Living for Change News
November 28th – December 5th
We Have Much To Learn From Cuba
Grace Lee Boggs – 1996This was my first visit to Cuba and it was only for a week. My sense was that the Cuban people, by recommitting themselves to the struggle for socialism, are beginning to recover from the crisis caused by the loss of Soviet aid. In the process they seemed to be creating an alternative vision for Third World countries and perhaps even for deindustrialized cities like Detroit which must now rebuild, redefine, and respirit themselves from the ground up. The highlight of the visit was attending the 17th Cuban Trade Congress, the theme of which was Se Puede Multos Juntos- Together We Can.
The Congress gave me a sense of how real and how spiritual the struggle for socialism is in Cuba, how it is energized not only by necessities of physical survival but by love and the profound conviction that by working together we can resolve our contradictions, create a better and more just world for ourselves and our children, and advance the evolution of the human race….
The Congress ended with a two and a half hour speech by Fidel. I felt enormously privileged to be watching the 70-year old bearded revolutionary, the only one of the great 20th century leaders who is still with us, still developing his ideas before our very eyes….
“We must apply and expand our positive experiences, do with what we have, make better use of what we have, treasure the knowledge of our people, continue to live by the values we have developed during the revolution. We must improve a lot, gain greater knowledge, day by day, progress. We need more initiative, more creativity; we need to combine moral with material incentives. Our enemy hated us just because we have done what we consider to be more just and noble, because we want the very best not only for our people but for all the people in the world. That is why we are so proud and happy to call ourselves internationalists, socialists, communists.”
The vision of self-reliance projected by Fidel is clearly an idea whose time has come for people all over the Third World, a combination of decentralization and centralization which offers an alternative to the capitalist road of economic development imposed by the IMF and the multinationals, which is causing such impoverishment and immiseration in Africa and Latin America.
In Detroit and other de-industrialized cities of North America, we increasingly face the choice between two roads of economic development. Is our only option developer-driven casino gambling, new sports stadiums, suburban-like subdivisions inside the city built for the middle class-all of which reinforce capitalist values and consumerism, thus breeding more crime and violence? Or can we struggle together to build cities that are more self-reliant, growing our own food and producing our own clothing and shelter in environmentally-friendly worker-owned and cooperative enterprises, thus internalizing the concepts of efficiency and self-sufficiency, accounting and control, and setting an example of productive work for our young people?
One night we went to a block party, and as the community activist in the delegation, I made a brief presentation. I said that I had to come to Cuba to learn how to make the revolution in the United States which would liberate people all over the world. I described the devastation in Detroit following our abandonment by multinational corporations and the struggles we are now engaged in to rebuild our communities and our cities. I said I wished that I could bottle the spirit of love of people, love of community, love of country that I found in Cuba and take it back with me. The United States is not a developing Third World country, but we have much to learn from Cuba.
Excerpt from Grace Lee Boggs, “Cuba: Love and Self-Reliance,” Monthly Review (December 1996).
Dear Friends and Comrades of the Boggs Center,
We are deeply grateful for all of the support you have given to us over the years.
As we face a tremendous moment of both crisis and opportunity, we feel an enormous responsibility to continue the commitment to revolutionary and visionary work and resistance that was at the heart of the lives and works of Grace and Jimmy.
We also believe that at this “time on the clock of the world,” their vision of possibilities for a new America are not only relevant, but urgent.
As 2016 comes to an end, we are asking for your support.
Please visit our website to make a donation or send checks to
3061 Field St
Thinking for Ourselves
With Donald Trump’s pick of Betsy DeVos to head the US Department of Education, the country is in store for a direct assault on public education. This is not hyperbole. Betsy DeVos has been the main architect of the systematic destruction of Detroit Public Schools and all those schools in Michigan serving poor, urban, black and brown children.
Devos is widely acknowledged as the “main driver of the entire state’s school overhaul.” In Detroit this “overhaul” has been a disaster. For most of her adult life Betsy DeVos has pushed an extremist, right wing corporate agenda to privatize schools, attack unions and promote conservative values.
As educational leader Diane Ravitch noted, DeVos “does not hide her contempt for the public schools.” National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen Garcia said, “her efforts over the years have done more to undermine public education than support students.”
Destroying local democratic control has been a key strategy in her efforts to privatize public education. After a failed effort in 2000 to get vouchers into the Michigan Constitution, DeVos launched a national organization to encourage pro voucher candidates and conservative values. Today they claim a 121-60 win-loss record. She heads the American Federation for Children that dumped millions into efforts to promote schools of choice.
DeVos has millions to dump. Her husband Dick DeVos is heir to the Amway fortune and her brother is Erik Prince, the founder of the notorious private security firm Blackwater. Blackwater reinvented itself since being exposed for murders in Iraq and is tied to the security forces at Standing Rock.
In 2014 Mother Jones documented the investment of the DeVos and Prince families in ideologically extreme causes. They reported:
THE DEVOSES sit alongside the Kochs, the Bradleys, and the Coorses as founding families of the modern conservative movement. Since 1970, DeVos family members have invested at least $200 million in a host of right-wing causes—think tanks, media outlets, political committees, evangelical outfits, and a string of advocacy groups. They have helped fund nearly every prominent Republican running for national office and underwritten a laundry list of conservative campaigns on issues ranging from charter schools and vouchers to anti-gay-marriage and anti-tax ballot measures.”
The failure of her schemes to improve education in Detroit is well documented. Detroit has the second largest share of students in charter schools, 44 percent, coming behind New Orleans. Every year nearly $1 billion of taxpayer money goes to charter schools, most of them for profit enterprises and most doing a miserable job. In addition they are defunding public schools, forcing students to endure deplorable conditions and impossible learning environments. The failure of the DeVos initiated programs have lead to a recent federal lawsuit claiming the state has utterly failed in its obligation to provide basic literacy for children.
Just as Detroit shows where DeVos will try and take the country, we also have some solutions. We have a long history of independent, culturally strong schools that have supported and loved our children. Networks of teachers, parents and students are coming together to develop new forms of education that engage students as “solutionaries,” using their imagination and creativity to solve community problems.
Recently the Detroit Independent Freedom Schools emerged as an alternative to the destruction of public education. Inspired by the freedom schools of the African American liberation movements its mission is to create “free, African-centered, loving educational experiences for Detroit children and families, to mobilize community volunteers and resources, cultivate community strength and self-determination, and build movement-based futures.”
Information about the schools can be found at the Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management and through the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American history that hosts one of the five active sites on Saturday mornings.
The election of Donald Trump brings a vast, right wing force together to turn every public activity into a private profit center. It will attack basic notions of democracy, decency, and public trust. But in many places people have been resisting these very forces for a long time. We need to draw on the lessons we are learning to protect our children and secure our futures.
The Detroit Community Technology Project (DCTP) is excited to present the “Teaching Community Technology Handbook”. This 100+ page handbook will take you through the history of popular education while offering a step-by-step guide to developing community rooted technology workshops and curricula. The handbook introduces Community Technology as a series of educational practices, combining theories and methods by Paulo Freire, Myles Horton, Grace Lee Boggs, Bernice McCarthy, Susan Morris, Grant P Wiggins, and Jay McTighe.
Thoughts on Learning
This morning I woke up early around 3am to spend a few hours reading from & about James Baldwin & Richard Wright. Why? I have no clue, Spirit just moved me to do so. As a child I was introduced to them around 3rd grade attending Nataki Talibah School House of Detroit.
At Nataki We learned about Africa as the Mother of Civilization & its People the Originators of Math, Sciences, Writing, & Everything. We were introduced to so many Black figures through our other subjects because it was a part of our overall curriculum. African History or Black History was not labeled as such, it was labeled as History. Neither was African American Literature, it was simply Literature.
We learned about every Civilization, Kingdom, Dynasty, Tribe, from around The Continent. We learned Geography and about The Diaspora from an African Centered perspective. We learned the truth about the Slaughter of Native Americans & the fake history that was created to glorify & reframe the atrocity that took place. We learned about all of the atrocities & triumphs.
Arts & Culture was just as Important as our Academic Subjects, so much so, that it was infused into all our other subjects. We were taught sciences along with arts and historical figures, the same in math & each subject.
I Loved the cool, authentic, animated poetry of Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Nikki Giovanni (who visited our 3rd grade classroom & I got to talk to her & read her my haikus). I also Loved reading the many AutoBiographies & Biographies of colorful figures such as Malcolm X, Billie Holiday, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Langston Hughes, Zora Neal Hurston, Countee Cullen & so many, many, many, many more.
My Mom has always been an avid reader and at home we had designated reading & study time. She gave me homework outside of my school work. She also introduced me to Plays & Detroit Writers. I’d have to do book reports & summaries just for her. And she’d actually read them & correct them & make me do rewrites.
I struggled through reading fiction, I found it uninteresting & preferred Real Life stories. I actually am still that way today, I cannot pull myself to read fiction, it feels like torture. I Prefer Non-Fiction, except for Octavia Butler. I’ve read All of her books & Love them.
When I moved back to NYC to live with my Dad in Middle School I attended a mixed school and was in Honors classes. We read “The Diary of Anne Frank”, lots of Edgar Allen Poe & Shakespeare, & a bunch of other stuff on your typical 7th grade reading list.
When I asked my 7th grade teacher who happened to be Caucasian if we were going to read any Black Authors, I was met with “we have to accomplish our required reading list. why don’t you do that on your own?”
Needless to say, I suffered from culture shock. Not only because I was physically & socially separated from other Black & Brown students through being in Honors classes, but because our stories weren’t valued as a necessary part of our Education.
This is how I ended up spending so much time at the library. I followed my Teacher’s advice and fortunately, the Librarian was a Black Woman, who I had gone to for refuge. She would smile so big when she saw me & hand me at least 3 or 4 books everyday. “I can’t read all this”. “Yes you can, I’m just putting these aside for you, you’ll have til the end of the month”.
It was mostly fiction. Because of her, I read the actual works of Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, & so many others whose Biographies I had read in elementary school at Nataki. If she hadn’t pushed me I wouldn’t have read any of those books on my own. She helped me get outside my comfort zone and learn about literature and writing. She would also discuss the books with me as if I were an adult helping me understand the nuances in language and descriptions that seemed foreign to me at the time. She was Awesome.
When I got to Public high school in Detroit, we had lots of writing assignments but very limited reading assignments. We only had reading assignments from our text books. And those only contained short stories. I was in honors classes my entire high school career.
I don’t remember much of anything we read back then. But I do remember that I Loved my Teachers, well the ones that were toughest on me. I remember Mrs. Tinsley & Mrs. Ellis, my 12th & 11th grade English Teachers. They gave us such a hard time. Our school work was so easy. I would go to them after class & they’d give me extra assignments & suggest books to read. I’d go to the Teachers lounge during lunch & discuss the books with them. Sometimes they’d kick me out. They’d give me extra writing assignments. And they wrote me recommendation letters to get scholarships & to get into Howard University.
When I got to Howard University, we had to test into our levels. Despite being in National Honor Society & graduating with All A’s, I tested into the remedial levels. This devastated me. I had received 6 different National Academic Scholarships (only one person in the country wins based on a written essay). I had been in Honors forever. How could this happen?
Well, they have different standards. I had to take the remedial classes that garnered zero credits in order to take my required classes. I attended summer school and also took extra credit classes and got all A’s in order to catch up. Thank goodness I did.
Anyhoo, I think about what kind of world we would be living in if everyone everywhere learned about the origin of African history as basic world history, if any of these Black Authors, Historians, & figures were introduced from a young age throughout everyone’s educational careers, if everyone learned about the contributions of African People throughout the Diaspora over the course of time.
And then I think about the work I’m involved in with Detroit Independent Freedom Schoolsl and how I’m learning from Dr. Mama Aneb House of the historic S.N.C.C (Student NonViolent Coordinating Committee) that emerged from Ella Baker and was led by Stokely Carmichael aka Kwame Toure & all the work they did.
And I think about our Legacy, and about the Young People we’re impacting & who are impacting us right now.
One of these days I’m going to write a long piece about my trips to Cuba in 1976, 1981, 1992 and 2001. I’m going to write about how when I first got off the plane in Havana as a Black teenager from Atlanta, Georgia (recently transplanted to Philly) I was enthralled to see all those beautiful Black people who looked like my family and spoke Spanish.
I’m going to write about the handsome, sweet Cuban boys who flirted with me and about how I went to a socialist children’s camp in Varadero Beach and spent a summer with kids from all over the non-capitalist world.
I’m going to write about returning home and feeling absolutely BOMBARDED with advertising because billboards and commercials are everywhere in the US and few and far between in Cuba. I’m going to write about how my lifelong love affair with the orishas and ñañigos started in Cuba and finally settled me in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil at the Terreiro do Cobre.
I’m going to write about how Cuban babalawos have repeatedly given me erudite, lifesaving advice and affirmation that I carry with me to this day, how I felt safer walking down the streets in Havana at night than I have ever felt in any US city.
I’m going to write about visiting in the “special period” and having my heart rended by the suffering of the Cuban people who did not have rich relatives and friends in the US to send money for them to buy food on the blackmarket. How it felt like the whole country was a quilombo, a fugitive slave community with people making ways out of no ways, in the dark.
I’m going to write about how Cuba gave me a diasporic Black identity.
I’m going to write about the negro viejo in Santiago who knew the details of my mother’s miseries without me ever saying a word. I’m going to write about going with my brother-poet Vincent Woodard to a consultation with Ifa in 2001 and returning home days before the US turned into a fortress. And there is a picture somewhere of me on a hill two people away from Fidel and how all my life he stood for the insistence of Third World People, Oppressed People, People of Color, Black People — to be Free. To be self-determining. To live literate, healthy, productive, culturally-rich lives of solidarity out from under the fetid thumbs of the oligarchs of the USA. Fidel, more than anybody living into the 21st century, represented that EFFORT. And when I got the news he died, I felt like I’d lost another father.
WHAT WE’RE READING
Identity Politics and Left Activism
The biggest internal debate absorbing the world left for at least the last seventy-five years has been whether identity is a left concept and therefore a left concern. In 1950, most activists on the left would have said no. Today a majority would say yes, indeed. But the debate remains fierce. KEEP READING
The Power of the Movements Facing Trump
It is much too early to say to what extent President Trump will enact his campaign promises as government policy and, indeed, how much he will actually be able to do in office. But every day since his election demonstrations have sprung up throughout the United States to express outrage, apprehension and dismay.
Moreover, there is no doubt that once in office Trump and his administration will continually do and say things that will inspire protest. For at least the next four years people in the US will rally and march against his government, regularly and in large numbers. Protesting against threats to the environment will undoubtedly be urgent, as will be the generalized atmosphere of violence against people of color, women, LGBTQ populations, migrants, Muslims, workers of various sorts, the poor — and the list goes on. KEEP READING
The Boggs Book Shop is open and waiting for you!
Among many other titles, don’t miss…
Ron Scott’s – How to End Police Brutality
evolution in the 21st Century Anthology
…or the classic, Conversations in Maine
Posted: 11 May 2016 12:30 PM PDTAs I sit down to write this post, I’m taking a break from preparing for our Passover Seder here at the ranch—a ceremony that’s an amalgam of my Jewish roots, Pagan practice, and our very down-to-earth desire to give thanks and celebrate another season of baby lambs and kids. The goat kind, that is. I’m remembering a Seder I hosted more than twenty years ago, and it is making me think of some of the challenges and rewards of trying to facilitate diverse groups and work together across the lines of diversity.Support diversity scholarships for Earth Activist Trainings! Photo by Brooke Porter PhotographyTwo dear friends were co-hosting with me. Both were friends of mine, but didn’t know each other. Marcia Falk, is a brilliant poet, liturgist, author and feminist rooted within the Jewish tradition. She’s written many books of liturgy in both English and Hebrew, including her latest, The Days Between: Blessings, Poems, and Directions of the Heart for the Jewish High Holiday Season. Kate Raphael is a lifelong, courageous activist for LGBT rights, justice for Palestine, and many, many sorts of peace and justice work, and an author of a great mystery novel set in the West Bank, Murder Under the Bridge.At that time, a new tradition was circulating in the LGBT rights community, based on a story that two lesbians had approached a rabbi and asked, “What is the place of a lesbian in Judaism?” The rabbi had purportedly answered, “The place of a lesbian in Judaism is like the place of a piece of chametz on the seder plate.”Now chametz, for those of you who don’t know the tradition, is yeast bread or bread-related substance, and one of the core strictures of the Passover holiday is to banish all bread and anything remotely related to it. The story goes that when the Jews fled slavery in Egypt, they left so quickly they didn’t have time for their bread to rise. I actually believe the custom is older, and has to do with a ritual purification of the remnants of the old grain harvest before bringing in the new. In any case, Orthodox Jews scrub the house from top to bottom, carry out a thorough search for any stray crumbs of chametz that might have crept in, and burn the crumbs in order to purify for the holiday.So, at our Seder, Kate wanted to put a piece of chametz on the Seder plate to symbolize solidarity with LGBT rights. Marcia was horrified—not because she didn’t support LGBT rights. She was a strong supporter of gay liberation, but putting a piece of chametz on the Seder plate, to her, was viscerally horrifying.We never really resolved the issue. Kate couldn’t let go of the symbol, which was vitally important to her. Marcia literally couldn’t stomach it. The guests were coming, the chicken soup simmering, and we ended up with two Seder plates at opposite ends of a very long table, for the duration of a very long, tense ritual. Decades went by before I dared host another Seder!But I tell this story to illustrate some of the issues that emerge when we try to work together across our differences. Today I regularly find myself facilitating very diverse groups. I direct an organization called Earth Activist Training, that offers permaculture design grounded in spirit with a focus on organizing and activism. We offer Diversity Scholarships for people of color and differently abled people working in environmental and social justice, and as a result, our groups often span many sorts of diversity—racial, gender, religion, class, physical ability, age, interests and experience.Permaculture—ecological design—teaches that diversity brings resilience. A diverse forest can withstand disease or fire or hurricane better than a monoculture of genetically identical cloned trees. A diverse human system has a greater range of perspectives, a wider intelligence and understanding, than a group made up of people who all share the same background.But a group with different life experiences and perspectives will also have differing needs, ideas, goals, and responses, that can generate conflict. In the role of facilitator or teacher, our responsibility is to create an atmosphere that welcomes everyone, in the fullness and complexity of the many identities we each carry. But that’s not always easy to do in a context in which oppression continues and the pain is ongoing.So what can we do—when the differing needs in a group intersect in painful ways? When a black mother’s fear for the lives of her boys in a hostile world intersects with a Deaf woman’s pain at being robbed of all her communication devices by a thief the police suspect is a local black teen? When an Egyptian activist’s pride in his heritage bangs up against the blacks students’ need to claim Egypt as Black Culture? When a sincere, heartfelt gift of a precious object triggers an indigenous students’ pain at the appropriation of her culture and heritage?I can’t answer that in one blog post—or a dozen. But I’d like to share some of my own experience—often learned by making mistakes—the experience of an older, Jewish-American, flagrantly Pagan woman writer and teacher who has been struggling with these issues for a lifetime. I hope to make this the beginning of a small series, and invite the voices of some of the other facilitators and teachers from a variety of backgrounds whom I work with.So—lesson number one. Clenching my teeth and muttering “Please, Jesus, rapture me now!” doesn’t help.Remembering the goal is the starting point. If our goal is to create a world of justice, how can we respond in a way that will further that will foster more justice?When we care about justice in this world, and we experience or hear about injustice, we often feel angry, powerless, afraid. Those feelings are extremely painful—especially helplessness. I don’t know how to get the cops to stop killing black kids and people of color, or how to stop the theft of indigenous land, or how to close down the tar sands. But I might know how to police your language, or shame another white person, or lash out at the messenger who reminds me how dire the situation is and how little I’ve done about it.But in the role of facilitator or teacher, I can’t do that. My responsibility is to create an atmosphere where everyone can learn and grow and be heard. I can’t be responsible to that role and indulge in blaming, shaming, or name-calling. I need to move the group toward learning, by encouraging and modeling listening, and sitting with the pain that arises, naming and acknowledging it.Pandora Thomas, who is often my co-facilitator in these matters, always reminds us that the goal is to further real relationships, which include the fullness of conflict and disagreement—not to simply pacify the waters and create a surface harmony.If we create space in a group to address these deep issues of injustice and discrimination, pain will arise, but so will the opportunity for change and growth and learning on a deeper level. However, the intensity of the pain can also blow a group apart and make other learning impossible if we are not prepared for it.So I’ve learned, the hard way, to find the right time and space for these discussions. Not too early—for the group needs a chance to settle, bond, and build trust. But not too late. Not late at night, or right before the day off, or right before the end.Conflict can be creative and productive—when it stays focused on the issues. When attacks become personal, and people get locked into defensiveness, the underlying issues get buried and we lose a huge opportunity for learning.Had I been wiser, at that long-ago Seder, I might have been able to step us back from the content of that conflict and say, “Hey, this is really about the deep pain of feeling excluded. The pain lesbians feel at being excluded from the Jewish mainstream—and the pain we all feel as Jews about being excluded for 2000 years. Once we acknowledge that pain, maybe we can find some common ground.”It’s easy to get locked into something that feels like a solution to the problem, but really might only be one possible way to address it. Whether or not we put a piece of bread on the seder plate, discrimination against lesbians, gay, bisexual and transgender folks will continue. In some situations, that symbolic act might strengthen the group’s resolve to challenge and fight that oppression. In other situations, it might simply create division and deflect attention from the real issues. Once we unpack the hurt, and remember the goal, we might be able to find some way together to create a symbol of inclusion that will work for all of us.Earth Activist Training teaches permaculture design with a grounding in spirit and a focus on organizing and activism. Our upcoming courses are:
- You can stay up to date on all the upcoming Earth Activist Training courses on the website.We have just launched a new fundraising campaign to support EAT’s Diversity Scholarship Program, which makes training in permaculture and ecological design accessible to people of color and differently-abled people working in environmental and social justice. If you are inspired by the work we are doing, please consider making a donation to our campaign on Generosity. Or you can donate HEREA note on the bread-on-the-Seder-plate story:
In later years, I noticed that the bread seemed to be replaced by an orange, which seemed to me to be a reasonable substitute. But in googling around for this post, I found this article by Susannah Heschel, who originated the orange tradition in the ‘80s, to symbolize inclusion of women, lesbians and gays, the widows, orphans and all who have been excluded. She asks that we eat the orange to remember the juicy contributions all these groups have made, and spit out the seeds of hate.Rebecca Alpert, whose 1997 book was entitled Like Bread on the Seder Plate: Jewish Lesbians and the Transformation of Tradition, suggests that no lesbians ever actually put bread on the plate. http://forward.com/opinion/172960/slice-of-bread-for-lgbt-jews-and-all-the-excluded/ She should have been at our Seder! Joshua Lesser, after a trip to offer solidarity to the Immokalee workers striking for their rights in the tomato fields of Florida, suggests placing a tomato on the plate for all those still enslaved. http://forward.com/opinion/172962/for-those-still-enslaved-tomato-symbolizes-solidar/ And Rebecca Vilkomerson places an olive for the Palestinians and all oppressed peoples, in commemoration of the olive trees destroyed by the Israeli army. http://forward.com/opinion/172963/put-olive-on-seder-plate-for-palestinians-and-all/ And Susie Kisber recounted for us the story of a seder where the crust of bread was shellacked so that it could be placed on the seder plate but not actually touch it and compromise its ritual purity!Both Kate and Marcia read a draft of this article and graciously consented to my writing the story, and all of us agree that we’re older and wiser now, and might be able to handle the situation more flexibly.A living tradition grows and changes—and so can we! The deep message of Passover is that the work of liberation goes on, in every generation. Let us approach it with courage and compassion, and welcome in a new spring of hope.I have had many teachers and co-explorers on this journey, too many to name them all. But today I’m thinking of some of the friends with whom we began the WomanEarth Institute back in the early ‘90s, an attempt to form an ecofeminist learning environment that addressed issues of racism and exclusion: Ynestra Kind, Luisah Teish, Rachel Bagby, Gen Vaughn, Margo Adair, Shea Howell, and many others. And some of my current co-conspirators in Earth Activist Training and related groups: Charles Williams, Pandora Thomas, Rushelle Frazier, Jay Rosenberg, Brandy Mack and Wanda Stewart.
You are subscribed to email updates from Starhawk’s Website.
Media Misses the Mark, Vote Theft at Core of Flint’s Problems
Three significant mainstream media outlets all published disclaimers this week, arguing that although the emergency managers appointed by Michigan Governor Snyder clearly made the ill-fated decisions to poison Flint with corrosive river water, and ignored the subsequent outcry from their victims for a year and a half, somehow – they conclude – Snyder’s unprecedented emergency manager statutes are not to blame! What’s really going on here?
The New York Times, which has previously called out Snyder’s “depraved indifference” toward Flint, editorialized on the role of emergency management in poisoning Flint’s water on February 4. “The lesson from Michigan is that emergency managers succeed only if they work with the communities they serve.”
On the same day, Bridge Magazine, in conjunction with an impressive time line of the Flint disaster, editorialized: “The suggestion that the state’s emergency financial management law itself led directly to lead poisoning in Flint children, is not supported by the public record.”
The next day in the News, Dan Calabrese, echoing the Times, gushes with premature praise for the supposed benefits to Detroit of emergency management via Kevyn Orr’s work.
The Times has the facts wrong. The emergency management statute itself (PA 436) prevents the EM from “work(ing) with” the communities they serve. Appointed by the governor with unrestricted power and no accountability, they are incapable of “serving” communities beyond Wall Street. Indeed, Flint’s serial EMs “work(ed) with” the opportunistic local elite leaders of the Karegnondi Water Authority to poison Flint by using the Flint River as a water source! The drain commissioner of Genesee County was and still is the CEO of the Karegnondi Water Authority.
Bridge Magazine also gets the facts wrong. Emergency management removes all local control and places all authority in the hands of an appointed person accountable only to the governor. The EM and the governor knew for a year that Flint water was not being properly treated. State office workers stationed in Flint had bottled water trucked in for their buildings. Because of the structural features of emergency management, the authorities did not care and did nothing for Flint until their own misconduct blew up in their faces, after independent activists, journalists and scientists decisively exposed their lies and abuse. Emergency management enabled both this unaccountable decision making and unconscionable delay.
Mr. Calabrese also gets the facts wrong. At best, the jury is still out on his Orr/Jones Day miracle of Detroit. His emphasis on “the revival of Midtown”, “people brokering downtown real estate”, and characterizing Detroit-without-emergency management as “a hopeless disaster” reveal his bias. As eminent historian Thomas Sugrue and virtually every other credible observer has repeatedly stated, the current downtown investment bubble will not by itself generate a broad, equitable or sustainable recovery for Detroit as a whole and our People. Today the overwhelming majority of Detroiters are like the People of Flint who were denied the bottled water trucked in to favored spaces for privileged People, like downtown Detroit. Detroiters still face horrifying crises of public education, water shut offs, housing foreclosures, inequitable community economic development and democracy-destroyed-by-corporate-finance. With regard to Detroit’s water, Orr and his investment banker partner Miller-Buckfire wanted to sell Detroit’s water department to Veolia, the largest private owner of water systems in the world. Intervention of public authorities across southeast Michigan prevented that sale, and, under pressure from federal bankruptcy court, created instead the Great Lakes Water Authority as a preferred mode of exercising corporate, white supremacist power over this crucial infrastructure and resource.
The EM law in Michigan is racist in its conception and form. With the majority of African Americans in our state under city emergency managers, the first EM statute was recalled by Michigan citizens in a 2012 referendum vote, with nearly every county in the state overwhelmingly rejecting it. A new EM law was passed again, this time by a lame duck legislature under dubious circumstances, with the addition of a small amount of money which rendered it immune from democratic accountability via another recall.
In a list of financially troubled communities published in 2009, there were white communities with more severe financial problems which were never placed under emergency management. The list of EM cities are overwhelmingly African-American majorities — Highland Park, Saginaw, Pontiac, and Benton Harbor as well as Flint and Detroit.
In 2013, Michigan’s Department of Education published a list of 55 financially troubled school districts that are overwhelmingly white; none had an EM appointed over them. In almost every situation, a string of EMs has worsened the situation of the city or school district under their control. The Detroit Public School System, overwhelmingly African-American, was originally taken over by the state when it had a budget surplus, and now has an insurmountable deficit. Emergency management has been applied to undermine the democratic and human rights of African-Americans, with no benefit to those communities; the benefactors are private companies acting parasitically on these communities.
The law supports and reinforces the institutional racism inherent in Michigan’s public institutions. Eliminating democracy and checks and balances is bad policy. The EM law is a bad law.
In light of the true facts and a realistic analysis of the power dynamics at work, the conclusion is clear: Emergency management caused the Flint River catastrophe, and one of the responses must be repeal of Snyder’s emergency management statute.