December 11th, 2018
Thinking for Ourselves
Beyond Lame Ducks
Throughout Michigan people are rallying to challenge the Lame Duck actions of the state legislature. Protest, public demonstrations and outright mockery are tactics being deployed against a secure, smug legislative body. Many groups are placing their hopes in the Governor. They are urging us to call Gov. Snyder’s office and ask him to veto these lame-duck bills. I will join this effort, but I hold out little hope that this governor will be moved to reject the full array of bills being jammed through this legislature.
What is happening in Michigan, and in a host of other places around the country, is the result of a concerted effort by right wing republicans to develop effective practices to undermine democracy. They are finding ways to curtail people center policies that challenge corporate interests. The actions by the republican dominated legislature are not the result of panic at having lost the three major elected offices of the state to Democrats. Rather, these are actions that have been evolving over the years to blunt the will of people to curtail the power of money and corporate interests.
Republican ideologues and the corporate interests that back them have long understood that democracy is not their friend. The passage of the Voting Rights act in 1965 aimed to eliminate legal barriers such as literacy tests and poll taxes at the state and local levels. These practices were aimed specifically at preventing African Americans from voting. The new Voting Rights Act ensured federal oversight in places where less than 50% of the non-white population were registered. Since the passage of this Act, right wing interests and white supremacists have been seeking other means to exert their control. They have consistently undermined the Act itself, resisted its reauthorization, and under Trump, are actively moving away from any federal challenges to state voting practices.
Meanwhile, State governments, like Michigan, Wisconsin, and North Carolina, have been pushing to find new ways to undermine democracy. These efforts have been developed and refined by right wing think tanks and politicians for decades. Tactics such as moving polling places, gerrymandering districts, restricting numbers of polling stations in urban areas, denying student voting, demanding picture IDs, and steamrolling legislation to undermine citizen initiatives are all thriving, often literally under the cover of night. Certainly, without much public notice or oversight.
At the center of the lame duck efforts in Michigan, there are two consistent strategies emerging. First there is the effort to limit the power of public referenda, either by first passing and then gutting popular initiative such as raising the minimum wage and providing sick leave for people. This tactic is combined with efforts to eliminate the capacity of local governments to pass legislation.
The Michigan legislature is after every local expression of protection of the environment from stripping local officials to overseeing tree planting to monitoring septic tanks. The legislature fears the changes that people are willing to make when they directly meet together in face to face, person to person, efforts to create new ways of living.
As we resist these right wing moves by the lame ducks, we need to think about the larger implications for public decision making. Representative democracy is now more than 200 years old. In these last 40 years, we have seen a persistent erosion of the centuries long effort to expand the notion of who is a citizen, how they are represented, and how such representatives are held accountable. From the Supreme court deciding elections against the popular vote to the decision eight years in, Citizens United the country is experiencing “a wave of campaign spending that by any reasonable standard is extraordinarily corrupt.”
Direct democracy, where people engage with each other to determine what matters, needs to be fostered at every level. By strengthening our most immediate and direct relationships we can begin to create new political practices that will point us toward a new democratic future.
Hurt People, Hurt People
As a citizen of Oakland County, as a Jewish American and as I retired UAW union member and elected official, I believe we are at critical times that we break our individual and collective silence.
During the past year, I have been challenged to think about my childhood in the 1950s and 1960s, as a young kid in Brooklyn, NY. I vividly remember the pictures and stories from the Holocaust and also watching on television the pictures of angry, viscous white people and police hosing, screaming, yelling, encouraging dogs to bite, beating and arresting the children and citizens of Birmingham Alabama. It was the television coverage of the Birmingham Children’s March of 1963 which lead to MLK’s “I Have a Dream speech first given in Detroit and then Washington DC. Just as vivid in my mind are the pictures of the murder and bludgeoning of Emmitt Till and the courageous act of Emmett Till’s mother to have an open casket. I remember clearly how this led to Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
I was fortunate to be raised in a family that was clear about good & evil and the fact that the barbaric white rage we were witnessing were on the wrong side of that (White Supremist Rage or Nazi Violence).
These past few months, I was in Pittsburgh and visited memorials of the 11 Jewish Americans killed as they attended the Tree of Life Synagogue. I have also watched immigrant children placed in cages and now I watch families and children being tear gassed at our borders.
As I grew up and learned more about “Good Germans” and more about children, immigrants and refugees who were denied entry into the US during the 1930s and 1940s, this silence has become more significant. Many of you know this story and tell your children and grandchildren about the:
“In May 1939, the German liner St. Louis sailed from Hamburg, Germany, to Havana, Cuba, carrying 937 passengers, almost all Jewish refugees. The Cuban government refused to allow the ship to land, and the United States and Canada were unwilling to admit the passengers. The St. Louis passengers were finally permitted to land in western European countries rather than return to Nazi Germany. 254 St. Louis passengers were killed in the Holocaust.”
What has changed?
We continue to go along and be more concerned with our comforts and our “own.” Even when the tragedy in Pittsburgh makes it clear that we live in dangerous times, we remain silent to the other. Thus we are silent. While a small number of religious activists and community social justice organizers have organized caravans to the border and there have been some conversations about racism, immigration, most of us go back to business as usual. Do we go back to business as usual because we are hopeless or because we have no moral compass or vision of a more human human way to live and relate?
We have a special responsibility to break our silence NOW:
Thus I call upon synagogues to declare themselves Sanctuary Synagogues.
I call upon the social justice committees to commemorate MLK’s 2019 birthday with listening to, reading and creating sermons in January based upon the words of Martin Luther King’s 1967 speech: Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.
In this speech he challenged us to overcome the evil triplets of racism, materialism and militarism and create a life based upon a radical revolution in values.
Lastly, I share this tool that we look forward as we speak out against injustice” I call upon every synagogue to place on their websites and share on facebook the 3 minute video by Vincent Harding: I am a citizen of a Country that does not yet exist :
As a Citizen of Oakland County, I think it is time to speak out loudly and clearly that Brooks Patterson is an obstacle to creating a new unity in our region. Brooks Patterson once supported the KKK and defended their burning of buses in the 1970s. He has done everything he could to ridicule, belittle and disrespect people in Detroit and uphold the materialist values of Oakland County. We need to break our silence and the Jewish Community can lead the way in demanding that Oakland County become a Sanctuary City based upon values of compassion, empathy, caring and human dignity for all. Contact me if you want to join with others to create a Democracy Circle to Break our Silence in your synagogue, community or city.
As a retired UAW international staff person, I pledge to continue to create conversations with workers who find it easier to blame and condemn than engage and create a future that is based upon the principles of love and solidarity.
Hurt people, hurt people. If we remember our own histories, maybe we can create a county, a community and workplaces that are an alternative to the current narrative driven by hate and violence which are dominating our area and our country.
GM Plant Closing: Poletown Lives! + Community Conversation
6:30 – 8:30 PM
WSU Law School
471 W. Palmer St.
(See last night’s Poletown coverage on PBS, here)
What We’re Watching and Reading
December 3rd, 2018
Thinking for Ourselves
Much of the country was shocked by the announcement that General Motors (GM) is closing five production plants in the U.S. and Canada. Two of the closing are in the Detroit area. The Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant, known as the Poletown plant, after the community leveled to enable its construction, will be closed. So will the Warren Transmission Plant. Other plant scheduled for closure are in Lordstown, Ohio, White Marsh, Maryland, and Oshawa, Ontario. About 14,000 people will be affected directly: 8,000 of them salaried workers, and slightly more than 6000 factory workers. GM will reduce its total workforce by about 15%. GM stock went up by 5 percent when they announced the decision.
Most industry analysts agree that these closures were inevitable. Auto economists point to a lack of demand for the smaller models produced in these plants and dropping markets in China and the U.S. Even long-time critics of the auto industry said that Mary Barra, the CEO, “needed to do something before losses mounted.”
Donald Trump reacted angerly to the news, tweeting, “Very disappointed with General Motors.” He is, “looking at cutting all GM subsidies, including electric cars.” Many folks were quick to point out that Trumps anger is a lie, noting that the closings have been directly caused by Trump’s protectionist tariffs.
Certainly an argument can be made that Trump’s trade wars with China contributed to this decision. But the closures reflect longer term strategic choices by GM.
Such is the way of capitalism.
For me, this announcement evoked memories of hot, emotional meetings in civic centers and church halls, as the people of Poletown gathered to resist the destruction of their community for a Cadillac plant and the promise of 6000 jobs.
In 1980 the community organized against GM, Mayor Young, the Detroit City Council, the UAW, and the Archdioceses. They attracted national attention in a battle to resist Michigan’s Quick Take law. But in July of 1981, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled private economic development justified taking homes, businesses, and schools from people. The last hold outs, mostly older women, who had occupied the church basement for 29 days, were forcefully removed by a 60-man SWAT team. The wrecking ball slammed into Immaculate Conception almost immediately. The first Cadillac Eldorado rolled of the line four years later.
The plant never employed 3000 people. A little more than 1500 will affected directly by this closure.
The fate of Poletown and the Cadillac Plant bring us to sharp questions: What are the real costs of development? What are the long-term implications of using public money and power to benefit corporations at the expense of community? What are the real costs to people and place? Who really benefits? How do we develop our ways of living that protect people and the places we value?
In the short run we traded the homes and memories of nearly 4000 people, 140 small businesses, six churches and one hospital for unfulfilled economic promises. We violated people and the places they loved to produce gas guzzling luxury cars. The powers that be convinced themselves and most everyone else that there was no alternative but to destroy a community in order to save it.
This logic, and the devastation it brings, has been repeated over and over again. It is repeated today. At the time of Poletown one church leader said, “The overall good of the city is achieved by cutting away a certain part. When you’re trying to make something grow, you prune.”
Poletown calls us to look deeply at the choices we are making, at whose lives and hopes matter. Poletown reminds us that we must find better ways, if we are to develop our city, our people and new ways of living that will carry us to the future.
What We’re Watching and Reading
November 27th, 2018
Thinking for Ourselves
The poisoning of the water in Flint Michigan was the direct result of a republican dominated lame duck legislature acting to benefit corporations and abuse democracy. Now the republican dominated lame duck legislature is threatening the waters of the Great Lakes.
In 2012 Rick Snyder began his career as Governor opposing the will of the people. After a state-wide initiative soundly defeated emergency manangement powers in the state, Governor Snyder pushed through lame duck legislation that strengthened emergency management and made it referendum proof.
In a statement defending the action, Snyder declared the new law would “respect the needs of citizens and taxpayers by delivering greater oversight and efficiency. Our reinvention of government is delivering meaningful reforms that will keep Michigan on the path to prosperity,” he said. None of these benefits materialized. This assault on democracy resulted in disasters.
Instead of a “path to prosperity” that “respected citizens” we saw a path to poison, that disregarded the voices of citizens who tried desperately to get government officials to acknowledge what was plain for all to see. Flint water was contaminated.
This same legal framework became the excuse for massively transferring public goods into private hands in Benton Harbor, Flint, Pontiac, and Detroit. It restricted governmental capabilities and established disastrous educational policies.
Now, Governor Snyder is ending his term by pushing another lame duck effort. This time he is risking the Great Lakes to benefit a major oil producing corporation, Enbridge. Snyder is working furiously to establish a 99-year deal that includes the construction of an underground tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac to replace the controversial Line 5. Snyder assures us that this “historic agreement” would “eliminate nearly every risk” and be a way of “better connecting our peninsulas, improving energy security and supporting economic development.”
In reality, this deal ensures continued operations of the aging pipeline for a decade. It puts the Great Lakes at further risk, committing us to an energy future based on fossil fuels, and threatens much of the world’s surface fresh water.
This lame duck deal is in direct defiance of the will of the people. A poll conducted by EPIC-MRA last April found that about 87 percent of the people in Michigan are concerned about the safety of Line 5. More than half of those polled said it should be shut down. The incoming governor and attorney general both oppose the pipeline and tunnel.
Additionally, the whole project would be shifted out of public oversight by establishing new parameters for the Mackinac Bridge Authority, an organization ill equipped for such responsibility.
Line 5, build in 1953, currently carries up to 540,000 barrels of oil and natural gas every day through one of the most vulnerable spots in the Great Lakes. Enbridge has a history of environmental degradation and danger. A quick read of the actions it pledges to take to protect the pipeline during construction shows how foolish a company it is. Enbridge would provide teams capable of shutting down the line quickly, underwater inspection, cameras, and increased monitoring of anchors. The obvious question is, “Why are earth is Enbridge not taking these steps now, especially after the fiasco in April that threatened to dump millions of gallons of oil into the upper Great Lakes?”
Democracy is no guarantee of good decisions. But we have painful experiences here in Michigan to demonstrate that circumventing democracy, defying the will of the people, and using lame duck sessions to promote profits lead to disaster. We cannot allow legalistic tricks to risk our future.
Two weeks ago, we had an amazing community conversation about the issues affecting Oakland County.
On December 1st at 1 pm, join us at Grace Episcopal Church in Mount Clemens for a community conversation about the issues facing Macomb County, and how to address systemic issues such as racial injustice with creative new solutions that center our values.
November 23rd, 2018
Thinking for Ourselves
A New We
This week the National Council of Elders met in Detroit. The Council was formed in 2011 by Vincent Harding and James and Phil Lawson, all veterans of the Black Liberation struggle and close associates of Martin Luther King. The purpose of the Council is “to engage leaders of 20th century civil rights movements to share what they have learned with young leaders of the 21st century and to promote the theory and practice of nonviolence.”
At the time of the decision to call elders together, there was a growing sense of urgency in the country. We were witnessing an “escalation of all forms of violence and the rise of anti-democratic forces” as white supremacists were reacting to the presidency of Barack Obama and the growing recognition that whites would soon no longer hold “majority” status and power. Many of us recognized that the increasing tensions between revolution and counter revolution were calling a new generation of activists to commit themselves to engaging people and structures in progressive change. We hoped to find ways to “deepen important story-based dialogue with younger activists who are currently on the frontlines of activism across the U.S.”
This engagement is more than sharing stories. Most of the members of the Council are immersed in daily work alongside their younger counterparts. Some are standing with immigrants at our borders, offering sanctuary and challenging the brutal policies of this administration. Some are working in the new Poor People’s Campaign to create a sense of moral urgency around the increasing poverty and degradation of life for so many of our people. Some are working in peace making and reconciliation, education and community visionary development. All share a belief that we must create a radical revolution in values and stand against the evils of militarism, racism and materialism. We know that the revolution in values called for by Dr. King more than 50 years ago would be hollow without a commitment today to protect our earth.
As we move into 2019, the Council agreed to call for a year of dialogue on the theme pressed by Vincent Harding. Dr. Harding often talked of being a citizen of a country that does not yet exist. Drawing on the 1938 poem of Langston Hughes, Let America Be America Again Dr. Harding challenged people to think about the distance between who we are and who we want to be. He frequently quoted the lines
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet, I swear this oath—America will be!
Vincent asked us to believe in our potential to create a better place for ourselves and our children.
Yet, I imagine if Vincent were alive today, he might be placing as much attention on the last stanza of the poem as he did on this one. He would recognize the call to “Make America Great Again” as the trumpet of white supremacy.
But Langston Hughes offered a different view of what we can fashion out of this moment of brutal ugliness. He wrote:
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!
The capacity to redeem and dream, to fashion to a better future out of cruelty and greed, to create a new we, are still our challenges.
It’s Time to Repeal the Genesis Doctrine
The following is adapted from remarks given in accepting the Coleman H. McGhehee Jr. Champion of Justice Award from the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights (MCHR)
As I stand here this evening, humbled and proud to receive this award, I think it boils down to this.
The rotten system, the cursed idea that white men are somehow superior, not only to other humans but to rivers and coral reefs and forests and elephants and termites and water and fire is coming to an end.
The repeal of the toxic doctrine of Genesis is up for a vote.
God did NOT give MEN dominion over women or of all other life forms. That whole strange idea is wrong. And dangerous.
Fortunately, Homo Sapiens are not the only eligible voters in this referendum.
In fact, if we don’t get this right, we won’t be voters at all. Humans need the planet. The planet does not need humans.
Or, to put it another way, the planet will surely survive. Humans may not.
But humans can survive and even thrive. It won’t be easy, but it surely can be done. How?
Our differences, our silos, our “intersections”, if you will, must be put aside. It is the white way of thinking that must go. Root and branch. All of it.
White people are not superior. Period. The evidence is in. White people are, to be sure, good at myth making, at fairy tales. Very good.
That, after all, is what white supremacy IS—a pervasive, invasive species of a myth. It’s a bad human invention like Agent Orange, plastic shopping bags and the so-called Electoral College.
Fortunately, the world around us is already making another, truer, better story. A story of peace instead of war. A story of kindness rather than endless acts of violence, large and small. It is a narrative of love and harmony and proportion.
This new world is not all about stuff. It is a world that, as Richard Powers puts it, needs to stop, just plain stop, squandering a billion years of planetary evolution in favor of bling.
It is a world that cherishes every living thing far more than self driving cars and mobile telephones with more pixels and better weapons for killing.
It is up to us, each of us and all of us, which of these two worlds we choose.
That is the cry for justice that calls us now.
What We’re Reading
order your copy http://boggscenter.org/store-new/
What We’re Watching
Rita Ramirez is not your typical mariachi. When she’s not on stage with Detroit’s first female-led mariachi band, she spends her time bringing internet to her neighbors, one home at a time. Through the Equitable Internet Initiative, Rita works to connect the estimated 40 percent of Detroiters who still lack an internet connection in their homes. This episode of Tag was co-produced by Erik Paul Howard and Anastasia Klimovitz, two Detroit photojournalists who helped bring Rita’s story to life.
Conversations in Maine
A New Edition
Order your copy today
Meditations on activism following the turbulent 1960s—back in print
Following the Detroit Rebellion of 1967, four veteran activists, Grace Lee and Jimmy Boggs, and Lyman and Freddy Paine, came together to rethink revolution and social change. Posting tough, thought-provoking questions, the recorded dialogue among these four friends ultimately serves as a call to all citizens to work together and think deeply about the kind of future we can create.
Conversations in Maine was an essential text for my generation of radicals.