Archive for the ‘Living for Change’ Category

May 22nd, 2018

grace and jimmy

Thinking for Ourselves
Shea Howell
Urgent Transitions

This week Eastern Michigan Environmental Action Council (EMEAC) hosted a conference of activists concerned about creating a future based on regenerative principles of a just economy. People from around the country and several First Nations gathered to share ideas and practices. This was the gathering that Siwatu-salama Ra worked tirelessly to bring to Detroit. It was the gathering she could not see from her prison cell. She is serving two years in prison for pointing an empty gun at a person who threatened to run over her mother and child. Those of us who came together to think about a different future were reminded how urgently we need to change our ways of living, how much pain and destruction we have come to accept as normal in our daily lives.

I was part of panel giving participants an overview of the struggles unfolding in Detroit around Air, Water, Land and Education. Lila Cabill of the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute opened the conversation talking about the importance of making a transition from “me oriented people” to “we oriented people.” She emphasized that all of us are affected by the assaults on people and the planet.  She invoked the story of Rosa Parks and Charity Hicks to help people understand that in the face of injustice and racism, “silence is violence.”

Monica Lewis Patrick of We the People of Detroit challenged the idea that Detroit was bankrupt. She emphasizing that no elected officials in the city had agreed to this. Rather, the city had been taken over by the State and its appointed Emergency Manager. She invited people to think about the key roles Emergency Managers had played, not only in the poisoning of Flint, but in the destruction of the Detroit Water Department, removing it from city control. A key part of the process was unprecedented water shut offs, creating a widespread community response to protect people and advance policies that establish water as a human right and public trust.  

Both Monica and Lila made clear that this take over was a reflection of the twin forces of racism and capitalist advancement. The Great Lakes contain 22% of the worlds surface water and the drive to turn this life giving element into private a profit center depends upon demonizing the people of our city as incapable of governing, as less than human.

Emma Lockridge built on the theme of racialized capitalism and its devastation of our communities. As an activist in 48217, the most polluted zip code in the US, Emma shared her struggles against Marathon Oil. She emphasized how much the current power structure reflects the idea that some people are disposable, that their lives do not matter.

For my part, I talked of Detroit as a movement city, where people have always resisted the assaults on our shared humanity. From the earliest encounters with Europeans, we have seen resistance and resilience. Chief Pontiac lead one of the largest anti-colonial struggles on the banks of the Detroit River. Over the centuries we this spirit has continued.

In the 1960s the call of Black Liberation attracted many of us to Detroit. And it was the success of these efforts to challenge the power structure of this country based on values that moved us from “a thing oriented society” to a “people oriented society” that ultimately lead to the take-over by white, right wing state legislatures of centers of African American political power in Michigan. Using legal tricks, 55% of African Americans were denied the right to effective local representation and nearly 75% of all African American elected officials were essentially removed from office.

The struggle over the education of our children exemplifies this assault on our cities. The Detroit Independent Freedom Schools Movement reflects our continued effortto not only resist dehumanization, but to consciously and collectively build new, more loving and caring ways of life.


Last week we received a communication from Nestle in response to our article.

We appreciated Nestle’s effort to offer two corrections of fact. We have reproduced their email in its entirety below.
We do not think these bear on our essential analysis, however. Moreover, we continue our concern about their perception of science. In an article discussing the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality decision to allow increased water extraction we find this: “different hydrologists can look at the same data and come up with different conclusions.”  The article continues noting Nestle’s assessment “raises a lot of fundamental questions about who is monitoring.”

Later the article reports:

“The Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, which originally sued Nestle and won a 2009 settlement that limited the company’s withdrawal in Mecosta County, issued a statement expressing disappointment at the ruling, saying “the public trust has been broken once again.”

Not only has the DEQ “ignored the scientific evidence that environmental damage has occurred already at 150-gpm, they have ignored the clear opposition of tens of thousands of Michigan citizens who have opposed this giveaway of the water of the commons to a multinational corporation,” said MCWC president Peggy Case.

It is particularly difficult to understand how the DEQ could grant a permit before completing a serious monitoring of the streams by independent scientists, before resolving the issues with the township over the booster station, and before approving a new monitoring protocol for the aquifers and streams in Evart that is not under the control of Nestle,” she said.”

Nestle Communication Correction


“Its head spokesperson is Deb Muchmore, the wife of the Governor’s Chief of Staff.”

CORRECTION:  Deb Muchmore was a consultant who has not worked for the company for nearly two years.

“The science behind the decision to allow increased pumping of water is based on questionable science, especially given the information gathered in a court case in 2003 when Nestle was ordered to stop operations due to “ecological harm and massive reduction in water levels.”

CORRECTION: The court case did not cause a stoppage of operations as an out-of-court settlement was reached that allowed an average withdrawal of 218 gallons per minute at that spring site. 

Nestlé’s recently approved permit is for our White Pines Springs source, a completely different site than the one in 2003. We have been studying the White Pine Springs site for over 16 years and it is important to understand that the wells are different depths and different geology. The science is clear – there is no link between the two.   

We have over 100 environmental monitoring sites and conducted many scientific assessments near the White Pine Springs well. This monitoring network allows us to verify that the groundwater is being naturally replenished and that our water use is managed for long-term sustainability. 

This is supported by the MDEQ’s review of our permit, which itself called “the most extensive analysis of any water withdrawal in Michigan history.”

Glenn Oswald

Vice President 
Marx Layne & Company
31420 Northwestern Highway, Suite 100
Farmington Hills, MI 48334

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Bhai Delegation to Detroit
Myrtle Thompson Curtis

This past week in Detroit kicked off the first of many visits to happen at the Feedom Freedom Growers Garden and the Boggs Center. FFG hosted a group of 25 young university students from Ontario and around the globe. A smaller group went to the Center.  They were all under 24 years of age and of the B’hai faith. The visit was part of a series of conversations that had taken place at the James and Grace Lee Boggs Center over the last two years.
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Once at the garden, arriving by tour bus, we were ready for a day of critical conversation, lunch and garden work, introduction to the staff of FFG and our work here in Detroit.  The students came with very little context of Detroit but were quite eager to learn about our challenges and opportunities here.

We gave them copies of the Riverwise magazine to read to gather context about Detroit. The magazine gave them insight into grassroots efforts happening here and nationwide.  We started the day off by asking what are the pressing questions they may be facing in their path to service. Our goal was to create a conversation that would dive deep in our time allotted. It was important to get to know them, to get a sense of how to build trust, and have transformational conversation. We let them know that in Detroit we are engaged in struggle for a revolution of values, learning through our own experience that just changing political leadership will not end the devastation of our neighborhoods, or the school closings, the water shutoffs, the gentrification, or the rising depression and loneliness among young people.  We work in community to change ourselves to change the conditions, and engaging university students in thought provoking conversation and hands on work in the garden.

As one of the FFG’s members Ebony summarizes her day with the group; “I was like many of the students who worked beside me on Tuesday. Their questions about navigating the social justice world or their later professional field resonated with me. I shared my story with them, discussing the various times I had to choose between being a student and an activist.  There were many die-ins, marches, and round table discussions I longed for, but briefly watched in the distance because I had midterms or a lecturer I couldn’t afford to miss. I understood how many of them felt; wanting to be on fire with a megaphone, chanting “no justice no peace” through the lecture halls, I wanted to assure them that it’s possible to find serenity in a place where they feel foreign.”

“We all can be inspired by others even if the person who inspires us doesn’t see themselves as this kind of activism.  During a discussion with one of the students, I shared my community organizer infant status with him. Letting him know that my friends and family see me as Angela Davis, but in the grassroots revolutionary work I’m and infant, a babbling baby who’s still learning and developing.  We all are infants in new realms. During my time spent with the students, I realized that I was not too far removed from where they are currently. Time spent with them allowed me to see that I too am still learning and being nurtured by those who care and desire to see me succeed in all that I do.  I enjoyed their enthusiasm to not use gloves while working in the garden because they wanted to feel the soil. They embraced the connection we have with it and were willing to fully immerse themselves into unknown territory.”

Aalia, another member notes the conversation was full of young people deciding how to go from thinking about their ideas to putting their ideas into practice.  She saw them even thinking about how to make that decision as a reflection of many young people today. Many having ideas about their lives or what they want their communities to be like, but not really knowing where to start or having any guidance as to what are the next steps in implementing and bringing ideas into fruition.

By the end of our time together we gathered back into a circle and sought the answers to earlier questions. I am prone to believe that most of the answers are inside of us and I encouraged them to go inside and speak truth to power. Our guests were encouraged and spoke in new found ways and to become engaged in service to community.

We concluded thinking about James Boggs (1919-93), Grace’s life partner, intellectual collaborator, and political comrade for forty years who urged us to recognize the role creative thinking and responsible action play in advancing humanity.

“The Latin term “Civitas” is traditionally defined as the social body of the citizens united by law.2 Yet, who gets to be a citizen, and who gets to decide on the law? If the civitas is based on inclusion, who does it exclude?” On Spaces of Liberation

May 14th, 2018
grace and jimmy



Thinking for Ourselves
Shea Howell
Mother’s Day with Nestle

Shortly after Mother’s Day, three Nestle semi-trucks will roll into Flint with free bottled water. Between Mother’s Day and Labor day Nestle will donate 100,000 bottles a week to three service centers where people can pick up the bottled water.  The Mayor of Flint has graciously thanked the company for its “willingness to help the people of Flint.”

There are so many things wrong with this public relations stunt, it is hard to know where to begin. First there is the obvious problem that Nestle is “donating” water that the entire state, and in some ways much of the globe, is paying for. Nestle is pumping 400 gallons a minute out of the underground springs that feed the Great Lakes.  For this desecration it pays the state $200 a year. That is less than many people in Flint pay for water on a monthly basis. They are doing this in spite of the largest public outcry on record for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Over 80,000 people objected to the authorization to nearly double the amount of water Nestle takes and puts into little bottles.

The decision to allow Nestle to increase its pumping capacity came on the heels of Governor Snyder’s decision to no longer distribute free water to the people of Flint. The Governor noted the water in Flint is now safe to drink, mostly. Nestle is the largest “owner” of a private water source in Michigan. Its head spokesperson is Deb Muchmore, the wife of the Governor’s Chief of Staff. The science behind the decision to allow increased pumping of water is based on questionable science, especially given the information gathered in a court case in 2003 when Nestle was order to stop operations due to “ecological harm and massive reduction in water levels.”

Given the series of lies the people of Flint have heard from public officials since 2014 when their Emergency manager joined with the Detroit Emergency Manager to remove Flint from the Detroit water system, it is understandable why the Governor’s comments are greeted with suspicion. Moreover, the glacial pace of removing lead pipes and replacing them means that aggregate testing of water does not mean every home is safe. Some families in Flint are depending on 22,000 bottles a year to live. But people still object to taking water from a company that is essentially stealing a precious resource for its own profit.

This year, as we celebrate Mothers Day, we should all remember just what kind of company Nestle is. Since the early 1970’s it has callously manipulated people around the globe into using baby formulas that require reliance on contaminated water. In 1974 a report called the Baby Killer by War on Want, sparked a global boycott. In 1981 the World Health Organization adopted a strict code of advertising to ban the promotion of formula as “comparable to breastmilk.” In February of this year Nestle was found to still be pushing formula as comparable to breast feeding, violating international guidelines and its own stated ethics.

In many places around the world, baby formula depends on water. Water that is often contaminated and unsafe to drink.

Nestle’s efforts to deflect our concern is foolish. The people of Flint, like people everywhere, deserve clean, fresh, affordable water. Until Flint’s entire water system is replaced, the State has a moral obligation to provide bottled water. We need a thoughtful, region-wide policy that recognizes our responsibilities to protect the waters of the Great Lakes and to respect the people and life they support.

Piper Carter is back for the 3x Dope episode

May 1st, 2018
grace and jimmy


Thinking for Ourselves
Shea Howell
Warning Signs

Early this week people in and around Wayne State University were evacuated because of a gas leak. Across the campus and in nearby residents, the smell of gas was overpowering. The leak was caused by a construction accident. By Friday we were told all is well, classes reopened and people returned to homes. No one was injured. We are back to normal.

This week the Great Lakes Water Authority will begin the shut off process for more than 17,000 homes with outstanding water bills. We are told not to worry, most people will find a way to pay up before the shut off, or within a few days of living without water.

The city of Livonia is recovering from a water main break. Officials said don’t worry about the low water pressure. Water is safe to drink.

Each of these instances is treated in the mainstream media as a temporary, disconnected problem.  They are presented as minor inconveniences, the result of systems that sometimes break, but can be repaired quickly. We shouldn’t worry. Everything can be fixed. Everything is under control.

This way of thinking obscures a very real truth.  These are the warning signs of a system near collapse.  They are not isolated, small glitches. They are the marks of a culture imploding. We are coming to the end of the earth ‘s capacity to bear cultures based on the extraction of resources that are toxic to all life.

Warning signs are everywhere. For more than 300 years, we have been developing ways of living that depend on extracting and using elements of the earth that we know are poison. Yet we persist in believing that our technologies will somehow keep the air we are polluting clean, the water we are poisoning safe to drink, and regenerate the resources we need to continue lives of consumption. In spite of all we have witnessed, all we have endured, and all that we know in our bones, we continue to live as though we can dominate nature. As though domination was our right, especially if we are white, wealthy, and think we can protect ourselves.

This way of thinking, embedded in the settler colonial cultures of this hemisphere and wrapped into the logic of capitalist, industrial production is killing us. As commentator Paul Stoller observed, “The culture of extraction has led us to widespread economic and social inequality and frequent warfare — often over access to extractive resources. It has led to widespread human insensitivity and to the development of societies — like our own — that tend to reward competition as an example of dominant strength and castigate cooperation as an example of timid weakness.”

Across our city and our country people are resisting this extractive, industrial culture, finding new ways to live with one another, new ways to power and empower our lives. In Detroit, as people plant gardens, construct wind mills, find ways to share water and imagine new futures based on care and compassion, a new culture is being born. It is urgently needed.

A Call to Defend Rojava

An Open Letter


In the unsetting exposé What Lies Upstream, investigative filmmaker Cullen Hoback travels to West Virginia to study the unprecedented loss of clean water for over 300,000 Americans in the 2014 Elk River chemical spill. He uncovers a shocking failure of regulation from both state and federal agencies and a damaged political system where chemical companies often write the laws that govern them.

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April 24th, 2018
grace and jimmy

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Thinking for Ourselves
Shea Howell
Dialogue on Education

More than 120 people gathered together for a community dialogue on education and Black Male Achievement this Thursday at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. The stage was set by the student co-hosts Lauren Danzy, the leader of the Detroit Independent Freedom Schools youth group, and Xavier Clemons, an 11th grader at Frederick Douglass Academy. Sharing their concerns about the importance of thinking together about education, they asked the gathering to focus on central questions. These included: How do we engage Black male youth in our schools and communities? What has worked for us collectively and individually? What is our vision for our schools and our communities? What is the importance of understanding ourselves, our cultures, and our histories?

Quan Neloms, who is now an educator at Frederick Douglass, shared his own journey of transformation and development. He explained that at a troubled time in his life, an adult man took the time to talk with him and challenge his thinking. “When I saw all the things adults were willing to sacrifice for me, it made me change my life.” He said, “At 18 I decided I wanted to be part of the lives of kids and to become a teacher. But I know nothing happens without the community, community involvement is the most important thing.”

B. Anthony Holley of the Conscious Community Cooperative Think Tank shared his experiences of finding his place in Detroit, after he was told by many people to leave the city behind. He said that when he returned in 2012 he was embraced by elders and young people who were working to be “solutionaries” in the city and he began to see the contributions he could make here. He emphasized how much his own sense of confidence was shaped by his Grandmother who encouraged him to ask questions and helped him see that “when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

Dana Hart of the Detroit Independent Freedom Schools talked about her vision of education as creating opportunities where we can reach our highest potential, becoming confident, competent people, able to evolve to our highest selves. She explained that this means we need to have our own meaning of success that comes out of understanding African centered traditions that inspire our children and community. She talked about the importance of adults doing more listening and providing places where our children “have the protection to be young.”

She emphasized the importance of young men finding ways to talk to one another more deeply and openly. She encouraged us to think about ways our community can encourage young people to better understand their roles and responsibilities. Her suggestion of developing rites of passage resonated with the group.

Most people left the gathering wishing for more time for conversation, knowing we have a lot more thinking to do together. But everyone recognized that we have to find community based ways to protect and develop our young people. Education is up to us.

Demand Freedom for Siwatu-Salama Ra

A/PIA community rallies after Lawsin contract renewal denied by ‘U’
Michigan Daily

Maya Goldman and Nisa Khan

As a student at the University of Michigan, 2008 alum Aisa Villarosa fell in love with the Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies Program — housed in the American Culture Department — because it allowed her to learn about other cultures and her own heritage; she learned lessons she hadn’t been exposed to growing up in the majority-white suburbs of Detroit.

She said she owes this great experience in A/PIA Studies to faculty members, including longtime Lecturer Emily Lawsin. Lawsin has been teaching at the University since 2000.

“The number one thing is just how amazing the A/PIA Studies faculty are — the ones that built our experience as undergraduates,” Villarosa explained.

When news began to surface earlier this year about the American Culture and Women’s Studies Departments’ decision to not renew Lawsin’s contract, Villarosa took action.  KEEP READING

Find Five people and Love Them to Life
Emily Schorr Lesnick, Shelby Stokes, and Shawn Redden

This was the wisdom given to us on our third day in Detroit, where we began the morning at the Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership, founded by Grace Lee Boggs and her husband, James Boggs.  Rich Feldman, a longtime community and labor activist, led our students in a multi-layered discussion around the implications of the word “revolution” and what it means (and has meant) in a city like Detroit.  We then boarded the bus for a historical and cultural circuit of several key sites in the city: Elmwood Cemetery, which was the first fully integrated cemetery in the Midwest; the remnants of the Packard and GM plants, two of the former crown jewels of the booming auto industry in the first and second halves of the twentieth century; and the Heidelberg Project, a series of sprawling installations by Detroit artist Tyree Geiten, designed in response to the crack epidemic of the 1980’s.  Two bold points were established and returned to over the course of our morning: “resistance starts in the soil” and in Detroit we see “the birth and death of the American Dream.”

Indeed, the cycle of transformation was the theme of the day, whether it was in thinking about the interplay between the past and the present, or how art can become a healing response in communities devastated by violence and poverty, or how the urban farming movement, which we learned about in our visit to D-Town Farm in the afternoon, has turned abandoned plots of land into verdant, sustainable sources of nutrition, education, profit and community support.

We ended our day at DABLS African Bead Shop, where students admired the seemingly endless jars of colorful beads sourced from all over the African continent and purchased some gifts to bring home with them as a tangible reminder of their visit.  A delicious meal from Slow’s BBQ and Detroit Vegan Soul awaited us when we returned to the Inn on Ferry Street, followed by our final debriefing of what has left us all feeling “most hopeful.”

When asked how Riverdale students can bring their transformative experience in Detroit back home, Boggs Center community activist Larry Sparks encouraged our students to “find five people and love them to life.”  It is our hope that these twenty-four young activists-in-training will identify five people in their own communities—home, school, and family—and share the revolutionary spirit and love they’ve received during their time in this wonderful city.

April 2nd, 2018

grace and jimmy

Literacy By Any Means Necessary_April14

Living for Change Grace Lee Boggs More Questions than Answers
Many  of us will be thinking about Dr. Martin Luther King  this week as we mark the 50 years since his murder and the 51st since his call for a radical revolution of values.
To help us think about this moment, we are sharing some of the reflections of Grace Lee Boggs, written more than a decade ago while we were exploring the questions of what we learned about the creation of Beloved Communities since the death of Dr. King. – Boggs Board

First written somewhere between 2004 and 2008…In the last 60 years  I have had the privilege of participating  in most of the great humanizing movements of the second half of the last century – labor,  civil rights, black power, women’s, Asian American, environmental justice, antiwar. Each was a tremendously transformative experience for me,  expanding my understanding of what it means to be an American and a human being, and challenging me to keep deepening my thinking about how to bring about radical social change.
However, I cannot recall any previous period when the issues were so basic, so interconnected and so demanding of everyone living in this country, regardless of  race, ethnicity, class, gender, age or national origin. At this point in the continuing evolution of our country and of the human race, we urgently need to stop thinking of ourselves as victims and to recognize that we must each become  a part of the solution because we are each a part of the problem.
How are we going to make our livings in an age when Hi-Tech and the export of jobs overseas have brought us to the point where the number of workers needed to produce goods and services is constantly diminishing?  Where will we get the imagination, the courage and the determination to reconceptualize the meaning and purpose of Work in a society that is becoming increasingly jobless?
What is going to happen to cities like Detroit that were once the arsenal of democracy? Now that they’ve been abandoned by industry, are we just going to throw them away? Or can we rebuild, redefine and respirit them as models of 21st Century self-reliant, sustainable multicultural communities?  Who is going to begin this new story?
How are we going to redefine Education so that 30-50% of inner city children do not drop out of school, thus ensuring that large numbers will end up in prison?   Is it enough to call for “Education, not Incarceration”? Or does our topdown educational system, created a hundred years ago to prepare an immigrant population for factory work, bear a large part of the responsibility for the escalation in incarceration?
How are we going to build a  21st century America in which people of all races and ethnicities  live together in harmony, and Euro-Americans in particular embrace their new role  as one among many minorities constituting the new multi-ethnic majority?
What is going to motivate us  to start caring for our biosphere instead of  using our mastery of technology to increase the volume and speed at which we are making our planet uninhabitable for other species and eventually for ourselves?
And, especially since 9/11, how are we to achieve reconciliation with the two-thirds of the world  that increasingly resents our economic, military and cultural domination? Can we accept their anger as a challenge rather than a threat?   Out of our new vulnerability can we recognize that our safety now depends on our loving and caring for the peoples of the world as we love and care for our own families? Or  can we conceive of security only in terms of the Patriot Act and exercising our formidable military power?
When the chickens come home to roost for our invasion of Iraq, as they are already doing, where will we get the courage and the imagination to win by losing?  What will help us recognize that we have brought on our defeats by our own arrogance, our own irresponsibility and our own unwillingness, as individuals and as a nation, to engage in  seeking radical solutions to the growing inequality between the nations of the North and those of the South? Can we create a new paradigm of our selfhood and our nationhood? Or are we so locked into nationalism, racism and determinism that we will be driven to seek scapegoats for our frustrations and failures – as the Germans did after World War I, thus aiding and abetting the onset of Hitler and the Holocaust?    We live at a very dangerous time because these questions are no longer abstractions. Our lives, the lives of our children and future generations, and even the survival of the planet depend on our willingness to  transform ourselves into active planetary and global citizens who, as Martin Luther King Jr. put it, “develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual society.”
The time is already very late and we have a long way to go to meet these challenges.  Over the decades of economic expansion that began with the so-called American Century after World War II,  tens of millions of Americans have become increasingly self-centered and materialistic, more concerned with our possessions and individual careers than with the state of our neighborhoods, cities, country and planet ,  closing our eyes and hearts to the many forms of violence that have been exploding in our inner cities and in powder kegs all over the rest of the world – both because the problems have seemed so insurmountable and because just struggling for our own survival has consumed so much of our time and energy.
At the same time the various identity struggles, while  remediating to some degree the great wrongs that have been done to workers, African Americans, Native Americans and other people of color, women, gays and lesbians, and the disabled, and while helping to humanize our society overall, have also had a shadow side in the sense that they have encouraged us to think of ourselves more as determined than as self-determining, more  as victims of “isms” ( racism, sexism, capitalism) than as human beings who have the power of choice and who for our own survival must assume individual and collective responsibility for creating a new nation that is loved rather than feared and that does not have to bribe and bully other nations to win support.
These are the times that try our souls.  Each of us needs to undergo a tremendous philosophical and spiritual transformation. Each of us needs to be awakened to a personal and compassionate recognition of the inseparable interconnection between our minds, hearts, and bodies, between our physical and psychical well-being, and between our selves and all the other selves in our country and in the world.   Each of us needs to stop being a passive observer of the suffering that we know is going on in the world and start identifying with the sufferers. Each of us needs to make a leap that is both practical and philosophical, beyond determinism to self-determination. Each of us has to be true to and enhance our own humanity by embracing and practicing the conviction that as human beings we have  Free Will; that despite the powers and principalities that are bent on objectifying and commodifying us and all our human relationships, the interlocking crises of our time require that we exercise the power within us to make principled choices in our ongoing daily and political lives, choices that will eventually although not inevitably (there are no guarantees), make a difference.
How are we going to bring about these transformations? Politics as usual, debate and argument, even voting, are no longer sufficient. Our system of representative democracy, which was created by a great revolution, no longer engages the hearts and minds of the great majority of Americans.  Vast numbers of people no longer bother to go to the polls, either because they don’t care what happens to the country or the world, or because they don’t believe that voting will make a difference on the profound and inter- connected issues that really matter. Even. organizing or joining massive protests against disastrous policies and demands for new policies fall short. They may demonstrate that we are on the right side politically but they are not transformative enough. They do not change the cultural images, the symbols , that play such a pivotal role in molding us into who we are.
As the labor movement was developing in the  pre-World War II years, John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath transformed  the way that Americans viewed themselves in relationship to faceless bankers and heartless landowners. In the 1970s and 1980s Judy Chicago’ s Dinner Party and Birth Project  re-imagined the vagina, transforming it from a private space and site of oppression into a public space of beauty and spiritual as well as physical creation and liberation. In this period we urgently need artists to create new images of our selfhood and nationhood, images that will liberate us from our preoccupation with constantly expanding production and consumption and empower us to create another America that will be viewed by the world as a beacon rather than as a danger.  

Vincent Harding: Creating America


“When you talk to author and activist adrienne maree brown, you feel everything is going to be all right. You’re inspired by her hope, belief, and commitment just enough to muster your own. This must have to do with the way she sees possibility for change absolutely everywhere, which came about through her many roles. Brown is also a poet, social justice facilitator, science fiction scholar who is co-editor of Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction from Social Justice Movements, and a doula.” KEEP READING

In his 1967 call for a radical revolution of values against the giant
triplets of racism, materialism and militarism, King said, “a nation that
spends more on military defense than on programs of social uplift is
approaching spiritual death.” In recent years our spiritual death has
resulted in mass physical deaths all over the world and at home, e.g. at
Oklahoma City, Columbine High School, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, the
Immigration Center in Binghamton, N.Y. Each of these could have been the
wakeup call that this one can become.

We don’t have to limit ourselves to grieving or to calling for civility. We
are not just bystanders. We are citizens responsible for the safety of
ourselves and our fellow citizens in these very destabilizing times.

The time has come for each of us to be involved in creating what MLK called
a new concept of global citizenship, based on each one of us accepting the
responsibility for the safety of all of us,

This includes instituting more gun regulations and more mental health
awareness and facilities at the local level, instead of leaving it to
Washington, D.C.

It includes many more of us risking arrest by initiating or joining
non-violent demonstrations.

It requires more of us recognizing that the Old American Dream is dead and
accepting the responsibility for beginning to create, from the ground up,
in our neighborhoods, our cities, and our country, a New American Dream,
based on caring for each other in beloved communities, living more simply
in order that others can simply live, ending our wars and military
occupations around the world.

All of us, and not only borderline individuals, need this New American
Dream. And until the whole world knows that we are creating it in our
country, there will be no homeland security for any of us.

The crisis of the Tucson killings is not only a danger but an opportunity
for each and all of us to make this great leap forward in our and the
world’s humanity.

We must seize the time!!

From Grace Lee Boggs, “Beyond Civility,” MLK Day 2011


Boggs Center Living For Change News

February 27th, 2017

grace and jimmy


Thinking for Ourselves
Shea Howell
Violent Times

This week the students, teachers and support staff of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida will resume classes. They will find ways to move forward in a place infused with memories of violence, fear and pain. And they will continue to show a deep commitment to organizing people against school shootings. They are planning a March on Washington “to demand that their lives and safety become a priority and that we end this epidemic of mass school shootings.” Schools and communities around the country are planning walkouts and marches in solidarity.

As I have been thinking about the passion, persistence and potential of these young people to raise fundamental questions about our country, I happened on an article about Freedom Summer, 1964.  Most of the article reflected the experiences of Thomas Foner and a letter he wrote home, chronicling the violence he experienced in a single day while organizing for voter registration. He wrote:
“Two COFO volunteers were jailed on a trumped up rape charge. Forty M-1 rifles and a thousand rounds of ammunition were stolen from the local National Guard armory. As I write this letter, a Negro church is burning down the street; the fire department is nowhere to be found. Two other volunteers have just been arrested. Last night a Negro freedom worker was shot by white hoodlums. He was taken to the white University Hospital and was released about an hour later with the slug still in his head. Also last night Reverend Smith’s house was shot into about 1:30 AM by white men. The Negro guards fired back as the men got into a city truck.”
Violence is nothing new in America. Yet this moment is an opportunity to move beyond the surface symptoms of the disease that grips our country. Long before Charles Whitman climbed to the observation deck at the University of Texas to kill 17 people in 1966, before Columbine in 1999, Red Lake in 2005, Virginia Tech in 2007, Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, Umpqua Community College in 2015, and now Parkland, and the hundreds of other shootings in schools and out that rarely make the news, violence gripped our country.

Violence is at the core of our founding. It is essential to the continuation of our way of life. Beginning with the first killing of an indigenous person by Columbus and his men to the shot fired tomorrow in Syria, throughout our long and troubled history, the willingness to destroy others for private gain has marked us. This willingness has been not only to destroy people, but to deny the very humanity of those we kill, thus denying and distorting our own.

The bravery of the students at Parkland, like the young people of the Movement for Black Lives, and #MeToo invite us all to look honestly and deeply at who we have been, who we have become, and who we want to be. Young white men picking up guns and killing children in schools are not the problem. They are the symptom of a country shaped by the violence of racism, materialism, and militarism. Until we transform these values, violence in all its forms will continue.
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Womens Day Flyer 2018-1

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The Hidden History of Solidarity Economy Visions

Asar Amen-Ra  B.A., J.D.
The Life and Times of James Boggs

James Boggs’ life was one of imagination and reimagionation. His narrative was one of hardcore socialist, to Black Power advocate, to Humanitarian solutionary. There was never a time when Jimmy, as he was affectionately called, would get stuck in dogmatic doctrine; he made it a point to constantly learn and adapt to his environment.In his formative years while working in the auto industry, Jimmy predicted and envisioned a time when automation/technological advancement would replace human labor in the workforce. With this understanding, Jimmy crafted a vision into a formidable body of work entitled The American Revolution: Pages from a Negro Worker’s Notebook.

In  Chapter 2 of The American Revolution, “The Challenge of Automation“, Jimmy points out that “Automation is the greatest revolution that has taken place in human society since men stopped hunting and fishing and started to grow their own food.”  At the dawn of the technological age and even today, most of us turn a blind eye to the exponential growth of automation displacing people from the workforce. But Jimmy faced the issue of automation head-on by declaring we must have hope and we must work towards a new way of life, a life not centered around a job but a life centered around community, centered around family, centered around our world environment. Instead of automation enslaving us, Jimmy saw that automation could actually free mankind to pursue those things in life that man so passionately cared about.

With that being said, it is not automation we should fear but what international and transnational corporations will do with those advanced tools of technology. We must make a preemptive strike to replace the job system with a life system.

…even more important than a Solidarity Economy is a Solidarity Culture…

Just as today’s Solidarity Economy economists talk about the permanent displacement of workers/poor people, Jimmy coined his own phrase.  His phrase was “The Outsiders” (who were people permanently locked outside the workforce and thus outside of normal society and the job market).

Furthermore, Jimmy said “once released from the necessity to work, men and women would come up with new ideas for increasing productivity that would astonish the world”.

But even more important than a Solidarity Economy is a Solidarity Culture, because culture is what defines us as human beings with our relationships with each other and our environment. Culture is the glue that holds a society together or a sword that can tear society apart.

So, yet again we point to the landmark vision of James Boggs. He understood and said that “The first principle that has to be established is that everyone has a right to a frill life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness whether he is working or not.”

As an autoworker, Jimmy unequivocally announced “I am a factory worker, but I know more than factory work.” This bold and emphatic declaration was the working man’s emancipation proclamation, declaring to all workers we have value beyond our place in the means of production. We must remove the shackles of work from our minds when thinking about defining our lives. We break these shackles when we see ourselves not as workers, but as humans who have gifts and talents we wish to share with the rest of humanity.

Lastly, but certainly not least, Solidarity Culture was born through the following declaration:

“We must create a society of politically conscious, socially responsible individuals, able to use technology for the purpose of liberating and developing humanity.”

Today, we should admit to ourselves the culture we practice is the materialistic culture. In this culture, there has been a devaluing of human life while value has been added to the material wealth one can gain.  Crass materialism is tearing apart the foundations of our society. By placing our value of wealth on symbols of material status — whether it be a car, a house, or a job — instead of valuing principles such as truth, integrity and kindness, we value products over people.

We need to look at the one person who can make a difference in this world, ourselves, and ask this question: Do we want a culture of Life or a culture of death? According to Jimmy, a culture of death leads to “the pollution of our atmosphere, the erosion of our soil, the threat to nuclear destruction, the withering away of human identity and, worst of all, the loss of our freedom to make meaningful and principled choices.” How would a culture of life look? Well, if we take a minute and think about it, it would be the converse of a culture of death. Our Solidarity culture would consist of respect for environment, full employment, universal health care, education, and housing.

I have sent this article to GEO because, as Solidarity Economy practitioners, it is time that we break out of the chains of the traditional, corporatized Black History Month. It’s tradition that limits our memories to Dr. King, WEB DuBois and a few others, when in actuality there were a plethora of African Americans creating and fighting for a new reality. James Boggs was one of these people. As an autoworker, he saw beyond the industrial revolution to the point in time when workers would control the point of production, not for profit, but for the benefit of planet and people.

Go to the GEO front page

Asar Amen-Ra, is a long time labor and community organizer. With a focus on social and economic justice.

When citing this article, please use the following format: Asar Amen-Ra (2018). The Hidden history of Solidarity Economy Visions: The Life and Times of James Boggs. Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO)

Asar Amen-Ra  B.A., J.D.

January 15th, 2018

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“In the first century BC, Cicero said: “Freedom is participation in power.” Negroes should never want all power because they would deprive others of their freedom. By the same token, Negroes can never be content without participation in power. America must be a nation in which its multiracial people are  partners in power. This is the essence of democracy toward which all Negro struggles have been directed since the distant past when he was transplanted here in chains.”

Dr. Martin Luther  King, Jr. Where do we go from here, Chaos or Community?

The Latest from Detroit People’s Platform

Registration is required for this event

Thinking for Ourselves
Shea Howell
Creative Turmoil

The celebration of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. comes in the midst of a moment of national disgrace. It is not only that the words of the current administration are cruel, hateful, and dangerous. It is also that its policies are. The brutality of a dying empire is seeping into all of our relationships, poisoning us.

This is why it is important for us to revisit the challenges to America embodied in Dr. King’s life and words. This year, I have been thinking about Dr. King not only as an American visionary, but as a global citizen.

In December of 1964 Martin Luther King flew to Oslo Norway to accept the Nobel Peace Prize. He made clear that he was not accepting this as an individual, but “on behalf of the movement.” He characterized himself as “a trustee, inspired and with renewed dedication to humanity.”

Dr. King begins his speech with a list of the violent cruelties that happened one day before he spoke. In Birmingham Alabama children were attacked with dogs and fire hoses. In Philadelphia, Mississippi young people were brutalized and murdered. More than 40 churches were bombed on burned in Mississippi and people everywhere were in the “chains” of poverty.

Acknowledging this, King decided to speak to his belief that “Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace,” and we “must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”

He affirmed his “abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind,” saying:
I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the “isness” of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal “oughtness” that forever confronts him. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsom and jetsom in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.

I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. I believe that even amid today’s mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men. I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land. “And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid.” I still believe that We Shall overcome!

This faith can give us courage to face the uncertainties of the future. It will give our tired feet new strength as we continue our forward stride toward the city of freedom. When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds and our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, we will know that we are living in the creative turmoil of a genuine civilization struggling to be born.

Trump is neither the beginning nor the end of this long, creative struggle for a new world.

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Notes from Midwestern Conversations
Relando Thompkins-Jones

“This summer we are beginning anew, not with what we are against but what we are for; not rejections but projections. We are searching for the fundamentals, the elementals of the new…The solution is not in science, it is how we look at “we”. – (Excerpt from Conversations in Maine, 1978, James & Grace Lee Boggs; Freddy & Lyman Paine)

On November 16th-19th, 2017 I spent time at a retreat called Midwest Conversations: Nourishing our souls for {r}evolutionary living & work. The retreat was sponsored by the James and Grace Lee Bogs Center in Detroit, and hosted by the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College.

With other social justice workers engaged in education, community organizing, health, and other areas, the retreat was designed for us to take a time-out “to nourish relationships; engage with pressing questions, ideas, and practices of radical love, and develop “next steps” in our respective social justice living and work.”

The retreat had three guiding questions:

What kind of leaders are we being right now?
What values define visions for living in cities today?
What visionary work is called for in the times we’re living in?




“We have just begun to fight”  Grace Lee Boggs (August 18, 2013)

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.

Rooted in race, and the search for the American Dream, it began at the end of World War II when white people moved to the suburbs to escape blacks in cities like Detroit where whites were becoming the minority. Taking with them their schools, their businesses and their taxes, they impoverished the cities and attracted the attention and money of extreme right-wingers like the Koch brothers.

As a result, over the years the suburbs have become increasingly reactionary. They have elected governors like Scott Walker and Rick Snyder. They have passed anti-union right to work, anti-women, and anti-black “Stand your ground” laws, which have given men like George Zimmerman permission to kill teens like Trayvon Martin as if they were roaches.

It is also mushrooming on college campuses. Professors are writing books celebrating Senator Joe McCarthy, claiming that his red-baiting witchhunts were actually early warnings against the big government that Obama is trying to force on us. Every year the ultra-conservative Phyliss Schlafly hosts a nationally-telecast Collegians Summit at the Heritage Foundation to provide these professors with a youthful audience.

As a result, on some campuses white students warn black professors not to flunk them – or else. At UCLA’s medical school Dr. Christian Head, a black surgeon, was assaulted by a flyer depicting him with the body of a gorilla being sodomized by another professor. He sued and was awarded $4.5 million.

With growing unemployment, the crisis in the Mideast, and the decline in this country’s global dominance, we have come to the end of the American Dream. The situation reminds me of the 1930s when good Germans, demoralized by their defeat in WWI, unemployment and inflation, followed Hitler into the Holocaust.

These days, in our country, a growing number of white people feel that, as they are becoming the minority and a black man has been elected president, the country is no longer theirs. They are becoming increasingily desperate and dangerous.

We need to address their fears, and at the same time invite and challenge them to join with us in creating a new American Dream.

It will not be easy. It will take the willingness to risk arrest that North Carolinians are demonstrating in the Moral Mondays movement.

It will take the kind of militancy that students are exhibiting in sit-ins against ‘’Stand your ground” legislation.

It will take the kind of courage and persistence that Texas State Senator Wendy Davis demonstrated when she carried out a 13 hour filibuster against a bill that would have denied women the right to choose.

We have just begun to fight….

(Note: Grace wrote this column under the heading “In Detroit, We Have Just Begun to Fight” after Detroit was taken over by an emergency manager and plunged into a corporate-styled bankruptcy.)