COMMUNITY-BASED ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: AN IDEA WHOSE TIME HAS COME
By Grace Lee Boggs
18th Annual Conference, Association for Community-Based Education
Alexandria, Va. November 11, 1993
It is an honor to be the keynote speaker at your 18th Annual Conference which is focusing on the issue of Community-based Economic Development. I have been a Movement activist for more than 50 years, but it is only in the last few years that I have made the struggle for community-based economic develop-
ment a priority. Since you have been organized around community-based education for so many years, I am sure I have a great deal to learn from your experiences.
Originally I was scheduled to make the Closing Address. So I was planning to listen carefully and base . what I had to say on what I learned from the actual proceedings. I am still planning to listen and learn over the next two days. But now that I have been asked to make the opening keynote, my responsibility is to provide a framework for your deliberations. So, after a telephone discussion with Chris Zachariadis, your Executive Director, we agreed that I should give you some idea of the movement towards community-based economic development which I see emerging and which I believe will, like NAFr A, require each of us to take a fresh look at who we are and where we stand.
In the late 1970s, when ACBE was founded, very few people had any idea how rapidly our cities and communities were being turned into wastelands by multinational corporations replacing human labor with robots and exporting jobs overseas where they could make more profit with cheaper labor. At the UN General Assembly in December 1972 Chile’s President Salvadore Allende had warned the world of the threat to the nation-state posed by transnational corporations. “The entire political structure of the world is being undermined,” he said, because transnational corporations organizations are “not accountable to or regulated by any parliament or institution representing the collective interest.” At the same time, in cities like Detroit people were huddling behind barred doors and windows because crime had spread so rapidly in the wake of the urban rebellions which had given a certain legitimacy to looting as a
form of struggle. So in June 1972 we put out this statement entitled CRIME AMONG OUR PEOPLE – in which we called upon people at the grassroots to begin rebuilding community by pledging among ourselves not to buy “hot goods.”
In November 1976 in a speech at the University of Michigan Jimmy described the dangerous situation we are in because we have for so long believed that our social and human problems could be solved by economic growth and advancing technology and because we have left all the decisions with regard to our economy and the government to the professional politician. “Our cities are mushrooming at the expense of the countryside,” he said. “Our economy is run by monstrous multinational corporations headed by executives and specialists who have no loyalty to this country or to any community. With every year more and more of our old people and our young people, especially, the black, the uneducated and the unskilled, are reduced to parasites. And we have become more afraid of each other than we used to be of wild animals. Each person has become a lonely individualist, narrowed down to a cog in a machine, with no individuality and no sense of citizenship.”
Since then the economic, political and social disintegration of Detroit and other cities across our country has been beyond our worst forebodings. All around us in the inner city young blacks with no hope of factory jobs making enough to raise a family have become increasingly desperate. As a result, with the invention of Crack in the mid-80s the conditions were ripe for the creation of the drug economy which has turned our neighborhoods into war zones where it is no longer safe even for children to go to and from school.
For a while many people had the illusion that only the jobs of the unskilled and uneducated were being eliminated and that there would be plenty of work in the service and information industries for those who stayed in school and got their degrees. In other words, the inner cities might suffer but the suburbs would continue to prosper. However, in the last few years corporations like IBM, Xerox, Kodak, Ameritech et al have been laying off technicians and management personnel by the tens of thousands. Between 1979 and 1992 4.4 million employees of Fortune 500 companies received pink slips. This year, for the first time, white collar unemployed – mostly permanent job losers -outnumber blue collar unemployed. It is estimated that in the next decade 30-40% of the remaining 7 million middle management jobs will become obsolete. The New York Times regularly carries articles like these with the headline:
THE PHDS ARE HERE BUT THE LABS AREN’T HIRING.” And a cartoon last spring showed university graduates in cap and gown walking across the platform to receive posters saying “Will Work for Food” instead of diplomas.
All across the country there is a growing realization that we can no longer depend upon big corporations to provide us with jobs and that small local businesses not only provide more jobs but are more loyal to communities. The stubborn popular opposition to NAFrA despite tremendous pressures from economic and political elites is a sign of deep-rooted resentment of the role that multinational corporations and a global economy are playing in subjecting us to the untender mercies of the market place, robbing
us not only of jobs but of any control over our own destinies.
We have arrived at a new historical conjuncture. For the first time in human history ordinary people in all walks of life, men and women of all ethnic groups, the skilled and educated as well as the unskilled and uneducated, are facing the question “How do WE make our livings now that we can no longer depend upon ‘the Man’ for jobs?” At the same time because our families and our communities have been falling apart while we were making what we thought were good livings, we also face the question of how to rebuild our f arnilies and our communities. And because our addiction to consumerism is causing global warming, deterioration of our forest and arable soil and extinction of species, we face the challenge of making drastic changes in our way of life if we are to save our planet.
Meanwhile, because we accumulated a $4 trillion debt in order to defeat Russian Communism, we now need a daily injection of $18 billion from Saudi Arabia, Belgium, England and Japan just to maintain the status quo. Domestic programs are being eroded, not expanded. So we can no longer depend upon government to resolve these questions for us. We must rely on PEOPLE POWER. We must become more self-reliant.
Thus as we come to the end of the 20th century the conditions are ripe for creating a movement that goes beyond all the movements of the past. The issues we face are not just those of Class which led to the struggle for the dignity of labor and the creation of the labor movement in the 1930s. Class exploitation still exists but instead of Labor freeing itself from Capital, Capital is now using hitech and its mobility to free itself from Labor. Nor are the issues just those of Race which led to the creation of the civil rights and Black Power Movements in the 1950s and 1960s. Racism still exists and we are experiencing some very ugly manifestations of it. But it is no longer possible to build a movement against Racism (1) because it has already been delegtimized by the struggles of the 50s and 60s; (2) because the contradictions within the black community are now obvious; and (3) because the main questions being asked by blacks do not center around race but around economics. Equally important, because of the huge immigration from Asia, Latin America and the Middle East in recent years, it no longer makes sense to think of this country in terms of blacks and whites or in terms of majority and minorities. By the middle of the next century Euro-Americans and African Americans will be minorities like other minorities.
WHAT IS A MOVEMENT? We may not all have the same textbook or dictionary definition but most of us have a sense of what Movement is. Thus, when youth volunteers were asked “What is a Movement?” at the first session of DETROIT SUMMER this year, these are some of the answers they gave.
A Movement is to change things. to make a better society for everyone.
dialoguing, coming up with a vision, and then fighting for it about changing values and learning to see different points of view. something we can take back home and spread around. Projects end, but Detroit Summer goes with us.
What all these comments have in common is the sense that a Movement is not just for the purpose of correcting particular injustices or inequities. A Movement advances Humanity to a new plateau of consciousness, self-consciousness, creativity and political and social responsiblity. It creates a new dream, a new sense or vision of what it means to be a human being, a new basis of unity between different groups. A Movement does not necessarily begin with this new vision, but in the course of struggle the vision has to become increasingly clear to the participants and be made increasingly clear to the rest of society both in actions and words. For example, in the 1770s we had both the Boston Tea Party and the Declaration of Independence. In the 1930s we had both the plant sit-ins and John L. Lewis’ speeches. In the 1969s we had both the boycotts and sit-ins and Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech.
In order for a Movement to be built, large numbers of people who are critical to the functioning of the society must have reached the point where they feel they can’t take the way things are any more. So if you have your ear close to the grassroots you begin to hear people asking “WHY” and “How” questions which are not easily answerable. For example, after World War II which was supposed to have been fought for Democracy black folks began asking “Why do white folks treat us this way?” with a new urgency. In the 1960s in Detroit black folks began asking why white folks should hold political power since blacks were fast becoming the majority in the city, And these days in Detroit and other cities across the country the main questions being asked at the community level are “What is happening to our young people? Why are they killing each other so mindlessly? How can we begin creating jobs for ourselves?”
These were not the questions being asked 20 years ago in Detroit when the Black Power Movement culminated in the election of Coleman Young. Detroiters were full of hope and pride because through struggle we had achieved what was right and just in a city which was majority black – our first black Mayor. Little did we suspect that we would soon be faced with new, much more difficult contradictions because we had entered a new economic era in which jobs would be exported overseas or done by robots. Changing the color of the Mayor did not, could not reverse this de-industrialization. Over the last 20 years, like other Mayors, Mayor Young has tried to bring back jobs by offering tax abatements
to corporations, sponsoring megaprojects which mainly enriched the developers whose contributions swelled his campaign chest; and offering Casino Gambling as a new industry that would create 50,000 jobs. But corporations and jobs have continued to leave Detroit.
But at the same time, step by step, year by year, in response to reality and through struggle over local issues, a new movement has been in the making. The first sign of this new movement was the founding of SOSAD (SA VE OUR SONS AND DAUGHTERS) in 1987 by Clementine Barfield and other mothers who had lost their children to street violence. Some of these mothers had been teenagers in the South in the 60s. Now they were ready to go beyond mourning to organize programs for positive change with the goal of creating a movement which would do for our time what the civil rights movement had done for the 50s and 60s.
Then, in 1988 when Mayor Young began urging Casino Gambling as the means for economic development of the city, a broad coalition of clergy, political leaders and community activists came together and organized UNITED DETROITERS AGAINST GAMBLING (UDAG), among other reasons because we realized that Casino Gambling would increase the fast-buck, quick-fix mentality which was already destroying our young people. After we won the referendum we stayed together as
DETROITERS UNITING to explore alternatives. “Our concern,” we said, “is with how our city has been disintegrating socially, economically, politically,morally and ethically. We are convinced that we cannot depend upon one industry or any large corporation to provide us with jobs. It is now up to us – the citizens of Detroit – to put our hearts, our imaginations, our minds and our hands together to create a vision and project concrete programs for developing the kinds of local enterprises that will provide meaningful jobs and income for all citizens.” In 1989 members of community groups from all across the city came together to carry on weekly anti-crackhouse marches in different neigh-horhoods. Calling ourselves WE-PROS (WE THE PEOPLE RECLAIM OUR STREETS) we warned drug dealers they had “better run and hide, ’cause people are uniting on the other side.”
In the summer of 1990 Mayor Young announced his decision to tear down Ford Auditorium so that Comerica Bank could build a new high rise office building. DETROITERS UNITING again rose to the challenge and under the slogan “Civic Pride, not Corporate Greed” mobilized tens of thousands of Detroiters from all across the city to demand a referendum on whether or not to re-zone a public center for commercial development. On April 23, 1991 a majority of citizens voted a resounding NO! “Detroiters send the Mayor a message on DEvelopment,” the Free Press editorialized. “It was a good week for Democracy,” according to Free Press Development columnist John Gallagher.
In November 1991 to reinforce the new public spirit emerging in the city a group of community organizations and activists organized the Peoples Festival, “a multi-generational, multicultural celebration of Detroits, putting our hearts, minds, hands and imaginations together to redefine and recreate a city of Community, Compassion, Cooperation, Participation and Enterprise in harmony with the earth.”
In 1992 DETROITERS UNITING, along with about a dozen other local community organizations, including ACBE member, the WARREN CONNER DEVELOPMENT COALITION, issued a Call for DETROIT SUMMER inviting young people to come to our city from all over the country to work with local youth on community projects, e.g. creating community parks out of vacant lots, planting community gardens, painting murals and rehabbing homes. We were confident that just as the young people who joined MISSISSIPPI FREEDOM SUMMER in 1964 had taken the civil rights movement to a new plateau, youth volunteers working with grassroots community groups could now create a new spirit and
__ a new sense of direction for Detroit and other cities across the country which have been devastated by multinational capitalism.
This article from the DETROIT FREE PRESS in August 1993 tells the story. “THE HOPE BRIGADE: A NEW GENERATION TURNS ITS BACK ON TIIE SUBURBS AND EMBRACES TIIE CITY” it says.
Through DETROIT SUMMER, we have discovered that there is a new generation of young people who are very different from the 30 and 40 somethings who came out of the movements of the 60s and 70s. They are more ready to work with and learn from the various ethnic groups who represent the rich cultural diversity of the modem city. For them the main challenge is to make the cities where they live livable. It is not racism. They are also eager to create new bonds between the generations and especially with their elders. They also seem eager to break with the elitist, one-dimensional educational philosophy which divorces cognitive learning from practical work and prepares young people for individual upward mobility – and to embrace a new philosophy best expressed by Gandhi who believed that education has to be of the Heart, Head and Hands and that the three main resources for education are the Community, the Natural Environment and the Work Environment. In other words, they are ready to create a Multicultural, Multigenera-tional Movement to ReBuild, ReDefine and ReSpirit the city from the ground up.
Unlike the young people who pick up litter lackadaisically as a summer job, DETROIT SUMMER youth are volunteers. As 15 year old Tracey Hollins put it in her article on DETROIT SUMMER, “A paycheck continues to cloud the minds of young adults who have been taught that money is everything. Teens continuously walk the streets, not noticing the trash and not caring about the graffiti. Most don’t realize the importance of putting a paper in its right place. Detroit Summer had a special way of making you forget the fact that you weren’t getting paid. It filled your head with answers to questions that you’d
had all of your life and questions that no one can answer. It made you feel that you were an important part of the changing molding of future generations. It made you see that the hole you dug, the garden you watered or the swing set you painted made a difference.”
There are other signs of the growing movement in Detroit. For example, the Detroit-Windsor Labor Community Anti-Nafta Coalition is taking advantage of the Anti-Nafta Struggle to project the creation of a new community-based economy in which we produce for our own needs by growing food, creating fish farms, producing glass and new light-rail and micro-bus transport. As this leaflet says, NAFf A DEMANDS THAT WE WAKE UP AND BEGIN TO CREATE THE FUTURE. WE CAN’T DEPEND ON THE GOVERNMENT OR ON THE CORPORA TIO NS TO PROVIDE WORK OR HOPE FOR OUR YOUNG PEOPLE.
On November 30 Channel 56, our local public broadcasting station, and the Wayne State University College of Urban, Labor and Metropolitan Affairs are sponsoring a community forum to make Detroiters aware of how hi-tech is eliminating traditional jobs and therefore the need for us to develop new forms of work and new strategies of Self-Reliance. Throughout the month of January 1994 Channel 56 will be broadcasting programs on this theme, including programs on DETROIT SUMMER.
And it is not only Detroit. Over the last few years I have collected hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles on community rebuilding efforts all over the country. Here is one from the September 22 Lexington, Ky Herald-Leader. The headline reads: IN OREGON TIIE FUTURE LIES IN REBUILDING COMMUNITIES. The article tells the story of how the people of Burns, Oregon, a little rural town of 3000, having concluded in 1990 that recruiting businesses, the dominant form of economic development in Kentucky and Oregon, is a failed policy, decided to write their own community plan. In the three years since then, some of their projects have succeeded and others have not. But every Monday at 7 a.m. 20-30 people still meet in a local restaurant to continue the job of creating and recreating Burns’ future.
The article also lists 20 clues to rural community survival which are used by the Heartland Center for Leadership Development, a Nebraska organization. They include:
Evidence of Community Pride
Emphasis on quality in business and community life.
Deliberate transition of power to a younger generation of leaders. Acceptance of women in leadership roles.
Strong multigenerational family orientation. Careful use of fiscal resources.
Conviction that in the long run, you have to do it yourself.
I hope I have said enough to give you a sense of a growing movement towards community-based economic development so that you are asking yourselves the question “How do we as ACBE members relate to this movement?”
Let me give you a couple of examples. All over the country a bitter political struggle is developing between developers who are projecting Casino Gambling as the cure-all for the economic survival of particular cities and local community people who instinctively recognize that this quick-fix solution will destroy what they treasure most about their home towns but who are not yet clear that the only alternative is putting our hands, hearts, minds and imaginations together to build community-based enterprises. How much energy heart of everything you and we stand for?
Another example. In Detroit I live on the east side very close to the offices of the Warren-Conner Development Coalition. I own a share in their development corporation and I helped campaign for Deputy Director Angela Brown in her recent bid for a position on City Council. Warren-Conner, like other community development organizations, signed up as a local co-sponsor of DETROIT SUMMER. But its participation was minimal because it apparently had too much invested in its own agenda and because it is not a volunteer organization. Yet I feel that everyone – DETROIT SUMMER, Warren Conner and our community and city – would have much to gain if Warren Conner caught the Movement spirit of DETROIT SUMMER and helped to spread it. Should that be? Can it be? I hope that you will explore these questions with the seriousness that I believe they deserve.