September 23rd, 2019
” …confronting a threat to their existence and livilihoods of millions more being undermined “climate justice” promises to be the defining issue of the twenty-first century. ” The Next American Revolution ch. one, These are the Times to grow Our Souls pp. 32 2010
Thinking for Ourselves
Digital Justice, Climate Justice
Two critical moments came together this week. On Thursday the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners approved a new policy governing the use of facial recognition technology in a contentious 8 to 3 vote. The next day, Detroit youth took the lead in joining the Global Climate Strike. Over 4 million people worldwide took public action to encourage serious efforts to face the reality of climate catastrophe.
The struggle to limit technological invasions of our lives is not immediately understood as a climate justice issue. But it should be.
Ben Tarnoff, a digital justice advocate, wrote recently about how the expansion of data collection has a major impact on the health of our planet. Machine Learning (ML), what the Detroit Police are counting on in their expansion of Project Green Light and facial recognition technologies, requires enormous amounts of energy. Tarnoff offered this assessment of the impact of increasing reliance on the amount of data we collect, store and analyze:
“Digitization is a climate disaster: if corporations and governments succeed in making vastly more of our world into data, there will be less of a world left for us to live in. This is a demanding process. It takes place inside the data centers we call the cloud, and much of the electricity that powers the cloud is generated by burning fossil fuels. As a result, ML has a large carbon footprint. In a recent paper that made waves in the ML community, a team at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, found that training a model for natural-language processing – the field that helps “virtual assistants” like Alexa understand what you’re saying – can emit as much as 626,155lb of carbon dioxide. That’s about the same amount produced by flying roundtrip between New York and Beijing 125 times.”
At the heart of the connection between these two moments is the imperative for us to find ways of asking basic questions. Just because we can do something, should we? What values should guide our decision making? Whose interests are served?
Many people are taking comfort in the fact that the new policies in Detroit place clear limits on police power. Largely because of public protest, the new policy now incorporates some limits on police actions. It prohibits the police from using the technology for immigration enforcement, minor crimes, and identifying people at protests.
Coalitions opposing this technology, however, understand that such limits are simply not enough. Facial recognition technology and the digital surveillance of public spaces should be banned altogether. A new coalition, BanFacialRecognition.com, represents more than 15 million people concerned about this technology. Tawana Petty, the Data Justice Director for Detroit Community Technology Project said recently:
“In Detroit, we are under constant watch through Project Green Light and related surveillance technologies. Project Green Light, coupled with the use of facial recognition threatens the civil liberties of hundreds of thousands of Black residents at a scale unheard of since the Tuskegee Experiment. If we do not resist these pervasive and extractive biometric technologies, Detroiters will be further marginalized through digital redlining, spacial racism, and ultimately predictive policing. We know the things that make us safe. Our communities need clean and affordable water, adequate and affordable housing, accessible and healthy foods, resourced public school systems and well lit neighborhoods – – none of these things can be created through surveillance and facial recognition, even if the algorithms are fixed.“
Stopping digital data collection is a human rights issue and a climate justice fight. As Tarnoff explains:
“Ubiquitous “smartness” largely serves to enrich and empower the few at the expense of the many, while inflicting ecological harm that will threaten the survival and flourishing of billions of people…which computational activities should be preserved in a less computerized world is a matter for those billions of people themselves to decide. The question of whether a particular machine hurts or helps the common good can only be answered by the commons itself. It can only be answered collectively, through the experiment and argument of democracy.”
The Detroit Board of Police Commissioners acted against the voices and interests of the people they are intended to serve. They took a step back from democracy, but, as the Global Strike makes clear, this fight is far from over. It is not going away. People are moving toward democracy and life.
New Work/New Culture
As led by Frithjof Bergman, author of NEW WORK NEW CULTURE, a recent Saturday afternoon conversation at Source Booksellers was itself an exercise in New Work and New Culture.
As Frithjof points out, organizing the work of humans via a system of employers and employees, also known as JOBS, is only 200 years old. Nevertheless it is deeply ingrained as a component of what I call the white way of thinking. (I use this term not only to capture the centrality of race but as a lens into the entirety of the system created by to the 500 year evolution of colonialism, capitalism and white supremacy.) Wrestling with what it takes to even imagine, let alone implement, an alternative is new work and important work. Which is what made the discussion so stimulating and productive.
Inventing genuine democracy is new work. Combatting the consumer way of thinking is new work. Urban gardens are a form of new work. Restorative justice is new work. Ending white supremacy is new work. Place based education is new work. This is work that people really, really, really, really want to do. It is different from work that is required to fit yourself into the boundaries and requirements of the dominant JOB system.
In many ways, the work required to survive/thrive under very difficult social, political and economic conditions is new work too. That’s what Detroiters, especially Black Detroiters have needed to do all along in the face of relentless hostility from all of the systems and subsystems of white power.
One critical distinction that emerged in the lively discussion at Source Booksellers was between Frithjof’s visionary approach as distinct from the more common and dominant oppositional framing.
Oppositional framing presumes that replacing capitalism is the task at hand and treats that as a settled question from which all else proceeds. Visionary thinking seeks to start more with a “clean sheet of paper.” As such, creating a new vocabulary is part of the new work required. (To be clear, insofar as any part of New Work New Culture deviates from the status quo it automatically becomes oppositional to some degree or other.)
By way of illustrating the distinction, here’s an Old work/Old Culture question that came up during the discussion: “This new work idea sounds nice, but what’s it got to do with whether I can pay my utility bill?”
What’s the New Work/New Culture response? It’s to ask a different set of questions altogether:
Why do you have a utility bill in the first place? What is it that is compelling you to participate in that much consumption of, say, electricity? And by the way, what are bills and why do I have any of them at all? And wouldn’t it be better to join with others to create a community to use technology to share the production and consumption of energy? For example use solar, wind or other tools to create a micro power grid. There are people all over the planet who are doing just that. Some of them are in Detroit.
If you want to explore the reimagining work process yourself, I definitely recommend that you buy the book. It’s available at Source Booksellers and through the Internet.
In this training/workshop for people who want to lovingly confront and transform racist white people we will:-Explore the roots of whiteness and why a challenge to racism is so volatile for many whites-Tap into an inner wisdom to guide effective challenges to white supremacy-Generate transformative processes for effectively challenging racism in white relationships
” …confronting a threat to their existence and livilihoods of millions more being undermined “climate justice” promises to be the defining issue of the twenty-first century. ” The Next American Revolution ch. one, These are the Times to grow Our Souls pp. 32
September 16th, 2019
Thinking for Ourselves
For Nkenge Zola
Over 100 people gathered at Arthur Brush Ford Park in Detroit to celebrate the life of Nkenge Zola. Zola made her transition to the ancestors at the end of August, after many years of battling with cancer. She was 65.
Nkenge Zola was a spirit that shaped and nurtured much of what is the best in us as a city. Jerome Vaughn, who worked closely with her at WDET said,
“Zola and I worked together at WDET for roughly eight years. Whenever I thought of her, which was often, she was laughing, smiling and educating folks – whether they wanted to be taught or not. During that time, she gave me instruction as a news intern, coached me on my voicing and gave me the low down about some of the “real” history at WDET.
I worked with as her producer for a number of years on a short program we put together called “State Edition Plus.”
But most importantly, I got to watch her perform her craft on a daily basis. I got to learn how she thought about a story – often in very unconventional ways – before producing features that were nothing short of art.
Zola’s work showed her love for Detroit and for Detroiters. She championed African culture in the city. She asked tough questions and didn’t let “officials” or anyone else get away with nonsense….Zola brought a deep sense of culture, language and history to everything she did. Those who knew her can think of a million more small things she did to shape our lives in big ways. She regularly urged us to live “in the moment fully.” I’ll continue to take her advice on that. I will miss her.”
At the celebration artists, media makers, political activists, family, and neighbors gathered to share stories of life that mattered deeply to our city and to each of us.
(courtesy of WDET)
I met Nkenge when she was 19, while she was organizing the Association of Black Communicators at Wayne State and working with Black Artists in Television with Ron Scott. We were in a revolutionary study group with James and Grace Boggs. Over the years we worked together in the National Organization for an American Revolution, Save Our Sons and Daughters, Detroit Summer, and the Boggs Center, which she co-founded. We worked with the Michigan Citizen where she brought her insights and talents to the art and culture section of the paper. We shared a love of music production through the Detroit Women’s Coffeehouse where she brought together musicians, poets and visual artists. After she left WDET, she joined our faculty at Oakland University, teaching new generations about broadcasting for nearly a decade.
Zola had uncommon courage and a capacity to push us lovingly toward a deeper humanity. This was evident in her art, her loves, her family, her most ordinary interactions. It was evident in the gathering of people, holding her in the center for the last time.
As we walked with African drums to the River to send flowers off into the current, we were escorted by butterflies and bees, signs that her fierce gentleness endures.
Someone asked a while back about suggestions for what to write. This is what I sent off to the Board of Police Commissioners. Feel free to pass along. It should give an idea of crafting an email response with some tweaking and adjustments as fit your individual ideas, situation, and feelings. Peace, Lottie
ATTN: Detroit Board of Police Commissioners
1301 Third Street -Suite 767 – South,
Detroit, MI 48226
It has been brought to my attention that in the most recent Board of Police Commissioners meeting there were 2 votes, both were voted down by the Board.
One vote was to halt the unauthorized use of facial recognition technology. It is my understanding that this technology has been in place for quite some time without appropriate approvals. As a citizen of the city of Detroit, I am very alarmed at the outcome of this vote in which the majority of the Board of Police Commissioners voted to continue the use of facial recognition technology that has not been properly approved. Many residents already have a grave concern about the implementation of facial recognition technology period. To further disconnect citizens from the Democratic process by using mass surveillance systems and technology without our consent and without our knowledge and without a policy in place is unacceptable.
The other vote in question further underscores my fear as to how this issue is being treated by the Board of Police Commissioners. The second vote, it is my understanding, was that these meetings be held in public, outside of the Public Safety Headquarters building. Why would you vote against that? Is this non-compliant with the Open Meetings Act?
The role of the Board of Police Commissioners is to provide civilian oversight of the goings-on of the Detroit Police Department. You have a supervisory role regarding police department oversight regarding policy and rules, budget approval, officer discipline and citizen complaints. I don’t feel as if you are acting in the best interest of the citizenry that you have been elected/appointed to serve. The actions of the Board of Police Commissioners regarding this manner makes me feel as if we are just under an illusion of representation.
With no policy in place you have agreed that this practice should continue. This sets a dangerous precedent. It is my hope that you will take the people’s perspective in consideration as this manner moves toward the official vote on the policy directive. There is sufficient national evidence regarding negative impacts and probability of error in facial recognition technology that make further investigation imperative.
I appreciate the work of board members William Davis (District 7) and Willie Burton (District 5) for speaking up and acting on behalf of the residents of this city who deserve to be seen and heard, not surveilled and silenced. I hope the other members of this board will follow suit.
Thank you for your time,
September 12th, 2019
Thinking for Ourselves
Ring and Recognition
In the midst of public debate about facial recognition technologies, the Detroit Police Department quietly partnered with Amazon’s neighborhood surveillance program, Ring. The news of this partnership was spread by investigative reporters attempting to document the extent of a growing threat to civil liberties. Detroit is one of 14 Michigan cities that have partnered with the Ring “Neighbors” program. This technology allows police access to digital images captured by home doorbells. The programs offer live streaming to users’ devices, enabling people to remotely see and speak to people on their door steps. Through the Neighbors app, individuals can share images and information. Police departments have access to the images.
Digital justice advocates are concerned that this new technology is rapidly spreading without any regulation. Police partnerships began in the spring of 2018 and now include over 400 cities. While Ring says its mission is “making the neighborhood safer,” it is clearly making Amazon richer.
Amazon purchased the company last year for $800 million. This was not a donation to public safety. Rather, it is the basis for a sophisticated partnership with police departments, aggressively marketed through conferences and programs, offering webinars, technical advice, media strategies, discounts, free cameras, and talking points to help police increase the presence of this Amazon product in neighborhoods.
These partnerships increase the capacities of authorities to have real time surveillance of communities and people. Mohammad Tajsar, an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, called the system “an unmitigated disaster” for the privacy of neighborhoods. He noted, Amazon “gets to offer, at taxpayer dime, discounted products that allow it to really expand its tentacles into wide areas of private life way more than it already has.” And so do police.
Andrew Guthrie Ferguson, author of The Rise of Big Data Policing, examines the use of fear as a sales technique. He explains that by tapping into “a perceived need for more self-surveillance and by playing on consumer fears about crime and security Ring has found a clever workaround for the development of a wholly new surveillance network, without the kind of scrutiny that would happen if it was coming from the police or government.”
Evan Greer, the deputy director of Fight for the Future says this Amazon effort is “a privately- run surveillance dragnet built outside the democratic process, but they’re marketing it as just another product, just another app.”
Across the city people have been raising concerns about expanding police powers through Facial Recognition technologies. These technologies are wrapped into the development of the Ring program. Last month Amazon announced it was upgrading its facial recognition capabilities for its program called ReKognition. Also Amazon has filed a patent describing how a network of cameras could work together with facial recognition technology to identify people and respond accordingly.
The Detroit Police and the Mayor have been developing digital capacities of control without sufficient public conversation or attention to democratic safeguards. We need to support all efforts for a moratorium on the expansion of these police powers. We need sustained public conversation about how to enhance our relationships with our neighbors. We need to develop ways to support and nurture one another, not react out of manipulated fears.
Face Our Fears Or Run From Our Differances?
These are complex times filled with anger, tears, hope, lessons and challenges.
I often ask myself: Where does courage come from? Does our humanity come from our courage to speak truth and break the silence among ourselves and our own kind? Does it start with us? I believe it does!
These past weeks were filled with lessons to learn from— or NOT! Your choice. Our Choice! The urgency of NOW.
Tuesday, August 20th, I had the privilege to join with around 150 folks at the Farmington Hills Holocaust Memorial Museum. They spoke loudly and clearly:
“Close Down the Camps: Never Again.”
Their banner was clear:
“The Birmingham Temple Declares Solidarity with immigrants and refugees.”
I listened to Renee Lichtman, a child survivor and an individual I have known for more than 50 years. It was humbling to see their sign: “ICE = Nazism”
I listened to Adonis Flores from Michigan United as he shared his family’s story. During WWII, his father had worked in the fields in Farmington Hills picking fruits and vegetables for the war effort. Adonis was clear that his family played their part and we had to play ours. Today Adonis continues to oppose US style fascism. He is a leading activist in our area. He linked the need to close the camps on our southern border with the need to oppose the prison industrial complex across our state. In 2019-2020, Neither Wayne County nor Macomb County need new county jails. We do not need jails to house thousands upon thousands of African Americans because they cannot make bail.
There were also 25-50 Trump Supporters in attendance, waving the American and Israeli Flags and wearing T-shirts proudly claiming to be members of Detroit’s Proud Boys (a neo-fascist movement who more than likely supported the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville). They chanted: “Obama built the cages, Trump is filling them!”
Two days earlier, on Sunday, August 18th, I was at the Hazon Michigan Food Festival in Eastern Market. Thousands of folks came from across Metro Detroit and the Midwest to feel, smell, taste and support the amazing work of local farmers and local businesses. I staffed a table for the James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership (www.boggscenter.org) and Detroit’s Community visionary magazine, Riverwise (https://riverwisedetroit.org).
With all the progressive Jewish organizations participating, I did not see anyone lifting the banner to engage people in a discussion or introduce the importance of “never again” as it relates to the concentration camps on the southern US border, ICE, or the continued mass incarceration of black Detroiters and people of color across our country.
So many people said: “this is not a time for politics.”
I did not see one sign that said: “We support Rashida Tlaib right to visit Palestine without restrictions.” “We support individual rights to support boycotts,” “Shame on Senator Stabenow,” or even that they disagree with current Israeli policies toward the Palestinian people.
Are we afraid of controversy, debate, dialogue? Are we afraid of losing our donations? Are we unable to create safe and brave places for public conversations?
That were the fears I was raised to feel. We were told to “never discuss our dirty laundry”—even though everyone else could see the stains and smell the odors.
That is not how I raised my children, though. I raised my children with voice, dignity and a moral center. Listening, Disagreeing, Trusting to continue to engage were important to them from the beginning.