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,

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