Writings

Boggs Center – Living For Change News Letter – November 2nd, 2020

November 2nd, 2020

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COMMUNITY SAFETY TOOLKIT

preparing for the election & post
*please share publicly & widely*
[Washtenaw County, MI]
para español, haga clic aquí

In sharing this toolkit we do not intend to create undue fear or anxiety—instead we hope to prepare ourselves and our neighbors for unpredictable and potentially chaotic conditions this November. In all things, we believe we are stronger when we are connected to community and empowered with information.

LEARN/SHARE

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Thinking for Ourselves
The Days Ahead
Shea Howell

We are writing this a few days before Election Day, 2020, November 3. Almost everyone expects an increase in right-wing violence. No one thinks it will be confined only to election day. In fact, since the election of Trump, we have seen an acceleration not only of hateful speech, but deadly actions. We have also seen countless examples of efforts to dominate the public square. Right-wing supporters routinely attack waiters who request masks and teachers who advance progressive ideas. They take up arms inside legislative halls.

This week, in central Texas, a bus travelling with the Kamala Harris campaign was surrounded by a long line of cars and trucks flying Trump flags. Vehicles pulled in front of the bus, attempting to stop it. It appears at least one Biden-Harris staff car was hit. Two campaign events were cancelled because of the incident and the FBI is investigating.

This violent activity raises serious questions for all of us. Everyone now understands that the right-wing in America is more extensive and far deeper than Trump. He has been a useful tool and supporter. But those forces committed to the protection of power and privilege founded this country and have persisted to shape our history.

In a recent article in Mother Jones Nathalie Baptiste commented.

“The United States has a long history of turning a blind eye to violent white ideology while focusing on scapegoating other communities like Muslims, immigrants, and now Antifa. Despite years of warnings about white supremacist violence from its own intelligence, government officials seem hellbent amplifying warnings about anti-fascists, even as violence among white nationalists and other far-right groups escalates. The Trump administration seems to accept violence perpetrated by white extremists—not considering it violence at all, but a form of patriotism—and has blamed any bloodshed on their opponents.”

Over the Trump years we have seen a hardening of right-wing beliefs. A recent Pew research report documents the entrenchment of the divide around key issues of race, gender and immigration. While noting that Americans have been learning from the racial disparities of the pandemic and from the Black Lives Matters movement, all of this learning has been by Democrats, not Republicans who support Trump.

Moving beyond this election, those of us who are working for justice are going to have to find new ways to change the entrenched thinking of nearly 40% of our people.

Calls for “conversation” seem hollow. If seeing more than 230,000 people die, babies ripped from parents, police squeezing the life out of people and killing them in their beds has not moved them, what possible sentence could we utter to create change?

Some of what we can look to as a strategy forward is also marked by November 3. In 1979 five anti-fascist union organizers and members of the Communist Workers Party were gunned down by members of the KKK and American Nazi Party. The Greensboro police and the FBI were complicit.

Earlier this month, after 41 years and decades of patient organizing, the Greensboro City Council passed a series of resolutions acknowledging that the police knew well in advance about the planned massacre. They did nothing. Reverend Nelson Johnson called the actions a “people’s victory:”

“It is because of the persistence of more and more people in this city and throughout the state that the state is gradually changing. It’s an uphill climb. But we are grateful for the decision last night, and we think that it provides something positive to build on. But we want to help people appreciate themselves. They are the ones who elected a council that, with some staggering, got to the place of saying this deliberate North American death squad came in and shot persons who were leaders in their field.”

Joyce Hobson Johnson added, “The truth matters.”

So, in the days ahead, we are going to have to find more and more ways to tell the truth about who we were, who we are, and perhaps most importantly who we want to become.


atlantic

Amid a national conversation about race, what has emerged is an understanding that the Americans who interact with police, who are arrested, and who are in jails are predominantly Black and Latino men and women. Building on our pivotal conversations from the Atlantic Festival, we’ll explore how to reform, and possibly rebuild, a criminal justice system that has for too long been based on racial inequities. Featuring Amanda Alexander (starting at 31:00) from the Detroit Justice Center. WATCH


Police “Reform:” A Totally Obsolete Illusion

Amid a national conversation about race, what has emerged is an understanding that the Americans who interact with police, who are arrested, and who are in jails are predominantly Black and Latino men and women. Building on our pivotal conversations from the Atlantic Festival, we’ll explore how to reform, and possibly rebuild, a criminal justice system that has for too long been based on racial inequities. Featuring Amanda Alexander (starting at 31:00) from the Detroit Justice Center. WATCH
Police “Reform:” A Totally Obsolete Illusion
Gloria House

In this article, I present excerpts from a historic presentation by the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality (DCAPB) to the Detroit City Council.  This November 30, 1998 statement of the DCAPB documented the history of police abuse and murder in Detroit for several decades leading up to and throughout the 90s.  The work of the DCAPB exposed the criminality of the Detroit Police Department (DPD), and prompted the federal government to monitor the Department in a consent decree that extended over 13 years.  Yet police misconduct and corruption continue unabated in Detroit.  These days Detroit citizens continue to call for the very same reforms that the DCAPB demanded over 20 years ago: KEEP READING

POLICE REFORM
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Catch The Replay of The 2020 Michigan Imagine a Day Without Water Conference

water

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COOP

An update from the Detroit Peoples Food Coop…

We are currently 1106 member/owners strong! If you have any questions about your membership, feel free to give us a call during our weekly office hours at (313)-833-DPFC/ 313 (833) 373-2313. Please note the office is closed to visitors.
g.
This month several local foundations including the Ford Foundation, Kellogg foundation, Kresge, Knight foundation, Mcgregor Fund, and the Fisher Fund have worked collectively to pledge the vast majority of the remaining funds needed for the development of the Detroit Food Commons which will eventually house the Detroit People’s Food Coop. While DBSFSN continues to work on the funding for the physical building, the Detroit People’s Food Coop is tasked with the work of increasing membership to ensure a successful start. MORE INFO HERE.

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Boggs Center – Living For Change News Letter – October 28th, 2020

October 28th, 2020

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Thinking for Ourselves

The Long Haul
Shea Howell

Tensions are building as we move through these final days toward the election. Almost everyone I know has been saying, “I can’t wait until this is over.” Of course, most of us know that no matter who wins the election, the tensions we feel and the challenges we face are not going to go away. They will intensify.

It now seems likely, that Joe Biden will win the popular vote. His lead a week before election day is in the double digits and is “without precedent in the 21st century.” Early voting has been heavily in favor of the Democrats, especially in key states like Texas and North Carolina.

However, winning the popular vote is no guarantee of winning the presidency. In an analysis of the power of minority rule in this country, Steve Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt wrote in the New York Times:

“Recent U.S. election results fly in the face of majority rule. Republicans have won the popular vote for president only once in the last 20 years and yet have controlled the presidency for 12 of those 20 years. Democrats easily won more overall votes for the U.S. Senate in 2016 and 2018, and yet the Republicans hold 53 of 100 seats. The 45 Democratic and two independent senators who caucus with them represent more people than the 53 Republicans.”

The Electoral College and the Supreme Court have been playing their intended role, thwarting popular rule.

But even if the Democrats assume the office of the President and manage to establish a majority in the House and Senate, their capacity to translate majority power into governmental action will be severely challenged.

First, anything the Democrats agree to do that will benefit the people and the planet will be challenged by Republicans. They Republican minority has the capacity to filibuster and use parliamentary maneuvers, but more likely they will depend on using the courts to challenge and overturn legislation.

We have seen this time again, for example, with the Affordable Care Act.  But this use of courts to overturn Congressional legislation will be a central tactic moving forward. One of the accomplishments of the Trump administration is that he and the republicans have successfully shifted much of the federal court system solidly toward the ideologically fringe right wing. In his first three years, Trump appointed more judges than President Obama did in his entire time in office. Trump’s appointments now make up more than a quarter of the appellate bench. For most, their primary qualification is adherence to extreme right-wing ideas. It is likely that even small efforts, like a national mandate to wear masks during the pandemic, will be challenged in the courts. And, as here in Michigan, the originalists will find it an over reach of power, not supported by the Constitution.

Beyond legal maneuvering, we should expect increased extra-legal violence. Last week the Center for Strategic and International Studies, released a report documenting the depth of right wing extremist violence. They found that 41 of the 61 terrorist attacks, or  67% of all the attacks in the first 8 months of the year, were committed by white supremacist groups. This report comes on the heels of the annual assessment of the Department of Homeland Security “warning that that violent white supremacy was the ‘most persistent and lethal threat in the homeland’ and that white supremacists were the most deadly among domestic terrorists in recent years.”

It will be a relief for all of us if Joe Biden and Kamala Harris actually take office. We know they are limited and have no desire to make the radical changes necessary. But they represent a needed counter to naked abuse.  But we should have no illusions. We have reached the point where we must now remake this country, establish the kinds of  values that will govern us, and make the decisions that will protect not only the lives of people, but the health of our earth. The transformations required of us will not be quick or easy. But they are essential now. We are in for the long haul, requiring the stretching of our will and imagination.

Podcasts! Podcasts!
HOW TO SURVIVE THE END OF THE WORLD: This is a Detroit love affair of an episode. For How To Survive’s first appearance at the Detroit Podcast Festival, we invited two Detroit based warriors for justice – 313 Liberation Zone’s PG Watkins (ultimate_paygee) and Detroit Justice Center’s Amanda Alexander (@A_S_Alexander). We discuss visions, abolition, and the unique ground that Detroit is for practicing our beliefs. LISTEN

UNDER THE TREE: We have taken up the question and the problem of freedom from various angles of regard, and today we move from an expansive metaphor—freedom as the wide, wide sea—to a material reality—freedom as the concrete act of unlocking the prison gate and walking out, free. We visit with Kathy Boudin, a social justice activist who spent 22 years in a New York State prison, and has, since her release in 2003, helped to organize a remarkable network and a wide range of projects to dismantle the system of mass incarceration. LISTEN

Land and Power
Malik Yakini

In the mid-1970s, I was a member of the Detroit-based Pan-African Congress, USA. Inspired by the South African political party, the Pan-Africanist Congress, the PAC-USA asserted, that, “Land is the Basis of Power”. Of course, this slogan echoed the words of Malcolm X and countless other Black activists before him. It embodied the understanding that it is from the land that we get the food that sustains our lives. It is from the land that we get the materials needed for housing, and clothing. It is from the land that we get mineral resources that feed economies and generate wealth. It is on the land that we build, grow and create community. As we struggle to foster food security, food justice and food sovereignty the question of land, who “owns” it, who controls it, and who benefits from it, must be in the forefront of our discussions.

Many forces have shaped the past 700 years of human history, but none as profoundly as the global imperial expansion by England, France, Spain, Portugal, Belgium and Germany. The centuries long conquest, colonization, enslavement, domination and exploitation of Africans and other people of color and their lands was deeply rooted in a white supremacist worldview.

European explorers came to the shores of West Africa and the east coast of what we now call the United States, with ideas about the private ownership of land that were shaped by the feudal societies that they came from; highly stratified societies were the wealthy owned much of the land, and the masses were landless, impoverished and subject to all manner of abuse and exploitation. Those European explorers encountered Africans and “Native Americans” whose cultures suggested that the earth cannot be privately owned, but only wisely used by humans for the common good, and preserved for future generations.

Because Europeans eventually won the hard fought military campaigns they waged against Africans and the indigenous peoples of the western hemisphere and created institutions to maintain their cultural dominance, we have been taught the idea that the earth is a commodity that can be bought and sold. This idea has continuing impact. Many contemporary national boundaries are the result of colonization by Europeans. We can’t intelligently discuss the present economic, political, social and health disparities impacting Africans, both on the continent and in the diaspora, without understanding how these inequities were shaped by and continue to be perpetuated by European imperialism, colonialism, neo-colonialism and the global system of white supremacy.

Across the planet, this thirst for continued dominance plays out in land-grabs. More and more land “ownership” is being concentrated in the hands of the few. Small-holder farmers are being forced out of business. People leave rural areas coming to cities where, if they find employment, they become wage-slaves to the wealthy.

Land grabs are taking place in many African-American communities such as Harlem, Washington D.C. and Detroit. But, Detroit is unique. The population of the city declined from 2,000,000 in 1950 to its current level of about 675,000. The City government struggles with how to maintain city infra-structure and services for a geographic footprint which has not shrunk, with the meager resources afforded by a much smaller tax base. No easy task indeed.

With more than 1/3 of the city’s land-mass vacant, Detroit is a prime target for land-grabbers. One can clearly see the temptation facing City government to sell off unused city-owned land to the highest bidder, putting the land back on the tax rolls, and in the process ridding themselves of the responsibility of cutting the grass and otherwise maintaining the property.

But, this is not a time for easy solutions. This is a time for bold, innovative thinking that is informed by history and guided by values that work for the betterment of humanity. Because Detroit is viewed by many around the world as the poster-child for urban decay, there is great interest in our efforts to think, create and build ourselves out of the seemingly intractable situation in which we find ourselves. The eyes of the nation are on Detroit.

Detroit’s political leadership has the opportunity to shift the paradigm from more concentrated ownership of land in the hands of wealthy whites, to strategies that recognize the value and developmental potential of commonly held land, and the value of facilitating increased land “ownership” by the city’s residents. Besides for its people, land is Detroit’s most important asset.

Detroiters should ask our elected political leaders the following five questions.

1) How can fair, just and transparent procedures for the sale of city land be developed and implemented?

2) How can a developmental strategy be implemented that allows for commonly held land to be entrusted to city residents for beautification, recreation, gardening, environmental stewardship, teaching and generating income?

3) How much land should be sold to any one developer or consortium of developers?

4) What reciprocity should the people of Detroit expect for the sale of land to developers?

5) How do we close the historical gap between wealthy landowners, and the landless?

If the people of Detroit do not quickly learn the lesson taught by the Pan African Congress USA, that, “land is the basis of power”, we will find ourselves in a continuing subordinate position.


manger

The Story of the album that took a decade to create featuring Jazz, Hip-hop, Soul, Gospel, and Detroit. Boldy James and Sterling Toles masterpiece Manger on McNichols is told in these in-depth interviews. Producer Sterling Toles shares the story of meeting Boldy James and crafting an orchestra arrangement around the heartfelt story of what led him into street life. The Manger on McNichols album is already acknowledged as one of the most dynamic and creative works of 2020. Introduce yourself to the collaborative brotherhood that created this expression of Detroit Life. – WATCH

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james

“Summer 2020 marked a significant shift in civil unrest in the United States. With rising unemploymenta global pandemican open supreme court justice seat, and increased public around issues of police brutality and state sanctioned violence, this country has been in a state of lamentation. People, especially Black Lives Matter activists, have come to the streets to vocalize collective dissatisfaction with racial and economic inequality in the United States. We are living in a time that calls for revisiting James Baldwin and his blues.” – KEEP READING

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Boggs Center – Living For Change Newsletter – October 13th, 2020

October 13th, 2020

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Thinking for Ourselves

No Equivalent
Shea Howell

Last week 13 people were arrested in a plot to kidnap and kill Governor Gretchen Whitmer. They also planned to blow up bridges and kill specific law enforcement people. They intended to storm the State Capital and to incite a civil war.

Governor Whitmer, who has known for some time of this particular plot, responded with clarity and courage, saying of the conspirators, “They’re not militias. They are domestic terrorists endangering and intimidating their fellow Americans. Words matter.” In a strongly worded editorial in the Washington Post Governor Whitmer explained:

When our leaders encourage domestic terrorists, they legitimize their actions. When they stoke and contribute to hate speech, they are complicit. And when a sitting president stands on a national stage refusing to condemn white supremacists and hate groups, as President Trump did when he told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” during the first presidential debate, he is complicit. Hate groups heard the president’s words not as a rebuke, but as a rallying cry. As a call to action.”

The Governor’s clarity is critical for us to understand the dangerous, polarized moment we are all now facing.

Many in the media obscure this danger by refusing to name right- wing forces for what they are, criminal gangs, bent on killing. Paul Egan, for example, writing in the Free Press created a false distinction between groups that provide armed “security” at public events and what the Governor and most experts on right wing terrorists call “hate groups.”

Eagan argues that “the truth is somewhere in between” and private military groups “should not be all lumped together and must be judged and labeled based on their actions and intentions.”

The truth is that the actions and intentions of right-wing forces are now, and have historically been, the use of violence to protect property and white supremacy. The definition of right-wing movement is the effort to push society toward establishing order, which requires the use of violence.

This is in sharp contrast to left wing movements, which center people above property. Now and historically, left wing movements have aimed for justice and been rooted in calls for peace.

While both the right and the left have occasionally taken up arms, the essence of the right wing is violence. That is why they typically embrace such issues as: military intervention into other countries, the use of nuclear weapons, the expansion of police powers, and limitations on government efforts to control corporate power. They oppose any effort to advance human rights, save that of the fetus. Even in the name of “pro-life,” they have justified the killing of doctors who perform abortions and the deaths of women who risk their own lives by giving birth. They insist women violated by rape be required to give birth. In recent history in Michigan, they have blown up school busses to protect white supremacy. These are the actions and intentions of right-wing forces.

Just this summer we have seen a proliferation of armed, right wing groups confronting people gathering in defense of Black lives. Recent research documents almost 600 such instances noting, “The number of serious incidents of outright violence, shootings, vehicular assaults or menacing with a pointed gun is on the up.”

Even more concerning is that “at least 40% of the almost 600 recorded total, were uncoordinated, with no known involvement of the Oath Keepers, Three Percenters, Proud Boys, or any other established group.” This means there have been at least 240 instances where armed white men have been enacting gun fantasies on our streets, claiming to protect property and willing to kill people.

This activity is clearly illegal. It is also immoral. There is no equivalent between the violence of the right and the aspirations of the left. Those like Egan, who claim the truth is somewhere in between, are enabling the most viscous aspect of our country to feel justified in what they do.

Instead of writing sympathetically about the anxiety of white men in turbulent times, we need to be clear about the consequences of their actions. Only by facing this reality, will people be able to determine what choices move us closer to creating peaceful, loving communities.

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Chief Craig Must Go flyer PDF 1


Nearly 41 years after Ku Klux Klansmen and American Nazis shot dead five antiracist activists in the town of Greensboro, North Carolina, the City Council there has passed a resolution apologizing for the attack and the police department’s complicity in the killings. We speak with two survivors of the 1979 attack, Reverend Nelson Johnson and Joyce Hobson Johnson, who say the city’s apology acknowledges “the police knew and chose to do nothing. In fact, they facilitated what we name now as a North American death squad.”
KEEP READING

 


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Education, Three Generations, In this Moment – By Rich Feldman

Education, Three Generations, In this Moment

By Rich Feldman

What follows is an exchange of ideas between three generations of my family, at the intersection of public education, labor unions, and interpretations of social justice in a time of unprecedented strife.

Coequal with the strife is the corruption and runaway wealth of fewer than one percent of our population, racist capitalism with deep roots in the endemic and flawed ideology of white supremacy. Amid daily protests that are largely youth driven, the Black Lives Matter movement demands big, bold institutional change.  In more subtle and insidious ways, institutions that have not served people of color equitably are being internally corrupted and reinvented by those who seek to preserve our white supremacist ways. We cannot run or hide any more. Institutional change is coming, and we must leverage the will and wrest back the power to ensure that change is just, decent, humanizing and inclusive in all of our social institutions, including and especially our system of education.

Beginning with my daughter Emma, a teacher for seven years in a Boston elementary school, who shared these heartfelt thoughts on Facebook, titling them “Re-Imagining Safety”:

Can we please expand our notions of safety as we talk about “going back?”

I don’t want to go back to our schools. They have failed — kids, educators, families, communities for generations (yes, even pre-covid). SCHOOLS WERE NOT SAFE BEFORE THE PANDEMIC.  Do you remember Columbine, Metal Detectors, Police in schools, water safety?

Please stop perpetuating this false dichotomy. When we don’t broaden our notions of safety — we are letting Trump and DeVos set the agenda about what reopening looks like.

What would you (you: educators, families, kids, community members) add as we say: What are the 6 ADDITIONAL things we MUST ensure to go back to school safely?

Some ideas I have heard include (but aren’t limited to):

  1. Police out of our school
  2. place-based curriculum that honors and learns from the brilliance of the communities where our students live,
  3. Outdoor classrooms that demonstrate we must learn not just from the 4-walls of our “classrooms”
  4. Anti-racist, Anti-Sexist, Anti-Ableist curriculum and pedagogy (yes, no more color sticks for behavior management),
  5. Moratorium on firing any teachers of color from a system that currently has no clue on educating black children, or children of color.
  6. Inclusive classrooms so ALL children learn with the kids from their communities (not just those disabled kids labeled “inclusion ready”),
  7. Joyful classrooms where teachers have time to grow as educators and have time to breathe throughout the school day,
  8. Recess spaces that allow kids to play, solve conflicts, and grow, lunch spaces with food that is found, cooked, and prepared with the community at the center…
  9. Oh yeah, and lots of love, imagination, and healing.

Emma is also active in the Boston Teachers Union.   She is the grand-daughter of my mother, Pearl Feldman, who went on strike in 1968 with the United Federation of Teachers for all the wrong reasons.  My mother rejected the commitment and aspirations of black parents putting forward the demand for community control of schools in the Ocean Hill –  Brownsville neighborhood of NYC.    My mother was protecting her seniority, her livelihood, our family opportunities and her dreams at the expense of “the other.”  Her choices supported my opportunity to go to college but what about the rest of the students and children?

As teacher unions,  educators, parents and students continue to debate the challenges of “returning to school,” I cannot get my mother and Emma’s grandmother out of mind.  Nor can I get the vision, the understanding, or the commitment of my daughter, to her students first, and to her precious work with them.  With thanks to Emma’s mother (her other biggest fan and a teacher) my wife, friend, comrade  of 40 years, these deep-seated beliefs that Emma holds dear grow from her heart, and are the foundation of  a deeper understanding and unveiled acknowledgement of the failures of education in our country.    Emma  was raised in a family of committed activists and surrounded by elders like Vincent Harding, James and Grace Lee Boggs and so many others.   Janice is one of the greatest listeners on this planet and  Janice always listened to Emma’s frustrations, dreams and fears.  This is important for all children but especially important for Emma  because  she  is also a younger sister of Micah who was born with an intellectual disability.  Micah has been a self-advocate and pioneer in the inclusive education movement.  Check out the film “Intelligent lives” and Janice’s book What Matters: Reflections on Disability, Community and Love.  Emma and Micah lived, learned with dreams, agony and ecstasy about the importance of inclusive education and that “a community that excludes even one of its members is no community at all,” (Dan Wilkins).

Education and Unions: at a Crossroad

     The growth of teachers’ unions gave me opportunities and also denied others their opportunity.  Today can be different.  We do not want to repeat our history, we want to change our story.

In 1967, I was able to go to “out of town” college because my mother was in the United Federation of Teachers in NYC.  I moved from Brooklyn, NY to Ann Arbor, Michigan in August of 1967.  Ann Arbor is 40 miles from Detroit.  August 1967 was one month after the Detroit & Newark Rebellions.

The opportunity to go to University of Michigan changed my life and my aspirations.  I joined the anti-war movement, became active with Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), attended the demonstrations at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, traveled to the 1969 United Front Against Fascism organized by the Black Panther Party and even drove to Woodstock. These choices informed and shaped my life. They continue to inform my thinking, values and vision for activism, unions, and community transformation.

I have been privileged by my opportunities and by my more than 50 years of radical, revolutionary relationships, connections, study, challenges and dreams.

After leaving Ann Arbor, I worked the assembly line for 20 years at the Ford Truck Plant, was an elected union official for about a decade and worked for the international staff of the UAW before retiring in 2015.

I also worked with James and Grace Lee Boggs for more than 40 years.  During the Community Control Movement and in response to Brown versus Board of Education, Grace Lee Boggs challenged activists to re-define the purpose of education.  She wrote Education to Govern and later she and Jimmy Boggs wrote and spoke extensively about the need for a paradigm shift in education.

With all my good intentions, my attempts at transforming my union, challenging and struggling with the union to listen and learn from the communities and the evolving community issues in our country, primarily the need  to confront racism among white workers,  I know that more than 50% of white workers in the UAW voted for Donald Trump.   The union essentially became a temporary insurance agent for an  economic and seniority crisis.  When our union “did the right thing” it had little to do with the membership and mostly to do with the “left leaning intellectual tradition of some staff and elected leadership.

While I have no regrets from my journey, I believe that the relevancy of unions in 2020 will only matter when they/we take on the needs and concerns of parents, community members, students and not just the unionized workforce.

The Freedom Movement, the Non-Violent Struggle, Black Power Movement of the 1960s and the Movement for Black Lives has captured the imagination and dreams of a generation assuming leadership in our organizing, our communities and in our unions.  Today’s bold leadership has been informed and grown from the struggles of those in all the humanizing movements of the 20th century.  From LGBTQ to the Disability Justice Movement, the anti-apartheid movement to the rights of the Palestinian people.  From Standing Rock to the Global Climate Struggles of this century we now find ourselves confronted with a world-wide pandemic, which, in a dearth of national leadership, has cost us almost 200,000 human lives. Somehow, amid almost nightly protests, since the horrifying murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, there has not been attributable spread of the virus due to these large gatherings. Facial masks that have been mandated in some states and locales, have also become signage; many masks are printed with Black Lives Matter, #BLM, “I can’t breathe” and more are prominent still in marches and protests. These masks, that cover our mouths and noses, do prevent some spread of the coronavirus. Even so, COVID-19 has limited some immuno-compromised and older citizens from engaging in these examples of Democracy. Protestors do incur some additional risk during the pandemic.

 

Questions of Purpose, Courage, and Safety

To return to Emma’s original question – what does it mean to be safe now, in 2020?  Schools have been closed since March, reopening is a scatter-shot attempt to try to get students back safely, which means a checkerboard of “solutions” that feel wholly unsatisfying, not scientifically informed and locally decided by school boards who are likely not public health experts. Moreover there are increased costs of cleaning and sanitizing classrooms, and more purchasing of technology for students in schools that are using hybrid models for safe return. As of this moment, there is no national plan for how our public schools should re-open. States and cities are working hard to get students back to school in the absence of good guidance. The national  teachers’ unions, the National Education Association (NEA) and The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) have varying degrees of information about COVID-19 on their websites. Following suit, the local unions are involved in these “community” based decisions to varying degrees, probably based on the strength of their local leadership. Teachers are stressed and afraid; the pandemic and its relentless spread not only affects teachers and students, but extended families, too.

Returning to the mistakes made in 1968, by my mother and her national union president, Albert Shanker, of the AFT, where in New York City (NYC) they prioritized the demands of their membership over the concerns, needs and voices of the community. To be sure, we are in a unique time and space, but equally true is the fact that the system of education is broken and growing numbers of parents, teachers, students and educators know it. Emma’s questions and suggestions listed earlier are the result of knowing this, and asking bigger deeper questions, and taking some risk. Teachers have the opportunity to stand for something beyond “protecting”;  to move from protecting themselves, sometimes with good intentions,  to leading and becoming active players in creating the future.

It is not only Trump and Devos who are breaking the system.  It has been totally bankrupt since No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, from Bush to Obama. It has been broken for decades and decades.  Lip service reforms (i.e. we support social & environmental justice concerns) or solutions dedicated to failed concepts of success have not worked and will not work.  If our children continue to experience  failed Individualized Education Programs ( IEPs),  attend underfunded schools with insufficient resources,  face trauma daily because too often teachers, administrators and school systems have been concerned with their/our “professional-union lane” rather than building a new highway.  There are, however, signs of hope. We can learn from the Chicago Teachers’ Union (CTU) which made a commitment to create critical connections and relationships with community, students, educators AND parents to remind us that education must include art, music, counselors, nurses, health, safety, play time, outside time and          concern for the dignity of each student.

Here is a credo for education and a challenge to our “usual union thinking.”  It is time to strike for the common good and public good.  I remember that teachers in Oaxaca, Mexico raised up the demand and initiated a strike stating that, “there will not be a new contract until every student had new shoes on the first day of school. “  In 2006, In These Times reported:

Since May 22, tens of thousands of teachers and administrative workers belonging to

Oaxaca’s Section 22 of the National Union of Education Workers have been on strike,

camping out in the colonial town square, shutting off highways, blocking government

buildings and marking their territory–all of downtown Oaxaca–with political graffiti,

reading, “The movement has no leaders; it is from the grassroots!” The teachers’

demands include school uniforms and shoes for all students, more scholarships, and an

increased budget for school buildings and equipment.

Beyond safety and protectionism: What kind of courage and vision is required of each of us and our institutions?

 These ideas and proposals have come from educators, teachers, principals  and friends.

Point One:

We face this moment of a continued out of control Pandemic because our national leadership fundamentally ignored reality, science and the lives of its citizens.  This failed policy was intentional.

It has exposed the bankruptcy of this leadership and has uncovered the 400 year veil of racial capitalism, the decades and centuries of systemic racist policies, values and culture. When we look at the data of the percentage of black people and people of color who have died, there is not much argument to be made for a return to normal.  We also have learned that nursing homes, group homes, homeless shelters, prisons and detention centers  are not safe places; they are particularly vulnerable to the ravages of the virus.

Point Two:

There is no going back to “Normal” because Normal is the seeds and roots of the system that has failed and been totally broken down for decades and even centuries.  The public school system and schools have failed and the time for reform is over.  We now hear the words of Abolitionist Education.  No reforming slavery, no reforming the school system, no return to normal.

We need to allow teachers to prioritize relationships with their students and families, thus minimizing the trauma of this difficult time.  Our priority is to provide the love and support for authentic relationship building between teachers, staff, parents, and students.

  • Creating curriculum and education to engage in “caring for each other and the earth as the focus of all school curriculum and activities.
  • End the anxiety and trauma epidemic
  • Significantly slow down the pace of schooling so that school communities, youth and adults and families. neighbors can heal & reflect together.
  • Engage with the education community to discuss, deliberate and make decisions collectively into learning instead of focusing on content memorization/coverage which students forget after the course anyway. There is no data that show that standards and accountability strategies for “school improvement “ worked.  It is time to come to terms with the fact that the system has been an utter failure and that its only function is to support the few who keep the many down.

 

Point 3:

As the AFT continues to announce its support for strikes to “protect” its membership, what  will local leaders and teachers say or do?

  • Can the AFT unleash a discussion for the public good, the common good and initiate policies that represent the change in schooling that is so necessary. Make these strikes a “common good” strike which would mean striking to protect the health of every child, families, teachers, staff, bus drivers, and the broader community?
  • Can it strike and still engage in creative educational opportunities?

 

Point 4:

What do we dream is possible?  How do we create new practices and unleash the creativity and imagination to support families, students and teachers in the birth of the new.  What can education look like now?  What is the difference between education and schooling?

Programs for practice:  Unleash thinking and possibilities?

  • Set up neighborhood community freedom schools. Create small pods in neighborhoods with teachers, support staff and parents.  (Study history of Freedom Schools in the south and emerging freedom schools of today. Share examples of current freedom school initiatives across our country. Share resources and tools. Detroit Independent Freedom schools, Chicago Freedom Schools, Marian Wright Edelman Freedom Schools, among others.
  • Listen to parents and students: Learn from Chicago Teachers union evolution and others.
  • Engage in truth telling about 1968 teachers’ strike in NY against community control in Ocean Hills Brownsville. This was put forward in the Boston Teachers Union as they voted to get police out of schools.  It united a challenge to the system outside and a challenge to the system inside our unions and all our organizations.   Union power and racism  or community power.
  • Create respite time for parents of children with disabilities. They have been in their home with little supports for the past 5 months.
  • What is the purpose of education? Success or sicksess? At a time when technology is creating a permanent underclass and outside class, we need to move beyond  Jobs or Prison?  What has been the lie of schooling?   How does each student find their passion and create work that matters to their dignity, the community and the planet?
  • Create outdoor classrooms and schools in every stadium not being used today in every city?
  • Free computers for every student and free computer access for the entire country.
  • Where will the money come from? Defund the pentagon and the police and pay for everything
  • End all high stakes tests permanently and switch to tests using a purposeful sampling method as Deb Meier suggests.
  • End all teacher evaluation where student testing data is used. Not statistically sound and only functions to burn out teachers and administrators.
  • Provide teacher leaders and coaches with the time they need to do real instructional support instead.
  • Increase teacher pay so that teachers do not have to work two jobs and can afford college. Increase parents’ income so they can send their kids to college as well.
  • Increase teacher planning time, decrease teaching load.
  • Increase art, music because this is where healing takes place,

Re-imagining safety and protection begins with the thinking and historical understanding emerging with Abolitionist thinking and the need to re-define the purpose of education in the 21st Century based upon the words:  “A community that excludes even one of its members is no community at all” (Dan Wilkins).

Concluding Thoughts

Education and teacher unions are at a crossroads.  A crossroads because of the breakdown in the system;  the COVID-19 pandemic; the  opportunities, challenges, and creativity raised by the Movement for Black Lives, as well as growing examples of ingenious educational practice by creative teachers, parents, staff and students.

There is a growing belief that our needs and our relationships matter more than our things and our stuff.  If we listen closely, we hear the rising voice that our values are more important than our valuables and our needs are different from our wants. We often hear the words that we “are in this together” –  well then, we need to create a vision that is for all of us, not just some of us.  There is no protection of self – without protection of all.

Our choices today matter.   Returning to “normal”, returning to old solutions and paradigms that have failed, or cheerleading within the institutions that continue to self-examine and reproduce our own histories will destine us to continued failure. Decisions made today will be the marker from which we move forward or continue to move backward. If we believe that education should provide the opportunity for every human being to reach his, her, their potential, then let strikes be for the Common Good.

 

 

Boggs Center – Living For Change News Letter – October 8th, 2020

October 8th, 2020

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Thinkin for Yourselves

Daily Destruction
Shea Howell

This week the Detroit City Council voted to approve a two year $220,000 contract with DataWorks Plus to continue the use of facial recognition software in the city. This vote came after a contentious public hearing where the vast majority of speakers objected to the use of facial recognition technologies and to the extension of the contract. Councilmembers Mary Sheffield and Raquel Castaneda-Lopez , who have been reliable critics of police practices, voted against the expenditure.

Let’s be clear. Not a single council person who voted for this measure thinks it works. Everyone acknowledges that this software is racially biased. The National Institute of Standards and Technology did a study that found Black faces were 100-times more likely to be mis-identified than white ones.

Moreover, the Detroit Police Department did not even pretend that this is an essential part of their work.  They indicated that so far this year they have used the system 106 times and made 12 arrests.  That is about $18,300 per arrest attributed to this contract alone. The police have given us no indication to think that facial recognition was critical in any of these arrests. Nor do we know the outcomes of them. What we know is this is an expensive, inaccurate, flawed and dangerous tool.

We also  know that the use of facial recognition by the Detroit Police Department underscores why we need to defund police and why we need to vote out the majority of this city council.

In the course of the hearing, the Detroit Police offered assurances that they have established policies to prevent the egregious mis-identification of people like Robert Williams, who became the first person publicly known to be wrongfully arrested based on this technology.

But the case of Mr. Williams reveals far more than flawed technologies. It reveals the arrogant bullying and disrespect for people that is part and parcel of the Detroit Police Department.

In undisputed accounts of Mr. Williams arrest based on a facial “match,” Detroit police showed up at his home in Farmington Hills.  In clear violation of his most basic rights, the officers refused to tell Mr. Williams why he was being arrested. They handcuffed him in front of his wife and two young daughters, shoved him into a police car, and took him to a detention center where they still did not tell him why he was in their custody. When his wife asked where the police were taking her husband she was crassly told to “Google it.”

Such illegal and crude behaviors was overshadowed by the emphasis on the technologies  that engendered the situation. But they are familiar behaviors to most people in Detroit. In the last 4 years there have been 20,000 complaints lodged against police officers. Most often these are complaints related to the use of force, the demeanor of the officers, and the violations of basic procedures.

This is the routine experience of most people in Detroit. We are not safer because of police. In far too many daily, ordinary interactions, our souls are wounded by the disrespect and disregard for people that is normal police behavior.  This disrespect is often overlooked because of the possibility that any challenge to police power can result in death.

Yet, if we are to create true community safety, we need to look honestly at not only the most egregious violations of power, but at the daily use of destructive force. Policing must end.

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We are urging members of the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety committee to support Senate Bills 830, 831, and 1152 which would create Pregnancy Standards of care in prisons, a Community Advisory Oversight Committee for Michigan’s only women’s prison, and Pregnancy Standards of Care in jails. LEARN MORE.


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