Boggs Center – Living For Change News – June 16th, 2020

June 16th, 2020

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Thinking for Ourselves

Mundane Evils
Shea Howell

As protests mount in streets, people across the country are engaging in unprecedented efforts to rethink what it means to create safe communities. At the same time, the ordinary machines of governing continue to function, moving from the mundane to outright evil.

It is no secret that a crisis is seen by some as an opportunity to make money and choices that would otherwise provoke public outcry and resistance. During the Detroit Bankruptcy, for example, we saw the rapid whitening of downtown Detroit, mass evictions, and wholesale transfer of public properties into private hands. Much of this happened behind closed doors as people struggled with evictions, water shut-offs, school closures, and excessive property taxes.

Today, as people are demanding the defunding and demilitarization of police, the public bodies most directly related to providing oversight in Detroit are proving how out of touch they are with the city, and how much they are governed by the desire to protect corporate power.

This week both the Police Commission and the committee responsible for public health and safety of the City Council responded to initiatives in ways that should encourage all of us to boot most of these folks out of office.

The current Police Commission was introduced by Mayor Coleman Young in 1974 as an early effort to provide civilian oversight to police abuse. That responsibility has been reaffirmed through various Charter revisions. But over the years, the Commission has become a rubber stamp for police initiatives and has engaged in shady dealings, violating the Open Meetings Act and having one of its own members, Willie Burton, handcuffed and removed during a meeting, because of his efforts to encourage citizen input on the discussion of police use of facial recognition technologies.

This week Mr. Burton tried to get the Commission to acknowledge the growing national effort to demilitarize local police. His efforts provoked laughter from some fellow commissioners. Burton had also called for eliminating the use of tear gas and flash bang grenades. The police have been widely criticized for use of excessive force during the most recent protests.

Also this week the Public Health and Safety Standing Committee met to once again consider the plan offered by President Pro Tem Mary Sheffield to make police purchasing of surveillance technologies transparent. The committee chair, Scot Benson and members Janee Ayers and Roy McCalister have blocked this effort for nearly a year.

The three are not only on the wrong side of history, they are endangering the citizens they are supposed to serve. All three uphold the perspective that police make us safe. As the three continued to dither, finding ways to slow down the simple effort to allow public discussion before the city spends any more money on surveillance technologies, it seems they had no understanding of the shift taking place in the country.

They do not seem to realize that thousands upon thousands of people see the lie and know that police do not make us safe.

They do not seem to realize that thousands upon thousands of people know it is not justifiable to spend millions for policing and almost nothing on health care, recreation, economic development, housing, and quality of life programs.

This moment is revealing more than a broken police system. It is demonstrating that our most ordinary means of governing are in the hands of people whose interests are not to serve the people or provide leadership toward a more humane future. It is definitely time to shake things up.


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Last week, at the site of the Algiers Motel where police murdered three black teenagers during the 1967 rebellion, a group of movement Elders welcomed demonstrators. Here are a few of their speaches.

Wayne Curtis:

First, we say “All power to the people!” Without this power from our neighborhoods we stand little chance of transforming this glocal reactionary capitalist corporate plutocracy. “Glocal” is the transformation of the nation-state into a world of community that’s controlled by the American corporation and other corporations throughout the world. They go past national administrative ability to control within national geographical boundaries. So glocal, like they say, think local, act globally? Well, glocal is acting local and thinking globally, but instead of saying global, I say “glocal” because of our similarities of culture. We have to defeat this corporatocracy on a world level.

What is power? The corporate glocal community believes that power means domination over all biological life, whereas institutional brutality is imbedded into this capitalist glocalized system of governance.

We all say “No!” to this pig terminology of what power is. For the purpose of the complete transformation of this brutal corporatocracy, we say that the definition of power is first our ability to conduct a collective democratic localized discourse to define phenomena, and then make it act in a desired manner.

Our desired manner is that we want justice now. We want an end of this corporate executive administrative act of glocal brutality now. We want an end of all glocalized violence that is being committee on all biological life in general, and black life in particular.

We want to end the violence of unemployment, the lack of shelter, water, and heat.

We want an education that will tell us the historical truth of this American decadent glocal-ran society.

We want an end of all wars for corporate theft of other people’s stuff.

We want land, bread, housing, education, free access to all technology, and a complete end of incarceration.

We will have a glocalized access to the tree of life.

All power to the people!

Frank Joyce:

We are not fighting police brutality. We are fighting a 500 year old colonial system that is degrading and demeaning to us all. It is even damaging to those who think they benefit from it. The role of whites is the same as everyone’s role. It is to fight for a system that is fair to all.

Do you know what would be the best way to defund the police? Defund the Pentagon, that’s what. Territorial conquest is where the militarism comes from in the first place and always has. This is a simple idea. If you want to take apart the culture of violence, start where it begins. Start with militarism and the worship of violence as the solution to any problem.

Fifty years ago some of us tried to turn on an alarm clock for white people. For fifty straight years they mostly turned over and hit the snooze button. Young white people today—and some of older ones too, are not hitting the snooze button now. They are waking up. Let’s keep that alarm button on full blast so they don’t go back to sleep.

At no time in my life, as Michelle Alexander put it today in the New York Times—have we had as good a chance to get this right. It is a thrill to see so many who are just now experiencing the beauty of and the thrill being in this movement.

They say elders are not supposed to give advice. I disagree, I do have one piece of advice. For every action there is a reaction. There is a straight line from the Algiers Motel to the murder of George Floyd and so many others. There is a line from the election of Barack Obama to the election of Donald Trump. There is a line from making superficial reforms to the resurgence of white supremacy over and over and over again.

There will be strong pushback to whatever comes from this moment. There are times and places when some people can play the short game. We do not have that luxury. The long game is the only one open to us. That is why we must take care of ourselves and take care of each other every step of the way.

Shea Howell:

I am glad people are gathering tonight to mark the tragedy that happened in this place. The forces of violence that swept through here, continue today. But today we see new power arising in our communities. Across the country people are moving us closer to creating communities of care and compassion.

Police forces are being defunded. People are asserting power in the streets and creating change. Real community safety is emerging. Here, in this place of violence, as you gather to remember those lost, to acknowledge the efforts of all those who have struggled to bring into being a new world, you are surrounded by ancestors and elders who join you with love. Here in this place, let us also gather in hope, that in the midst of all the loss of these decades, we are reaching a real turning point. That long arch of the universe is finally bending toward justice and we can imagine a new future together.


A Speech from the Suburban Silence is Racist Violence Car Caravan Last Week in Metro-Detroit.

Hello everyone. My name is Lauren Schandevel. I’m the Macomb County Organizer for We The People – MI, an organization devoted to building multiracial, working class alliances across the state. I grew up in Warren, about 30 minutes away from here, and I live there now. Warren was a notorious sundown town back in the day — meaning Black workers were expected to be out of the city by nightfall, or else be subjected to violence by police, organized militias, and armed vigilantes.

We are taught that that particular chapter in history is over — but, like all of history’s chapters, the words bleed from one page to the next. Today, you won’t see government-issued signs posted around town, telling Black people to leave before dark — you may, however, see a Black person pulled over while driving around Birmingham or Royal Oak at night, accused of being suspicious or an outsider.

Contemporary police departments evolved from slave patrols and night watches. I’m not saying that to be hyperbolic — that is the history, and knowing our history is an important first step to changing our present.

There has been a lot of talk this week about how to move forward, how to heal — but the healing cannot happen until the wound has been dressed. Our movement has two paths:

We can follow the lead of Black activists and work to defund and eventually abolish the police.
We can settle for less, and ask for police regulation and oversight.

For those of you who are just now hearing calls to abolish police, the first option may scare you. If police aren’t around, who will keep us safe from rapists and murderers? I promise you the fight for police abolition was not born overnight — it is the product of decades of scholarship by the likes of Angela Davis, Mariame Kaba, Alex Vitale and others. These scholars and activists challenge us to imagine a society where our basic needs are met — a society where neighbors know and care for one another, a society where we teach our children about consent so they don’t rape, a society where the school shooter has access to mental health care so he doesn’t kill. It may seem far off from our current reality, but the more we chase it, the closer it becomes.

In the coming weeks, people in power will offer you an easy way out. They will call for banning chokeholds, they will call for more training, they will call for body cameras. Let me tell you why those reforms will never be enough.

First of all, proposals for police reform imply that there’s some amount of police violence you have to or must be willing to accept. But more importantly, we know that in places where we’ve tried reform, it hasn’t worked.

The officer who murdered Eric Garner did it with a banned chokehold.

Salt Lake City Police killed Patrick Harmon in 2017 after two years of implicit bias training.

And just 6 days ago, Louisville Police killed David McAtee and left his body in the street for 12 hours. The body cameras didn’t capture it, because the officers turned them off.

In two days, my city council will pass a budget allocating $46 million — almost 40% of our general fund — to the police department with the hope that more rules and more expensive training programs will make us safer. But as police budgets expand, budgets for other things shrink. Like schools. And mental health services. And drug treatment programs. All of which are far more effective tools for keeping us safe than any body camera.

So if you take something away from today, let it be that racism is more than just good and bad behavior — it is the culmination of policies that make up systems, like the education system or the criminal justice system. And policies change as our priorities change. Are we, as suburbanites, willing to prioritize the lives of Black and Brown people over a false sense of security? Are we willing to send our children to college instead of juvy? Are we willing to invest in programs that rehabilitate people over programs that punish them? If you’re here today, you’d better be here for the long haul fight ahead. Because we’re in it now, and there’s no going back.


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Boggs Center – Living For Change News – June 9th, 2020

June 9th, 2020

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Junauda Petrus reads her poem,
Give the Police Departments to the Grandmothers.

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Thinking for Ourselves
From Reform to Abolition
Shea Howell

As protests continue globally to express outrage over the police killing of George Floyd, the conversation is shifting from reform to abolition. This is a critical shift, raising the possibility of creating real community safety, provided by community members who care for one another.

This vision of a world without police, a core element of the Movement 4 Black Lives agenda, has been evolving since the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson six years ago. Cities across the country have organized to defund police by cutting  budgets. Durham, North Carolina has a strong “zero police expansion” coalition. The Austin Justice Coalition reduced the police budget this year by half. Banners are appearing in Detroit calling to defund the police.

Behind the call to defund the police is the recognition that reform efforts have not worked. In a recent statement by the MDP 150 group organized to abolish policing, we find this comment:
Reforms, even when noble in intention, simply do not do enough to get to the root of the issue.

History is a useful guide here: community groups in the 1960s also demanded civilian review boards, better training, and community policing initiatives. Some of these demands were even met, but universally, they were either ineffective, or dismantled by the police department over time. Recent reforms are already being co-opted and destroyed: just look at how many officers are wearing body cameras that are never turned on, or how quickly Jeff Sessions’ Justice Department has moved to end consent decrees. We have half a century’s worth of evidence that reforms can’t work. It’s time for something new.

The deeper history here is the understanding that police were never intended to protect people. They were organized to seize land and protect property. The crimes of killing indigenous peoples and enforcing slavery required military force.  State violence is integral to capitalist accumulation and expansion. In a recent Monthly Review article, Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz explained:

The militaristic-capitalist powerhouse that the United States became by 1840 derived from real estate (which included enslaved Africans, as well as appropriated land). The United States was founded as a capitalist state and an empire on conquered land, with capital in the form of slaves, hence the term chattel slavery; this was exceptional in the world and has remained exceptional. The capitalist firearms industry was among the first successful modern corporations. Gun proliferation and gun violence today are among its legacies.

This connection has only intensified over the centuries.

The conversations emerging around abolition require us to look squarely at the connections of racism, militarism and capitalism. Abolition goes to the core of a culture of violence necessary to maintain a system of control and domination that benefits a few wealthy people while destroying lives.

Six years ago, tanks that had once rolled down the streets of Kabul and Tehran moved into African American neighborhoods. The “riot gear” and weapons of destruction wielded by the police have been refined in two decades of war. It is the destruction of property, the disruption of business, that moves authorities to act, not the loss of life.

These authorities are scrambling now to blunt efforts to abolish police. They are supported by those with vested interests in intensifying police presence. Central in many of these defense efforts is the growing right wing organization within in police departments themselves.

Abolition will be a difficult goal. But it is possible now. As people gather to express their outrage, they are affirming our capacity to care, to support each other, and to create by our actions and aspirations, loving communities.





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Boggs Center – Living For Change News – June 2nd, 2020

June 2nd, 2020

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The Detroit Board of Police Commissioners (civilian oversight body) has broad supervisory authority over the police.

Email, call or share your voice at this Thursday’s BOPC meeting at 3pm ET. Join the meeting here.

Enter your public comment here.

Demand the BOPC step into their power and do the following:

1. Immediately end facial recognition use
2. Publicly endorse the Civilian Input Over Government Surveillance Ordinance
3. De-militarize police – end Operation Relentless Pursuit
4. Act swiftly on excessive force cases
5. Immediately stop expansion of Project Green Light
6. Move out of Detroit Police Headquarters


“The urgent, crying need of the American people is to undergo a fundamental  transformation from the individualists and materialists they are today into a new breed of socially and politically conscious and responsible human beings.” – James Boggs 

A Message from Professor Stephen Ward
Hello Comrades,

Last week would have been Jimmy’s 101st birthday (May 28, 1919 – July 22, 1993). Here are some of Jimmy’s words. The statement above is from Jimmy’s book Racism and the Class Struggle: Further Pages From a Black Worker’s Notebook, published in 1970. Below is a longer passage from which the sentence comes, in the book’s final chapter, “The American Revolution: Putting Politics in Command.”

Reading this today, 50 years after Jimmy wrote it, might raise several questions for us, such as:

  1. How does the way Jimmy approaches the crisis of that time (in the midst of the Black Power movement, the War on Vietnam, etc.) relate to how we think about and respond to the crises of our time?
  2. How well does this contradiction between economic (and technological) overdevelopment and social and political underdevelopment (an idea Jimmy and Grace further developed in Revolution and Evolution in the 20th Century, published in 1974) characterize the U.S. today, and how can this help us develop our concept of revolution as well as strategies and tactics today?

“In this crisis more and more people are beginning to feel that only a revolution can bring them release from their fears and anxieties. It is not difficult to feel. The difficulty comes in attempting to make the feeling concrete. This is not surprising since when we talk about a revolution in the United States we are talking about a revolution for which there is no historical precedent. History has nothing to tell us about a revolution in a country where so large a proportion of the population has materially benefited from the system even while being exploited by it and therefore feels that its own interest is bound up with the active defense of the system … The arena in which this country needs revolutionary change is not the economic, but the political, not the material but the social. The essential, the key, contradiction in the United States that must be resolved if this country is to survive is the contradiction between economic overdevelopment and political underdevelopment.”

“The urgent, crying need of the American people is to undergo a fundamental  transformation from the individualists and materialists they are today into a new breed of socially and politically conscious and responsible human beings. Instead of being concerned only with their own material advancement and satisfied with the political decisions of the military-industrial-academic complex as long as they expand production and consumption, the American people must be dragged, pulled, and pushed into situations where they are compelled to make socially responsible decisions–until the energy, the skill, and the will to make such decisions have become second nature.”

— James Boggs, 1970

[from Racism and the Class Struggle, p 165-166; also in Pages From a Black Radical’s Notebook: A James Boggs Reader, p. 232-233]


Thinking for Ourselves
Not One More
Shea Howell

One week ago, we tried to grasp what it means to have lost more than 100,000 people in a little more than 100 days. How do we comprehend the depth of this horror? The sheer enormity of the pain and suffering of people makes it difficult to absorb.  How do we grasp the stark racism carried daily in numbers reflecting the death toll in African American communities far outstripping those in white, wealthier areas? Many of us felt our hearts could hold no more anguish.

Then we saw Derek Chauvin kill George Floyd. Chauvin put his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck and held him down, squeezing the life out of him. Chauvin appeared calm and in control through the nearly nine-minute killing. He looked passively at the crowd urging him to back off. He was unmoved by the pleas of the man under his knee.

Chauvin and his accomplices enacted the killing that is essential to this country. It is the slow, calm, and cruel certainty of death inflicted by white supremacy on black bodies,  unmoved by pleas to justice and mercy. The death of George Floyd was caused by a sickness that goes to the very beginnings of this nation. It is the same sickness that has allowed this virus to kill so easily in communities of color. It is the sickness that has made the US the most violent nation on earth, the most capable of killing, anyone, anywhere, anytime.

Ten years and a few days before George Floyd lay on the ground dying, seven-year old Aiyana Stanley-Jones was asleep on the couch as her grandmother sat beside her watching TV. The Detroit police Special Response team burst through the doors of their apartment, threw flash grenades, and shot Aiyana through the head. The whole event was filmed for a reality TV show. Police tried to lie about Aiyana’s murder, blaming the grandmother, claiming she attacked the officers, attempting to grab the gun. The police had invaded the wrong apartment. No one was convicted of any crime. It took almost 10 years for the city to acknowledge responsibility to the family.

In the 10 years since Aiyana’s death, the police have learned nothing except how to kill more efficiently. They have learned that it does not matter if they wear body cameras. It does not matter if they are videotaped. It does not matter if they kill a child with a toy gun. It does not matter if they kill a man sitting in his car. It does not matter if they use force and violence. They can do whatever they want. They can squeeze the life out of a person, in front of the world, and walk away. More than 1000 people are killed every year by police. Most of their victims are African Americans.

Today, we need to say enough. Not one more person. Not one more name. Not one more life to mourn.

The police do not make us safe. They do not protect us. They began as the militias organized to kill indigenous people so white settlers could steal and hold land. They used these killing skills to terrorize, trace, and capture African people resisting enslavement. They are sworn to uphold a legal system designed to protect property, not people. They should not exist in our communities.

It is time to dismantle the police and to provide for our own safety and security. During this pandemic, we have seen the power of compassion and care, the capacities we have to establish new ways of living that value life, connection, and safety. We can create loving communities by creating real neighborhood safety, pledging to solve problems together, and learning how to live more peacefully.  The corrupt, corporate state is failing all around us. We can and must take responsibility now for the life and health of our communities.

10 Thoughts on Ending Anti-Black Violence

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The Economy Isn’t Everything
Grace Boggs
(10/16/08 for the Michigan Chronicle)

This 2008 Michigan Chronicle article by Grace Boggs, referencing a letter by Rosa Naparstek,  raises the same critical issues relevant today. 

In these times of economic meltdown, when so many of us are losing our homes and our jobs and worrying about how to pay our bills, the temptation  is to believe that the economy is everything, and that you’re stupid if you don’t agree.

That is why I’d like to share the email about the Dow that I received this week from Rosa Naparstek, an artist friend who used to live in Detroit and now lives in New York.

In August, Rosa gave a very moving slide show presentation of her artwork at the Boggs Center. She called it “Childscapes” because it revealed  how our inner landscapes form the emotional roots of the world we create personally and politically.

Her email is so refreshing  because it reminds us that life isn’t only about the economy and the Dow. We are, first and foremost, human beings who down through the ages have created our way of life according to who and what we are. Until the onset of capitalism only a few centuries ago, our relationships with one another and our communities, not the rapid growth of the economy, were what we valued. The current crisis provides us with the opportunity to reclaim those fundamental human values.

“Last week,” Rosa’s email begins…

“my sister and I went to Ellis Island, the portal of our entry into the United States in 1951. I remember standing on deck at the railing, holding my father’s hand and cheering at the sight of the statue and land. I knew we had arrived for a new life and home.

My father was a socialist who brought me up to respect labor and recognize that capitalism was an exploitative form of human relationship. He was a scholar and by trade an ‘upper maker’ (the top part of the shoe) who worked at Henry Ford’s cutting upholstery. My mother worked there too, sewing the upholstery. She had been a seamstress. He wanted to teach me how to make shoes so that I could always earn a living. I told him I didn’t need to; that I would go to college and be safe.

Now, after many professions, I find myself gathering things, the fruit of human labor, to put together in a form that honors the story behind them so that I too can finally say I have made something with my hands.

We are at an interesting juncture. The sky is falling. Crisis, danger and opportunity are palpable. Evolution takes a long time, but emergent realities can sometimes break through.

Many celebrated when ‘communism’ failed in what seemed ‘not with a bang, but a whimper.’  We won, we won!  And now, who will say forthrightly that capitalism, unfettered markets and unaccountable profits, have failed, bringing us down with a global bang?

As much as I read and have read about economics now and in the past, I feel most of what we say about it is fiction. We do not live the truths in each theory/ideology.  We live and create from the truth of who and what we are.

Socialism and communism are spiritual economic systems: to give according to our abilities and receive according to our needs. And, the final stage, the withering away of the state, is the time when we no longer need external rules, or laws because we have become our best, highest-self, and are unafraid to know that we are all one.

Laissez faire also has its theoretical validity, a belief in personal freedom, which after all is also the highest goal,  ‘the withering away of the state.’ However,  personal freedom unmoored from spiritual development can become greed and ruthless disregard of the other and the best in ourselves.


A note and video from our friend, Toshi Reagon

Durham fam who was there back in the day at the opening of Malcolm X Liberation University? Grateful to Shelley Nicole Jefferson for sending me this link. Please watch and at about 7 minutes in The Harambee Singers my moms group out of Atlanta Ga. Come smashing through with a song called The Black Magician. I was overwhelmed watching this. The narration. The movement. The people. The talk of the the “The Brothers” leading the way. Come on now… – Still my heart love exploded and I am now dropping my supposed to do work and looking down this road. Bernice Johnson Reagon.


#powertothepeople #blackpower #revolutioninthestreetsandtheschools
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Grace’s autobiography free for all to read

Boggs family, please take note:
The University of Minnesota Press has made Grace’s autobiography free for all to read through August 31, 2020, as part of the “Reading for Racial Justice” series.
Clink on the link to start reading and please pass the word to others.

Living for Change

An Autobiography

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Grace Lee Boggs

Contributors: Robin D. G. Kelley

No one can tell in advance what form a movement will take. Grace Lee Boggs’s fascinating autobiography traces the story of a woman who transcended class and racial boundaries to pursue her passionate belief in a better society. Now with a new foreword by Robin D. G. Kelley, Living for Change is a sweeping account of a legendary human rights activist whose network included Malcolm X and C. L. R. James. From the end of the 1930s, through the Cold War, the Civil Rights era, and the rise of the Black Panthers to later efforts to rebuild crumbling urban communities, Living for Change is an exhilarating look at a remarkable woman who dedicated her life to social justice.