Archive for the ‘Interesting Articles’ Category

  Jimmy and Grace  
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Living for Change News
August 14th – August 21st
Thinking for Ourselves
Seperate and Unequal
Shea Howellshea25This week the New York Times published yet another story about the reality of two separate and unequal Detroits. With the title “In Detroit’s 2-Speed Recovery, Downtown Roars and Neighborhoods Sputter,” Peter Applebome points to critical questions the Mayor and his administration would like to avoid.

After a brief sketch of downtown, Midtown and Corktown development, Applebome raises the question of what development means to neighborhoods. He says, “But what that means for the rest of the city and who is benefiting have set in motion a layered conversation about development, equity, race and class. It is playing out with particular force here in what was once the nation’s fourth-largest city and is now a place at once grappling with poverty, crime and failing schools, but also still animated by the bones of its former glory.”

This is a conversation the Mayor avoids. Yet even a transient observer like Applebome concludes, “The lack of progress is just as noticeable in the sprawl of often dilapidated neighborhoods, baking in the summer heat.”

Many are baking in that heat without water. No where is the lack of progress and the denial by the Mayor and his administration clearer than in the water shut off crisis. The day before the New York Times article appeared, a group of community based researchers issued an important report. Mapping the Water Crisis: The Dismantling of African American Neighborhoods in Detroit: Volume 1 is the result of an 18 month study documenting water shut offs in the city.  The report demonstrates in clear and specific detail that neighborhoods are suffering from a combination of foreclosures and shut offs, diminishing the quality of life for everyone in the community. Last year 23,000 homes were shut off from water. Over the last decade the city has endured 110,000 foreclosures.

Underscoring the growing divide in our city, Monica Lewis-Patrick, a guiding force in the research collaborative, said, “There is a renaissance downtown full of newcomers, while they are shutting off water for those who stayed and paid” their bills for years.

The impact of these shut offs in a city where 40% of the people live in poverty and many are paying more than 10% of their income for water is to actively drive people out of their homes. Dr. Gloria House, Professor Emerita of the University of Michigan-Dearborn and Wayne State University explained that the mapping documents that “The incidents of shutoffs, foreclosures and school closures are not random, but intentional and specific… We believe it’s about the dismantling of neighborhoods.”

The Mayor continues to deny this reality. He refuses to consider the consequences of his policies in the lives of people in neighborhoods. Instead he chooses to pretend his water assistance plan (WRAP) is solving the problem.  No one but the Mayor and his administration believes this. No one who sees the shut off trucks moving through neighborhoods on a daily basis believes this.  

The objective statistics do not support this. The WRAP is a failure.  It has a waiting list of 3,000 customers and the majority of people who have been signed up simply cannot keep up with the monthly payments.

The work of the We the People Detroit Community Research Collective documents in stark terms that our city is devolving into two separate, unequal, and unhealthy realities.

It does not have to be this way. Community activists and researchers have consistently advocated plans to make water available to all at affordable prices. They have developed programs to keep people in their homes and to stop foreclosures.  The real choice we face is about whose lives matter in our city.

Boggs Center board member Tawana “Honeycomb” Petty discusses new book and upcoming one woman show of the same title, Coming Out My Box with Michigan Literary Radio. Book illustration by Beehive Design Collective.


Education Coalition works to connect Detroit students with their community

“Founded in 2008, the Southeast Michigan Stewardship, or SEMIS, Coalition seeks to partner schools and community organizations, as well as help educators learn how to take an eco-justice approach to community-based projects with students.”


At Freedom Square, the Revolution Lives in Brave Relationships

“If, as Cornel West says, ‘justice is what love looks like in public,’ then Freedom Square is an embodiment of practicing justice….With grace, imagination and courage, Freedom Square offers a glimpse into a new future and is boldly showing the world how to make Black lives matter.”


The Boggs Book Shop is open and waiting for you!
Among many other titles, don’t miss…

Ron Scott’sHow to End Police Brutality

evolution in the 21st Century Anthology

…or the classic, Conversations in Maine

The James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership


3061 Field Street
Detroit, Michigan 48214



Remembering Grace Lee Boggs and her role in the black freedom struggle

Grace Lee Boggs at her home in Detroit in February 2012. (Wikimedia / Kyle McDonald)

President Obama joined many this week in commemorating the life of Grace Lee Boggs, the organizer, philosopher and long-time Detroit resident who passed away yesterday at age 100. “As the child of Chinese immigrants and as a woman, Grace learned early on that the world needed changing, and she overcame barriers to do just that,” Obama eulogized. “Grace’s passion for helping others, and her work to rejuvenate communities that had fallen on hard times spanned her remarkable 100 years of life, and will continue to inspire generations to come.”

Such kind words from the Oval Office might have surprised a younger Boggs, who spent years writing — like most socialists of her day — under a pseudonym designed to protect against the virulent red-baiting that loomed over the post-war American left.

Today, Boggs is perhaps most popularly remembered for her work later in life, building up community institutions throughout Detroit: the Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership, the Detroit Summer program, a number of cooperative businesses and community gardens, even a charter school named in her honor. Less memorialized are Boggs and her late husband James’ deep involvement in the development of their city’s black freedom movement, and foundational role in articulating a new brand of class politics rooted in the experience of black workers.


During World War II, African Americans in the South migrated north to Detroit’s “Arsenal of Democracy,” where defense contracts offered steady, lucrative employment seemingly outside the grasp of Jim Crow. In all, 1.5 million African Americans left the South between 1940 and 1950, a time period during which Detroit’s black population more than doubled. Northern whites — eager to maintain racially homogenous neighborhoods and workforces — fought new arrivals, organizing bands of vigilantes to terrorize new black Detroiters. Tensions culminated in the city’s brutal riot of 1943, where 25 of the 34 people killed were African American, along with 75 percent of the 700 injured. As the war economy slowed, workers of color were relegated not only to divested areas of the city, but some of the most dangerous, poorly-paid work the Motor City had to offer.

In the 1970 documentary “Finally Got the News,” one worker recalled the treatment of a colleague who “lost his finger at the second knuckle.” After receiving $3,000, his supervisors “wanted him to come back to work two days later … producing with the bandages and all that.” Such violence and flagrant discrimination in jobs and housing catalyzed a vibrant culture of organizing in black Detroit — much of it, early on, stemming from churches and radical congregations, like that of the legendary preacher Albert Cleague.

Boggs followed an entirely different path to Detroit. While she boasted a PhD in philosophy from Bryn Mawr, the academic job market for young Chinese-American women in the 1940s was none too kind. Unable to find work as a professor, Grace Lee — not yet Boggs — took a job in a University of Chicago library, and quickly started organizing tenants to take on the city’s slumlords. Getting increasingly involved in Chicago’s socialist party politics, Lee followed theorist and “Black Jacobins” author C.L.R. James to New York, where she, James and Raya Dunayevskaya coalesced around a shared distrust for Soviet-style “state capitalism” and a commitment to the centrality of black workers’ struggle. She met James “Jimmy” Boggs in 1952 through working on the group’s left paper, Correspondence. He was an autoworker who’d moved from Alabama to Detroit to work in the factories and, as Grace Lee Boggs recalled of her husband in her 1998 autobiography, he “was a prototype of the kind of individual for whom the newsletter was being created.” Less than a year after their first encounter at a Correspondance-run school for rank-and-file workers in 1952, Boggs and Lee married and moved to Detroit.

Together, the Boggses and their intellectual collaborators within the Johnson-Forrest Tendency pioneered what they called the “proletarianization of philosophy,” an effort to make the high-theory innards of Marxist thought accessible to workers on the frontlines of Fordism’s lost promise. While they would split from James in the early 1960s, the couple continued to nurture the political development of some of the black freedom movement’s most influential leaders, including Revolutionary Action Movement founder Max Stanford, leaders in the lesser-known League of Revolutionary Black Workers, and even — to a lesser extent — native Michigander Malcolm X. They were part of a group of intellectuals who ran discussion groups for autoworkers on Marx’s Capital and other texts, and frequently opened their homes to young organizers eager to work through questions of power and strategy until the hours of the morning. “More often than not,” historian Peniel Joseph wrote, “the discussions turned into seminars in which the veteran activists demanded sharp analysis and concrete facts. Jimmy would ask questions that were difficult to answer: If the revolution was to succeed, how would the new society look? What would black people’s place in it be, and what kinds of jobs, government and society would exist?”

In “Faith in the City,” a history of 20th century black organizing in Detroit, Angela Dillard wrote that, “If cross-generational influence was indeed key to the development of political radicalism in 1960s Detroit, Grace Lee and James Boggs personified that influence.” Boggs was so deeply enmeshed in Detroit’s black organizing scene, in fact, that the FBI once mistakenly referred to her as “Afro-Chinese.” Through the end of her life, Boggs provided a rare model of an “engaged intellectual,” never losing sight of the relationship between the movements that surrounded her, the conditions they emerged from and the theoretical rigor that could drive them forward. What’s more, the writing that emerged from this ecology is an almost eerie preview of debates that would captivate progressives for the next half-century: the role of race, democracy and solidarity within industrial unionism, and how emergent movements for black liberation map onto fights for justice in the workplace.

Referencing President Franklin D. Roosevelt’’s famous “Four Freedoms” speech, Boggs wrote in 1942 that “Thirteen million Negroes in America have never known three of the ‘Four Freedoms’ which America is supposedly spreading to the rest of the world.” She called the freedom from want “a mockery … when their wages are the lowest and their rents and food prices the highest.” Commenting on an early (and ultimately successful) planned march on Washington to eliminate segregation in arms manufacturing, Boggs argued fervently against any approach that would focus singly on either race or class: “Whether the [March on Washington] movement proves transitory or develops into a broad and relatively permanent movement for Negro democratic and economic rights will depend upon whether it will develop a leadership which seeks its main support in the organized labor movement and whether the Negro masses in the labor movement are ready to enter into and actively support this general movement for Negro rights as a supplement to their economic and class activities within the unions themselves.”

As she aged, Boggs’s “dialectical humanism,” which had always placed a strong emphasis on the value of personal transformation, drifted further away from traditional class politics and toward a focus on the moral and cultural dimensions of social change work. As she told Bill Moyers in 2007, “We have not emphasized sufficiently the cultural revolution that we have to make among ourselves in order to force the government to do differently.” Nevertheless, she died — by all accounts — surrounded by a community she worked for over six decades to build. Her theoretical contributions and movement-building work continue to find voice in some of today’s most influential uprisings.

As Barbara Ransby recently argued in Dissent, a close attention to economic inequality lies at the heart of today’s movement for black life: “In speech after speech, the leading voices of this movement have insisted that if we liberate the black poor, or if the black poor liberate themselves, we will uplift everybody else who’s been kept down.” Ransby noted that some of the most visible leaders in the movement for black lives have spent years honing their skills and analysis in organized labor. “The larger left has to support, recognize and embrace Black Lives Matter, not as secondary, but as central and potentially catalytic for a broad and far-reaching transformative agenda.” Like Boggs, Ransby makes clear that there’s no contradiction in building movements for racial and economic justice: the two, in many ways, are already one in the same.

Continue Reading »

Detroit and the Black Woman Condition
Tawana Honeycomb Petty

TawanaPettyHistorically, Black women have been of the most marginalized in the United States. We are often left to lead, as one of my comrades would say, “a life of quiet desperation.” If we are vocal about our conditions, we are “angry Black women.” If we are silent about our conditions, we are “lazy Black women.” If we utilize the limited resources afforded to us as a result of our conditions, which are symptoms of white supremacist policies resulting in institutionalized racism, then we are “Black women looking for a handout.” The Black woman is a punching bag for the dominate culture – governed by capitalism, racism, materialism and militarism. Continue Reading »

West Side Neighbors Coming Together

By Kim Sherobbi

September 20, 2015

KimA few weeks ago, a Sunflower popped up at an unusual time in the growing season. Well, not really. During a community celebration where children played and adults got better acquainted, a ceramic Sunflower was installed at Littlefield Park located behind Nobel Prek-8 School on the Westside of Detroit. The Sunflower included the names of organizations that are part of District 7 One Voice.

D7 One Voice is a coming together of organizations in the Wyoming-Schoolcraft area to collectively care for our community. Continue Reading »

A Lesson Learned

By Myrtle Thompson-Curtis

September 16, 2015

wayne_myrtle– Feedom Freedom was part of a collective effort to organize a free concert on Manistique this past Saturday the 13th.  The event gave people a vision of neighborhood organizing and a belief in grassroots folks creating the beloved community.

I witnessed musicians freely give their talents to assist and support the defense of Lela Whitfield in her fight against eviction foreclosure.  The grassroots efforts were applauded and supported. At the height of the event there were 200 people in attendance.  The musical talents ranged from hip- hop to classical with some bluegrass funk as well.  Children played violins and a drum band marched in. Continue Reading »

Using Our Own Best Practice
Kim Hunter

originally pubished @ Engage Michigan

As I traveled this summer for work and visiting family, many people asked me about Detroiters having their water shut off. Family and friends are amazed that city officials are still cutting off families’ water supply and they are even more amazed when I tell them there’s actually an alternative to shutoffs that will bring in more revenue to Detroit’s Water Department.

That solution was the subject of a joint Detroit Philadelphia news conference late last month. Groups of Detroiters battling against water shutoffs worked to bring attention to a unanimous vote by the Philadelphia City Counsel that guarantees families with low-incomes will pay for water based on their income. The Detroit People’s Water Board Coalition and Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management held a news conference where folks from Philadelphia joined in via Skype. The groups also sponsored a public forum on water later that afternoon. If Philadelphia could give families the tools to pay their water bills and prevent devastating mass shutoffs, Detroit could do the same. Continue Reading »


street talk

jim perkinson 12-8-14

hands up!
like an aerobic exercise
over the graveyard of america

hands up!
knowing where the bones are

convening ezekiel plots of skeletal moans
under the coffin covers
ready to riot into resurrection conflagration
inside the court of imperial condemnation
where all the air goes
when all the “i can’t breathe” shows
of power over dark souls
and stolen red soils
and disappeared john does
speaking “no goes” to blue-suited foes
of people hopes and hard core
“ain’t goin’ down without a fight” swing-lows
throw down a street flow of bodies
marching in hot rows of organized
shoot-backs with bullet-words of resolve
to un-solve the corporation solution
for neighborhoods of conniption
refusing their delegation to a homeless
situation or the cell-block of renegade
non-cooperators igniting a revolution
of conscience like a mumia in a philadelphia
dungeon bouncing grenades of truth
off prison walls into young suburban ears
while parents skyrocket in fear
at the leering grin of daughters suddenly
hip to the slaughter or sons reconnoitering
the supremacist logic with a heart tipping
towards a schematic of liberation led by
an mc like tef poe in st. louie
or will c at the crossing-of-the-strait city

this is a mike brown wake up
an eric garner take up of breath
like a spirit come back into the supine
limbs of a tamir rice rising like an army
of ice as cold hard in refusal of compromise
as a detroit momma pirating water from a
shut off meter in civil disobedience for her
granddaughter’s father locked into a dialysis
tube as fodder for big ag and big pharma profit

it is all a racket . . .
for the sake of a quick loan macking
of emergency management tactics serving
the lord of jacked up markets and climate

it is all a racket!

but beware—
when one too many bodies have been
smacked down
what comes back up on a mission of high-stakes
will not ask permission or care about the season

is there any reason at all to hope?
the answer may be “nope”
but that is no reason
not to rise up and speak and organize!

James W. Perkinson
Professor of Social Ethics,
Ecumenical Theological Seminary
Special Lecturer in Communication Studies,
Oakland University, 4 minutes into show on 8-17-14


Poem read at Boggs Center Holiday party 12-13-2014


Community-based School Opens in Detroit

by Grace Lee Boggs

May 25 – June 1 2013

BEC_logo_2I never planned to be a school teacher or to be engaged in a life-long struggle for a paradigm shift in education.

But fifty years ago, when I needed a job and Detroit inner city schools needed teachers, I became a “resource teacher.”

That was when I discovered that “education” today is a form of child abuse because instead of encouraging and supporting the natural desire of children to participate in solving the problems around them, the role of the teacher and the curriculum is to control and suppress these feelings. Continue Reading »


 Naming Our Storms: On Climate and Clarity

Against the Destruction of the World by Greed

by Rebecca Solnit

In ancient China, the arrival of a new dynasty was accompanied by “the rectification of names,” a ceremony in which the sloppiness and erosion of meaning that had taken place under the previous dynasty were cleared up and language and its subjects correlated again. It was like a debt jubilee, only for meaning rather than money.

This was part of what made Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign so electrifying: he seemed like a man who spoke our language and called many if not all things by their true names. Whatever caused that season of clarity, once elected, Obama promptly sank into the stale, muffled, parallel-universe language wielded by most politicians, and has remained there ever since. Meanwhile, the far right has gotten as far as it has by mislabeling just about everything in our world — a phenomenon which went supernova in this year of “legitimate rape,” “the apology tour,” and “job creators.”  Meanwhile, their fantasy version of economics keeps getting more fantastic. (Maybe there should be a rectification of numbers, too.)   Continue Reading »

The Why and How of Visionary Organizing

By Grace Lee Boggs

Sept 29 – Oct 6 2012

At this time on the clock of the {R}evolution, movement activists need to discuss and struggle around different forms of Organizing. That is what I hope this column will trigger.

During my lifetime I have had the opportunity to work with and learn from two gifted visionary organizers: University of Michigan Professor Bunyan Bryant and Jimmy Boggs who was my husband and partner in struggle for forty years.

Bunyan’s contributions have been mainly in the field of Environmental Justice. I am looking forward to celebrating these at his upcoming retirement party.

Jimmy’s were in the plant and the community. From his experiences as an organizer he had learned that human beings are individuals and not just masses or members of a class or race. For example, as he used to say. “ Some workers organized the union; others had to be whipped into it. “ Continue Reading »