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Living for Change News
Thinking for Ourselves
This year there is a poignant urgency to the celebrations of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Across the country people are gathering to celebrate, honor, and remember the movement and vision that called our country to find its best traditions and just promise. Everyone is mindful that these gatherings are happening in the shadow of the inauguration of a man who is the antithesis of all Dr. King represented.
King would be 88 years old now, an age where many are still offering wisdom and counsel. Yet because of the kind of wisdom and counsel he was compelled to give us, he was killed. That wisdom is best captured in hisspeech given at Riverside Church on April 4, 1967, “A Time to Break the Silence.” That was 50 years ago. It was his most searing indictment of the war in Vietnam, his deepest call to creating beloved communities.
King said, “When I speak of love I am not speaking about 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 their individual societies. We must find new ways to speak and act for 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.”
The “dark and shameful corridors” are pressing in on us. And so Dr. King’s call to action is fiercely urgent. He asked us to “rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter—but beautiful—struggle for a new world.”
It is this call that is animating renewed energy in our country. Thousands of people are gathering in Washington D.C. and communities across this land to publicly declare opposition to the policies and practices that threaten to poison our souls.
Dr. King said, “It is the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation’s self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation and for those it calls “enemy,” for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.”
In this spiritMovement for Black Lives has called for a Pledge of Resistance and a week of non violent, direct action stating, “The Movement for Black Lives continued in the tradition of civil disobedience and direct action to reclaim the narrative of the Civil Rights Movement from corporate America, Hollywood, and others bent on sanitizing Black history rooted in radical tradition. #ReclaimMLK is a call to connect our contemporary movements, and to eschew respectability in order to embrace the radical courage of our people in the present. Today, as many ask us to “wait and see” and “respect” politicians aimed at hurting us, that original call is even more urgent.”
TheNational Council of Elders is calling for people to move with this courage to organize public readings of “A Time to Break the Silence” and ask hard questions about what it means for us today.
In this last year of life, Dr. King was becoming increasingly aware of the need for revolution. He said, “We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values…When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”
Our country is at a turning point. Dr. Kingreminds us, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable…Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” Now is the time to give new and renewed voice to determine our future together.
Call for Session Proposals
THE 22nd Annual Pedagogy & Theater of the Oppressed Conference
“Breaking the Silence: From Rebellion to Waging Love”
Submit proposals by Friday, January 20th, 2017.
WHEN: June 1st – June 4th, 2017
WHERE: Cass Corridor Commons, 4605 Cass Avenue, Detroit, MI, USA, a city with a rich history of activism and organizing.
WHAT: A chance to LEARN, SHARE, QUESTION, and CONNECT through interactive techniques developed by Paulo Freire, Augusto Boal, and other people working to fight oppression and create justice. Learn more about Freire and Boal and their work at ptoweb.org.
WHO: YOU. Students, teachers, scholars, artists, activists, organizers. People of all ages, places, identities, experiences. If you want to build dialogue and make a more just world, you are invited, you are welcomed, and you are NEEDED.
WHY: The 22 Annual Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed Conference will be held in Detroit, MI commemorating the 50th Anniversary of 1967 Detroit Rebellion and Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech, Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence – in which he called for a radical revolution in values in the struggle against the evil triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism—and looking toward the future. Read more here.
Detroit Visionary Resisters
As the country experiences the turmoil that is American politics, many people in Detroit are showing visionary resistance to the status quo.
Whether it’s Pastor Barry’s call to action, artist, educator Walter Bailey’s hope to transform nature through art, Complex Movements building better futures, or Halima Cassells, Jerry Hebron and others making a life without money, Detroiters are once again exhibiting brilliance and resiliency in the face of adversity.
In 1964, Dr. King said, “Now, this economic problem is getting more serious because of many forces alive in our world and in our nation. For many years, Negroes were denied adequate educational opportunities. For many years, Negroes were even denied apprenticeship training. And so, the forces of labor and industry so often discriminated against Negroes. And this meant that the Negro ended up being limited, by and large, to unskilled and semi-skilled labor. Now, because of the forces of automation and cybernation, these are the jobs that are now passing away. And so, the Negro wakes up in a city like Detroit, Michigan, and discovers that he is 28 percent of the population and about 72 percent of the unemployed. Now, in order to grapple with that problem, our federal government will have to develop massive retraining programs, massive public works programs, so that automation can be a blessing, as it must be to our society, and not a curse.
Then the other thing when we think of this economic problem, we must think of the fact that there is nothing more dangerous than to build a society with a segment in that society which feels that it has no stake in the society, and nothing more dangerous than to build a society with a number of people who see life as little more than a long and desolate corridor with no exit sign. They end up with despair because they have no jobs, because they can’t educate their children, because they can’t live in a nice home, because they can’t have adequate health facilities.”
As we look around at the conditions that plague our communities some 53 years after Dr. King gave this speech, we now know that our dignity and our humanity lies within the hands of those willing to struggle towards Dr. King’s later call for a radical revolution of values.
We now know that we must create while we resist.
“I don’t know what the next American revolution is going to be like, but we might be able to imagine it if your imagination were rich enough.” – Grace Lee Boggs
Luckily, we know a lot of visionaries.
The Boggs Book Shop is open and waiting for you!
evolution in the 21st Century Anthology
…or the classic, Conversations in Maine
Thinking for ourselves
By Shea Howell
November 12, 2016
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.
By Shea Howell
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.
Thinking for ourselves
By Shea Howell
April 17, 2016
This 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.
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.
12. 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:
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.