Democracy vs. Downsizing In Detroit

Democracy vs. Downsizing in Detroit
By Grace Lee Boggs
Michigan Citizen, April 4, 2010

Looking out at Detroit from their car windows, Detroit Mayor Bing, Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb and Foundation officers see thousands of vacant lots. They have no sense of Detroit, the movement city that over the years has constantly re-invented itself as the old order changes, yielding place to new.

In the early 1900s Detroit pioneered mass production. In the 1930s we gave birth to the industrial union movement. During World War II we were the “Arsenal of Democracy.” In the 1960s, as whites moved to the suburbs, we began struggling for Black Political Power.

In the 1970s, with Hi-Tech and the export of jobs overseas, Detroit was de-industrialized, and in the 1980s we became the national and international symbol of a dying city. Crime and violence escalated as young people began saying: “Why stay in school with the idea that one day you may make a lot of money when you can make a lot of money now rollin?”.

But in 1992 we founded Detroit Summer, a multicultural/intergenerational youth program/movement to rebuild, redefine and respirit Detroit from the ground up. Young people planted community gardens with African American elders (“Gardening Angels”) and painted public murals in consultation with community residents. This reconnection with Earth, Elders and Community unleashed their imaginations to create their own programs, e.g. Back Alley Bikes for transportation, and poetry workshops to express their new thoughts.

Detroit Summer triggered the urban agricultural movement and the Detroit Agricultural Network. Today DAN includes more than 800 community gardens, planted by Detroiters of all ages, walks of life and ethnicities who share information on resources and how to preserve/market produce at cluster centers and quarterly potlucks.

Community gardens reduce neighborhood blight and provide a community base for economic development. They are helping our schools make the paradigm shift from the top-down factory model, created 100 years ago in the heyday of industrialization, to community-and-place-based education. This 21st century model gives young people from K-12 continuing opportunities to learn from practice how to solve local problems. So schoolchildren become partners in rebuilding and respiriting Detroit.

Slowly but surely, this quiet revolution is giving birth to Detroit City of Hope (DCOH) and growing recognition that “Another World is Necessary, Another World is Possible, Another World is Happening in Detroit.”

DCOH includes Hush House, adjoining houses in an abandoned neighborhood where (mostly) young people come to share their stories, develop skills, work on the garden and develop a sense of collective purpose.

It includes the Catherine Ferguson Academy, a public school run by Asenath Andrews, where teenage mothers excel academically because CFA provides a nursery for their infant children and a farm where they grow their own food, have built their own barn and care for goats and a donkey.

It includes Urban Networks in Zone 48208, founded by Yusef Shakur who returned from nine years in prison resolved to honor Malcolm X’s legacy by bringing the neighbor back into the ‘hood.

It includes the “Hope District” where Mike Wimberley and “Friends” have planted gardens and fruit trees and offer computer classes and job training.

It includes Ron Scott, in his youth a founder of the Detroit Black Panther Party, in recent years spokesman for the Detroit Coalition to Protest Police Brutality, and now spearheading the movement to create Peace Zones out of the War Zones that our neighborhoods have become. “For the sake of my own humanity,” Ron says, “ I had to move beyond Anger to Love.”

That’s why filmmakers and journalists from all over the country and the world come to Detroit. It’s why TIME Magazine purchased a renovated Indian Village mansion with five bedrooms to house a steady stream of visiting reporters.

It’s why 500-1000 young people come to Detroit every summer for the Allied Media Conference where they create new ways to use participatory media as a strategy for social justice organizing.

It’s why 15-20,000 people will gather here from June 22-26 for the 2nd United States Social Forum.

This is what Democracy looks like. Too bad Bing, Bobb & Co. can’t recognize it.



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