Rooted Values By Shea Howell

Thinking for ourselves

Rooted Values

By Shea Howell

May 29, 2012

 One of the strategies used by the business-government-foundation complex trying to reshape Detroit in its own image is to create a constant state of emergency. What ever they are after becomes cast in the most extreme, dysfunctional terms imaginable. So it is no surprise that the areas slated for “lights out” are now being described as “irretrievably blighted.” Medical terms are used to describe city policies, as though neighborhoods were riddled with disease or maimed by battlefield injuries. Newspapers write of a “defacto triage process” being guided by the Mayor’s office.

Such hysteria about neighborhoods is losing its power to persuade. For most Detroiters, who have been living with rolling blackouts of street lights since the days of Coleman Young, the threat of “turning off the lights” to drive people out of their homes evokes a shrug. According to Bloomberg News, a survey done in 2010 showed that 40% of the 88,000 streetlights were broken then. It is probably higher now.

Now democratic state legislators from Detroit are offering to push through legislation that will allow the creation of yet another state authority that will borrow $160 million that Detroiters will have to pay back, that will reduce the number of lights to areas slated for other developments, and that will privatize lighting services. It seems one of the ways our new financial authority plans to balance the city budget is to shift debt to newly created authorities and shift operations outside of public control. This slight of hand and shifting of control does nothing to address real structural change to improve Detroit’s financial condition.

More importantly it is continuing an old vision of the city, based on outdated ideas that have proven time and again to do nothing more than make a few people rich while impoverishing even more people.

This time, though, the government-foundation-complex may have made a big mistake. The huge chunk of the city that they have labeled blighted, diseased and beyond redemption coincides with some of the most vibrant, imaginative and visionary neighborhood organizing anywhere. Much of the urban agriculture that is reshaping Detroit and opening the imaginations of people around the world to new possibilities of urban living is concentrated on the very lands designated for “forced removal.”


In The Next American Revolution by Detroit activists Grace Lee Boggs and Scott Kurashige we find a very different description of this targeted section of the city. They write, “Detroit is a city of Hope rather than a city of Despair. The thousands of vacant lots and abandoned houses provide not only the space to begin anew but also the incentive to create innovative ways of making our living—ways that nurture our productive, cooperative, and caring selves.”

What the Mayor and media have labeled as a desolate area of the city is the spiritual home of the urban gardening movement. Today this movement is creating a new urban economy that has the potential to reshape city life. It is already doing so.

At the recent Detroit Food Policy Summit, Greening of Detroit documented more than 1,2000 urban gardens. We have more gardens per square mile and more per capita than any other city in the U.S.

Phil Jones, the president of the Council, talked about the complexity of the local food system noting it is an effort to bring “together food processing and distribution, culinary arts careers, restaurants, institutions such as hospitals and schools, markets, consumers and, well, farming and farming equipment. The food system encompasses everything that happens to food from growing to eating and even composting the remains.”

Unseen by the Mayor, the business elite and the foundations, the vast areas of so called blight are the very places where neighbors have decided to come together and create new, healthy and productive ways of living. This ways of living place process above product, growing people above profits and restoring community rather than flattening it. These values, rooted deep in Detroit soil, will not be uprooted easily.

{R}Evolution in the 21st Century New Pamphlet

{R} Evolution in the 21st Century

By Larry Sparks, Boggs Center Publications Director

The Boggs Center has just published {R} Evolution in the 21st Century, a pamphlet of special interest to (1) readers of The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism in the 21st Century and (2) participants in Detroit Summer 2012, July 1-15.

The new pamphlet consists of: Changing Concepts of Revolution “Rediscovering the American Past”. “Naming the Enemy” and “Towards a New Self-Governing America.”

“Rediscovering The American Past” is chapter 7 in the book Revolution and Evolution in the 20th Century by James and Grace Lee Boggs. Originally published in 1974 by Monthly Review Press, RETC was re-issued in 2008 as a revolutionary classic with a new 40 page introduction by Grace.

Rediscovering The American Past” provides a historical context for today’s American Revolution by tracing the origins and contradictions of the first American Revolution. It challenges us to leave behind the backward values of our past: racism, sexism, materialism, militarism, ageism, ableism, homophobia.

“Towards a New Self-Governing America” is the second chapter of the American Manifesto.

Originally published in 1982, this article shows us how to go beyond Rejections to Projections.

Recognizing that the old American Dream is dead, it is now up to us to create a new American Dream of beloved community and of what it means to be a human being in the 21st century.

It provides a program for going beyond Protest to Resistance by forming community councils, community gardens, and peace zones that bring the neighbor back to the ‘hood.

It is a program for Visionary Organizing to create Cities of Hope.

Turning Detroit into a City of Hope is what Detroiters have been doing since the 1980s when the devastation of deindustrialization made clear to us that we were coming to the end of the industrial epoch.

Copies of {R} Evolution in the 21st Century, 45 pp. are $5.00 each + $1.50 Sh. Order from Boggs Center, 3061 Field St. Detroit MI 48214. www.boggscenter.or pay pal

Call 313-923-0797 to join Detroit 2012, July 1-15.


Disrupting Education By Shea Howell

Thinking for ourselves

Disrupting Education

By Shea Howell

May 15, 2012

Emergency Manager Roy S. Roberts is proving to be even more of a bully than his predecessor, Robert Bobb. Unlike EFM Bobb, Roberts likes to keep his bullying tactics out of the public eye. But his reign in office displays a pattern of intimidation and petty punishments of those who dare challenge him. Roy Roberts’s performance as EM is one of the best reasons to repeal the Emergency Manager legislation, when we ultimately get the right to vote on this.

The core of Mr. Roberts’s failure is his anti-democratic view of education. In a May 10th letter to elected School Board President LaMar Lemmons, Roberts describes his mission. In the opening paragraph Roberts claims, “For anyone who desires what I’m here to accomplish, that is, improved educational conditions to prepare Detroit’s students for 21st Century college and career-readiness, I need all those similarly focused at the table.” This seems to be one of Mr. Roberts’s favorite ways to describe himself and his role, as it is appearing in all sorts of public statements.

This emphasis on individual advancement into a broken and dysfunctional system is both shallow and limited. Further, the letter is written to chastise those members of the elected school board who supported the student walkouts. Roberts says, “I am highly concerned regarding both the educational well-being and safety of our students in light of the your involvement {original phrasing} and that of other Board Members at several student walkouts including those from Frederick Douglass Academy, Western International High School, and Southwestern High School.”

If Roberts had an inkling that the central role of education in the 21st Century is to prepare young people for the responsibilities of self-government, he would have had a very different response to the School Board and to the students. He would have recognized that the board members who supported these students were providing important adult leadership in how to peacefully and imaginatively address serious political issues.

In his work looking at place based education as a way to strengthen the economies of communities and to see students as citizens creating a new culture right now, Professor Gregory Smith identifies four key aspects of education. He notes that in school districts from Appalachia to the fishing villages of the West Coast, innovative education for community change shares the desire to preserve the best of their community cultures, to resist efforts at dehumanization and destruction of the environment, to restore people and places that have been damaged, and to invent new ways of living, working and playing together. Smith sees the kind of education that Roberts upholds as “education to domesticate people.” It is what he calls an “education for compliance, not engagement.” Smith argues that instead of working to “fit students into a system of limited duration, young people need to be involved in creating new cultures. As we make schools more permeable to local knowledge and traditions, we can see that community problems are the basis for learning.” Smith explains that in schools that “create supportive environments that focus on what would be better for the community, kids become able to understand, to make plans and to dream.” He says, “When walls come down, we open up the possibility of rethinking a society that does not work for everyone to one that works for all. In this kind of environment, parents become involved when they see their kids thrive.”

For Roy Roberts an education based on fostering community change is unimaginable. The very idea that education should encourage citizens to Preserve, Resist, Restore and Invent, is beyond his scope. That’s why he “relocated” the Board office. He will not tolerate the possibility of “disrupting teaching and learning during the school day.”

Transformative/Visionary Organizing By Grace Lee Boggs

Transformative/Visionary Organizing

By Grace Lee Boggs

May 27 – June 2, 2012

Last week I went to Grand Rapids, Michigan, for the 10th annual BALLEE (Business Alliance for Local Living Economies) conference. This was my first BALLEE gathering , although I have followed the group’s progress over the years in YES Magazine.


For a hard-of -hearing 97 year old woman in a wheel chair, it was an exhausting three days. It also wasn’t easy for those who pushed me up and down the hilly streets of the city and graciously called it a “workout.“

But I was glad they and I made the effort because I learned a lot, especially about the critical role that (1) Philosophy of History (2) Commitment to Place and (3) Leadership play in Transformative/ Visionary Organizing.

I met Charles Eisenstein, the author of Sacred Economics, a book which traces the history of money from ancient gift economies to modern capitalism and reveals how the money system has contributed to alienation, competition, and scarcity, destroyed community, and necessitated endless growth.


These trends, Eisenstein says, have now reached their extreme, and their collapse provides a great opportunity to transition to a more connected, ecological, and sustainable way of being.

Eisenstein’s historic perspective helps us recognize that building living local economies in this day and age is a spiritual activity, a way to grow our souls. In a world where a globalizing economy is destroying communities and turning everyone, every thing and every relationship into a commodity, this evolution to a higher humanity has become both necessary and possible. It is the New American Dream that, deep in their hearts, millions of Americans long for.


That’s why Boggs Center friends and supporters wear {R] evolution T-shirts!


I watched a very moving presentation about the importance of Place by Amy Kedron, a Buffalo native and PhD candidate who was the founding executive director of Buffalo First. Amy explained how turning her Rust Belt city into Gold began with organizing real neighborhoods where real residents and shopkeepers with real interests, memories and histories live . (Amy also told me that reading Black Jacobins by C.L.R.James had meant a lot to her).

The session with Malik Yakini, the founder of Detroit Black Community Food Security Network and D-Town, was both entertaining and instructive. Malik challenged us to accept our responsibility as leaders to forge ahead even when others in our community are reluctant to become involved.

Engaging his audience as step by step respondents, Detroiter Malik narrated the folk tale of The Little Red Hen, who finds a grain of wheat and asks for help from the other farmyard animals to plant, harvest and eventually bake the flour into bread.


Everyone has an excuse not to pitch in. So the little Red Hen proceeds on her own.

Only when the bread is baked do all the previous non-participants eagerly volunteer to eat it.


Disaster plan By Shea Howell

Thinking for Ourselves

Disaster plan

By Shea Howell

May 27 – June 2, 2012

Now we know what the plan is. For the last two years, through the fiasco called Detroit Works, the Mayor, Foundations and the financial interests they represent and the mainstream media have been telling citizens of Detroit, “there is no plan.” At public meetings and through countless broadcasts, citizens who suggested that there was a master plan to forcibly remove people from their homes were called paranoid. Then the combined Sunday Edition of the Detroit News/Free Press published the full color plan.

To anyone who has been following city development over the last few years, this was no surprise. It is exactly the plan everyone knew was coming. It clearly intends to free up land on the east side of the city, now openly talked about by developers as the next opportunity for them.

This plan is completely illegitimate, and quite possibly illegal. It is nothing short of a declaration of war on neighborhoods. It did not emerge from any citizen process. It was never presented in any public meeting and it is had to believe that even in this weak and often misguided city council there would a majority of members callous enough to support it.

The essence of the plan is the forced removal of people from their homes. Even the Detroit News had to acknowledge this in its lead paragraph about the plan. It said, “The city is trying to encourage—or push—people out of rundown neighborhoods that are largely vacant.” How will it “encourage or push” them? By cutting off services. The services being “stopped” are street lights, which haven’t been on in many neighborhoods for years, tree trimming, removal of abandoned houses, a process that continues at a glacial pace even the best of neighborhoods, and police services, whose absence might not be noticed. The city is vague about what it intends to do with water, fire protection, garbage pick up and basic sanitation.

If past history is any guide these, too, are likely to be cut off. Certainly that was the strategy used in what is now widely considered one of the most shameful episodes in city development, the destruction of Poletown. Folks living in the neighborhoods targeted for clearance would do well to learn the lessons from that effort and begin immediately to develop local safety and support organizations to resist the plan to force them out, house by house.

Behind all of this is the effort by the city to evade using eminent domain, made more difficult thanks to the residents of Poletown who attempted to ensure that what happened to them would not happen to anyone else. After years of court battles and legislative effort, the city cannot simply declare areas cleared for development. Further, the city cannot take homes without fair compensation. In other words it’s a lot cheaper to try to drive people out than to legally take property for public purpose.

Every one who cares about the future of our city should reject this inhuman, vicious plan. How dare public officials and their appointees declare war on the poorest, most elderly among us? How dare they think a city that denies aid to elders is a city anyone thinks is worth living in? How dare foundations and corporate interests who are orchestrating this plan for their own benefit pretend they are interested in our people?

The Mayor told the truth about one thing. He didn’t have a plan. He had a declaration of war on the poor. All of us who care about the future of our city need to make clear that the only plans acceptable for our future begin with the recognition that every life is valuable, every home is sacred. The mayor’s plan is a disaster.