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Boggs Center – Living For Change News – December 18, 2019

December 18th, 2019

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Thinking for Ourselves

River Lessons
Shea Howell

As activists led by young people stormed the stage at the Global Climate Summit in Madrid this week demanding urgent action, Detroiters gathered to voice our concerns over our own regional expression of our changing world. Called together by several environmental justice organizations, and with the support of some elected legislators, over 200 people met at the Cass Commons to strategize about the most recent spill of toxins into the Detroit River.

On November 26 a dock collapsed under the weight of crushed limestone, recently unloaded at the Detroit Bulk Storage site.  The site has long been known to hold toxic sediments. Its history as a uranium processing center during the Manhattan Project and through the early days of the Cold War raised immediate concerns that the spill had exposed the metro area to nuclear waste contamination.

By the time of the Town Meeting, the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) was assuring residents that there was no danger of radiation nor to public health. Leisl Clark, the director of EGLE said:
As part of our initial investigation, we took radiological measurements of the soil at the site, and results from 1,000 data points showed readings below naturally occurring background levels. That matched results from river sediment tests we took in the spring adjacent to the Detroit Bulk Storage site that found radiation at or below background levels.

Knowing that conventional industrial pollutants were in the river’s sediments and potentially on the site, we also took water samples upstream, in front of the collapsed shoreline, and downstream. Test results from the samples show no detectable amounts of all but two substances. Both of those were well below water quality standards and did not appear to be specifically associated with the collapse.

Based on this data we found no current adverse impact on water quality due to the spill.
Unsurprisingly, these reassurances were greeted with skepticism. The legacy of Flint and the lying of government officials will not be easily changed. Nor should it be.

This incident did little to create confidence.  For days water flowed down river passed the spill, but the public was unaware of any possible problem. At first it seemed it was because no one was aware of the collapse. But as time went on, we learned that collapse was first reported the day after the limestone was unloaded. The Army Corps of Engineers knew of the spill, but felt it was “not their problem.” State officials learned of it through the reporting of the Windsor Star.

Such bureaucratic, limited thinking by major government agencies will kill us. The idea that we can go along as we always have is collapsing with the shore lines. Everyone knows full well that the banks of most of the rivers in the world scarred by industrial development are contaminated. Water flows over toxic soil. To pretend we can “contain” this without major clean-up efforts is fantasy.

Global climate change is raising the levels of the Great Lakes. As we move into winter, ice is forming. With spring, breaking ice flows will scrape into poisons buried for decades.

We need to rethink our priorities and our practices. Old paradigms are crumbling as quickly as the shoreline. We need to heed the voices emerging around us proclaiming, “We are unstoppable, Another world is possible.” It is up to us to bring it into being.

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A Precious and Historic Moment
Rich Feldman
10 years ago this month, US Federal District Court Judge Patrick Duggan ruled that Micah Fialka-Feldman had a right to live in the university dorm. Micah has an intellectual disability or cognitive impairment (formerly mental retardation). During his school years, he tested to have a 40 IQ. Last week, family and friends gathered with the Judge to honor his decision and to share how Micah’s life has unfolded with purpose over the decade. After watching the film Intelligent Lives, Micah, through Face Time, thanked the Judge who was surrounded by his wife, children, grandchildren and great grandchild. Judge Duggan was presented with a letter from Meg Grigal, co-director of Think College, acknowledging: “Your decision changed Micah’s life and the lives of everyone in his orbit for the better!”

10 years ago there were few people with intellectual disabilities going to college and only one other person living in a dormitory.  Now over 100 universities in 40 states offer housing for more than 6000 students with intellectual disabilities.  Micah knew that he had a right to live in the dorm. With his community he fought for justice. We are all stronger. What a glorious day.

For many social activists, disability justice, rights, pride and advocacy are only recently becoming part of our historical understanding of the humanizing movements that began with the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955.  As the movements of the 20th century emerged, we have consistently asked the question: Where are we going? Who is not at the table? What do we mean by revolution and the most fundamental questions: What does it mean to be human?  What is our relationship to each other & to the earth?

Let us take a moment and look at time and history.

2019 was the 20th anniversary of the Battle of Seattle. 1919 was birth of James Boggs and this year the Boggs Center commemorated his life, his writings and practice.

2020 will be the 30th Anniversary of the ADA (Americans with Disability Act) & the 10th Anniversary of US Social Forum in Detroit Michigan where our theme was:  Another World is Possible, Another US is Necessary and Another Detroit is Happening.

In the early part of the 20th century, less than 100 years ago, eugenics was established and respected in the US. President Teddy Roosevelt clearly stated; “Criminals should be sterilized and feeble-minded persons forbidden to leave offspring behind them”. Funding for the eugenics cause came from such distinguished sources as the Carnegie Institution and the WK Kellogg Foundation, and support also came from the influential leaders of the oil, steel and railroad industries. The most significant era of eugenic sterilization was between 1907 and 1963, when over 64,000 individuals were forcibly sterilized under eugenic legislation in the United States.  Hundreds of thousands of people were placed in state institutions (prisons for the mentally impaired, the mentally ill and the “feeble minded”).

In 1927, the US Supreme court supported these developments and decisions. In the 1930s and 1940s, Hitler escalated the practices that were birthed in the US. Between 1940 and 1941 approximately 70,000 Austrian and German disabled people were killed under the T4 program, most via large-scale killing operations using poison gas. (This methodology served as the precursor to the streamlined extermination methods of the “Final Solution.”) Although Hitler formally ordered a halt to the program in late August 1941, the killings secretly continued until the war’s end, resulting in the murder of an estimated 275,000 people with disabilities.

The “othering of people”, the placing of migrant children in concentration camps, the internment of Japanese Americans, the genocide of indigenous people and the 20th century removal of children placing them in Native American boarding schools, also known as Indian Residential Schools were established in the United States during the late 19th and mid 20th centuries. This history of barbarism is built upon the foundation of enslavement and Jim Crow. This is the history that we have not yet faced and instead face a growing counter-revolution.

While 2020 will be an election year and people will work to defeat Donald Trump, the counter-revolution will not disappear, nor will the possibility of a civil war dissolve because our journey since Montgomery, our humanizing movements have not ushered in new systems nor acknowledged that we are at the end of a period of human history that requires revolution. A revolution that is a two-sided revolution. A revolution to transform ourselves while we create new structures and institutions essential to dedicate ourselves to becoming healthy human beings living in healthy communities. Some will call it the Beloved Community, others Liberated Zones, others Peace Zones.

In 1974, James and Grace Lee Boggs wrote: Revolution and Evolution in the 20th Century. The book emerged from Conversations in Maine which began after the Detroit Rebellion of 1967 and a series of lectures at Wayne State University in 1970 (50 years ago). In this reflection and critique of 20th century revolutions and significant study of US history and challenges, Grace and James emphasized a few points.

  • Think dialectically, concepts of revolution are not static, theory emerges from reflections on practice and theory…do not try to prove theory.
  • The fundamental contradiction in the founding of the US is the contradiction between economic and technological overdevelopment versus the human and social underdevelopment on the other.  Economics commands our values, politics and our humanity rather than our humanity and our politics needing to govern our economics. “Our valuables are more important than our values.”
  • The primary purpose of revolution is to advance human evolution, our dignity, our relationships with ourselves, others and nature.

Let us become solutionaries and work to ensure that our movements, our institutions, our vision include everyone.  As the Disability Movements often say:

  • “Nothing about us without us!”
  • “A Community that excludes even one of its members is no community at all.”

Micah’s victory 10 years ago is one small expression that has had many ripples across our country.  Each decision we make matters.

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Boggscenter – Living For Change News – December 9th, 2019

 

December 9th, 2019

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Thinking for Ourselves

Water Warnings
Shea Howell

As thousands of people across the country participated in the December 6th Climate Strike lead by youth activists, many Detroiters were wondering if their drinking water was safe. Sketchy reports were surfacing about the collapse of the shore line holding land long contaminated with toxic chemicals, including uranium. The Wall Street Journal listed the site as one of “America’s forgotten nuclear legacy wastelands” in 2013. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health said in 2011 that the “potential exists for significant residual radiation” on the site.

But no one seemed particularly concerned until last week end. Having been passed along through a series of “owners,” including the city, only people with long memories thought of the piles along the river as the Revere Copper and Brass site. Few, including its current owners, seemed aware of the critical role the former pot and bearing company had played in the development of the Atomic bomb. But during the 1940s and through the 1950’s uranium was processed there. Between 1943 and 1944 , under the Manhattan Project, at least 1,220 tons of uranium were extruded on the site. Today we are told that the possibility of uranium contamination is slight, but there is no question that the soil contains a toxic mix of chemicals including mercury, PCBs and PAHs.

As various news outlets began to report on the collapse into the river, long-time activist and water plant expert Russ Bellant said:

The Detroit Free Press reported today that with the radioactive material entering the Detroit river “the news is concerning because the Detroit drinking water intake lines are nearby downriver.”  This is not true and thus needlessly alarming.

Detroit’s main intakes are at about seven miles upriver and therefore not subject to this material. The Detroit system has one intake on the Canadian side of the Detroit River that supplies the Southwest Water Treatment Plant in Allen Park. That plant feeds downriver communities. That plant should cease its intake and receive water for its customers from the huge Springwells plant. We are in a low demand season for water so shifting these loads is doable.

Of more concern are cities like Wyandotte, Monroe, Toledo and many Ontario communities that have their own intakes downriver from the spill. They need an aggressive investigation by EPA and EGLE and quick remedies, but their record to date is disconcerting. The Free Press reports that EPA did not know of the November contamination until the Windsor Star called them Wednesday, while EGLE says don’t worry. Neither agency shows the alarm and urgency required. The same attitude they had regarding Flint for far too long.

I urge folks to contact the Great Lakes Water Authority to urge protection of the downriver communities by shifting the load from the Southwest plant to the rest of the Detroit system until safe water can be assured for all their own intakes downriver from the spill. They need an aggressive investigation by EPA and EGLE and quick remedies, but their record to date is disconcerting. The Free Press reports that EPA did not know of the November contamination until the Windsor Star called them Wednesday, while EGLE says don’t worry. Neither agency shows the alarm and urgency required. The same attitude they had regarding Flint for far too long.

I urge folks to contact the Great Lakes Water Authority to urge protection of the downriver communities by shifting the load from the Southwest plant to the rest of the Detroit system until safe water can be assured for all.”

This most recent, predictable possibility of contamination to our water is a reminder of how urgent the message is of young people gathering on our streets to demand action on climate change.  Business as usual is what has brought us to the point where shifting sands can poison entire cities, where waters are rising, and the legacies of war, empire, and industry are threating all life. The  river reminds us that we urgently need to make broad, deep changes to how we are living if we are to find our way to the future.

Neighborhood on the Edge

Who chooses what happens to our neighborhood? This is the question posed by the multi-media installation, Neighborhood on the Edge, by Shaun Nethercott, activist, 2016 Kresge Arts Fellow and award-winning co-founder of Matrix Theatre Company in Hubbard Richard.  This Art X Detroit 2019 art experience will take place at the Mexicantown Latino Cultural Center, 2835 Bagley, Detroit, 48216.

December 8 – December 22

Installation visitors will encounter the voices and images of ten Hubbard Richard residents and hear them tell their stories, why they may stay or go and how the area has changed over the years. The installation is part of a city-wide, multi-disciplinary series featuring twenty-two newly commissioned exhibitions, performances and events developed by alumni Kresge Artist Fellows and Gilda Awardees.

Find out more at @mexicantowncdcdetroit

Boggs Center Living For Change – November 26th, 2019

November 26th, 2019

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Thinking for Ourselves

New Thinking about Development
Shea Howell

The Detroit City Council voted 6 to 3 to reject Mayor Duggan’s $250 million bond proposal. This is an encouraging sign of new leadership emerging. But the victory is likely to be short lived. Duggan will continue to push for a bond in some form. After the vote the Mayor told reporters , “I respect the other perspective, and so, we’re going to have to slow the demolitions down, temporarily. But we are going to sit with council quickly, come up with a process that people feel good about and hopefully move forward later in the year. I’m really confident that council and I can work out something that will take care of the problem.”
Duggan seems to have little grasp of just how much the majority of the people in the city reject and mistrust his leadership. Following the vote, the Detroit Free Press provided a strong analysis highlighting the growing lack of trust in the administration. Wide spread concerns for transparency and accountability, and  the fall-out from a growing number of criminal investigations are all taking a toll.

These public perceptions are fueled by everyday experience as people see projects Duggan touted fail to address daily needs.  Public transportation is a continuing disaster and the Q line is an embarrassing , costly joke, plagued with delays. Land around LCA remains undeveloped. Water continues to be shut off with a growing cumulative effect in the city, touching nearly half of the population. Evictions continue as far too many people cannot meet existing tax burdens. Home owners, who should have received assistance from the Hardest Hit funds, struggle to keep homes functioning. Rents are escalating and increasingly our houses are owned by people who neither live in the city or the country. Meanwhile, basic repair and restoration of the city seems to bring in mostly white suburban contractors, with little representation of the majority of the people who live here benefiting.

The failures of the Hardest Hit Fund money to be directed to preserving home ownership is an especially clear example of the Mayor’s questionable use of federal money . He chose to tear down homes instead. In the process it seems a lot of people who don’t live in the city made a lot of money, while Detroit and especially African American owned firms, received little. Meanwhile, the costs of demolition have more than doubled. Basic concerns for the health and safety of neighbors have been ignored as demolition accelerated.

All of this has provided the context for a No vote from the majority of the council and growing numbers of citizens.

It is time to rethink where we are and what values we need to guide the choices we are making about how to advance our city. Instead of trying to strong arm council or push through a bond proposal, the Mayor should announce a moratorium on water shut offs, on foreclosures and on tax breaks to corporations. He should make all public transportation free to encourage its use. He should halt all demolition.

This would give us an opportunity to come together and think in new ways  about how to restore, protect and recreate city life. We can develop our people as we redevelop our neighborhoods. To do this we need comprehensive, connected, compassionate, and imaginative ideas about our future. This current vote gives us an opportunity to accelerate  this kind of new thinking.

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University of Michigan students, faculty and community members discussed discrimination and “sham” investigations at the “UM: Corruption, Complicity, Coverups” town hall in Weill Hall Sunday night. The event was hosted by UMich is Complicit: a movement dedicated to combating discriminatory hiring practices and sexual misconduct policies at the University.

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The panel featured Scott Kurashige, former director of the Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies Program and tenured professor at U-M, and his partner Emily Lawsin, a lecturer in the departments of Women’s Studies and American Culture. They filed a discrimination lawsuit against the University under the Michigan Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act in December 2016. KEEP READING


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Leaders and Best? Questioning the UM “Detroit Center for Innovation”

If you are a sibling or have a family member with a disability check out this video.?

 

Please take a moment to fill out the MI Roundtable for Diversity & Inclusion:
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Boggs Center – Living For Change News – November 19th, 2019

Boggs Board Lexicon Last edited on 06/04/19

Growing our souls

 Grace Lee Boggs , in her Introduction to the 2008 edition of Revolution and Evolution (2008):

  • “The more I talked about King, the more I felt the need for each of us to grow our souls in order to overcome the new and more challenging contradictions of constantly changing realities” (Boggs & Boggs 2008 [1974], xiv).
  • “We have to help the American people grow our souls enough to recognize that, since we have been consuming 25 percent of the planet’s resources even though we are only 4 percept of the world’s population, we are the ones who must take the first steps to reduce greenhouse emissions. We are the ones who must begin to live more simply so that others can simply live” (Boggs & Boggs 2008 [1974], xxxii).

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November 19th, 2019

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TONIGHT at 7 PM!
@ the Charles H. Wrightnative sonFrom Native Son to Native Song: A Conversation with Stew & The Negro Problem features Tony Awards-winning playwright Stew, as he talks about the relevance of his work “Notes of a Native Song” as it comments on James Baldwin’s “Notes of a Native Son.” INFO HERE

 

 

Thinking for Ourselves

No Debt
Shea Howell

The Detroit City Council is finally showing some good judgment. So far they have refused to be steamrolled by Mayor Duggan into putting a $250 million bond proposal on the March ballot. They have put off the vote on three occasions, demanding changes in reporting, transparency and basic processes of accountability.

We encourage the Council to continue to reject the Mayor’s proposal. Instead, this is an  opportunity to develop a comprehensive housing plan from the administration. We are in a housing emergency for low and moderate income residents. We are beyond an emergency for people who are unhoused. Although the rates of people living outside have declined dramatically, we have as many as 14,000 people surviving without shelter.

Last winter the callousness behind the Mayor’s approach to housing was on full display as people were forcefully removed  from sheltering at Hart Plaza and under viaducts. The forced removal was especially brutal as many people lost what few possessions they cherished or needed for survival.

The delayed vote by the City Council to authorize the bond proposal for a vote has already forced the Mayor to make changes to his original proposal. In part this is due to the widespread outcry as people have come to Council meetings and raised objections about “blight removal.” The current program is highly controversial, faces legal challenges had has been documented as out of control and lacking basic oversight. As the newly formed Detroit 21 Coalition asserts, the many adjustments offered by the Mayor to make the bond issue more palatable simply do not go far enough. The Coalition says:

“We have serious disagreements on the proposed use of funds. While the city plans to rehab 1,000 vacant homes, the city has not guaranteed these homes will be sold at an affordable cost to families living at or below 50 percent of the Area Median Income, which we requested because of the great need for housing lower income Detroiters. And this scale of rehab pales in comparison to 19,000 homes the city plans to demolish for the same cost of about $20,000 each. While we understand that some houses cannot be saved, the city has provided no evidence that only five percent can be redeveloped. When possible, rehabbing a home is usually cheaper than new home construction, making it easier to rent or sell these homes at an affordable price. Furthermore, most residents would prefer rehab to demolition and want their neighborhoods restored.”

In short, the improved transparency and better hiring practices included in the current version of the bond by the Mayor are only there because of the push back from residents and the reluctance of the City Council to support additional debt for a program riddled with corrupt and uncontrolled spending. These changes do not show any serious thinking by the Mayor or any in his administration about how to develop our neighborhoods, improve the daily lives of people who generally cannot afford to go to play in the 2.7 sq miles of downtown, or support people in remaining in their homes.

We need a housing plan that prioritizes the elimination of property taxes, low interest loans and grants for home improvement, real affordable housing, rent control, support for those facing unhoused conditions, and affordable water and utility bills. We need redevelopment plans that develop the skills of our people as well as the functioning of our neighborhoods.

All of these are things we could do right now, without an additional bond. All of these require a commitment to improving community life. While the Mayor is continuing down the same tired road of “removal” using contractor friends, the City Council is finally showing some courage to develop a better way.

In the five years since the forced bankruptcy of the city, none of us should move quickly toward more debt. Instead we should be looking to imaginative, thoughtful plans that depend our people, our capacities and capabilities, and our visions of how we can best live together with care and compassion.

 

 


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The 50th Anniversary of the Assassination of Fred Hampton
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