Monday, July 16, 2012

final detroit 2012 summer update #13

yes, i know that i am a day late with the 13th and final update on detroit 2012. i had to travel back across country and clean and grocery shop and make chili and burn candles and think about things quietly in my own home. tomorrow we begin a study group i am facilitating on grace lee boggs' the next american revolution. i am trying to get organized after all that soft wandering we undertook together these past two weeks. i began a new journal, one with a peacock in foil - a gift from my friend, the poet amber dipietra. i wrote that, for the first time, i feel like an adult. i am heading somewhere with the people i love and it is different than where we've been.

tai amri, his dad dwight, step-mom diane, christopher and i went to the charles wright african american museum saturday. it was so beautiful and so wretched. the prettiest fact presented, by far, being that every single one of us was born of a single african woman. but then soon the belly of the ship that you step down into. mannequins upon mannequins shackled together on wooden shelves. they tried to make the faces look scared enough. impossible. the innuendo of it alone was enough to stir the imagination, tho. they had a little panel on the man who had been a slave trader, but later saw the light and quit to become a preacher. he wrote amazing grace. "t'was grace that saved a wretch like me..."

we went around and got a last round of sweaty hugs at the detroit summer 20th anniversary celebration and headed to the airport. detroit, i shed a couple of tears when the plane took off, did you know it? came home to chilly oakland and used a hoodie to walk to the car. and now we are back to our lives in oakland. this morning tai amri gave a beautiful sermon on detroit and work and jobs and peace. tomorrow, i go back to the office for the first time in two weeks. 

i was thinking earlier that part of my not wanting to write this last update was about my not wanting to finish writing you all my thoughts on revolution and grace and peace and then i thought, heck no, you should just keep on blogging regularly about these things, and so i have decided i will, tho once a week is more likely than every two days. if you want, keep reading on my blog from now on. i still have a ton of pictures and some video to share, as well. i am actually glad that mercury is retrograde right now, because that is an excellent time for reviewing and refining what has just happened, and i hope we all take time to do that and to share it. at the end of the new work talk at the boggs center with both frithjof and grace,  she gave us an assignment that i will remind my cohorts of here. i urge the rest of you to take it up as well: she asked us all write a paragraph or short paper on next steps toward independent electricity production in our communities, or toward any aspect of new work in our communities. i'll post mine on my blog when i write it, as well as sending it to grace at the boggs center. please join me. 

for all of you who supported our indiegogo campaign to get to detroit, you are a part of this project and we thank you. for all of you who worked shoulder to shoulder with us this week, we love you. 

with love and outstretched fingers,

Friday, July 13, 2012

detroit 2012 summer update #11

today the young educators alliance hosted a roundtable discussion on gentrification at cass commons. sadly, we arrived at about the half-way mark, but what i was present for was excellent and i wish i'd been there for the whole thing. the circle included many of the people we have met during our time in detroit, and i think it is accurate to say that we were able to open up some really tender and protruding tensions signaling a measure of deepening in the relationships we are building. long-time detroiters like occupy detroit's rakiba brown, and newer detroiters like jeff sturges of mt. elliott makerspace shared their perspectives on the changing face of detroit and the politics that go into that change, and i listened with rapt attention.

now let me start off by saying that there are few things that confuse and confound me more than talking about gentrification. i am always left wondering who "belongs" where, and who can make such designations, and when i really get into it, i cannot deny that we are, as one person put it today, "herded" from place to place by a cut-throat, for-profit-or-die system of land distribution that has uprooted and upended damn near every last one of us and/or our ancestors. i wonder where that leaves us, and where it means we can go from where we are. i wind up feeling somewhat paralyzed about whether any move can be said to be benign. and, of course, none can ever be without impact. and for someone like me who is about to make her 28th move, this is a terrifying  reality.  since i am only 35, i'll let you do the math, but suffice it to say that, as a child, we moved a lot. this is an experience not uncommon for those of us who were raised poor, and especially for those of us who were raised by single moms with fluctuating or unsteady incomes. my first home - the one i lived in the longest in my life (which was 8 years) - was in a primarily mexican part of the oak cliff neighborhood in dallas, texas.  my white family was certainly the minority and though we likely had more money than many of our neighbors, if for no other reason than the fact that there were only two children in my family compared to the much larger families of our neighbors, i really don't know where else we "should" have gone. we lived there, as i expect many of the others did, because it was we could afford. as my mom made more or less money, we moved around. i have so many memories of going to look for new places to live with my mom and sister, and each time, it was capitalism that ran the show. we looked for places with nicer looking cabinets, or places that were conveniently located, or places that were the best deals. neighborhoods - i mean with their histories and challenges, their networks and relationships - were not deeply considered. this is how i was raised to think about "choosing a home."  thinking back on it now, this seems like one of the obvious consequences of the fact that my mother was raised in an orphanage, beginning when she was 5. how could she have known what to look for, what real community might be, considering her own very young isolation and separation from the rest of her brothers and her sister? but capitalism is designed to soothe woundings like these by offering a "choice" for every appetite. don't like your situation? well then name your flavor! as frithjof bergmann likes to say, "freedom is not the same as choice. if you offer a vegetarian a choice between chicken and beef, it isn't really a choice!" 

so let me come back to detroit and to the discussion at cass commons today. many of the things people had to say made me squirm in my chair - some from lack of analysis and some from the steady and beautiful application of it. as the waves of tension rose and dissipated to rise again, a wasp flew into the palm of my hand. it didn't even pretend to be in a hurry.  i stayed perfectly still, wondering whether i'd be stung. my heart began to beat faster and i felt a wave of hot fear go through me. what if i accidentally scared it? what was it doing in here, anyway? and why had it chosen my hand to crawl into? eventually, it simply decided to move on and flew across the room and away from me. i sat, staring at my ruptured notebook, spine all cracked and unraveled from all the writing and bending and thinking with it i have done with it since arriving in detroit. and instead of feeling regret over my encounter with the wasp and my busted journal laying before me, i felt gratitude. i gave thanks for the opening and unraveling, for the closeness and possibility of danger or communion i was experiencing, for the dialectic of it. for the wisdom that i have retained, as a woman, that would allow me look around the room and want to love this community to life, even as i recognize the ways our collective wisdom calls upon things inside of me to die and to be released.

i couldn't help but notice that it was mostly the women (and mostly women of color) who midwifed the pain and the love in that room. the conversation, without them/us, would have been utter shit. women are the natural leaders of the work to unearth our humanity as we re-imagine ever deepening concepts of community and as we extricate ourselves from the nets of confusion that have been thrown over our own senses of justice and connection with one another. the exquisite and powerful charity hicks stood up as our "big mama" today by speaking her truth, lovingly, when she recognized weak analysis, and also by closing the circle with healing breath and prayer, allowing us all to "grow our souls" just a little bit bigger today. 

i left the discussion, you might be able to guess, with more questions than answers. 

with rugged love,

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

detroit summer 2012 update #9

i went to bed early last night so i could wake up today for a morning reiki session with the amazing and generous andrew plisner in the basement of cass commons. the morning was cool and the air felt soft. it was just the start i needed for such a full day, so i'm sending a shout out to him. 
my friend christopher and i headed out to d-town farms and grabbed hoes to weed a bed of corn. i am always reminded of how much fun it is to talk with friends while gardening - it's a little different when you are collaborating like that, and a little silly, too. my arms got tired really fast and christopher and i joked that that someone needed to invent a garden tool that would utilize a woman's center of strength, something like a "ladies' leg-hoe" that could use leg rather than arm muscles... we then helped harvest chard, arugula, and bok choy for market in the hot house. boy, i tell you what, walking out of that plastic dome when we were finished made it feel like the whole world was air conditioned for a few minutes, so great was the temperature difference between the two!
we then returned to cass commons for an event called "feed one, teach one" led by the young educators' alliance, an amazing crew of detroit youth who showed us a framework they had developed to help other youth (and adults!) identify themes they might want to lead community events to address, such as violence, pollution, and access to transportation. it was yet another reminder that young ones are the absolute best at thinking well about our collective future, and i was so pleased with their playfulness and obvious pleasure at being  together.
tai amri and i then jumped in the car and rushed to the boggs center to nurture community leadership for a more "in-depth" conversation on new work, new culture with frithjof bergmann, and when i walked in and saw the stairlift seat at the top of the stairs instead of at the bottom, i knew that grace had decided to join the conversation. what a treat it was! in this, our 3rd event with frithjof, i feel we finally began to deepen our understanding of his concepts, and to begin formulating in our minds ways to put them into practice in our own communities. he told us that, " the most important thing is to get people out of the sense of terrible depression," so that they can begin to think about what they really, REALLY want, which is his definition of freedom: the ability to think about and do what one really, REALLY wants. other notes from the convo:

  • if you hope to get the whole community on board, forget it - you never will. but we are not missionaries or salesmen. we don't need to coerce people.
  • frithjof says that it was the women of flint, michigan, who "gave birth to new work" there, one of the several places where he has been nurturing a community of new work. "the men were scared."
  • it is vastly easier to do new work in communities where it is blatantly obvious that the jobs are gone.
  • he told the story of a successful new work site where the workers decided to keep their business small and when he asked them why they said it was because "you can't eat together unless you are small."
  • "a pot of parsley is not self-reliance, it is more of a ritual." i.e. you can't just decide to do new work on your own. it requires a community of people who each desire to do something different to contribute to the community. 
  • he identified thinking about how to create your own electricity as one of the key questions and, when you begin doing this, you are getting closer to what new work is all about: economic self-sufficiency within community.
  • provocatively to some, he said that democracy is finished - it's been bought. so new work communities connecting with one another is paramount because we are going toward connected communities and away from nations as the way we organize ourselves.
  • the idea is to invest in useful technologies, i.e. fab labs that don't get really connected to the communities they are in are flops. "you might as well piss on them!" -FB
  • grace summed it all up very well and gave my mind a way of conceiving of the scale of change that new work and community production proposes: she asked us to remember how quickly we were able to go from big production companies being the only ones able to print books, make movies, and make music, to now having youtube and and video cameras in our cellphones. when i think of it this way, i feel so much more relaxed about our ability to do what FB is proposing. 
  • we are moving past outdated modes of relation with one another. "what kind of confederation do we want to make?" -GLB. 
  • grace asked us each, upon completion of detroit 2012, to write an essay on what we see as next steps for moving toward new work. i intend to take her up on that, and i will share my response with all of you once i finish it. frithjof also invited me to invite him to oakland. i am so excited by this prospect and cannot wait to see what might come of it.
IMAG0217.jpgand the day was still not done! we finished it at feedom freedom growers on manistique with myrtle thomas. once again, it was the youth of detroit who led us in a roundtable discussion on the food system and food sovereignty. i am telling you this: there is a cadre of leaders rising in detroit that are just stupefyingly brilliant and hungry for justice. they even cooked us a small meal from the garden and we broke bread and sat in a large circle discussing ways that we can transform our relation to our food by growing it and cooking it ourselves. a few highlights from that conversation:
  • someone in the circle quoted former US secretary of agriculture, earl butz, when he famously said, "food is a weapon," to remind us that having our food sovereignty wrestled from us is a covert war tactic.
  • "income levels aren't rising like our waistlines." - myrtle thomas on the systematic poisoning of our food system by sugar, sodium, and added fats
  • and most significantly, it is our relationship with our food that needs to change. it is not enough to fall into binary, judgmental thinking regarding food, afterall, "who am i to tell inuits and eskimos to 'go vegan'?"
IMAG0212.jpgneedless to say, DETROIT IS AMAZING! as they like to say out here in the rust belt, "another detroit is happening." as we pass into the last quarter phase of the moon this evening, and as i feel myself instinctively begin to prepare to wrap up my time in detroit and to start the processing of what all i have seen and done here, i am full, full, full of gratitude to the lovely, deeply human and wise people of this city.
god and goddess bless detroit.

love and justice:michelle

Monday, July 9, 2012

detroit summer update #7

have you ever had anything approximating free reign to make something you wanted? i mean with the tools and the community support to do it? well today, in the basement of the church of the messiah in detroit, i saw a space where children and adults alike are welcomed to imagine their hearts' desire. it is called the mt. elliott maker's space, and it is ALIVE. there were about 5 or 6 adults taking a computer class, while a group of children, aged from around 5 to around 13, made things. on this day their project looked like a fort, though there is a bike shop, a wood shop, soldering stations, spare computer parts, and windmills strewn about. i happened upon them as one child was using a digital camera to make a film. she walked around interviewing the other children and i couldn't resist joining in. these babies were so fresh, so open-eyed and EXCITED! the overwhelming thing that i noticed among them - and i hung with them for a while - was the cooperative nature with which they approached one another. i really noticed the older ones looking out for the younger ones, and yet they all seemed to be really letting themselves do what they truly wanted to do. they were so good at working together. i absolutely believe that these are the building blocks of peace. every workplace could benefit from watching them work together so well and so joyfully. 

also, yesterday there was an excellent discussion between frithjof bergmann, the austrian philosopher behind "new work, new culture," and juan martinez, a bike lover and innovator in detroit. bergmann argues that the very nature of work has got to change to accommodate for a world in which  we have literally "peaked," in terms of jobs and growth, and that we are never coming back from it. i know that he is right, but both he and i  think this is a good thing because it means we get to start fresh. it means that we can re-imagine why it is that we work so that we can finally quit doing everything we do for a low-down, dirty dollar. it means we get to put people and communities back at the center of our value system, just as it is for the children in the maker space today. it means, in short, that we are freer than we think. hallelujah! let THAT soak in for just a minute.

some notes from the conversation:
  • the economists are saying some really stupid things. "what you hear about unemployment is bullshit. they are trying to put you to sleep and keep you from thinking." -FB.  we don't even count the people who have given up hope for finding jobs - it is a farce.
  • there are 3 major factors that have led to the disappearance of jobs: globalization, automation, and the unprecedented move of people from farms to cities (80% used to live on farms, and now only 4-5% do!). this is the "tyranny of the free market"
  • there is something wonderful  happening - it's not all bad.
  • the alternative to having a job (of course) is needing much less and simultaneously making your own things/food/etc, in community so as to derive the most value, meaning, and pleasure from having made them. community production is what we should be focusing on growing instead of trying to stimulate the economy. what is emerging as the work of the future is community production. this is our opportunity to re-fashion how we think about work so that it becomes something to bring us into our aliveness.
  • "the big corporations are not omnipotent - only god is." - FB.
  • a reminder that we have not always worked 40-80 hour work weeks. it does not have to be this way.
peace and love,

Friday, July 6, 2012

detroit summer update #5

IMAG0126.jpgIMAG0119.jpg IMAG0123.jpg
5 is the the number of venus and of love. i met grace lee boggs today. went over to her pretty little house on field st. and gathered with a small group of 15 to talk of revolution. christopher, tai amri and i had all just finished reading the pamphlet {R}Evolution in the 21st Century aloud, in rounds. i must first say, as a genteel southerner, that grace is a generous and kind woman, and she welcomed us in with warmth. when i walked up to the armchair where she was sitting i said, "hello grace, it is so good to meet you, i'm michelle." she asked, "from oakland?" and i almost fell on the floor! she has been reading some of our updates, as i understand it...we all proceeded to settle in for a 2 hour chat, and i took a few notes that i will list below:

  • those in power have nothing to offer to resolve anything. hegel's dialectic. phenomenology of the mind. patience & labor & suffering of the negative. this is our work to do
  • create your own alternatives as you talk about counter-revolution
  • instituting a new form of government is the most pressing question of our time. the act of resisting will make the new forms emerge
  • danger of male dominiation
  • danger of charismatic, selfish leaders. "they emerge from our absence." - GLB
  • wangari matthai - "the challenge of africa"
  • love people to life. you can only kill a bad idea by introducing better ideas
  • time banks
  • you have to base your work on the struggles that already exist
  • don't forget that you have internal struggles, as well as those on the outside
  • the whip of the counter-revolution is also feeding the revolution
  • look at where the resistance to the counter-revolution is - it will create leadership
  • contradictions are internal, not external
  • revolutionary thinking requires on-going analysis
  • in the 1960's, we thought in terms of rights - we need to think in terms of responsibilities, as well
  • creating an alternative is part of who we are!
at the end, grace asked whether we would all be able to go to our families and begin talking about the need for revolution because, as she put it, the family is the basis of our knowledge of cooperative action. lastly, she allowed us to tour her home and her massive book collection. i flipped through her marked-up copy of hegel and posed for a picture with her. as we left, rick feldman (one of her long-time collaborators) told us on her porch that we had pleased her with our discussion, and that it had hopefully added at least a week to her life. i know it exponentially increased my own desire to stick around in this, our opulent and suffering world.

next, i attended a community conversation on revolution and forms of self-governance. this was a particularly difficult discussion to face right after our time with grace because, as i am becoming increasingly aware, many of us don't yet know what the hell to do or say when we are asked what we want. frithjof bergmann, the other day, called it a "poverty of desire." we are unaccustomed to being in positions where we might be asked such questions and, so yoked to our expected roles are we that, even amongst radicals, we have a great deal of visioning left to do before we can begin to answer this question fully. if it weren't such striking information to acknowledge, i would have regretted attending due to the sheer discomfort of grappling with exactly how we might create more local alternatives to our current system of representative democracy.

shortly following that event, i experienced - like a series of small lightening bolts - being "called" to discuss with one of my friends a long-standing and painful family situation that is his current reality. in a very frank and fresh way, i was able to frame my visions for just a couple of alternatives to his situation and to invite him into a re-examination of what he had previously considered closed. he expressed having never thought of one of the options i highlighted, and i saw a glimmer of opening in his view which is always enough for anything to be able to move, really. as we wrapped up our conversation, he thanked me for listening to him and gave me a compliment that i choose to take as a challenge before you all: he told me that the loving care and process work that i am so excellent at helping to facilitate is what he sees as missing from our movement. with so much grief to be processed, and so much fear to be faced as we step into the simultaneous realities of how much work there is to do and how fiercely bold we must be to imagine our liberation, we need (as he did) the loving presence and quality attention i had been able to offer him this evening. i pledge to re-imagine and help lead the movement in ways in which we can offer one another the space to go into the guts of healing from the sicknesses the dominant culture propagates in us daily. it is a responsibility i relish accepting.

with love,
michelle and tai amri

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

tai amri and i were lucky enough to have two of our best friends, mia gonzalez and christopher santee, join us today all the way from toledo, ohio, and lawrence, kansas, as well as our detroiter friends ellen and michael scandirito. we all went to the "peace zones for life" (PZL) discussion on belle isle and, after quite a while spent searching, we finally found the site. we'd almost left, but we later felt so glad we didn't - even in the 97 degree heat. we gathered under the shelter and introduced ourselves, where we were all from, and the various reasons we had attended the event. and what a crowd it was! activists from all over the country were there, each doing beautiful things for peace. brooklyn and oakland showed a particularly large presence, but the mix was really wide and varied, as well, and we exchanged contact information with a few of our fellow oaklanders and made an agreement to meet later in the week. 

the brilliant and loving ron scott told (and facilitated the telling of) stories of some of the successes that PZL has had - everything from helping two feuding families hold funeral services at different times of day to prevent a violent clash, to the incredible story of recruiting a retired detroit police officer, herself a victim of police brutality, to serve as the primary investigator for the organization - restorative justice, indeed! ron also pointed out that 80% of the calls to detroit police are for domestic abuse or drug usage, and that we, as communities, can be the "first responders" in such situations. his wisdom was that it is important not to make moral judgements on what people feel they must do to survive, but rather to offer an alternative. he reminded us that the best "weapon" any of us has is a verbal one and that de-escalation is real and can work when we approach people with love and respect, but went on to insist that women in our communities need to be safe and he recognized that any move toward community policing must include a deep commitment to recognizing sexism and working to abolish it. he also lamented the loss of the "big mama's" who used to serve as wise elders in their communities and he agitated for a return to elder and woman led community-based de-escalation processes. i don't know what could be more human and dignifying.  

one of the things that i love about ron is the balance he is able to articulate between sympathizing with the struggles of our neighbors under unbelievable oppression, and holding one another accountable in peaceful and humanizing ways. his love is apparent by how he speaks and moves, by his commitment to contradict the dominant culture that prefers to call certain people "ex-offenders," rather than to greet them as "returning citizens." it is more than semantics. this is about whether we can agree that each person is really worthy and precious. it is a deep question, one that we have got to keep in sharp focus if we are to move beyond punitive and commodified views of ourselves and others so that we can truly live into the beloved community that was each of our birthrights. each new baby comes into this world expecting it, and nothing short of a mighty and crushing hand can quash the drive for it, but that first desire can never be completely lost in a human being - only dimmed. the truth shines through the eyes. i saw it, lots of times, in the sweaty faces of my brothers and sisters in detroit today. 

in peace.

Monday, July 2, 2012

it is morning in michigan, and i am sitting in grey light with windows wide and the sound of birds and an oncoming thunderstorm. i slept on top of the sheets with a wet washcloth on my body while a fan hummed in the window. i am enjoying this time alone before everyone else gets up and trying to think how to tell you about what i have seen.

tai amri and i arrived in detroit last evening and drove straight to the opening of detroit summer after nearly 12 hours of travel. it was 93 degrees and humid. we packed into the ecumenical theological seminary to hear opening remarks, paperboard fans in hand. near the front of the sanctuary, dressed in a t-shirt that said “{r}evolution,” was grace lee boggs, sitting in her wheelchair and sweating along side the rest of us. it’s a funny thing when you have occasion to see someone whom you have idolized: you remember (especially if they aren’t putting on any airs), that they are people, just like you. i remember, a few years ago, sitting in an over-stuffed wheeler hall on the ground near the foot of a podium awaiting a speech by the famous feminist thinker, gyatri spivak, and when she stepped past me i was close enough to see that she had very dry skin on her feet. i remember feeling very moved by that small thing. it is, in fact, what i remember most about that evening, never mind that she obviously said some brilliant things. fame makes people in the image of stars, but a good leader wants only to shine amongst others. a leader like grace wants us all to rise to the enormous challenge we tend to set at the feet of the chosen few.

grace’s speech was short and sweet, focusing on the upcoming fourth of july holiday, and how it relates to the work at hand. she reminded us that we must not busy ourselves only with the work of BBQ’s and fireworks, but that we must face honestly the fantastic responsibility that the declaration of independence impresses upon us: that when any government produces, “a long train of abuses and usurpations,” the people not only have a right, but a “duty to throw off such government and to provide new guards for their future security.” following her remarks, a series of community leaders spoke about the responsibilities they have assumed, in a variety of ways, my favorite being the work being done to create “peace zones for life,” in which community and connection are used to combat both violence and complicity with police brutality. i’ll end with a pledge which you and i can take together – today, and as often as necessary – as offered by H.O.P.E. and the urban network.

Neighborhood Peace Pledge:

I pledge allegiance to do my part in restoring the neighbor back to the hood.
I pledge to develop myself, my family & my household to the greatest extent possible of being a shining example of being a husband, father, son, brotha, wife, mother, daughter & sister in my neighborhood.
I will learn all that I can in order to give my best to improve the quality of my neighborhood.
I will work diligently to honor my family in my neighborhood with good deeds, & treat my neighbors as my extended family.
I will keep myself mentally sound, spiritually grounded & physically fit; building a strong body, mind & spirit that will exemplify positivity & productivity in my neighborhood.
I will unselfishly share my time, knowledge, resources & wisdom with my neighbors (young & old) in order to build & maintain a healthy neighborhood.
I will do my part to keep my neighborhood clean & safe.
I will discipline myself to direct my energies thoughtfully & constructively to maintain peace, harmony & love in my neighborhood.
I will train myself to never hurt or allow anyone the harm someone in my neighborhood for an injustice or through negative behaviors of stealing, gun violence, verbal abuse, police brutality, selling drugs, rape, or any other social ill that works to destroy my neighborhood.
This is my pledge to do my part by being a caring neighbor in my neighborhood by working to keep my neighborhood a peace zone instead of a war zone.

in solidarity