May 25th, 2020
“We never know how our small activities will affect others through the invisible fabric of our connectedness. In this exquisitely connected world, it’s never a question of ‘critical mass.’ It’s always about critical connections.” —Grace Lee Boggs
Thinking for Ourselves
In the last six months Michigan has experienced two potential nuclear disasters. Both were due to rising flood waters. In late November the Revere Dock collapsed, spilling unknown amounts of limestone and aggregate materials. In the course of the investigation of his spill, it was discovered that the site also stored nuclear waste material, forgotten by the most recent owners. The Environmental Protection Agency has since found uranium, lead, toxic chemicals and heavy metals in water samples at the site.
This week the entire city of Midland was flooded as two dams burst under the pressure of rising water. Midland is the home of Dow Chemical and one of the most toxic Superfund cleanup sites in the country. The site also contains a nuclear research reactor.
As the waters rise and carry these surface contaminants down into the rivers and Great Lakes water shed, shorelines are eroded and the underwater sediments stirred up. Allen Burton, a professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Michigan explained,
“You worry about the speed of the current, this wall of water coming down the river,” he said. “It just has a huge amount of power.”
In both cases, officials assure us there are no radioactive effects. Thus far the water from Revere has been contained, and the nuclear plant was shut down due to the Coronavirus.
Even so, everyone knows that the flood waters are carrying the wastes of centuries of industrial poisons. We also know they are carrying the oil from the engines of the newest cars, now under water, the chemicals stored in homes used to clean and protect them from bacteria, and the untold toxic materials used in businesses, manufacturing centers, schools, and churches. We all know that the Fermi plants are just down river, watching the waters rise. And we know that Fermi has the worst safety record in the US.
Flood waters, like the coronavirus, remind us that we are all connected. They warn us that we cannot return to” normal.” We need a completely different way of thinking about our responsibilities to each other, the earth and the waters.
This new way of thinking is not likely to come from our officials. They continue to deny reality, especially in Detroit. Here Mayor Duggan and Gary Brown insist water has been restored everywhere. Yet two weeks ago we delayed the Riverwise editorial meeting, as one of our members stood out side to stop a water shut off of her 95 year old neighbor. This week volunteers gathered at churches to distribute water to people who do not have it in their homes.
At the heart of this contradiction is the insistence by the city that people need to contact them to get their water restored. Placing the burden on people who have been shut off, and may not even know of the restoration efforts, comes from a deep disrespect of those who could not afford high bills, and from a lack of fundamental understanding of government responsibility. It also comes from the fact that the city keeps poor records, and hides those from public view. As a recent article in Michigan Advance explained, the numbers kept by local governments are murky.
Charlotte Jameson, program director of legislative affairs, drinking water and energy at the Michigan Environmental Council (MEC), says Michigan’s deregulated reporting system makes it almost impossible to know exactly how many residents are still living with their water shut off…It’s incredibly difficult to know what is happening at any given water utility because they’re regulated at the local level…So there’s very little access to data, very little transparency in terms of how utilities do rate making, very little transparency into their operations, who they’re shutting off and who they’re not, why they’re shutting people off. We just don’t have that information.
What we know is that we need a comprehensive, thoughtful, and visionary approach to the waters that sustain us. We also know that the values of the past that cast water as a resource to be used and tossed away, that limits access to it by the ability to pay, and that denies our deep connections, are ideas that are killing us. It is time to craft a way of living that begins with the basic understanding that water is a human right and a sacred trust. There is no other way to ensure our future.
Covid Could Be Death Sentence We Don’t Deserve
Disability Justice, Community, & Intentionality
Honoring Stacey Park Milbern #StaceyTaughtUs
Stacey Park Milbern passed away on May 19, 2020, her 33rd birthday. Her friends, community, and family — people she met and people who longed to meet Stacey immediately began telling their stories, #StaceyTaughtUs. Her first of many many memorials included a virtual celebration with over 500 registered guests on Zoom with a 150 car parade throughout Oakland, CA with ASL (American Sign Language) and live captioning. This growing collection of stories demonstrate how much people want to fight like hell, while building the world that centers the lives of disabled, queer, and BICOP. She lived in the possibilities of what it can be. She not only practiced living in the “beloved community,” she lived it. Every #StaceyTaughtUs story is evidence of that.
My brother, Micah Fialka-Feldman is who he is for many reasons (as we all are) — but when he connected with young disability leaders — they shaped my brother (and therefore our family’s story) in powerful ways. He saw his disability as an identity with history, pride, community, activism, and brilliance.
Stacey Park Milbern was one of those shapers. Stacey got “it.” The “it” that says people with intellectual disabilities must have their voices and presence at the disability justice table. The “it” that says we must, both, live in and for a reimagined world — where the lives of disabled people are dignified, honored, and supported — in a beyond capitalism, racism paradigm. The “it” that says we must always be learning, thinking, questioning, in conversation with our communities. The “it” that says we can not use a lack of familiarity with difference to stop us in for getting together. That’s what Stacey taught me.
Micah was introduced to Stacey and her deep demand for creative justice when Micah attended the National Youth Leadership Forum, a national disabled led youth leadership project, in the early 2000s. This National Youth Leadership Forum (NYLF) connected him with other disability activists around the country. Micah, excited by his deepening understanding of his own identities shared this growing knowledge with our family. Given connections to various disability organizations (including NYLF), our family worked with the Allied Media Projects to see how disability justice could be brought into the work of the Allied Media Conference which had recently moved to Detroit in 2007. Stacey and a cross-section of disability organizers worked with AMP to make Allied Media Conference creatively accessible and weave in workshops and themes about disability justice. Years later, this eventually led to the first ever Disability Justice track.
Stacey reflected on this collaborative work in a December 2008 NYLF Newsletter. “I have been thinking a lot about an event I went to this summer, the Allied Media Conference (AMC)…It was amazing to see young people taking the city in their own hands. Through the AMC, I had a chance to really get to know an NYLN member, Micah Fialka-Feldman. He welcomed me to Detroit. Since I was new to the AMC community, he made sure I always knew what was going on. He made sure I had what I needed to participate. Conference organizers told me about how Micah and his family had worked with them to make sure that access wouldn’t be an issue for anyone. As a result, many disabled people attended the conference. Disability issues were on the table. Unlike other events, many workshops focused on integrating a disability analysis into broader social justice work. It was a transforming experience for me. I owe a lot to Micah for it…[then she described Micah’s lawsuit to sue Oakland University for housing discrimination]… I hope you will join us in talking about what access really can mean and how it can change how we interact with the world.”
Stacey continued to be connected to visionary activism in Detroit and the work of Grace Lee Boggs as she grew personally and politically. As Catherine Kudlick, Professor of History and Director of Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability at San Francisco State University wrote, “She was a co-founder and promoter of Disability Justice, a second wave of the disability movement that combats the disproportionate negative impact of ableism on people of color, queer, trans, and others who are multiply-marginalized. She called out and showed with each of her projects — and indeed with her very existence — the benefits that come from abandoning capitalism’s narrow definitions of who has worth. For example, last fall when the claims of activists proved true in the face of PG&E’s bungled planned power shutdowns, Stacey organized grassroots relief and protests. With the arrival of the pandemic, the Disability Justice Culture Club, which she ran out of her home, took on even greater significance and reach. In April, she partnered with Longmore on some of the pathbreaking work she was doing as co-chair of the Crip Camp film impact campaign!
Stacey wrote in 2009 an article titled, “On the Ancestral Plan: Crip Hands Me Downs and the Legacy of Our Movements,” I speculate that Grace Lee Boggs is loving the conversations happening right now about disability in the context of what it means to be human, and as Grace’s friends the Fialka Feldmans said to me last week, would ponder that the reason to add disability justice to social justice is not just because it’s another element of diversity or representation, but rather because disability justice (and disability itself) has the potential to fundamentally transform everything we think about quality of life, purpose, work, relationships, belonging. As a new colleague Ria DasGupta said in a meeting about cripping college campus this week, “we can no longer afford add and stir politics.”
Catherine Kudlick continued, “Stacey came to all of this from her perspective as a biracial Korean-American queer woman who arrived in the SF Bay Area from a southern fundamentalist Christian upbringing. She was forthright, demanding, focused, all while being unnervingly vulnerable with a giggle that could cut through every kind of bullshit. She never lost sight of the biggest goals, all while making you feel like you were the most important person in the world.”
Too often our movements work in silos. Too often we speak about intersectionality but leave out the voices and bodies of those most marginalized. Too often we speak about what the government isn’t doing. May you honor Stacey by building a bigger table, with chairs of various sizes, empty space for chair users, virtual spaces for folks who can’t physically be at the table and with a belief that by making access radical and intentional, our world will grow into beautiful possibilities.
To learn more about what #StaceyTaughtUs check out this syllabus of videos and articles written by her.
If you did not know of Stacey Park, take time to sign up for one of Crip Camp’s Virtual Camp Series each Sunday. Stacey’s vision and force are behind the themes, the speakers, the accessibility, the outreach of it. You will fall in love with the possibilities of a future that centers disabled lives.
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Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership
3061 Field Street
Detroit, Michigan 48214
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March 31st, 2020
Loving your people and loving questions are, I believe, the two most important qualities that an individual needs today to help create the new kind of politics we need to bring about fundamental social change in our country. Even if the people of our respective communities or of our country are acting in ways that we believe are unworthy of human beings, we must still care enough for them so that their lives and ours, their questions and ours, become inseparable. At the same time we must love the questions themselves, first, because every time we act on our convictions, we create new contradictions or new questions; and secondly, because we have no models for revolutionary social change in a country as technologically advanced and politically backwards as ours.
Grace Lee Boggs, “I Must Love the Questions Themselves” 1985
Thinking for Ourselves
For the second time in less than two decades, the US economy has collapsed. Each time, the government and forces of finance have joined together to craft a “bailout.” This time it is several trillion dollars. This time, it took only a few weeks to reveal the shallow, brittle, and often brutal nature of an economic system based on extraction, high tech controls, violence, and constant, unnecessary consumption. The political leaders who told us we cannot afford universal health care, living wages, and the Green New Deal, all allocated the trillions to shore up this economy. Efforts to protect the lives and well-being of ordinary people were minimal, resisted by the most ardent of neo-liberal republicans. They continue to worry that government support for life will “erode” our will to work.
This moment has not only revealed the weaknesses of finance capital, globalization, and the lack of a productive base. It has also revealed the ugly ideological framework undergirding the economic decision-making that has prioritized making war over building peace, pursuing profits rather than protecting people, and measuring human life in monetary terms. From framing education as valuable only if it leads to jobs, to creating massive systems of profit by holding human beings in cages, to forging economies based on weapons and war, some among us have lost any sense of the value of human life, the joys we take in one another, and the sanctity of places that hold, nurture, and protect us.
For some, if human beings are not able to “produce,” they do not deserve to survive. This philosophy was displayed vividly last week as the Texas lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick observed that if he were asked, “As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?” he would say: “If that’s the exchange, I’m all in.” The President has given voice to the same idea, as he threatens to “reopen the economy by Easter,” saying, “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF.” In other words, saving “the “economy” not only costs public money, it costs lives. And that is a legitimate trade off.
So, we are faced the opportunity for a public conversation on what are human beings for? What makes life matter?
Some of us are answering this question with affirmations of connection, care, compassion, and creativity. Mutual aid societies have sprung up everywhere. People are connecting, sharing, and offering support to one other daily. Policies are being enacted to protect life, ensuring human rights to water, shelter, safety, and food. Music is flowing from front porches and over internet symphonies. Artistic visions are shared from images of sidewalk chalk to poetry slams.
This crisis will not be over quickly. We have choices to make about how we will reconstruct our lives. For many years, in cities, towns, and small communities across the country people have been evolving the values and practices of the living, local economies we all need to survive. Emphasizing local production for local needs, cultivating art and care, and forging connections over private profit. These are the places we need to learn from so that we can accelerate the values and practices that support life. We know that an economy built on care, stewardship, and the development and protection of people and the earth that sustains us is the only way we will survive and thrive.
Intentional Inclusion: Cultivating Circles of Support Webinar
Thursday, April 2nd
Who among us doesn’t have a tribe, or a village, or a network of friends and family that supports us? In good times and challenging ones, we use circles of support to help us out. The same goes for people with disabilities, only they are sometimes even more intentional in seeking out just the right people to be part of the Circle. Come hear from a parent (Janice) and sibling (Emma) about how they have used Circles of Support with their son and brother, and how it’s also a model that has been used in schools and communities around the country. Emma has also had great success using Circles of Support with her elementary school students.
Dear friends and colleagues,
I hope you are faring well in these strange and frightening times.
A decade ago most of you joined me in calling for clemency for David Gilbert, now 75, who has spent many decades in prison for his involvement in support of anti-war and Black liberation struggles in the 60’s,70s and 80s.
He is apart of our extended political family and we come to you once again to see if you will agree to sign a letter asking for David to be freed by the governor of New York on humanitarian grounds. We think there might be an opening and friends and comrades in NY state, along with Chesa Boudin(David’s son and the new progressive DA in San Francisco) are working hard to press Cuomo to reconsider. Read a recent article in the New Yorker on David’s case.
Here is the link to sign the letter. I have also attached the list of all those that signed last time. Please sign up asap before next Friday, April 3. Do not post this letter it is not public.
With love and in solidarity,
Barbara Ransby, Professor of History, University of Illinois at Chicago
© Brooke Duthie Photography
Democracy Now! produces a daily, global, independent news hour hosted by award-winning journalists Amy Goodman and Juan González. Our reporting includes breaking daily news headlines and in-depth interviews with people on the front lines of the world’s most pressing issues. On Democracy Now!, you’ll hear a diversity of voices speaking for themselves, providing a unique and sometimes provocative perspective on global events.
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Democracy Now! launched in 1996, airing on nine radio stations. More than two decades later, we have grown to be one of the leading U.S.-based independent daily news broadcasts in the world.
Changing Time , Shea Howell
Boggs Center Living for Change Newsletter (boggscener.org)
December 29, 2019
We are at the beginning of a new decade. Across the political landscape, people are reflecting on the 2010’s and the first decades of the new millennium. Among liberal and progressive voices, despair seems the primary result of these musing. The New York Times year end editorial explains “Fear and distrust are ascendant now.” They cite the 16 year high in hate crimes, growth of nationalism, attacks on civil rights and democratic institutions, climate catastrophe, and distrust in the mechanism we have established to create more human and just futures as the accumulated results of our actions and inactions.
What is most obvious is how little these reflections offer guidance in the present or help us think about the future. The concerns that dominated the first decade of 2000 did little to prepare us for the viciousness of the next ten years. Today, the depth of crisis we face is far deeper than the problems of new technologies or recurring outbursts of anger and fear. Short term thinking, even attempts to look at the cycles of our own short history, as the Tmes does, are efforts to evade the magnitude of the changes we must make, the choices that are in front of us.
Grace Lee Boggs helped us understand this as she often explained we are in a moment of transition “as great as that as the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture or from agriculture to industry.” These changes happen rarely in human experience, and our consciousness of them is only beginning to emerge. Living in the midst of epoch change makes it clear that attempts to strengthen old ways of thinking and acting only compound the problems we face.
Instead we need to think about how the cornerstones of the industrial era: the deadening of the natural world, extractive cultures and industries, mass production, corporate organization, representative democracy, hyper rationalism, and hyper individualism, have all brought us to the point where this could well be the last millennia of the human experience.
So much of our attention turns toward what is slipping away. We have only weak frameworks to understand what is emerging that is life affirming, holding the possibilities of a future. That is why I think it is important for those of us working toward a just future to spend some time revisiting Marx and the Communist Manifesto.Marx, perhaps more than any other philosopher-activist, captured the emergence of the new industrial era out of the old dying feudal arrangements. Consider this passage:
The foundation of the dying epoch was the separation of human life from nature, the turning of natural world into “resources” for economic profit. The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones.
Marx goes on to say, in what was one of Grace Boggs’s favoriate passages:
All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.
This is why Detroit matters so much as a touchstone toward a better future. Here, as one of the first places shaped and reshaped by the industrial era, and one of the first to be utterly abandoned by capital, we have been forming a future on values that emphasize our connections with one another and the earth on which we depend. What we do matters. And in times of great change, what each of us does can and will have profound, unpredictable effects.
The Revolutionary Soul of Ron Scott
by Barbara A. Stachowski
Ron Scott, I’ve struggled to encompass all the
aspects of the man that I saw embodied as he
walked in the world.
Ron Scott was a soulful man, always expressive
of deep feeling and emotion. Ron Scott was a
revolutionary, a man committed to changing what he believed needed change.
And, Ron Scott was a man of rich faith rooted in the Christian tradition. Ron was unique. He had
the wisdom to set aside theological dogma and advocate for peace in communities with a spirit of
ecumenism and inclusiveness embracing all faith traditions. Even if there seemingly were no faith
traditions in a situation he encountered, he was able to intuit the “tradition” at hand. He would effortlessly sense the dynamics of the moment and elegantly craft his response to the crisis. The “tradition”, very often, was that of the streets
that so many live with and in.
His talent to de-escalate a situation most certainly saved lives when people, hurt and desperate
to react in a moment of utter pain, were drawn to his words of peace and logic. Ron’s soothing,
yet piercing, logic was critical in advocating for generations of individuals engaged in what he
called the “War on Mack”. Ron knew that Detroit’s most crucial challenge was to teach people to
de-escalate volatile situations within the community before calling law enforcement. This was
the foundation for Ron’s work to establish Peace Zones for Life.
I have imagined Ron’s transition into the spiritual realm and have taken comfort in believing that
his life work would gain eternal recognition from the great leaders in the afterlife.
Joseph Campbell, an American mythologist, writer and lecturer, best known for his work “The
Hero With a Thousand Faces”, describes a hero as “someone who has given his or her life to
something bigger than oneself.” Campbell taught that myths represent the stories of the hero’s
journey that transcend all cultures. He describes the hero’s quest: “You leave the world that
you’re in and go to into a death or a distance or up to a height. There you come to what was
missing in your consciousness in the world you formally inhabited. Then comes the problem
either of staying with that, and letting the world drop off, or returning with that boon and trying to
hold onto it as you move back into your social world again. That’s not an easy thing to do.” Ron
took on this hero’s quest selflessly, knowing, all too well, the costs. His decision to walk a hero’s
path was not one he would have described as heroic: he walked with humility.
Ghandi’s favorite Hindu devotional song was “Vaishnava Jana To”, a
15th century Gujarati hymn he included in his daily prayer. In it, a
vaishnava is described as someone who “feels the pain of others, helps
those who are in misery, but never lets ego or conceit enter their mind.”
Ron was a vaishnava in this sense. He was especially adept at
embracing the pain of mothers and fathers who had lost children,
whatever the situation.
Buddhists describe a bodhisattva as “an enlightened being who, out of compassion, forgoes
nirvana in order to save others.” Ron was a bodhisattva whose heart ached with compassion.
Ron was a hero because he had the strength to blend what he knew about faith, philosophy,
politics, media, human nature and suffering and hone a message that encouraged people to be
the best they could be. He challenged all of us to think about what we “bring to the table” and he
challenged all leaders to ask the question, “Who is at the table and who needs to be at the
Ron’s commitment was 24/7. When a tragedy happened, Ron was often the first one called.
This weighed heavy on a soul so committed to his work. But Ron never said, “No. I’m too tired.”
Ron kept going until the end of his life on this earth. And now…
Rest in peace, Ron: son, brother, partner, friend, comrade, hero, mentor, disciple of peace,
vaishnava, bodhisattva, and revolutionary soul. Rest in peace, dear friend, at last, rest in
James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership
Lifelong community activist Ron Scott died on Sunday, November 29, 2015 after a difficult battle with cancer. We mourn his passing and will greatly miss his voice and insights.
Ron was a board member of the James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership. He first met Grace and James Boggs when he was 16 years old and exploring the ideas of Black Power and Community Control. A founding member of the Detroit Chapter of the Black Panther Party, Ron remained a comrade and friend of the Boggs’ for the rest of their lives. Since the early 1970s he worked with members of the Boggs Center in organizing Detroiters For Dignity, We Pros, SOSAD, and Detroit Summer.
A gifted television personality, his love of young people lead him to Project BAIT, where he helped develop a generation of young people in video production. He was an independent film-maker, writer, speaker, radio host, and organizer. He was a media pioneer, hosting Detroit Black Journal, often bringing the voices of radical thinkers and activists to larger audiences.
Over the last 20 years, Ron has been a primary spokesmen and intellectual force for the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality. Through the Coalition he was a tireless advocate for peace in our communities.
Richard Feldman of the Boggs Center said, “Ron was honored that he came from a family of teachers, ministers and working folks with many varied ideas. He was loved by Diane Reeder, dearly respected by Congressman John Conyers, and by hundreds of young people whose lives he protected and whose dignity he fought for. He reminded us to respect elders who were engaged in the “struggle” and to understand that we all build on the work of earlier generations. Ron had enormous faith in people and believed “everyone could change”.
Myrtle Thompson-Curtis of the Boggs Center and Feedom Freedom Growers said, “I am truly glad to have worked along side Ron Scott. He was always a teacher and healer.”
“Ron was a spiritual warrior who clearly acknowledged the media wars and the war between moving forward and being “stuck” in old ideas of revolution. He believed every institution in our country needs to change. Changing ourselves and becoming more human, human beings, thinking dialectically, not biologically were essential to his efforts of uniting the long haul with the urgency of now,” Richard Feldman said.
Ron always asked, “Who is not at the table? Which youth are we talking about and trying to reach?” He believed in community as the foundation of safety and argued that the only purpose of the police is to serve the people. He never doubted that it was our responsibility to create Peace Makers and turn War Zones into Peace Zones.”
Over the last several months, while dealing with illness, Ron felt a responsibility to speak to the young activists emerging in the Black Lives Matters Movements. His recently finished a book, Guide to Ending Police Brutality published in the fall of this year. It is available at the BC website.
We will miss Ron’s leadership and passion, his commitment, and continual probing of what it means to be more human.
Ron was committed to his beliefs, his journey towards transformation, and his desire to contribute to young people, our city, our region, and our nation. He truly believed, “A Community That excludes even One of its members is No Community at All.”
We join his family, friends, and many comrades in acknowledging his life of commitment to creating a more just and peaceful world.