that she was motivated to support retention by two factors. First, she noted that state researchers now are estimating that only 5% of third graders state wide are likely to be held back. This is much smaller than earlier data that suggested many 50%  or more of our third graders would face retention. This is still more than 5,000 children facing being held back. The smaller predicted number, according to Hornberger, is because the law has “lit a fire under some people’s rear ends.”

Aside from the crudeness of her remark, the disrespect for teachers and students contained in it, and the notion that pain inflicted on people causes them to progress, the grasp on what is really happening in our schools is tenuous. No data supports Hornberger’s position that fear of retention works, or that teachers have just been too lazy to get kids to read.

Here is what data does support. From 2003 to 2016 Michigan has steadily been falling in reading scores. We are now 35th in the country, down from 28th.  During this period republican state legislatures have installed one failed scheme after another, including a series of emergency managers and the creation of alternative school districts like the Educational Achievement Association. Every effort to bolster learning has failed as schools are under-resourced,  disrespected, and closed down. At the same time, in large part thanks to Besty Devos and family, our children are being turned into private profit centers as charter schools proliferate and public schools deteriorate. All of this can be traced right to the state legislature.

In spite of these conditions, teachers, parents and administrators are trying to find ways to protect children from the worst of legislation made by people who rarely even notice their existence.

In Detroit, reports indicate that nearly 20% of third graders, about 800 students, would have been held back last year according to the law. Usually  only 4% are retained each year. The lower retention figure that sparked Hornberger’s shift has emerged not because students now magically have improved to evade the “fires.” It is because administrators, teachers and parents are wising up to the possibility of “good cause exemptions.” In Detroit these exemptions are widespread. About 5% of students who rank low on the test are in special education or are new English language learners.  Others are already in intensive reading programs, or have only been enrolled for a short time. This is true across the state.

In other words, once again the right wing, ideologically driven state legislature has created obstacles to learning that require people who actually care about children to find ways around the most damaging aspects of it.

The deep lesson here for all of us is laws having nothing to do with reality. They need to be resisted.  Fires are being lit.

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State of the City Forum featuring the Hon., Ed Vaughn

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Tuesday, October 15th
6 PM
1000 Eliot St, Detroit, Michigan 48207
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10 Ways that the Climate Crisis and Militarism are Intertwined

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DETROIT 48202: CONVERSATIONS ALONG A POSTAL ROUTE examines the rise, demise, and contested resurgence of the City of Detroit through the lens of African- American mail carrier, Wendell Watkins, and the committed community he faithfully served for thirty years.

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FREE SREENING:
Saturday, October 19th
1 PM
Chandler Park Branch of DPL

Boggs Center – Living For Change News – September 30th, 2019

September 30th, 2019

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Thinking for Ourselves

Reading Tests
Shea Howell

School has barely begun, but many of our youngest students are getting ready for a test that most educators think is dangerous and disastrous. Under the Third Grade Reading statute, children must pass a series of tests and establish a “proficient” reading score, or  face being held back from fourth grade. The first of three mandated tests outlined in this process by law must be given within the first 30 days of school.

Virtually all educators agree this is misguided meddling by State legislators that will damage children. Over the last two decades of Republican dominated legislatures, Michigan has been steadily sinking in relation to other states. In  2017 data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress found that Michigan was tied with Tennessee for 35th in the nation on fourth grade reading scores.

Since the passage of the law in 2016 many districts have been targeting reading and providing additional training and support for teachers and students. The result has been “modest gains.” The 2019 M-STEP results reported the number of not proficient students going from 31% in 2018 to 30.4% in 2019. According to analyses of national testing data, Michigan students are performing among the bottom 10% of states. According to 2017 results from National Assessment of Educational Progress, Michigan ranks in the bottom third of states for fourth grade reading and eighth grade math. It’s also 43rd in school funding equity.

It is not likely that the complicated process of learning to read will see a quick improvement as children are subjected to a series of tests. Nationally, state mandated efforts to punish children who are not learning to read by third grade have been a failure. Four years before Michigan passed this legislation, North Carolina tried it in 2012. After spending $150 million researchers from North Carolina State University concluded that the state was “going backward” and “treading water.” Nearly two decades ago Florida tried the “read or flunk policy , and while it produced initial gains, they faded quickly. It, too, was a failure.

On the eve of this policy taking effect current data indicates nearly 55% of third grade students failed the predictive test with only a slight improvement in scores statewide. According to 2019 results of the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress released this month by the Michigan Department of Education, 54.9% of third graders — or 55,336 students — scored less than proficient on the English language arts test. That’s a modest improvement compared with 55.6% last year.

The Michigan Department of Education is downplaying these results, saying that they estimate only 5% of third grades students will be held back. There is little reason to believe this number.

There is every reason to believe the majority of students held back will be in our urban areas. In Benton Harbor only 5.6% of students passed a similar test last year.

Community groups like the Detroit Independent Freedom Schools Movement are advocating for the repeal of mandatory retention. Educators and state officials are beginning to join the effort. But in the meantime, parents should be aware that they have a right to intervene in this process. They can ask the superintendent for an “exemption” for their child. The law provides:

  • Coordinators for a student with an individual education plan or a disability can request an exemption for the student.• An English language learner with less than three years of instruction in English may be granted an exemption.• A student may be eligible for an exemption if he or she has received intensive reading intervention for two years and was previously retained.

    • A student who has been in the school district for less than two years may be exempted.

    • A parent can request an exemption within 30 days of being notified of possible retention.

    • Parents, teachers or school personnel may request a good cause exemption, and superintendents have the final say.

Our children have been consistently abused by decisions made by the Republican dominated legislature and its meddling in education. We know that love and individual attention create learning. As a community, we can provide these, no matter what the state continues to do. That is the ultimate test of our commitment.

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Apply today for the Detroit Emergent Strategy Immersion
 taking place October 24-27. We’re interested in building connections state-wide, so please share with Michiganders working towards justice. We are prioritizing the applications of Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color.

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Climate Strike
Rabbi Moshe Givental

We are on the heels of another round of Climate Strikes around the world. This was organized around the impetus of 16-year old Greta Thunberg, encouraging school children to skip school on Friday in protest of the childish actions of our adult leaders. At least 4 million gathered around the world making their voices heard.  Southeast Michigan held protests in Ann Arbor, Detroit, Troy, among others. After hearing from Emma Lockridge from Michigan United, Justin Onwenu from the Sierra Club a number of High School Students and others, Richard Feldman from the Boggs Center reminded us that we were continuing Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s fight against the 3rd triplet of evil, materialism, on that corner in front of Somerset Mall, on the intersection of W. Beaver Road and Coolidge Hwy., where about 200 people gathered. The following remarks were delivered there on Sept. 20th, 2019.
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“This is what democracy looks like. All of us, gathered right here. Don’t believe the people who say that you must be voting age to make a difference, nor that voting is your most powerful tool in the struggle for justice. Voting is important, but it’s the meekest of our weapons. Only taken out of the shed once every few years, lulling us to sleep the rest of the time, as if there is no other work to be done. What we are doing today, the agitation for change and justice that you can do every single day of the year, however young you or old you are, that is part of our most powerful arsenal. Are you ready to agitate?

I want to take a few steps back now to zoom out and look at the causes for our environmental and climate crises for which the overuse of fossil fuels we’re protesting today is just the tip of the iceberg. The disregard for human life, and the life of other species and eco-systems around us is much, much older. Sadly, it is part of the very structure of how we organize society. The systems of Patriarchy and Colonialism which form the subconscious and structural foundations of all of our lives, buildings illusions of meaning and power through power-over and control, have been wreaking destruction and death for centuries and millennia. Even our hunter-gatherer ancestors, while gathering in peace, eventually developed hunting tools powerful enough to wipe out multiple species off the map of the world. The development of large-scale agriculture, in controlling what was to grow where, destroyed entire eco-systems to supplant them with what was comfortable for our species. To a significant degree, all of this is normal animal behavior, we did what we needed to do as communities and as a species to survive. The issue and difference today, is that the scale of destruction is so massive that we are not only causing global extinction, but undermining the very life-support systems of the planet.

The next piece I want to share might sound even more radical. There is a way, I think, in which Republicans and “Climate Denialists” get this reality on a deeper level than the average Democrat who supports measured step-by-step change. While Climate Denial is clearly based on political and corporate propaganda, I think that on another level, this Denial is a subconscious coping mechanism, trying to cope with the reality that stepwise change is no longer sufficient. As the slogan goes, “We need System Change, not Climate Change.” So, while they may be in “denial” – they’re at least trying to cope with the reality of system change, while most democrats still believe that piece-wise measures will be sufficient. Dropping fossil fuels is just one small part of the necessary recipe. The dangers before us, sanity, as well as ethics, demand that we rethink and redesign our entire relationship with Life. Even the Green New Deal is just one step towards that. Like the Copernican revolution which forced humanity to remove itself from the center-focus of the universe, this (r)Evolution calls upon us to remove ourselves from the colonialist privilege as overlords of all life on the planet. Just like that revolution challenged not just facts but authority, values and people’s basic sense of reality, so will this too.  I’m pointing this out to remind us that no one here created this problem, no matter what generation you belong to. Nor are we free from committing to lean-in beyond our capacities and wildest imaginations, to work together to create the more beautiful world we know is possible. This is what democracy looks like, all of us gathering here, waking each other up, agitating for more awareness, and supporting each other in the work ahead. Don’t believe anyone who tells you that voting is your most powerful or only weapon for change, democracy demands we exercise its muscles over and over, not just a few times a year at the ballot box.

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The historic town of Idlewild was founded in 1912 and quickly became a place of refuge, restoration and rest from the segregated society of America. Prominent African Americans built cabins, homes, churches and businesses in this hideaway community.

After WWII, entertainment, in the form of clubs, bars, theaters, restaurants, concert halls, and other venues became the major draw for this town. 30,000 people would visit Idlewild on the summer weekends.

Join this bus tour led by historian Jamon Jordan of Black Scroll Network History & Tours as he takes you through the Jim Crow era to a Black resort haven of history, recreation and music.

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A Visit with Grace
Kamau Ayubbi
(September, 2014)

Yes, last Saturday I was honored to visit with Grace Lee Boggs on behalf of my mother Nobuko. It was meaningful in all aspects so I will describe some of it.

First of all, in my drive there from Flint I was stopped a few blocks away by a bike race running through Grand River Avenue in Detroit. After waiting some 15 or 20 minutes it occurred to me to park my car and walk across the river of bicycles to Grace’s house. So on my walk through it and down the block I came across Genesis Lutheran Church. This is the site where my mother worked with Grace and other folks in Detroit to create “I dream a garden,” a song and dance about the reimagining and repurposing of Detroit through Gardens and other important work. This all began probably more than 10 years ago when I lived in the Bay Area and my mother would tell me about Detroit and Grace. There still remains a thriving garden present at the site and hundreds or maybe thousands more throughout Detroit and Flint these days.

When I reached Graces’ home two blocks away from Genesis, I was met with a piece of mail just arrived from Jenny and Maiya. That mail was immediately handed to me for reading to Grace. Grace recognized me and acknowledge me right away asking about my four children. We got my mother on speakerphone to exchange some words so that Grace and she could hear each other’s voices. As we sat quietly in presence and reflection I thought about all the important work leading up to this moment and all to come. I read Maiya’s short stories and poems as requested by Shea Howell. Grace chuckled and appreciated what we read. Letters and poems written about social justice, imagination, and transformation. Ending with a piece about the Caterpillar, cocoon, and butterfly.

Afterwards, I sat quietly, thought about legacy and asked Grace if there was anything she wanted to share. Perhaps she will share something of social, political or ideological relevance I thought in my mind. “Tell your children that they are geniuses”. When someone in their late 90s who has spent their life struggling to improve the human condition speaks, there’s a profound resonance. Much of what we tell ourselves, our children, our spouses our community is what we become. Perhaps the simplest advice is the best. What if my entire generation spoke these powerful words into their children? And in addition to that, left out any other words or behaviors that would contradict the innate potential within each of us?

As I think about it, genius speaks of creativity, the ability to conceive, identify and implement solutions to our human condition.

And then I think about the importance of speech. That in order to speak the truth we must cultivate the ability to recognize it. And further, in order to recognize it we must train our hearts minds and vision to identify its presence. Grace gave me some good homework.

When someone like Grace Lee Boggs, Maya Angelou, Yuri Kochiyama, and others who spend their lives dedicated to higher purposes speak to the particular person (in this case myself) I like to think of how it applies to the people around me and hence I share these words.

 

Boggs Center – News Living For Change – September 12th, 2019

September 12th, 2019

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Thinking for Ourselves

Ring and Recognition
Shea Howell

In the midst of public debate about facial recognition technologies, the Detroit Police Department quietly partnered with Amazon’s neighborhood surveillance program, Ring. The news of this partnership was spread by investigative reporters attempting to document the extent of a growing threat to civil liberties. Detroit is one of 14 Michigan cities that have partnered with the Ring “Neighbors” program. This technology allows police access to digital images captured by home doorbells. The programs offer live streaming to users’ devices, enabling people to remotely see and speak to people on their door steps. Through the Neighbors app, individuals can share images and information. Police departments have access to the images.

Digital justice advocates are concerned that this new technology is rapidly spreading without any regulation. Police partnerships began in the spring of 2018 and now include over 400 cities. While Ring says its mission is “making the neighborhood safer,” it is clearly making Amazon richer.

Amazon purchased the company last year for $800 million. This was not a donation to public safety. Rather, it is the basis for a sophisticated partnership with police departments, aggressively marketed through conferences and programs, offering webinars, technical advice, media strategies, discounts, free cameras, and talking points to help police increase the presence of this Amazon product in neighborhoods.

These partnerships increase the capacities of authorities  to have real time surveillance of communities and people. Mohammad Tajsar, an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, called the system “an unmitigated disaster” for the privacy of neighborhoods. He noted, Amazon “gets to offer, at taxpayer dime, discounted products that allow it to really expand its tentacles into wide areas of private life way more than it already has.” And so do police.

Andrew Guthrie Ferguson, author of The Rise of Big Data Policing, examines the use of fear as a sales technique. He explains that by tapping into “a perceived need for more self-surveillance and by playing on consumer fears about crime and security Ring has found a clever workaround for the development of a wholly new surveillance network, without the kind of scrutiny that would happen if it was coming from the police or government.”

Evan Greer, the deputy director of Fight for the Future says this Amazon effort is “a privately- run surveillance dragnet built outside the democratic process, but they’re marketing it as just another product, just another app.”

Across the city people have been raising concerns about expanding police powers through Facial Recognition technologies. These technologies are wrapped into the development of the Ring program. Last month Amazon announced it was upgrading its facial recognition capabilities for its program called ReKognition. Also Amazon has filed a patent describing how a network of cameras could work together with facial recognition technology to identify people and respond accordingly.

The Detroit Police and the Mayor have been developing digital capacities of control without sufficient public conversation or attention to democratic safeguards. We need to support all efforts for a moratorium on the expansion of these police powers. We need sustained public conversation about how to enhance our relationships with our neighbors. We need to develop ways to support and nurture one another, not react out of manipulated fears.

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Face Our Fears Or Run From Our Differances?

Rich Feldman

These are complex times filled with anger, tears, hope, lessons and challenges.

I often ask myself: Where does courage come from? Does our humanity come from our courage to speak truth and break the silence among ourselves and our own kind? Does it start with us? I believe it does!

These past weeks were filled with lessons to learn from— or NOT!  Your choice. Our Choice! The urgency of NOW.

Tuesday, August 20th, I had the privilege to join with around 150 folks at the Farmington Hills Holocaust Memorial Museum. They spoke loudly and clearly:

“Close Down the Camps: Never Again.”

Their banner was clear:

“The Birmingham Temple Declares Solidarity with immigrants and refugees.”

I listened to Renee Lichtman, a child survivor and an individual I have known for more than 50 years. It was humbling to see their sign: “ICE = Nazism”

I listened to Adonis Flores from Michigan United as he shared his family’s story. During WWII, his father had worked in the fields in Farmington Hills picking fruits and vegetables for the war effort. Adonis was clear that his family played their part and we had to play ours. Today Adonis continues to oppose US style fascism. He is a leading activist in our area. He linked the need to close the camps on our southern border with the need to oppose the prison industrial complex across our state. In 2019-2020, Neither Wayne County nor Macomb County need new county jails. We do not need jails to house thousands upon thousands of African Americans because they cannot make bail.

There were also 25-50 Trump Supporters in attendance, waving the American and Israeli Flags and wearing T-shirts proudly claiming to be members of Detroit’s Proud Boys (a neo-fascist movement who more than likely supported the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville). They chanted: “Obama built the cages, Trump is filling them!”

Two days earlier, on Sunday, August 18th, I was at the Hazon Michigan Food Festival in Eastern Market. Thousands of folks came from across Metro Detroit and the Midwest to feel, smell, taste and support the amazing work of local farmers and local businesses. I staffed a table for the James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership (www.boggscenter.org) and Detroit’s Community visionary magazine, Riverwise (https://riverwisedetroit.org).

With all the progressive Jewish organizations participating, I did not see anyone lifting the banner to engage people in a discussion or introduce the importance of “never again” as it relates to the concentration camps on the southern US border, ICE, or the continued mass incarceration of black Detroiters and people of color across our country.

So many people said: “this is not a time for politics.”

I did not see one sign that said: “We support Rashida Tlaib right to visit Palestine without restrictions.” “We support individual rights to support boycotts,” “Shame on Senator Stabenow,” or even that they disagree with current Israeli policies toward the Palestinian people.

Are we afraid of controversy, debate, dialogue?  Are we afraid of losing our donations? Are we unable to create safe and brave places for public conversations?

That were the fears I was raised to feel. We were told to “never discuss our dirty laundry”—even though everyone else could see the stains and smell the odors.

That is not how I raised my children, though.  I raised my children with voice, dignity and a moral center.  Listening, Disagreeing, Trusting to continue to engage were important to them from the beginning.
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DJEF FilmFest

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