THINKING FOR OURSELVES
In Tough Times
By Shea Howell
Michigan Citizen, Nov. 30- Dec 6, 2008
Things didn't go well this past week for Michigan. National news describes our state as ground zero in the recession. Newly-released data show our unemployment rate at 9.6%, three times higher than in 2000. Nearly 20% of the population now gets some form of public assistance to simply eat or heat their home.
Then there were the auto executives at the hearings in Washington. It is hard to imagine how they could have done worse. They were unable to convince a Congress (that wanted to help them) to hand over $25 billion. They had to fly home in their private jets empty-handed. Then, while they were working on a new plan, Citigroup quietly picks up another $25 billion. No questions asked. Not even about private jets or how things went with the last bailout check.
Anyone outside of Michigan must be wondering how we are surviving day-to-day. And that is the part of the story the national media misses as it describes the statistical benchmarks of a crumbling economy.
Beneath the numbers and often mind-numbing problems we face there is a new determination to not merely survive but to thrive. Unlike most of the country, our minds are no longer in shock. This economic crisis is not new to us.. Our hearts have continued to stay open. Old sayings, like "Make a way out of no way," have surfaced to provide more than solace. They remind us that out of adversity it is possible and necessary to create something new.
Nowhere is this spirit more evident than in Detroit. The national media rarely sees our city as anything other than a disaster. It's the ever-ready harbinger of what the rest of the country could look like if Congress and the President cannot turn the economy around. Yet, throughout our city, amidst the cracks and fallen houses, new ways of living are emerging. In the last few days I've seen it.
First, I went to the Hope District, a small area on the east side near Van Dyke and Forest. There, with people from the Greening of Detroit and the U of M, friends and neighbors of Hope District planted apple, peach, pear and cherry trees, along with berry bushes and roses. One day, not too long from now, these trees will bear fruit to be shared and stored as jams and preserves, for longer winters to come. This tree planting work on a cold Saturday was just one of the countless efforts by Mike Wimberly and the Hope District folks, to rebuild life, lot by lot, house by house.
Like many Detroiters, Mike Wimberly knows that there are no quick fixes, no easy answers, and no sense in expecting some big corporation to fly in to rescue our city. Instead, we need to rebuild the sustenance of our lives in ways that strengthen our community and our connections to one another. So last weekend he planted trees, offerings to a better future.
I also went to the Boll Family YMCA Theater to see "To Kill a Mocking Bird" produced by Matrix Theatre and "The Red Thread" by a new company of writers and actors. Both shows were to standing room only crowds. Mocking Bird was produced with shadow sign language interpreters to make the show accessible for people who are deaf. After both productions audiences stayed and talked together about the plays and what they mean to our lives. In both performances, people in Detroit were creating new kinds of cultural life, based on values that affirmed our experiences and our deepest hopes.
Efforts like these are happening all over the city. We, in Detroit, have a lot to share when times get tough.