Election Reflection By Shea Howell – November 12, 2016

Thinking for ourselves

Election Reflection

By Shea Howell

November 12, 2016

shea25The victory of Donald Trump has sent chills through many of us. Shock, grief, and fear, are giving way to a deepening resolve to resist the onslaught of violence that is sure to come.

What America will become in the next 50 years depends on what we do now, individually and collectively. There are no simple answers, no quick solutions, and no going home again. We have to find new ways forward. This will require deeper thinking and more thoughtful actions than ever before. The stark choice between revolution and counter-revolution is here.

This choice has been evolving for a long time. In 1955 the Montgomery bus boycott broke the right-wing grip on America that controlled the life of most people. Following the Civil War, after a brief flowering of African American freedom, the forces of counter-revolution reasserted themselves. In the South, white supremacists used a combination of violence and legislation to restore their power.

In the rest of the country, whites did the same thing, often rioting and attacking vulnerable communities. From Maine to Oklahoma mobs drove African Americans out of their homes, creating thousands of “sundown towns” for Whites Only. Immigration was tightly controlled, queers were killed for sport, people with disabilities were hidden in institutions, indigenous rights were violated, sexual exploitation was commonplace, and working conditions for most were often deadly. As we endured the World Wars, intellectual life was degraded by a virulent anti-communism, given voice by Joseph McCarthy whose campaign destroyed art, culture, and compassion. As Martin Luther King observed, America was “the greatest purveyor of violence,” and much of that violence was directed at one another.

All of that was shattered by the power of the liberation movements launched by ordinary people in Montgomery. Over the next two decades, America became a more human place. We became more aware of one another and our responsibilities for the sustainability of life on our fragile earth.

But the forces of white supremacy did not go away. They continued to organize, to evolve, and to challenge every hard fought gain of the last 50 years. There is a long line from Ronald Reagan to Donald Trump. And Regan and Trump embody the sensibilities of those who came before like Bull Conner, David Duke, George Lincoln Rockwell, Fred Phelps, Rush Limbaugh, Phyllis Schlafly, George Wallace, Huey Long, Father Coughlin, Orville Hubbard, Robert Welch, Lester “Ax Handle” Maddox, Coors and Koch, Andrew Jackson, and Nathan Forrest. Trump is no foreign fascist. He is part of a shameful American history of violence in support of power. It is a history we can no longer evade if we are to create a more human future.

The majority of us rejected Trump. But we must now face the forces he has unleashed. We know that they will try to take our homes, seize land, shut off water, pollute our air, close schools, lock up our children, defile our sacred places, bomb our homes, terrorize us in bedrooms and jail cells, ridicule our beliefs, risk our futures, incite riots, infiltrate our organizations, round us up, limit democracy, beat us, and kill us. We know this because this is what they have done. This is what they are doing. This is what they will do with renewed force.

Already the KKK is marching. Young men are shouting obscenities, high school students have erect walls against immigrant children, and countless acts of aggression are recorded daily.

After more than 50 years of political struggle for better lives, one thing should be clear. Only love can overcome this violence. As Dr. King said, “ When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response…Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality…Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in individual societies. We must find new ways to speak and act of peace and justice…If we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight…Let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter—but beautiful—struggle for a new world.”

We need to take the time to grieve together, for it is this grief that grounds us in our best hopes for the future. And then we must turn to one another to ask what now affirms life, what moves us toward ways of living that expand compassion and creativity? We are not alone in facing these questions. We have a collective memory of those who came before, struggling against racism, materialism, and militarism and for a vision of loving communities to enrich our thinking. Together we will find ways to open our hearts and imaginations.

Today, we welcome the resistance to this violence. But much more is required. We must draw upon our deepest spirits of love, honesty, courage, and hope if we are to create a world worth preserving.





Distorted Story

By Shea Howell

shea25 We are beginning the third year of the crisis in Flint. In spite of thousands of news articles, visits by politicians, apologies, and claims of relentless positive action, little has changed in the daily lives of the people. Water is still unsafe. Filters, touted as a cure all, have been operating for so long many are approaching fatigue. They require constant flushing. Many need to be replaced. Every day most people still organize their lives around water safety. They cannot simply turn on their tap to bush teeth, bath, cook or wash. This week volunteers from Detroit will again go to Flint to deliver bottles of water, talk with residences, and explore how to advance political pressure to mobilize a will to act.

Meanwhile Governor Snyder continues his public relations stunts. Making a show of drinking filtered Flint water, he quickly departed for Europe. He didn’t take his water with him. And while crisis experts are making his name synonymous with ineptness and disaster, he and the powers that support him are scrambling to protect emergency managers.

The new corporate story line is clear. Emergency Managers work. Flint was an anomaly. The EMs should have listened more. Emergency Manager Orr saved Detroit.

The effort put into this gross distortion is a measure of how important Emergency Manager laws are to corporate interests. They regard Emergency Managers as the single most important tool to further privatize public responsibilities and put a price tag on what should be a common birthright for all. Emergency managers are the key to undercutting basic democratic values that challenge the idea that private profit is more important than the public good.

Recently the Brookings Institute offered a platform for this distorted story. They hosted a discussion on the “new Detroit.” Entitled “How philanthropy, business, and government sparked Detroit’s resurgence,” Brookings pushed a new business climate survey from the Kresge Foundation. Panelist included Sandy Baruah of the Detroit Regional Chamber and Stephen Henderson of almost all Detroit media. Rip Rapson of Kresge moderated.

It was a disquietingly blind and distorted discussion. It is astonishing how the basic questions of who benefits from this “resurgence” and who is suffering in its wake were completely avoided. The reality that bankruptcy meant the destruction of pensions for thousands of elder Detroiters, greatly diminishing their daily quality of life, was not mentioned. The horrific policy of aggressive water shut offs to nearly half the city did not spark a comment, even as we are facing another round of these shut offs next week. The abuse of our children in a school system that has been willfully dismantled was reduced to concerns for personal corruption, not a colossal system failure.

In the compartmentalized world of corporate America, cities surge while the majority of the people suffer. We should expect to hear this version of reality again and again as the corporate elite prepare for the annual visit to Mackinac Island. They are into damage control. We should expect an onslaught of stories about how much the bankruptcy has helped Detroit.

In the face of such lies, it is up to the rest of us to do the serious work of advancing visionary ideas to rebuild Detroit. We cannot expect the corporate powers to shape a future based on compassion or care for one another and our earth.

No Excuses By Shea Howell

Thinking for ourselves

By Shea Howell

No Excuses

April 17, 2016

shea25This week headlines warned that the crisis of water in Michigan is far from solved. More than one third of Detroit elementary schools reported unsafe levels of lead and copper in their drinking water.

Officials believe the problem rests with old lead pipes, not the quality of the water.

Still Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, executive director and health officer for the city of Detroit’s Health Department, said that all Detroit children under 6, regardless of whether they attend a DPS school, should be screened for lead.

These reports were followed by an announcement that Henry Ford Hospital advised patients and employees to drink bottled water after water flowing from their pipes started coming out brown. The problem was attributed to a construction issue with the M-1 rail line, not water quality in general. “No patient services are affected and all hospital operations are fully operational. We are using sterilized water for all procedures,” hospital officials said.

The immediate alarm raised by these situations speaks clearly to how concerned most people are about access to affordable, safe water. For many children in Detroit, the schools are their only source of fresh water. Thousands of households are still unable to get their water turned on and the Mayor is announcing another round of aggressive shut offs this spring. Drinking water and school showers are now no longer available to children who have been counting on these resources.

While Henry Ford acted quickly and responsibly, the fact that the problem was discovered by turning on the tap, not by those doing the construction, raises serious questions about decision making and overall understanding of how fragile our water system is.

This fragility goes beyond the pipes. The Oakland Press ran a little noticed report by Ron Seigel raising concerns about the quality of Detroit Water. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality raised serious questions about how layoffs of personnel effects the safety of water and sewerage treatment. MDEQ is concerned that layoffs made last October by both Detroit and the new Great Lakes Water Authority mean that the plant is operating with fewer people that required by state law and specified in a consent agreement made years ago.

The violation notice sent to DWSD and GLWA charged that they had failed to provide “adequate documentation” for the MDEQ to determine whether there is enough staff to “properly operate and maintain the Waste Water Treatment Plant and the Combined Sewage Overflow Facilities in the Detroit Water System.”

The local union, which has trying to get attention on this issue said simply, “Action must be taken before another disaster is allowed to happen.”

Susan Ryan, the union president, said: “We have been very fortunate so far that nothing has happened but we are concerned about what is happening in the waste water treatment plant. There are not enough staffers to assure water quality and keep sewage from our basements.”

One hundred and thirty seven people were dismissed, including senior sewer plant operators, water system control instrument technicians and mechanics with special expertise in repair and operations of equipment.

The crisis in Flint happened because unelected officials acted with depraved indifference. Detroit elected officials, especially the City Council, needs to demand a full accounting of what is going in with our the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. They have no excuse.

The Legacy of Grace Lee Boggs: “Re-imagine Everything” Jan Thomas – SoulandMeaning.com

Jan Thomas – SoulandMeaning.com

The Legacy of Grace Lee Boggs: “Re-imagine Everything”


On March 20, 2016 a celebration of Grace Lee Boggs’ 100-year life was held at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center. The memorial speakers offered memorable social change stories and lessons learned from knowing her over the years. Here is a small sampling of what was shared, followed by my full notes.

1.    We remake ourselves to remake the world.

2.    What do I need to change in myself to be more effective in changing the world?

3.    What does it mean to “grow our souls”?

4.    Praxis is about changing our minds and our perspectives in response to changing conditions.

5.    Questions are more important than answers.

6.    Go beyond simply complaining and waiting for others to change it or fix it.

7.    Seek out like-hearted people who are weaving the sacred hoop of humanity back together.

8.    Put less energy into stopping the bad and more energy into creating the new.

9.    Balance action with reflection, and tune into heart as well as head and hands.

10.  Create spaces that pre-figure or model the change we want to create.

11.  We can’t change the times that we live in, but we can change how we live in these times.

Grace_Lee_Boggs_my_last_pic12.  Combine a sense of urgency with patience.

13.  We are the end of one epoch and the beginning of another.

14.  Reimagine everything. Live in the new ways. Evolve to a higher humanity.

15.  It is up to us to envision and create a world beyond our wildest dreams.

My journal notes from the memorial:










To learn more about Grace’s life of social change, view the documentary film American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs.

A trailer for the film is here.

Two of my previous posts have selected quotes by Grace:

Grace Lee Boggs, Social Change Evolutionary

Grace Lee Boggs Sees a Looming “Great Sea Change”

I took the photo of Grace in 2014 at a showing of American Revolutionary at the Castro Theater in San Francisco, on what turned out to be her last West Coast trip.


Establishing justice By Shea Howell

Thinking for ourselves

By Shea Howell

Establishing justice

March 27, 2016

shea33This week the Flint Water Crisis Task Force released its final report. The report makes critical contributions to the public discussion of what happened in Flint, where the responsibility rests, and what should be done about it. Most importantly, the report makes clear that state authorities treated the people of Flint with contempt, disrespect, and disregard for their health and lives. At the core of the State’s actions was deep-seated racism. The report invokes the concept of Environmental Justice, opening important perspectives for us to consider as we decide how to move forward.

The report falls short in calling for the repeal of emergency management legislation. It acknowledges that it was unable to investigate the Karegnondi Water Authority and issues surrounding its creation. However, it cuts through some of the lies Governor Snyder has been pushing to avoid responsibility.

First, the Task Force places blame squarely on the State. In response to the Governor’s strategy of blaming everyone, they say, “Though it may be technically true that all levels of government failed, the state’s responsibilities should not be deflected. The causes of the crisis lie primarily at the feet of the state by virtue of its agencies’ failures and its appointed emergency managers’ misjudgments.

Second, the report highlights the role Emergency Mangers played in the key decisions surrounding the water crisis. It emphasizes the consequences of legislation that concentrates power in the hands of a single individual without democratic checks and balances. The Task force concluded, “The Flint water crisis occurred when state-appointed emergency managers replaced local representative decision-making in Flint, removing the checks and balances and public accountability that come with public decision-making. Emergency managers made key decisions that contributed to the crisis, from the use of the Flint River to delays in reconnecting to DWSD once water quality problems were encountered.”

Third, the Task Force addresses openly the environmental injustice embedded in the chain of choices made by the Governor and his appointees. As the New York Times commented, the report “makes clear the principal cause of the water crisis in Flint, Mich.: the state government’s blatant disregard for the lives and health of poor and black residents of a distressed city.”

The Times editorial goes on to say of the report, “While it avoids using the word “racism,” it clearly identifies the central role that race and poverty play in this story.” This report should be read along with the Principles of Environmental Justice. They offer a standard for us to judge how we are meeting our responsibilities to Flint, to one another and to the earth.

These Principles were crafted at the People of Color Environmental leadership Summit in 1991 “to build a national and international movement of all peoples of color to fight the destruction and taking of our lands and communities,” and to “re-establish our spiritual interdependence to the sacredness of our Mother Earth.”

Among the 17 principles are these:

  • Environmental justice demands that public policy be based on mutual respect and justice for all peoples, free from any form of discrimination or bias.
  • Environmental justice affirms the fundamental right to political, economic, cultural and environmental self-determination of all peoples.
  • Environmental justice demands the right to participate as equal partners at every level of decision-making including needs assessment, planning, implementation, enforcement and evaluation.
  • Environmental justice protects the right of victims of environmental injustice to receive full compensation and reparations for damages as well as quality health care.
  • Environmental justice considers governmental acts of environmental injustice a violation of international law, the Universal Declaration On Human Rights, and the United Nations Convention on Genocide.
  • Environmental justice calls for the education of present and future generations which emphasizes social and environmental issues, based on our experience and an appreciation of our diverse cultural perspectives.


Governor Snyder, his appointed administrators, and the State Legislature violated these core principles. We have a long way to go to establish justice.