Boggs Center Living For Change News February 27th, 2018

Boggs Center Living For Change News

February 27th, 2017

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The Why and How of Visionary Organizing By Grace Lee Boggs   Sept 29 – Oct 6 2012

“At this time on the clock of the {R}evolution, movement activists need to discuss and struggle around different forms of Organizing. Jimmy’s Boggs were in the plant and the community. From his experiences as an organizer he had learned that human beings are individuals and not just masses or members of a class or race.

For example, as he used to say. “Some workers organized the union; others had to be whipped into it.“

In “Going where we’ve never gone before” and “Building Community: An Idea whose time has come, ” Jimmy recognized that while many, perhaps most people have been demoralized or immobilized by our disintegrating communities, there are also some who want to or are already trying to rebuild our communities.

That is what a Visionary Organizer does. S/he devises methods of Self-Selection through which visionaries can identify themselves and join with others.

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Thinking for Ourselves
Shea Howell
Violent Times

This week the students, teachers and support staff of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida will resume classes. They will find ways to move forward in a place infused with memories of violence, fear and pain. And they will continue to show a deep commitment to organizing people against school shootings. They are planning a March on Washington “to demand that their lives and safety become a priority and that we end this epidemic of mass school shootings.” Schools and communities around the country are planning walkouts and marches in solidarity.

As I have been thinking about the passion, persistence and potential of these young people to raise fundamental questions about our country, I happened on an article about Freedom Summer, 1964.  Most of the article reflected the experiences of Thomas Foner and a letter he wrote home, chronicling the violence he experienced in a single day while organizing for voter registration. He wrote:
“Two COFO volunteers were jailed on a trumped up rape charge. Forty M-1 rifles and a thousand rounds of ammunition were stolen from the local National Guard armory. As I write this letter, a Negro church is burning down the street; the fire department is nowhere to be found. Two other volunteers have just been arrested. Last night a Negro freedom worker was shot by white hoodlums. He was taken to the white University Hospital and was released about an hour later with the slug still in his head. Also last night Reverend Smith’s house was shot into about 1:30 AM by white men. The Negro guards fired back as the men got into a city truck.”
Violence is nothing new in America. Yet this moment is an opportunity to move beyond the surface symptoms of the disease that grips our country. Long before Charles Whitman climbed to the observation deck at the University of Texas to kill 17 people in 1966, before Columbine in 1999, Red Lake in 2005, Virginia Tech in 2007, Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, Umpqua Community College in 2015, and now Parkland, and the hundreds of other shootings in schools and out that rarely make the news, violence gripped our country.

Violence is at the core of our founding. It is essential to the continuation of our way of life. Beginning with the first killing of an indigenous person by Columbus and his men to the shot fired tomorrow in Syria, throughout our long and troubled history, the willingness to destroy others for private gain has marked us. This willingness has been not only to destroy people, but to deny the very humanity of those we kill, thus denying and distorting our own.

The bravery of the students at Parkland, like the young people of the Movement for Black Lives, and #MeToo invite us all to look honestly and deeply at who we have been, who we have become, and who we want to be. Young white men picking up guns and killing children in schools are not the problem. They are the symptom of a country shaped by the violence of racism, materialism, and militarism. Until we transform these values, violence in all its forms will continue.
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Boggs Center – Living For Change News February 12th & 19th 2018

February 19th, 2017
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“As an organizer, I was taught to recruit people into the movement and to support them to stay involved. But I wasn’t taught how to repair relationships or to prevent harm. Many of us aren’t taught these skills.”

OUR RELATIONSHIPS KEEP US ALIVE

 

Thinking for Ourselves
Shea Howell
Thanks to Jackson

This week a group of us from the Boggs Center attended the North Dakota Study Group’s (NDSG) 46th annual gathering. The NDSG is a loose collective of progressive educators, artists, activists, authors, teachers and students who “come together annually to engage in an ongoing seminar on democratic possibilities in the U.S. and world education.” Its members have persistently and consistently pressed for deepening democratic theory and practice in education and in our communities.

This year we gathered in Jackson Mississippi and will do so again next year. The decision to go to Jackson was deliberate. It marked a commitment to our collective journey to eradicate white supremacy.  We understand white supremacy  is destroying our children and distorting our humanity. We turned consciously to Jackson to draw on its strength, wisdom, and rich history of struggle as we face forces that are intent on destroying our children’s minds, hearts, and spirits.

What could we learn from those who struggled over centuries for full humanity and the possibilities of controlling their own lives. What do learn in a place steeped in violence and tragedy as well as triumph? How will these lessons help us move our country forward? What do we need to do individually, collectively in this moment?

In his opening letter to the gathering Albert Sykes, Executive director of IDEA and co-chair of the gathering challenged the nearly 150 participants. He said this would not be a typical gathering. He explained, “Beloved communities do not just appear; they have to be built. We are asking you to commit to building one. Jackson will not be easy. The history will not be diluted to ease the conscience of the guilty; the work will not be diverted to comfort the fragile and the urgency of this work will not be tempered. As time and the country changes, we much challenge ourselves to change as well. We ask in love and have faith that participants will be receptive to much needed growth.”

Mr. Sykes explained, “Mississippi’s history is not limited to a single person or story. We will be greeted, introduced to and addressed by various individuals who have made life-changing contributions for the greater good for all. We will explore the confederate flag and other symbols of hate; explore the mechanisms by which racism is carried out and explore the places, where many sacrifices have been made in Mississippi. Our conversations this year are designed to be both hard and healing. There is no intent to shame, silence, ridicule, disrespect, or demolish any person who participates with us.” Mr. Sykes and the other volunteer organizes did their very best to provide this opportunity for all us.  All too often many of us fell short of meeting his expectations of us and our own. But often too, we found our way to courageous conversations, deep insights, and the capacity to continue to challenge ourselves and one another.

I was deeply and unexpectedly moved by this experience. Approaching the home of Medgar Evers I found it difficult to step onto the driveway. This is the place where he was shot, where his blood flowed as he crawled to the door to reach his wife and children. I know that blood is still in the dust rising as we walked. My tears of gratitude and sorrow now mix with those of countless others there.

Mr. Sykes gave us this charge, “We invite you to open your heart and mind, to lock your arms and hands in order for us to walk into a reckoning and walk out together on the other side of a renewal.”

This is our hope not just for the gathering, but for our country. We have much work to do.  Mayor Chokewe Antar Lumumba called us to believe that “Together we will make (Jackson) a symbol of unity, prosperity and progression.”  In the process, we have the opportunity to change our people and our country as we change the places that hold our lives.
“We must make a preemptive strike to replace the job system with a life system.”

THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF SOLIDARITY ECONOMY VISIONS

 

Will Makers Change Everything?

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February 12th, 2017

Documenting Puerto Rico from the Ground Up

Thinking for Ourselves
Shea Howell
The Year with Betsy Devos

Betsy DeVos has completed her first year as the head of the Department of Education. Some have argued that she has been ineffective in carrying out her right wing agenda. Some take comfort in her foolish public statements; arguing for guns in school in case a bear wanders in, comparing schools to taxicabs and food trucks, and claiming Margaret Thatcher as her idol.

But Devos is not naïve. She has a relentless political agenda that she has been advancing in Michigan, in states around the country, and now on a national scale. Given the fact that the federal government only contributes about 10 percent of the cost of running schools, her impact will not be on visible issues of funding. Rather she is subtly changing the foundations of education through shifting priorities within the Department of Education and stripping away federal protections of all kinds. She is accomplishing this through sophisticated and subtle changes that are largely happening outside of public scrutiny.

First consider the case of vouchers, a funding mechanism designed to provide families with public funds to subsidize placing their children in private schools. These have long been sought by DeVos as part of the right wing agenda of shifting public money to mostly white, right wing Christian schools. Vouchers have been resisted at state and local levels, including here in Michigan. They violate fundamental concepts of the separation of church and state. They are a central strategy in undermining public education.

Now, with barely a public comment, the new republican tax bill passed last December gives parents the ability to use college saving plans for private k-12 schooling. It allows $10,000 tax free withdrawals every year per child. As a recent article in the Atlantic explained, “This new provision effectively operates the same way a voucher program would, but without the name: While vouchers distribute funds directly to parents to pay for private school, the new law uses the tax code to facilitate private-school attendance.”

The National Education Association estimates that over the next 10 years, this provision will take $150 billion from state and local revenues for schools.

DeVos has slipped in legislation to promote and finance her dream of “schools of choice” without having to debate or defend the idea. She simply provided enabling taxing mechanisms.

As the #MeToo movement brings welcome attention to widespread sexual violence in our culture, DeVos eliminated protections on college campuses for victims of sexual assault. Echoing Trumps recent tweets, she has stressed concern for the men being victimized by false accusations. She has increased support and counseling for them. She has also eliminated guidance aimed at protecting people based on gender identity.

She has sided with banks and business over student interests. She has made it more difficult for students who have been defrauded by for profit schools to seek loan forgiveness. She has appointed Carlos Nuniz to be General Counsel for the department. He is most famous for having argued that his home state of Florida should not participate in legal action against Trump University for fraud.

Sometime this week her latest nominee, Kenneth Marcus, will likely be confirmed as the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights. He is well known for “threatening academic freedom generally, as well our civil rights as women, immigrants, Muslims, people of color, and LGBTQ+ people.”

DeVos is not ineffective. She is patient, persistent and deadly. She has no respect for students, teachers, or education. She is dedicated to schools of choice as an essential element of a broader right wing strategy to protect power and privilege by undermining democracy.

All of us who care about the importance of education need to look beyond her rhetoric. More importantly, we need to create places and where our children can grow in their unique capacities for creativity, critical thinking, and social responsibility.
“The stories of women in the Subcontinent are often neglected and they are often relegated to the background – the doting wife, the supportive sister or the encouraging daughter. Our history is the tale of his story, not her story.”
In the USA privatization practices contribute to increased water bills and jeopardize water quality, endangering one of residents’ most basic needs. We can gain some perspective on the consequences of water privatization by looking to a glaring overseas example: In Lebanon, mismanagement of infrastructure has provided ample opportunity for privatization to proliferate. In both cases, the pursuit of privatization comes from cash-strapped places prioritizing cost-cutting over resource conservation and quality.”

 

The Hidden History of Solidarity Economy Visions

The Hidden History of Solidarity Economy Visions

Asar Amen-Ra  B.A., J.D.
The Life and Times of James Boggs

James Boggs’ life was one of imagination and reimagionation. His narrative was one of hardcore socialist, to Black Power advocate, to Humanitarian solutionary. There was never a time when Jimmy, as he was affectionately called, would get stuck in dogmatic doctrine; he made it a point to constantly learn and adapt to his environment.In his formative years while working in the auto industry, Jimmy predicted and envisioned a time when automation/technological advancement would replace human labor in the workforce. With this understanding, Jimmy crafted a vision into a formidable body of work entitled The American Revolution: Pages from a Negro Worker’s Notebook.

In  Chapter 2 of The American Revolution, “The Challenge of Automation“, Jimmy points out that “Automation is the greatest revolution that has taken place in human society since men stopped hunting and fishing and started to grow their own food.”  At the dawn of the technological age and even today, most of us turn a blind eye to the exponential growth of automation displacing people from the workforce. But Jimmy faced the issue of automation head-on by declaring we must have hope and we must work towards a new way of life, a life not centered around a job but a life centered around community, centered around family, centered around our world environment. Instead of automation enslaving us, Jimmy saw that automation could actually free mankind to pursue those things in life that man so passionately cared about.

With that being said, it is not automation we should fear but what international and transnational corporations will do with those advanced tools of technology. We must make a preemptive strike to replace the job system with a life system.

…even more important than a Solidarity Economy is a Solidarity Culture…

Just as today’s Solidarity Economy economists talk about the permanent displacement of workers/poor people, Jimmy coined his own phrase.  His phrase was “The Outsiders” (who were people permanently locked outside the workforce and thus outside of normal society and the job market).

Furthermore, Jimmy said “once released from the necessity to work, men and women would come up with new ideas for increasing productivity that would astonish the world”.

But even more important than a Solidarity Economy is a Solidarity Culture, because culture is what defines us as human beings with our relationships with each other and our environment. Culture is the glue that holds a society together or a sword that can tear society apart.

So, yet again we point to the landmark vision of James Boggs. He understood and said that “The first principle that has to be established is that everyone has a right to a frill life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness whether he is working or not.”

As an autoworker, Jimmy unequivocally announced “I am a factory worker, but I know more than factory work.” This bold and emphatic declaration was the working man’s emancipation proclamation, declaring to all workers we have value beyond our place in the means of production. We must remove the shackles of work from our minds when thinking about defining our lives. We break these shackles when we see ourselves not as workers, but as humans who have gifts and talents we wish to share with the rest of humanity.

Lastly, but certainly not least, Solidarity Culture was born through the following declaration:

“We must create a society of politically conscious, socially responsible individuals, able to use technology for the purpose of liberating and developing humanity.”

Today, we should admit to ourselves the culture we practice is the materialistic culture. In this culture, there has been a devaluing of human life while value has been added to the material wealth one can gain.  Crass materialism is tearing apart the foundations of our society. By placing our value of wealth on symbols of material status — whether it be a car, a house, or a job — instead of valuing principles such as truth, integrity and kindness, we value products over people.

We need to look at the one person who can make a difference in this world, ourselves, and ask this question: Do we want a culture of Life or a culture of death? According to Jimmy, a culture of death leads to “the pollution of our atmosphere, the erosion of our soil, the threat to nuclear destruction, the withering away of human identity and, worst of all, the loss of our freedom to make meaningful and principled choices.” How would a culture of life look? Well, if we take a minute and think about it, it would be the converse of a culture of death. Our Solidarity culture would consist of respect for environment, full employment, universal health care, education, and housing.

I have sent this article to GEO because, as Solidarity Economy practitioners, it is time that we break out of the chains of the traditional, corporatized Black History Month. It’s tradition that limits our memories to Dr. King, WEB DuBois and a few others, when in actuality there were a plethora of African Americans creating and fighting for a new reality. James Boggs was one of these people. As an autoworker, he saw beyond the industrial revolution to the point in time when workers would control the point of production, not for profit, but for the benefit of planet and people.

Go to the GEO front page

Asar Amen-Ra, is a long time labor and community organizer. With a focus on social and economic justice.

Citations:
When citing this article, please use the following format: Asar Amen-Ra (2018). The Hidden history of Solidarity Economy Visions: The Life and Times of James Boggs. Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO) http://geo.coop/story/hidden-history-solidarity-economy-visions

 

Asar Amen-Ra  B.A., J.D.

Boggs Center Detroit News – January15th, 2018

January 15th,  2018

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“In the first century BC, Cicero said: “Freedom is participation in power.” Negroes should never want all power because they would deprive others of their freedom. By the same token, Negroes can never be content without participation in power. America must be a nation in which its multiracial people are  partners in power. This is the essence of democracy toward which all Negro struggles have been directed since the distant past when he was transplanted here in chains.”

Dr. Martin Luther  King, Jr. Where do we go from here, Chaos or Community?
The Latest from Detroit People’s Platform

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Thinking for Ourselves Shea Howell Creative Turmoil
The celebration of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. comes in the midst of a moment of national disgrace. It is not only that the words of the current administration are cruel, hateful, and dangerous. It is also that its policies are. The brutality of a dying empire is seeping into all of our relationships, poisoning us.
This is why it is important for us to revisit the challenges to America embodied in Dr. King’s life and words. This year, I have been thinking about Dr. King not only as an American visionary, but as a global citizen.
In December of 1964 Martin Luther King flew to Oslo Norway to accept the Nobel Peace Prize. He made clear that he was not accepting this as an individual, but “on behalf of the movement.” He characterized himself as “a trustee, inspired and with renewed dedication to humanity.”
Dr. King begins his speech with a list of the violent cruelties that happened one day before he spoke. In Birmingham Alabama children were attacked with dogs and fire hoses. In Philadelphia, Mississippi young people were brutalized and murdered. More than 40 churches were bombed on burned in Mississippi and people everywhere were in the “chains” of poverty.
Acknowledging this, King decided to speak to his belief that “Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace,” and we “must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”
He affirmed his “abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind,” saying:

I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the “isness” of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal “oughtness” that forever confronts him. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsom and jetsom in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.
I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. I believe that even amid today’s mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men. I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land. “And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid.” I still believe that We Shall overcome!
This faith can give us courage to face the uncertainties of the future. It will give our tired feet new strength as we continue our forward stride toward the city of freedom. When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds and our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, we will know that we are living in the creative turmoil of a genuine civilization struggling to be born.

Trump is neither the beginning nor the end of this long, creative struggle for a new world.
Notes from Midwestern Conversations Relando Thompkins-Jones

“This summer we are beginning anew, not with what we are against but what we are for; not rejections but projections. We are searching for the fundamentals, the elementals of the new…The solution is not in science, it is how we look at “we”. – (Excerpt from Conversations in Maine, 1978, James & Grace Lee Boggs; Freddy & Lyman Paine)

On November 16th-19th, 2017 I spent time at a retreat called Midwest Conversations: Nourishing our souls for {r}evolutionary living & work. The retreat was sponsored by the James and Grace Lee Bogs Center in Detroit, and hosted by the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College.
With other social justice workers engaged in education, community organizing, health, and other areas, the retreat was designed for us to take a time-out “to nourish relationships; engage with pressing questions, ideas, and practices of radical love, and develop “next steps” in our respective social justice living and work.”

The retreat had three guiding questions:

What kind of leaders are we being right now? What values define visions for living in cities today? What visionary work is called for in the times we’re living in?
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Boggs Center Living for Change News January 9th, 2017

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

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

 

Living for Change News January 9th, 2017

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

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

 

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