Living for Change News
January 2nd – January 9th
Thinking for Ourselves
This year the first day of 2017 was also the last day of Kwanzaa, Imani, the affirmation of faith. Over 200 people gathered at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History to share in celebration of the day. Young people with the Detroit Independent Freedom School Movement joined with parents, teachers, friends, artists, and activists to emphasize our faith in one another and our capacity to create a better city and a better world.It was a good way to begin this new year. The Al Nur Drum and Dance Company set the energy for the event as people gathered to light the Kwanzaa candles. Each candle calls forth a value that will be important for us to remember as we face the choices of the coming days. Unity, Self Determination, Collective Work & Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity, and Faith are critical guideposts to judge our actions.
People were reminded of the powerful history of the Freedom Schools that emerged in the 1960’s. These schools were about more than classrooms. As Jon Hale wrote in the Atlantic, freedom schools were part of a larger movement for Black Liberation and were designed to teach “the art of resistance and the strategies of protest.” In the process they raised questions about the very nature of our democracy.
The forces of white supremacy did not welcome this questioning. In fact, the Freedom Schools and the Freedom Fighters in Mississippi who were part of them were subjected to a “level of terrorism that had not been seen in the South since Reconstruction. From June to August 1964 alone, police arrested more than 1,000 protesters and local segregationists murdered three freedom workers, assaulted over 80 activists, opened fire on demonstrators over 35 times, and set fire to 35 churches.”
In response to this violence, “Activists remained undeterred. During the course of the summer they successfully pressured Congress to end a seven-week filibuster and pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Freedom Fighters also forced Southern states to admit a handful of black students to all-white desegregated its schools in 1964, becoming the last state in the country to do so.”
These victories only lead to more questions for the Freedom School Movement. Bob Moses who would later founded the Algebra Project asked in the fall of 1964, “Why can’t we set up our own schools? What students really need to learn is how to be organized to work on the society to change it.”
For the Freedom School Movement “a quality education did not mean seating a black student next to a white student. It meant making sure every school adopted a rigorous curriculum, hired excellent teachers, and provided an opportunity for economic mobility.”
This is an important history for all of us to remember as we decide how to resist the growing greed, dehumanization, and destruction of the coming federal administration.
Congressman John Lewis, who was the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), wrote that the objective of Freedom Summer was to “force a showdown between the local and federal government.”
As we move into 2017, we face another “showdown.” None of us should have any illusions about the level of violence that so quickly surfaces against those who move us toward a more just future. Nor should we lose faith in our capacity to resist, to find ways to work together, to celebrate our creativity, and to forge a place for our children.
I Too, Sing America
Tawana Honeycomb Petty
I am true believer in the power of poetry. After all, I have considered myself a poet since I was 7 years old. I can still recall the butterflies I felt in my stomach when my elementary school teacher had me read, and later perform Langston Hughes’s I Too, Sing America. It was a life changing experience.
I grew up with a grandfather as a pastor. When I was a very young child he would have me memorize scripture and recite it at the head of the church. I was proud to learn the lines and all the books of the Bible. There was something fulfilling about it. I can’t recall how solid my interpretation was of what I was memorizing at that age, but I do recall that there was something about my reciting those lines that made the congregation feel good, that made me feel good. There was something that shifted in the atmosphere for them and for me when I would recite to the audience.
But, it was experience with getting to know Langston Hughes’s poetry that took my life to another level. I found a spiritual connectedness I had never felt before. The words drew me in, made me think and emote. I knew then that I wanted to be a poet.
Poems helped me escape everything around me. I could write a poem that took my sorrows and placed them into testimony. My grandpa started to let me read poems in front of church, instead of scripture. He understood that poems were my scripture.
I suffered many things as a child and I often think back about the times I’ve endured the most trauma in my life and the poems that came to rescue me. They have been a beautiful refuge from a sometimes ugly world.
As an adult I have struggled with how to keep poetry as a significant part of my life. Art, and especially poetry is often treated as an afterthought of struggle and resistance. The deeper I got into ideological study and thinking, the deeper the questions about my art became. How can I be political, yet visionary as an artist? How can I use poetry as an organizing tool of resistance? How can I bring my seemingly contradictory worlds together?
After deep meditation, I created a workshop called Poetry as Visionary Resistance. The workshop helps me to apply political ideology and organizing to my love of poetry. It’s the way I discovered how to merge my worlds. It’s an adaptation I’ve become quite proud of.
I was recently forwarded a write-up by Wayne State University student, Julia Grace Hill about one of my workshops and it brought me to tears. The write-up did not focus on the “success” of the workshop, it focused on the author’s love and renewed appreciation for the power of poetry. It was more than I could hope for. Reading Julia’s reflections took me back to the butterflies that inspired me to live my life through poetry. The renewed my desire to continue to create for something larger than myself.
This past Sunday I was invited to share poetry as visionary resistance through sermon on New Years Day at the First UU Church of Detroit. After meditation, I went into the sermon asking myself three questions:
What does it mean to resist?
What role should vision play in our resistance?
What becomes of a visionary, stuck in a deficit mindset?
When I started to speak with tears streaming down my face, the sermon took on a life of its own. It can be found here.
May we all discover a lifelong love for poetry. May our visionary resistance live on.
What becomes of a visionary
trapped in a deficit mind?
What becomes of their art?
What becomes of their shine?
If they are buried in gloom,
when their art resonates,
will they set off a bomb
will they detonate hate?
Will they torture their souls,
taking others along?
Will they chip at our spirits,
til we just frame and bone?
What becomes of a visionary,
with no hope to spare?
Do they leave with the wind,
or dissolve in the air?
Do they drown in the waves,
or get lost in the fray?
Or will they come out
til they vision a way?
My Ancestors had vision,
freedom on the inside.
Visualized their liberation,
before the freedom rides,
before the marches on Washington,
before melanin in the oval,
before elections determined,
whether our lives would be over.
They visioned freedom from whips,
while they lived inside chains,
saw freedom in their mind,
while their bodies were enslaved.
Visionaries make evolution,
lead us to co-liberation,
create the world we all need,
Love waging, imagination.
10 Things to Think About this Year
As I look back at 2016 and enter 2017, I am reminded that we will commemorate many anniversaries this year. The world will commemorate the 100 anniversary of the Russian Revolution of 1917, the 80th anniversary of the Flint Sit-Down Strikes of the UAW, the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Detroit Rebellion and the 50th anniversary of the MLK speech: Beyond Vietnam: Time to Break the Silence.
I am reminded of historical turning points and moments of choice when ideas and actions matter. We live in such a moment. A Moment when there is no separation between the Urgency of NOW and the long haul, where our choice is Community or Chaos.
2016 was a very personally significant year because it was the first year in more than 40 that my political work in Detroit did not include a living relationship with either James or Grace Lee Boggs. James died in 1993 and Grace transitioned in 2015. The James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership continues the intellectual and on the ground work in Detroit and across our country and globe. I am very fortunate to be part of this legacy and ongoing work.
In 2016, My wife, Janice, published a new book, What Matters! Reflections on Disability, Community and Love which chronicles the journey of our son, Micah, who has an intellectual disability. For the first time in our lives we have no living parents sharing their memories or stories with us at the holidays. My dad, Myron, died in 1970, my mom, Pearl in 2013, and Janice’s mom, Delores passed in 2014 and her dad, Albert in 2015. Both Emma and Micah continue to live in Boston & Syracuse respectively where they are both teachers with a strong commitment to “making the world” a little better.
History, time and ideas remind me that Donald Trump and all his attempts to save the dying order of capitalism/racism is not permanent. Trump also supports a continued materialist collision course with nature (planetary suicide or natural genocide). Out of the pain and the whip of the counter-revolution will emerge a new historical period, for better or worse.
We are in a battle to create the future. Yes, it will be dangerous, filled with fear, pain and hate and also awaken more people to resist and to look deeply at the need for new solutions and new thinking. Some will look to old solutions and old thinking and others will ask deeper questions, become more radical and look at ourselves and our comfort zones.
Hope is about taking the next step. We live in 21-century movement times. From Arab Spring to Occupy to Black Lives Matter and from defining ourselves as protectors and stewards of the earth to the leadership of our ancestors and the historic role of women at Standing Rock. As we enter into new territory taking new steps, create new practices, reflecting on theory and practice, we set free our imaginations.
Here are 10 things to reflect on or act upon in 2017
When our children and grandchildren look back in 50 years or 100 years, what will they see? What can 2067 or 2117 look like? Our choices, our actions, our ideas do matter. Will they matter enough? Our future is up to us! Imagination and no regrets in 2017!
I write to you just a few hours after our second annual Festival of Rights. Jews and our allies came together to celebrate our hard work, assert our shared vision, and affirm our commitment to realizing that vision. A few brief highlights:
Some of our most trusted partners lit the menorah. What an incredible privilege to offer the honor to friends whose leadership we have been blessed to follow this year. We were joined by friends from The Motor City Freedom Riders, The Ecology Center, and the People’s Water Board.
Hanukkah means “dedication” – it gives us an opportunity each year to rededicate ourselves to struggles for justice. Tonight, new and old leaders committed ourselves to stretching ourselves in the coming year — to showing up for learning, for action, for play, and for the nitty-gritty.
Watching a slideshow of our short history I felt amazed by how much we have been able to accomplish so far. The plans our leaders are developing for this coming year are ambitious. We ask for your voices, hearts, hands, and feet — your money and your time. It is only with all of those things can Jews in Metro Detroit join the fight for racial and economic justice.
As we sang together:
Kol echad who or katan, v’kulanu or eitan — Each of us is a small light, all of us are a great light.
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
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
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.
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.
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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.