Boggs Center – Living For Change News – December 18, 2019

December 18th, 2019

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Thinking for Ourselves

River Lessons
Shea Howell

As activists led by young people stormed the stage at the Global Climate Summit in Madrid this week demanding urgent action, Detroiters gathered to voice our concerns over our own regional expression of our changing world. Called together by several environmental justice organizations, and with the support of some elected legislators, over 200 people met at the Cass Commons to strategize about the most recent spill of toxins into the Detroit River.

On November 26 a dock collapsed under the weight of crushed limestone, recently unloaded at the Detroit Bulk Storage site.  The site has long been known to hold toxic sediments. Its history as a uranium processing center during the Manhattan Project and through the early days of the Cold War raised immediate concerns that the spill had exposed the metro area to nuclear waste contamination.

By the time of the Town Meeting, the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) was assuring residents that there was no danger of radiation nor to public health. Leisl Clark, the director of EGLE said:
As part of our initial investigation, we took radiological measurements of the soil at the site, and results from 1,000 data points showed readings below naturally occurring background levels. That matched results from river sediment tests we took in the spring adjacent to the Detroit Bulk Storage site that found radiation at or below background levels.

Knowing that conventional industrial pollutants were in the river’s sediments and potentially on the site, we also took water samples upstream, in front of the collapsed shoreline, and downstream. Test results from the samples show no detectable amounts of all but two substances. Both of those were well below water quality standards and did not appear to be specifically associated with the collapse.

Based on this data we found no current adverse impact on water quality due to the spill.
Unsurprisingly, these reassurances were greeted with skepticism. The legacy of Flint and the lying of government officials will not be easily changed. Nor should it be.

This incident did little to create confidence.  For days water flowed down river passed the spill, but the public was unaware of any possible problem. At first it seemed it was because no one was aware of the collapse. But as time went on, we learned that collapse was first reported the day after the limestone was unloaded. The Army Corps of Engineers knew of the spill, but felt it was “not their problem.” State officials learned of it through the reporting of the Windsor Star.

Such bureaucratic, limited thinking by major government agencies will kill us. The idea that we can go along as we always have is collapsing with the shore lines. Everyone knows full well that the banks of most of the rivers in the world scarred by industrial development are contaminated. Water flows over toxic soil. To pretend we can “contain” this without major clean-up efforts is fantasy.

Global climate change is raising the levels of the Great Lakes. As we move into winter, ice is forming. With spring, breaking ice flows will scrape into poisons buried for decades.

We need to rethink our priorities and our practices. Old paradigms are crumbling as quickly as the shoreline. We need to heed the voices emerging around us proclaiming, “We are unstoppable, Another world is possible.” It is up to us to bring it into being.

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A Precious and Historic Moment
Rich Feldman
10 years ago this month, US Federal District Court Judge Patrick Duggan ruled that Micah Fialka-Feldman had a right to live in the university dorm. Micah has an intellectual disability or cognitive impairment (formerly mental retardation). During his school years, he tested to have a 40 IQ. Last week, family and friends gathered with the Judge to honor his decision and to share how Micah’s life has unfolded with purpose over the decade. After watching the film Intelligent Lives, Micah, through Face Time, thanked the Judge who was surrounded by his wife, children, grandchildren and great grandchild. Judge Duggan was presented with a letter from Meg Grigal, co-director of Think College, acknowledging: “Your decision changed Micah’s life and the lives of everyone in his orbit for the better!”

10 years ago there were few people with intellectual disabilities going to college and only one other person living in a dormitory.  Now over 100 universities in 40 states offer housing for more than 6000 students with intellectual disabilities.  Micah knew that he had a right to live in the dorm. With his community he fought for justice. We are all stronger. What a glorious day.

For many social activists, disability justice, rights, pride and advocacy are only recently becoming part of our historical understanding of the humanizing movements that began with the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955.  As the movements of the 20th century emerged, we have consistently asked the question: Where are we going? Who is not at the table? What do we mean by revolution and the most fundamental questions: What does it mean to be human?  What is our relationship to each other & to the earth?

Let us take a moment and look at time and history.

2019 was the 20th anniversary of the Battle of Seattle. 1919 was birth of James Boggs and this year the Boggs Center commemorated his life, his writings and practice.

2020 will be the 30th Anniversary of the ADA (Americans with Disability Act) & the 10th Anniversary of US Social Forum in Detroit Michigan where our theme was:  Another World is Possible, Another US is Necessary and Another Detroit is Happening.

In the early part of the 20th century, less than 100 years ago, eugenics was established and respected in the US. President Teddy Roosevelt clearly stated; “Criminals should be sterilized and feeble-minded persons forbidden to leave offspring behind them”. Funding for the eugenics cause came from such distinguished sources as the Carnegie Institution and the WK Kellogg Foundation, and support also came from the influential leaders of the oil, steel and railroad industries. The most significant era of eugenic sterilization was between 1907 and 1963, when over 64,000 individuals were forcibly sterilized under eugenic legislation in the United States.  Hundreds of thousands of people were placed in state institutions (prisons for the mentally impaired, the mentally ill and the “feeble minded”).

In 1927, the US Supreme court supported these developments and decisions. In the 1930s and 1940s, Hitler escalated the practices that were birthed in the US. Between 1940 and 1941 approximately 70,000 Austrian and German disabled people were killed under the T4 program, most via large-scale killing operations using poison gas. (This methodology served as the precursor to the streamlined extermination methods of the “Final Solution.”) Although Hitler formally ordered a halt to the program in late August 1941, the killings secretly continued until the war’s end, resulting in the murder of an estimated 275,000 people with disabilities.

The “othering of people”, the placing of migrant children in concentration camps, the internment of Japanese Americans, the genocide of indigenous people and the 20th century removal of children placing them in Native American boarding schools, also known as Indian Residential Schools were established in the United States during the late 19th and mid 20th centuries. This history of barbarism is built upon the foundation of enslavement and Jim Crow. This is the history that we have not yet faced and instead face a growing counter-revolution.

While 2020 will be an election year and people will work to defeat Donald Trump, the counter-revolution will not disappear, nor will the possibility of a civil war dissolve because our journey since Montgomery, our humanizing movements have not ushered in new systems nor acknowledged that we are at the end of a period of human history that requires revolution. A revolution that is a two-sided revolution. A revolution to transform ourselves while we create new structures and institutions essential to dedicate ourselves to becoming healthy human beings living in healthy communities. Some will call it the Beloved Community, others Liberated Zones, others Peace Zones.

In 1974, James and Grace Lee Boggs wrote: Revolution and Evolution in the 20th Century. The book emerged from Conversations in Maine which began after the Detroit Rebellion of 1967 and a series of lectures at Wayne State University in 1970 (50 years ago). In this reflection and critique of 20th century revolutions and significant study of US history and challenges, Grace and James emphasized a few points.

  • Think dialectically, concepts of revolution are not static, theory emerges from reflections on practice and theory…do not try to prove theory.
  • The fundamental contradiction in the founding of the US is the contradiction between economic and technological overdevelopment versus the human and social underdevelopment on the other.  Economics commands our values, politics and our humanity rather than our humanity and our politics needing to govern our economics. “Our valuables are more important than our values.”
  • The primary purpose of revolution is to advance human evolution, our dignity, our relationships with ourselves, others and nature.

Let us become solutionaries and work to ensure that our movements, our institutions, our vision include everyone.  As the Disability Movements often say:

  • “Nothing about us without us!”
  • “A Community that excludes even one of its members is no community at all.”

Micah’s victory 10 years ago is one small expression that has had many ripples across our country.  Each decision we make matters.

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Boggs Center – Living For Change News – November 19th, 2019

Boggs Board Lexicon Last edited on 06/04/19

Growing our souls

 Grace Lee Boggs , in her Introduction to the 2008 edition of Revolution and Evolution (2008):

  • “The more I talked about King, the more I felt the need for each of us to grow our souls in order to overcome the new and more challenging contradictions of constantly changing realities” (Boggs & Boggs 2008 [1974], xiv).
  • “We have to help the American people grow our souls enough to recognize that, since we have been consuming 25 percent of the planet’s resources even though we are only 4 percept of the world’s population, we are the ones who must take the first steps to reduce greenhouse emissions. We are the ones who must begin to live more simply so that others can simply live” (Boggs & Boggs 2008 [1974], xxxii).

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November 19th, 2019

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TONIGHT at 7 PM!
@ the Charles H. Wrightnative sonFrom Native Son to Native Song: A Conversation with Stew & The Negro Problem features Tony Awards-winning playwright Stew, as he talks about the relevance of his work “Notes of a Native Song” as it comments on James Baldwin’s “Notes of a Native Son.” INFO HERE

 

 

Thinking for Ourselves

No Debt
Shea Howell

The Detroit City Council is finally showing some good judgment. So far they have refused to be steamrolled by Mayor Duggan into putting a $250 million bond proposal on the March ballot. They have put off the vote on three occasions, demanding changes in reporting, transparency and basic processes of accountability.

We encourage the Council to continue to reject the Mayor’s proposal. Instead, this is an  opportunity to develop a comprehensive housing plan from the administration. We are in a housing emergency for low and moderate income residents. We are beyond an emergency for people who are unhoused. Although the rates of people living outside have declined dramatically, we have as many as 14,000 people surviving without shelter.

Last winter the callousness behind the Mayor’s approach to housing was on full display as people were forcefully removed  from sheltering at Hart Plaza and under viaducts. The forced removal was especially brutal as many people lost what few possessions they cherished or needed for survival.

The delayed vote by the City Council to authorize the bond proposal for a vote has already forced the Mayor to make changes to his original proposal. In part this is due to the widespread outcry as people have come to Council meetings and raised objections about “blight removal.” The current program is highly controversial, faces legal challenges had has been documented as out of control and lacking basic oversight. As the newly formed Detroit 21 Coalition asserts, the many adjustments offered by the Mayor to make the bond issue more palatable simply do not go far enough. The Coalition says:

“We have serious disagreements on the proposed use of funds. While the city plans to rehab 1,000 vacant homes, the city has not guaranteed these homes will be sold at an affordable cost to families living at or below 50 percent of the Area Median Income, which we requested because of the great need for housing lower income Detroiters. And this scale of rehab pales in comparison to 19,000 homes the city plans to demolish for the same cost of about $20,000 each. While we understand that some houses cannot be saved, the city has provided no evidence that only five percent can be redeveloped. When possible, rehabbing a home is usually cheaper than new home construction, making it easier to rent or sell these homes at an affordable price. Furthermore, most residents would prefer rehab to demolition and want their neighborhoods restored.”

In short, the improved transparency and better hiring practices included in the current version of the bond by the Mayor are only there because of the push back from residents and the reluctance of the City Council to support additional debt for a program riddled with corrupt and uncontrolled spending. These changes do not show any serious thinking by the Mayor or any in his administration about how to develop our neighborhoods, improve the daily lives of people who generally cannot afford to go to play in the 2.7 sq miles of downtown, or support people in remaining in their homes.

We need a housing plan that prioritizes the elimination of property taxes, low interest loans and grants for home improvement, real affordable housing, rent control, support for those facing unhoused conditions, and affordable water and utility bills. We need redevelopment plans that develop the skills of our people as well as the functioning of our neighborhoods.

All of these are things we could do right now, without an additional bond. All of these require a commitment to improving community life. While the Mayor is continuing down the same tired road of “removal” using contractor friends, the City Council is finally showing some courage to develop a better way.

In the five years since the forced bankruptcy of the city, none of us should move quickly toward more debt. Instead we should be looking to imaginative, thoughtful plans that depend our people, our capacities and capabilities, and our visions of how we can best live together with care and compassion.

 

 


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Applications are now open for their 2020 Cohort!


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The 50th Anniversary of the Assassination of Fred Hampton
12/7 @ the Charles H. Wright
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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