Thinking for ourselves

By Shea Howell

Corporate Waters

Week 72 of the occupation

shea25This week an international for-profit corporation was hired to evaluate the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. All 4 million customers should be concerned about this move by Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr to employ the services of Veolia Water. Once again EM Orr is making a decision against the interests of the people and laying the groundwork for turning water into a commodity. He has selected a company with a questionable reputation, whose interest is in turning water into private profits, not in protecting it as precious public trust, essential to all people.

The stated mission of this contract is to evaluate the department’s operations. This includes reviewing finances and staffing and will result in recommendations for cost savings, according to a memo written by Sue McCormick, water director.

The last decision Emergency Manager Orr made about the water department was disastrous. He has apparently learned nothing from the widespread pain and international embarrassment he caused the city when he ordered massive shut offs.

A major part of that decision was to hire a company that was only capable of shutting off households. By their own admission, Homrich had neither the expertise nor the inclination to go after large corporate debtors. Orr chose to attack thousands of residents rather than going after a small number of corporate and commercial accounts. These accounts owe nearly half of the total outstanding bills. Had Orr gone after 40 companies he would have brought in nearly all the outstanding corporate debt. Instead Orr approved a $5.7 million contract for 2 years to shut off residents. He has yet to account to anyone about these decision.

Orr’s desire to protect corporate profits does not stop with letting their water flow. He has consistently demonstrated his willingness to let public money flow to banks for exorbitant fees and payments.  From his earliest offer to give banks nearly all of what was owed while cutting pensioners to 10%, to his refusal to challenge the water department debt, we see a pattern of decision making devoid of any sense of justice.

The London Financial Times reports it will cost Detroit $2.7 billion to pay back $1.4 billion. The $537 million that Orr has already handed over to banks to escape extra payments on questionable swap deals is more than four times the entire past due water bill at the beginning of March when the shut offs began.

Orr has never offered any explanation for why he refuses to go after the banks for what many believe to be unprincipled and possibly illegal swap deals in the water department. Instead he is offering refinancing options. This will save money in the short term, but continue public indebtedness and leave the banks and their disreputable practices untouched.

This move to use private companies to manage public goods is a step toward privatization, no matter what Orr says. His company of choice, Veolia, is one of the three largest for profit water corporations in the world. In 2003 these three announced their goal to take control of 70% of U.S. and Canadian public water utilities within a decade. The DWSD, with its strategic position along the Great Lakes would be a critical step toward that goal.

Privatization has consistently meant higher prices, fewer services, and poorer quality of drinking water globally. That is why governments and municipalities that were seduced into using private companies to manage their water systems are now taking back control.

Orr is trying to tell us this is merely a limited contract, confined to offering recommendations. Everyone knows that such recommendations are not neutral. They will point to the need to hire Veolia to manage whatever authority ultimately emerges.  If you wonder how this process works, just ask Jones Day, the corporate law firm for the city. They can tell you how easy it is to move from advisor to long-term managers. And how profitable an arrangement it can be.

Thinking for ourselves

By Shea Howell

Suburban Waters

Week 71 of the occupation of Detroit

August 19, 2014

bfly_yellowwenDecisions about the future of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department are being made behind closed doors. On Monday, Nolan Finley of the Detroit News described a deal “to turn over ownership and operation” to a regional authority. Finley said that “deal had been hung up for months over suburban concerns that Detroit’s demand for an annual premium to bolster its general fund would send water rates soaring.” Later he noted,  “The suburbs were also concerned about taking on legacy costs and absorbing Detroit’s high rate of unpaid water bills.”

According to Finley, these issues have been resolved and a new authority is in the works. Key to this would be an agreement that the authority would pay the city $50 million yearly for 40 years. Suburban “residents will not pay a dime more than they are now to cover the payment to Detroit.” This is because the $50 million “could be recovered through efficiencies gained by better management practices and by refinancing the debt.” Also suburban customers would never have more than a 4 percent rate hike a year. Detroiters, apparently, have no such guarantee. Continue Reading »

Thinking for ourselves

By Shea Howell

Democracy Shut off

Week 70 of the Occupation of Detroit


shea25The human toll of living under Emergency Management was made clear through the water crisis. Detroiters have endured an unprecedented assault on our basic human right to water for nearly 6 months before any action was taken.

The decision to aggressively pursue nearly half the city for being behind in water bills of $150 while ignoring corporate scofflaws who owed thousands was made by the Emergency Manager. The decision to sacrifice the well being of people in order to make the sale of the water department more attractive to investors was made by the Emergency Manager. The decision to persist in the shut off policy in spite of outcry from local activists was made by the Emergency Manager. The decision to continue shut offs in spite of escalating demonstrations, civil disobedience, and the condemnation of the United Nations was made by the Emergency Manger.

The decision to dump the problem on the Mayor after the Judge pointed out that the fiasco was negatively impacting bankruptcy was made by the Emergency Manager. Continue Reading »

Registration Opens for New Work New Culture Conference 2014

riw-detroit2Contacts: Tawana Petty: 313.433.9882 or; Frank Joyce: 313.510.8941 riw-detroit1

Registration via the New Work New Culture website is now available for the October event in Detroit that will convene thinker/doers from all over the world who are building an earth friendly economy for all.

From October 18-20 in Detroit, Michigan several hundred activists, organizers, theorists, farmers, culture creators, builders, inventors and entrepreneurs will meet to exchange ideas and experiences. A vendors and exhibitors area will feature new machines and new ways to use them.

It will also include displays on global communication and community based production of food, energy, housing, transportation, education, recreation, art and durable goods.

Featured presenters, facilitators and dialogue leaders include, but are not limited to, Frithjof Bergmann, Blair Evans, Emmanuel Pratt, Rebecca Solnit, Gar Alperovitz, Grace Lee Boggs, Kathi Weeks, Tawana “Honeycomb” Petty, Mischa Schaub, Frank Joyce, Kim Sherrobi, Michael Hardt, Judith Snow, Adrienne Marie Brown and Halima Cassells. Food will be provided by local New Work farmers, caterers and restaurants. Practitioners and theorists will come together in “worthshops” to discuss education, energy production, food production and distribution, recreation, sports and entertainment, additive manufacturing using fabricators, community land trusts and other topics. Several cultural events will be part of the program.

The gathering will open at Wayne State University on Saturday afternoon October following the conclusion of the 2014 North American Labor History Conference. The Saturday program will include a healing space exercise, discussion on Why New Culture, and a cultural event featuring local and national talent. On Sunday and Monday, the conference will move to the Samaritan Center located at 5555 Conner on the eastside of Detroit.

Please visit for additional program information. The registration fee of $200 includes several meals. For those needing financial assistance, scholarships are available. Accommodation options are listed under the Lodging Info tab on the website.

Tawana Petty

Mother, Organizer, Author, Poet

Coordinator for New Work New Culture Conference

October 18 – 20, 2014



TawanaPettyAmerican Revolutionary, Transformation in 82 Minutes.

“I feel so sorry for people who are not living in Detroit,” says 99, then 98 year old Grace Lee Boggs at the intro to the film by Grace Lee (no relation), American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs.

As she gazes at the once vibrant, now dilapidated, and enormous Packard Building, Boggs provides a powerful analysis of the postindustrial city struggling to reinvent itself, after the job system has failed it. “Detroit gives a sense of epochs of civilization in a way that you don’t get in a city like New York. It’s obvious by looking at it, that what was, doesn’t work. People are always striving for size, to be a giant, and this is a symbol of how giants fall.”

I’ve had the pleasure of screening American Revolutionary at several venues in Detroit, and in Metro Detroit, and have traveled with it nationally. Even after a dozen viewings, I discover something new each time, and that amazes me. I can truly say that the filmmaker Grace Lee did an incredible job with this film.

Although, Lee follows Boggs over a period of 10 years, she was able to capture so much more than the story of one remarkable woman’s life. American Revolutionary is not just a film about Grace, although that alone would be significant, it is a film about transformation in our country, our society, individual transformation, and transformation in Detroit.

It is through Grace’s rootedness here, and the fact that she has been an active member and maker of community in Detroit for more than six decades, that inspires activists of my generation, particularly women who were fortunate enough to see the film, to continue forward in this struggle for our humanity, while embracing the evolutionary, and sometimes very difficult process. I often find that people need something and someone to look at that’s inspiring us to continue to evolve. Grace is absolutely one of those beings.

At 99, Grace is still pushing for new ideas and ways to determine how we treat each other as human beings, and at this time, “on the clock of the world,” as Grace would put it, how we treat each other is not only significant, but it necessary for our survival during these times.

This is a film that I recommend to anyone who is seeking answers to questions like, “what does it mean to be a human being?” A question I believe, if answered, or at least pondered over, is a huge step forward to our becoming the beloved community.

American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs will be screening, Wednesday, August 6, 2014 at 6:30 p.m. at the Hannah Community Center, 819 Abbot Road in East Lansing. The event is being sponsored by the Michigan Women’s Historical Center and Hall of Fame and the East Lansing Film Festival. Tickets are $10, $8 for seniors and $5 for students.

It will also be screening during the North End Urban Expressions Art Festival: The Healing II on August 22, 2014 at 6pm.

Both screenings will be followed by a discussion led by representatives of the James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership

For more information about the film or to purchase it online, visit

Thinking for ourselves

Fair Water

By Shea Howell

Week 69 of the Occupation

August 5, 2014

shea25The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department held a Fair last Saturday. On Monday, Mayor Mike Duggan announced he will extend the moratorium on shut offs until August 25. The extension is to give time to “redesign bill collections.”

The aggressive bill collection and shut off policy established by Emergency Manger Kevyn Orr brought unwanted national and international criticism.  It is a policy designed to make DWSD more attractive to prospective buyers or suburban interests. It has created widespread suffering and chaos in the process.

The Mayor must separate himself from this shut off policy and takes a stand to shift rates away from usage to the ability to pay. This shift is the heart of the People’s Affordability Plan adopted by the City Council in 2006. Further, the Mayor must make clear to the court appointed mediators deciding the fate of the Water Department that water is a public trust, not a private profit center.

So far Mayor Duggan has done nothing more than offer a kinder, gentler shut off policy. “If we make it more convenient for Detroiters to make payment arrangements and we do a better job of communicating the available help for those truly in need, I’m convinced the great majority of Detroiters will step up and take care of their bills,” Duggan said.

Does the Mayor seriously think that nearly half the city is behind in their bills because they found the service center hours “inconvenient?”

Such a view is nonsensical and unrealistic. If Mayor Duggan talked to people at the Water Fair he would have heard how unfair this current system is.

People gathered as early as 6:30 am to talk to service center personnel.  Here is some of what they said to the People’s Water Board:

  • I work full time. I had $250 for a $1300 water bill. I called DWSD, they told me to come today, that my bill would get paid. I found out that they don’t have any money to help with bills. That’s false hope. They don’t have any money to pay anything.
  • My water was supposed to be included in my rent. My landlord didn’t pay my water for a year. I have no other choice. I have children.
  • They’re charging people $112 to put the bill in their name. I had just paid $300 the week before, then they wanted another $112.
  • They’ve been doing an estimated bill on my house for four years. I don’t know why. They owe me $1440, are about to cut off my water because I owe $148.
  • My water’s been off for a month, and they still sent me a bill. I called THAW to get help with my bill. They said they would call me back in 5-7 business day, that was more than two weeks ago.
  • Our water bill went from $150 to $317 to $717, and we’re hardly home.
  • My water bill is $260-$300 per month. I only make $625 per month. If it weren’t for my daughter I wouldn’t be able to make it.
  • My water’s been off for almost two months. I waited on THAW to call me back for over two weeks, they never did call.
  • They turned my water off seven days before they were supposed to. I would have had the money in five days.
  • All this is just smoke and mirrors. It’s a cover-up cause the judge says you have to have a program in place.
  • This is chaos. These people have no idea what they’re doing. This is damage control because we’re raising hell about the water. There’s no money to help us.

The Mayor should step out from behind Emergency Manager Orr and do the right thing. Stop the shut offs. Turn the water on. Implement the Peoples Water Affordability Plan. Unless the Mayor represents the interests of the people, taking charge of the water department will be little more than one more failed public relations effort by Kevyn Orr.






Teaching Responsibility

By Kim Sherobbi

responsibility_image        In the booklet, Responsibility, Foundations of Democracy, the Center for Civic Education lists six sources of Responsibility,

Promises   Assignments   Occupation Rules and Laws, Customs, Civic Principles,.

I don’t disagree with this list.  But in my 25 years as a Physical Education teacher in the Detroit Public Schools, I discovered much simple ways  of teaching responsibility, ways  that are also available in neighborhood play.


For example, if a player falls or is hurt during a game, , we stop playing and do not resume  until it is clear that he or she is OK.


Another example is how we speak to each other. Do we holler and scream?

Or do we take time to encourage and explain?


How do we treat the referee?  Recently a soccer player got so angry with the decision of a referee that he struck him, and the referee died .


It really goes back to how we treat each other; to whether we view ourselves as members of a  beloved community.


The Beloved Community is not a specific destination or place. It

is made up of everyday people like you, me or us.

This community starts with thoughts inside an individual that radiate outside to create a loving environment. Beloved Community members are committed solutionaries and healers who believe in collaboration, compassion, inclusion and other human

qualities that build and nurture people and the earth.


Thinking for ourselves

By Shea Howell

Collapsed Pause

Week 69 of the Occupation

August 29, 2014

shea25The move toward bankruptcy in Detroit is complicated and complex. The most direct way to understand what is happening is a slogan being used by some local community advocates. “First they shut off our democracy, and then they shut off our water.”

The continuing crisis in the lives of people caused by the willful pursuit of shut offs in spite of a massive national and international outcry shows the real values and motives behind those who support emergency mangers. They are determined to reshape the city by driving out many of those who have lived here and created a culturally vibrant, radically inclusive community.

Under the direction of Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, the leadership of the water department told a federal judge, the people of Detroit and the world that there would be a “pause” in the draconian water shut off policy. Neither the Water Department nor the Emergency Manger has the capacity or the will to make this claim a reality. Instead, they said what they needed to placate the judge and the media, and continued to assault neighborhoods. They manipulate media symbols and avoid substantive solutions. Continue Reading »

Thinking for ourselves

By  Shea Howell

Shut off pause

Week 68 of the occupation

shea25On Monday July 21, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department announced a moratorium on water shut offs for 15 days. This announcement came after widespread outrage over their policy of aggressively shutting off the water to people who cannot afford to pay their bills.

Mounting local, national and international criticism of the DWSD finally broke through the walls of the bankruptcy court room last week, causing Judge Steven Rhodes to acknowledge something needed to be done about the situation. This week began with the announcement of a “pause” in shut offs.

While this announcement provides some immediate relief, it is little more than a hasty effort to satisfy the Judge. It does nothing to address the depth of the problems. Nor does it do anything for those who are already shut off. Continue Reading »

Thinking for ourselves

By Shea Howell

Distorted Reality, Week 67 of the occupation of Detroit

July 15, 2013

shea25One year ago Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr filed for bankruptcy. It has been a brutal year for the people of Detroit. Step by step we have seen long cherished rights and values trampled on in the name of financial necessity.

Public lands have been given away. Generous tax breaks have been handed to developers, while elders have seen their pensions taxed and slashed. People have been threatened. Many have lost livelihood, home, and health care. Schools have been closed. Classrooms are packed. Political cronies line their pockets while abusing our children in academies designed to deaden imagination, connection, and creativity.

We the people have been lied to. Kevyn Orr, Jones Day, Rick Snyder and the right wing forces in our country have long been thinking about how bankruptcy can be used to attack pensions, privatize services, and destroy the political power of cities. As early as 2011, Jones Day lawyers were considering how bankruptcy could be used to eliminate pension obligations. Emails released in Court over this year document the secret plotting to move the city toward bankruptcy. Meanwhile Jones Day is collecting millions from Detroit while they peddle their expertize to Puerto Rico.

Orr/Snyder and their corporate sponsors claim cities are just administrative units. Concerns for public health and welfare are reduced to simple equations and potential markets. Political choices, balancing costs and benefits, to whom and for what purpose, are decided behind closed doors, with no public explanation or accountability.

Thus we are faced with decisions that defy rationality. We are presented with conclusions that benefit bankers, businesses, and a small financial elite.

This assault on Detroit includes a form of psychological warfare.  The first shot of this battle was in August of last year. EM Orr told the Wall Street Journal the people of Detroit are “dumb, lazy, happy and rich.’

A storm of protest forced Orr to distance himself from the crudeness of his comment. But its essence guides his thinking. It is the same thinking invoked to justify the aggressive shut offs of water to thousands of Detroiters who cannot meet their bills.

Daniel Howes of the Detroit News reflected it last week when he wrote about “scofflaws.” These are the people of Detroit, he says, who think we “could ignore bills without fear of a shut-off, plead poverty, blame accounting snafus in their books, run to City Hall in search of political intervention, or petition the United Nations in the name of human rights violations. Howes argued that Detroiters are living in a “culture marked by entitlement and abandonment.”

Echoing the dumb, lazy happy and rich image, Howes explains that the recent increase in water costs of nearly 9 % in a year is “driven by the disproportionately high number of water customers in Detroit who consume water they do not pay for. The result: higher percentage rate increases for Detroiters who do pay than for overall users of the system.”

This effort to demonize and divide people in the city is an old tactic. It ignores basic facts: most notable among them is that since 2005 there have been efforts to tie the cost of water to the ability to pay. This would be both financially sound and ensure the right of all to water.

Because the city has not implemented the Water Affordability Plan, approved by Council in 2006, Detroiters are paying twice the national average for water. In the last decade, our bills have increased 119 %. Most residents pay 20% of their pretax income for water, nearly ten times the EPA recommendation.

Howes, Orr, Snyder, Duggan, most of the city council and administrators at the water department know nothing of the people in this city.  They make decisions based on myths, supported by a right wing ideology. Then they repeat the myths over and over again, to try to get the rest of us to believe in their distorted reality.





Beyond the Bottom Line

Week 66 of the occupation

By Shea Howell

July 8, 2014

shea25 The decision by Kevyn Orr/ Governor Snyder to make the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department more marketable by shutting off water to those who cannot pay raises fundamental questions.

This crude, vicious, and dangerous decision reveals what happens to ordinary people when unchecked authority makes choices dictated by profits. Bottom line thinking, devoid of human and civic values, puts individual lives and whole communities at risk.

This week a coalition of activists sent an “Open Letter to All Parties Currently Engaged in Mediations Regarding the Future of the DWSD.” The letter points out that the fate of the DWSD is “currently being determined behind closed doors.  Mediation by United States District Court judges and local political leaders will determine the utility’s future in the aftermath of the city’s bankruptcy arrangements.”

Until now the only calculations that the mediators had to face were financial ones. How much is the system worth? To whom? How much can they get to alleviate the debt to the city? Who will run it? For whose benefit? Continue Reading »


At 99    Thoughts. Thanks.  Questions.

By Grace Lee Boggs

amrev_graceTo begin with, my thoughts this week are  with my friend, Micah Fialka-Feldman, who will be undergoing open heart surgery in Ann Arbor.



Next  I want  to thank the folks who called, sent cards or came to wish me a Happy 99 last weekend.

Special thanks to  filmmaker Grace Lee and her team for producing  The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs and to PBS/POV for showing it nationally.

I’ve been asking myself , and I urge others to ask themselves  why are people  responding so warmly to this film.

  I detected  an answer  in an email which showed up this morning.

          “Hi Grace  
I heard of you for the first time today. You are an inspiration to me and more confirmation for the path in life I am on.  I am a huge optimist and the most positive person I know. Rual Pinal county Arizona is in many ways similar to Detroit. Crime drugs poverty and lack of employment are issues to be delt with here.  I have a plan of  action that uses social media in a positive way and the natral resources of the area and solar electricity production and microfarming and local talent and creatvity.

“How does one person manage to turn a vision into a reality or even be taken seriously?  I feel fortunate to have seen you on pbs. Thank you     Jeff G.

Reading Jeff’s email,   I suspect that there may be   millions of Americans like him who are feeling  the need to change this country fundamentally and  realize that these changes aren’t coming from governments.  What they get from the film is confirmation: and encouragement  “If a 98 year old Chinese American woman can evolve into an American revolutionary, so can I. ”

That’s the Next American Revolution in process!!!


Thinking for ourselves
By Shea Howell

Water choices
Week 65 of the Occupation

shea33The pursuit of profits is endangering the health and well being of everyone in Detroit. What Kevin Orr, Jones Day, and the corporate powers they serve termed a business necessity is being revealed to the world as a violation of the most basic human right to water. This crisis was orchestrated to make the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) more attractive to buyers. Claiming they are not “callous about the plight of lower income residents,” their actions show they are oblivious.

Without warning, after seeking private bids for sale of the water department, Orr and company unleashed an “aggressive” shut off program. They aimed to turn off between 1500 and 3000 households per week, if people were more than $150 behind in their bill.

This sort of aggressive, dangerous action is predictable. Decisions about our lives are being made looking at the bottom line, not at the safety, wellbeing, or quality of life of the people. These decisions are made in a vacuum, with no input or accountability. Continue Reading »


Welcome to the Boggs School
By Halima Cassells, Parent

BEC_logo_2Stepping in, larger-than-life portraits of young faces greet me- red, orange, blue, green- smiling as if they have a secret that they are ready to share. Looking up, I see whimsical cloud kites adorning the ceiling.

Welcome to the James and Grace Lee Boggs School!!

My first impression as a prospective parent was that this school is pretty cool. I had no idea the amount of awesomeness in store for our family this past school year.

Tucked in a neighborhood on Detroit’s east side, at 4141 Mitchell, this space is dedicated to growing solutionary leaders.

The first week I asked about homework, and my daughter responded: “Boggs school isn’t about homework; it’s about figuring out how we want to treat each other. We’ve been creating our class social contract.”

Inspired by the work of James and Grace Lee Boggs, Julia Putnam, at 16 one of Grace’s very first teenage volunteers and now principal, decided that there should be a school dedicated to teaching the skills of leadership, creative problem-solving, and social responsibility. She and her team worked for five years to bring this vision into the world.

But how can social justice and responsibility be so much fun? With its awesome administrative team, Boggs School not only visited 20 community spaces for field trips last year. At each space the young people helped, added to, or co-created something while there, experiencing connected learning at its best.

Students visited galleries, gardens, museums, and even other schools. At Detroit School of the Arts, students created a collaborative video project that talks about our “alikeness” and features original animated drawings, spoken word and song.

photo credit: Leah Duncan

“My favorite field trip was to the Heidelberg project. We got to meet Mr. Guyton, and we got to see his art, and it was cool because it’s what other people thought was trash,” says third grader Yusef.

This spring on a stage in the middle of Mitchell Street
with an audience of over 150 people, Boggs School hosted an event at the school that invited family, friends, and neighbors to get together and interact authentically.

There were several other celebrations throughout the year: like a harvest fest, a “walk-in” movie original, and tumbling, poetry, and comedy- not to mention a feature performance by Passalacqua who instructed the audience to move in slow motion.

When I asked most folks what they like best about the Boggs School, 99% simply said “the people.” 4th grader Jayla, replied: I liked the teachers and the activities we did because we had good times.”

Summer vacation is here, but we are all anticipating stepping back into the Boggs School in the fall.

photo credit: Leah Duncan

Halima Cassells
DBCFSN Co-op Grocery Store
Community Outreach Coordinator
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Thinking for ourselves
By Shea Howell

Future Time
Week 64 of the occupation
June 24, 2014

shea25Time is slippery in Detroit. Sometimes you turn a corner and step into the future.
It happens in early summer walking through the Cass Corridor, coming upon an unexpected iris garden, determined to provide wild beauty in the face of encroachment. It happens in the fall in the countless celebrations by urban gardeners who have made it through another year to harvest. It happens in the gatherings across the city where African Drums encourage children to dance with a joy so deep it spills out all over. And it happens every June at the Allied Media Conference.

This year was the 16th annual AMC, the 8th in Detroit. Organizers said it was the most strongly attended yet, bringing together over 2000 media activists from around the globe. Mostly young, mostly people of color, with a range of gender identities, they see themselves as doing media based organizing. Their goal is to use “media, art, or technology to advance a more just, creative, and collaborative world.”

People gathered in strategy sessions, workshops and conversations. Topics included Participatory Public Art for Justice, Building the Other World That’s Possible, Librarians and Palestinian Solidarity, and Co-Designing Our Cities. The theme tracks running though the conference included Creative Placemaking/Placekeeping, Liberation Technologies for World Building & Survival, and Youth Media and Movements.

Fundamental to this vibrant network of activists are their principles. Here are some all of us should think about:

• We are making an honest attempt to solve the most significant problems of our day.

• We are building a network of people and organizations that are developing long-term solutions based on the immediate confrontation of our most pressing problems.

• Whenever there is a problem there are already people acting on the problem in some fashion. Understanding those actions is the starting point for developing effective strategies to resolve the problem, so we focus on the solutions, not the problems.

• Place is important. For the AMC Detroit is important as a source of innovation, collaborative, low-resource solutions Detroit gives the conference a sense of place, just as each o f the conference participants bring their own sense of place with them.

This sense of Detroit, at a moment of opportunity and crisis, was woven throughout. In the opening Ceremony musician, organizer, spirit leader Sterling Toles welcomed people to Detroit as a place of love. Octavia’s Brood collectively presented pieces of their developing science fiction stories, carrying us into an imagined future.

The assault on democracy, on the political and human rights of our people, and the efforts to turn cities into profit centers were discussed in workshops, films, hallways and children’s sessions.

Detroiters Resisting Emergency Mangers did a workshop about the State of Emergency, and our Alternative Peoples Plan. People engaged in collaborative thinking about new ways to organize and resist efforts to turn us into a whiter, wealthier city.

Almost everyone knew of the human rights challenge to the United Nations over water shut offs. AMCers were especially interested in the upcoming Water Week. People were encouraged to spread the word about volunteering for We The People canvassing and for Water Weekend starting Saturday June 28 at 12 noon at Jacobi Ra Park, 24 Avalon Street in Highland Park.

The Conference closed to the echo of African Drums, in a whirl of motion and energy. Into that circle, Lila Cabbil of the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute stepped up to ask for support for Detroit. “I want you to know we all have the capacity to be a Rosa Parks,” she said, and as we face this unprecedented crisis, “We need to wage love, as our beloved woman warrior Charity Hicks tells us.” Her call was greeted with a fierce energy that should shake any emergency manger who thinks he can shape our future. A beautiful, healthy, just future is already emerging.

R.I.P Ruby Dee Davis, 1922-2014

Grace Ruby hugOver the years Ruby Dee has become a part of all our lives because in our living rooms , on TV, we have watched and identified with her in so many movies and at so many civil rights demonstrations. Despite her fame and artistry she was extraordinarily unpretentious and could have been our sister, daughter, girlfriend.

Ruby loved fresh ideas and was especially fond of Jimmy Boggs. I am not sure how she even knew he was dying, but two days before his transition on July 22, 1993 she sent him a huge tray of gingerbread with the long poem reprinted below (from the Memorial booklet. and from page 282-3 of my autobiography)

The last time I saw Ruby was when she showed up unexpectedly at our 2011 TNAR book signing meeting at the Brecht Forum in NYC. She was as pert and chipper as a teenager in a red derby. The picture is by Angela Jones.

Last year when I was in New York I tried to see her, but learned that she was in the hospital and not receiving visitors.

od1761angela oz

Thinking for ourselves
By Shea Howell

Contempt of Court
Week 63 of the occupation
June 17, 2013

shea25Lennette Williams and her daughter Mailauni first came to public attention in 1998. Ms. Williams then challenged the Chief Judge of Wayne County Probate Court Milton Mack because of his mishandling of her $30 million settlement with Henry Ford Hospital. The money was intended to provide for her and Mailauni because of complications that had arisen during the birth of Mailauni, 16 years earlier. Their case became a symbol of the corruption endemic in Probate court. Over the next decade stories abounded of lawyers and judges lining their pockets at the expense of clients who were often unable to defend themselves.

In a thoughtful article in 2002 then Metro Times reporter Curt Guyette did an extensive exposed the corruption surrounding probate court. In the course of this article he quotes Ms. Williams saying, “I resent to have to keep coming through this court and be ripped off. It is wrong. I have told the truth. I have papers proving what I am saying and you have constantly turned a blind ear to it.” Continue Reading »

Thinking for ourselves
By Shea Howell

Water, Dispossession and Resistance
Week 62 of the occupation
shea25Water is a basic human right. That was the strong message sent to the Detroit Works/Detroit Future project during the environmental session held as part of their community conversations. These are the orchestrated conversations that Detroit Future claims give it legitimacy to reshape our city. The message that water is a human right was ignored. Neither the subsequent “Strategic Framework” nor current practices reflect this deeply held community value.

The failure of Detroit Future, the Blight Elimination Task Force, or any of our elected officials to demand a moratorium on water shut offs reveals their complicity in the effort to remove people from their homes. They do not challenge the takeover of our city by corporate powers.

Let’s be clear. These water shut offs are not about unpaid bills. This is about dispossession of the people. These shutoffs are intended to drive people from their homes. Water is the wedge. People are being targeted at the rate of 1500 to 3000 homes a week. Continue Reading »

RIP General Baker 1941-2014. Yuri Kochiyama 1921-2014

We’ve lost two more stalwarts in the ongoing struggle for a new world of peace and social justice: General Baker and Yuri Kochiyama.

Our hearts go out to Marian Kramer, Gen’s wife and comrade and their children and grandchildren.

The last time General and I talked was four years ago on June 19, 2010. It was the night before the opening of the 2nd US Social Forum.

We laughed as we recalled the heady days of the 1960s.

We talked about Continue Reading »

Thinking for ourselves
By Shea Howell

Beyond Pensions
Week 61 of the Occupation of Detroit
June 3, 2014

shea25The dictatorial running of our city distorts our ability to think and discuss the kind of future we want for ourselves and our children. Currently, we engaged in an outrageously brutal, sham process of public decision-making.

Across the country more than 32,000 individuals are receiving ballots to vote on the future of their retirement plans. This vote is complicated, misleading, unclear, and mismanaged.

First, there is no “No.” Voting against the plan does not stop the bankruptcy process. Nor does it protect pensioners from cuts. It is a forced choice among bad alternatives. Some changes, like reductions in health care benefits, have already taken place, regardless of the vote.

Secondly, pensioners are told voting No is not an option. EM Orr reiterated in Mackinac his long held position that the current offer to pensioners is the best there is. He said. “If we do not get this plan through, if we have to go back to the drawing board, the cuts will be severe, and we will not be able to be as compassionate, which is what we want to do.”
Orr’s credibility is nil. His compassion is hollow and his take it or leave it stance, is like that of a schoolyard bully.
He was sent back, twice, by the court to re-negotiate with the banks because he offered them too much money. It is difficult to believe him when he says this is the best deal in town. Continue Reading »

RIP General Baker 1941-2014.
By Grace Lee Boggs

marygrove_SC_0340We’ve lost another stalwart in the struggle, General Baker . He was a huge presence and will be sorely missed.

Our hearts go out to Marian Kramer, his wife and comrade, their children and grandchildren.

The last time General and I talked was four years ago on June 19, 2010. It was the night before the opening of the 2nd US Social Forum.

We laughed as we recalled the heady days of the 1960s.

We talked about

• How Jimmy challenged two FBI guys to stand up to J. Edgar Hoover, even inviting them to a workshop on struggle against bosses which he would soon be giving.

• How after the murder of Cynthia Scott by a cop in July 1963, thousands of us marched over and over again around police headquarters at 1300 Beaubien , shouting “Stop Killer Cops!!!”

• How John Watson and Mike Hamlin took over the WSU student paper SOUTH END and declared “One worker is worth 100 students!”

In the last four years, building on the broad shoulders of giants like General, we’ve let the world know that out of the devastation of Detroit’s de-industrialization we have been creating a post-industrial society that is the alternative to planetary extinction.

Without the struggles of DRUM, FRUM, ELRUM , this would would have been much more difficult.

Thinking for ourselves
By Shea Howell
Benefit or betrayal?
Week 60 of the Occupation

shea25Who benefits? If we answer this question by looking at the lives of our children, it is obvious that the policies of our nation, states, and cities are failing miserably.

As the policy elite gather this week in Mackinac, they should look beyond Grand Bargains, political posturing, bankruptcy, and bond ratings to the state of our children. Nothing more starkly reveals the failure of the reigning economic and political ideas than the increasingly impoverished lives and diminished opportunities of our young.

The Casey Foundation recently released a report called “Race for Results.” The results they document are disturbing. Deepening poverty, and health, and educational disparities mark the lives of all children in America, but especially those of African American, Latino and Native heritage.

“Race for Results” provides a high-level but nuanced look at children in each racial demographic and some of the conditions that explain their circumstances,” said Laura Speer, associate director of policy reform and advocacy at the Casey Foundation. “We see that where a child lives matters and that in nearly every state, African-American, American Indian and Latino children have some of the steepest obstacles to overcome.”
The report concludes, “For African-American children, the situation is dire. In general, states in the Rust Belt and the Mississippi Delta are places where opportunity for black children is poorest. African-American kids face the greatest barriers to success in Michigan, Mississippi and Wisconsin.” Continue Reading »

James & Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership

Dear friends,

sunflower3We are asking for your support. Your contribution advances our work as a Center committed to developing leadership, deepening ideas, and creating programs and community based structures for the Next American R(E)volution.

This year Grace Lee Boggs will be 99. With the release of the film “An American Revolutionary—the Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs,” and its showing on PBS at the end of June, we are reaching thousands of people with new ideas about the kind of country we can all create.

Over this past year, Grace has been emphasizing: Continue Reading »


RIP William Worthy, 1921 – 2014, Vincent Harding 1931 – 2014
by Grace Lee Boggs

willian worthyvincent harding marygrove_SC_0340This month the world, the movement and I lost two irreplaceable comrades,. William Worthy, the trailblazing journalist, and Vincent Harding , the historian, theologian and movement activist.

The media including the New York Times, had a lot to say about Worthy, They wrote about how Blll , defying all kinds of government restrictions, had gone to China and Cuba. Democracy Now replayed its WW2 interview with him.

I remember Bill best for a short notice that appeared on the lower left hand corner of the front page of the New York Times on August 28, 1963, the day of the March on Washington . In it he and Conrad Lynn, an African American lawyer and Freedom Rider, called on movement activists to create an all-black Freedom Now Party.

The proposal scared the daylights out of the Democratic Party because it could not afford to lose the black vote.

For the next few months, until Election Day we drove all over the country from county to county gathering enough signatures to get a Freedom Now Party on the ballot. We succeeded in Michigan!!!!

Some months ago, after learning that Worthy was teaching at Howard University, I called and spoke with him.

Monday morning, the day of Vincent’s transition, about a dozen Detroit activists met in my living room with Nelson and Joyce Johnson from Greensboro, N.C. We started the meeting by sending a message to the Harding family and ended it by singing Vincent’s favorite anthem, “We are Building Up A New World, Builders Must Be Strong.”

He made his transition a few hours after our meeting ended.

Thinking for ourselves

Climate challenges
By Shea Howell
Week 59 of the occupation
May 20, 2014

shea25As the economic, political, and media elite prepare for their annual gathering on Mackinac Island, they should stop and take a close look at the water. Coast Guard cutters only recently freed it from ice three feet deep. Tim Hygh, the Director of the Mackinac Island Convention Bureau said he had never seen anything like the ice encasing the island this winter. “Some of the locals,” he said, “will tell you they haven’t seen anything like this since 1972.”

This extreme winter cold and snow is but one more sign that our climate is shifting. Excessive heat and drought ravage most of Africa and now Russia. California is experiencing the worst drought in 100 years and wildfires are commonplace. Continue Reading »

Jackson Rising
By Tawana Petty

May 17-24-2014

TawanaPettyThe first weekend in May, I was able to attend the Jackson Rising: New Economies Conference in Jackson, Miss., with an incredible Detroit delegation. The conference was birthed out of the vision of late Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba (Baba Chokwe), the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM), which he founded, and the Jackson Peoples’ Assembly.

It meant a great deal to be in Jackson at a time when, much like Detroit, its citizens are struggling to pick up the pieces after a devastating blow. Baba Chokwe, a lifelong revolutionary, activist and organizer, made history when he was elected mayor in a grassroots campaign, then suddenly died after only two months in office. His election had not only ignited residents in the city of Jackson, but also inspired many people in his hometown Detroit. Continue Reading »

Thinking for ourselves
By Shea Howell

Empty Houses
Week 58 of the occupation
May 13, 2014

shea25Homes left empty by the foreclosure crisis are like open wounds. My neighborhood is no exception. Over the years we have had our share of abandoned houses, but most found their way to new families.

But the foreclosure crisis hit us like a tidal wave. Three years ago my neighbor of 35 years left her home. A retired DPS teacher, she took out a loan to fix her roof, build a new garage, and pave her driveway. Sensible repairs on a house she intended to live in with her sister until she died. She was too embarrassed to tell anyone that the loan she took out to pay for these repairs had suddenly ballooned. Even with the help of her sister it was too much for her.

So one morning the moving truck arrived. By evening she was gone, leaving a box of things on the porch she thought her children might want. Only as she was pulling out did she call and tell them what had happened. Continue Reading »

Thinking for ourselves
By Shea Howell

Form and substance
Week 57 of the Occupation
May 6, 2014

shea25Last week, the destructive direction for Detroit being pushed by the corporate elite was on full display. In the courtroom, boardroom, and banquet hall, the image of a whiter, wealthier city, governed by fiat was celebrated.

First, there was the astonishing courtroom performance of Mike Murphy, arguing for the state of Michigan, to dismiss the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the emergency manager law.

The issues raised by this challenge go to the heart of what kind of country we are becoming. This is the core legal challenge to the abuses of authority that surround the state’s effort to use “financial distress” to strip cities of political power.

The suit declares that the Michigan emergency manger law “unconstitutionally strips local voters of their right to a republican form of government by transferring governance…. from local officials to one unelected emergency manger…In each of these communities, citizens will have effectively lost their right to vote for elected officials or had that right diluted so as to render it an exercise in form without substance.” Continue Reading »

Thinking for ourselves
By Shea Howell

Progressive actions
Week 56 of the Occupation
April 29, 2014

shea33Emergency Manager Orr has offered almost no structural change in his proposals to move Detroit toward financial health. He has slashed city workers, privatized services, and colluded in the sale of public lands for private gains. But he has done little to actually enhance revenue into the city. Other than increasing parking tickets, he has not used his powers to reassess revenue streams.
Continue Reading »


Last week I was in NYC

It gave me a lot to think about.

NEWYORK PROGRAM imsgeThursday night, February 6, I participated in New York University’s 9th annual celebration of MLK Week.

The theme of this year’s celebration, organized by a 25 person committee led by Monroe France, NYU’s vice-president of diversity, was “The Power of Courage, Passion, Purpose, Perseverance .”

About 75% of those seated in the big auditorium were young people of color.

The first speaker was NYU president John Sexton. He recalled MLK’s saying years ago that “Progress was not automatic or inevitable.” He also informed us that NYU students today come from many ethnic groups, with no one ethnic group being the majority. Continue Reading »

Thinking for ourselves

By Shea Howell

No Shame

Week 45 of the Occupation

shea25Many of us have seen photographs of lynchings. Most of them, in newspaper accounts and on post cards, depict some variation on the gruesome reality. Men hanging from trees, their bodies often mutilated or burned. Beneath them are groups of white people, men, women, and children. Sometimes they are milling about. Sometimes they are clearly having a party.

In a recent speech at New York University, MSNBC commentator and Professor Melissa Harris Perry showed one of these pictures to an overflow crowd of 1000 people gathered to commemorate a speech given there by Dr. King more than 40 years ago.

She asked us to look at the faces in the crowd and observed, “You see how they are all looking at the camera? What strikes me about this is there is no sense of shame.”

I found myself thinking about this past week in Detroit. No sense of shame. Shame requires an awareness of self and our relations to others. It requires an understanding of how our actions can be inadequate, humiliating, embarrassing, dishonoring, or disgraceful. To have no sense of shame means to behave without restraint. It is often associated with excessive pride.

Thus we have the apologists and protectors for Brooks Patterson. Or worse, there are the majority of people in Oakland Country who are not saying much of anything. Within a few days, the outrage disappeared from the media.

Recently, Jack Lessenberry invoked yet another racist stereotype, the Kingfish, in order to explain away Patterson’s crude, vicious comments. Lessenbery argued that we should not worry about Patterson’s remarks, because they are not new.

He explained that the boast, “What we’re going to do is turn Detroit into an Indian reservation where we herd all the Indians into the city, build a fence around it, and throw in the blankets and corn,”

was first uttered in print 38 years ago.

Attempting to diminish the brutality of the remark, Lessenberry called it one of Patterson’s “golden oldies.” As though references to genocide were popular tunes.

Lessenbery says, “Nobody should be surprised. Yes, that saying is outrageous, so much so that nobody really believes he means it.”

So, saying something racist over and over again means you don’t believe it? Repeating a comment over nearly 4 decades means you think it untrue? Is Lessenberry seriously suggesting that overcoming centuries of violence, exploitation, and dehumanization is accomplished by repeating racist commentary?

What Lessenberry really means is that this kind of remark is normal in the circles of power. It has been often repeated behind closed doors. It is so ordinary a way of thinking about Detroit by many, it hardly warrants mentioning, until it gets picked up in national media.

This is the heart of what is happening in southeastern Michigan. Those in power have lost all sense of shame. Openly racist comments are passed off as meaningless. Outrageous billings by lawyers, whose competence and capabilities are questionable, are shrugged off. Billionaires buy up the city for pennies. Then they and are given tax breaks by officials who will do anything to curry favor with those who pay their bills.

The theme of the gathering that prompted Professor Harris Perry to show the image of a lynch mob came from the words of Dr. King. He said, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”

The outrages we are facing in Detroit are part of a larger struggle about our collective future. Brooks Patterson, Jones-Day, Kevyn Orr, Rick Snyder, Mike Illitch and all those who surround them, support them, and hope to benefit from them are like the faces in the lynch mob. They have no sense of shame at the outrages they are committing against this city and her people.

This week’s LFC

We have just begun to fight!!

By Grace Lee Boggs

Aug 17-24, 2013

marygrove_SC_0340The August 17 Peoples Forum, organized by DREM/ DETROITERS RESISTING THE EMERGENCY MANAGER, is a historic meeting.

I ‘ve been a Detroiter for 60 years and this is the first time in my experience that so many different organizations with different ideologies and personalities have recognized that the time has come when we must join together to resist and defeat the growing counter-revolution.

This counter-revolution is very unprincipled, very dangerous and taking many forms, Therefore its defeat will take a lot of cooperation, courage, and principled struggle. Continue Reading »

Grace Lee Boggs Call: Making a new Declaration of Independence  click YouTube(1776 – 2012). Let us recover our Humanity, Our Safety, Our Security. {r}evolution For the Next American Revolution

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