Reporting Out: Week 8 of the Occupation
By Shea Howell
May 19th, 2013
The Office of the Emergency Manager issued its “Financial and Operating Plan” for the city of Detroit. It is a limited document. As predicted, it said Detroit is in financial trouble. It repeats the concern for the $15 billion in long-term debt and adds that the city was out of money as of April 26, having $64 million in cash but $226 million in obligations. It goes on to tell us that much of the city is “dysfunctional.” Police, fire, water, lighting, transportation, and recreation don’t work. All require an overhaul. All will be studied for plans for improvement. And we have a problem with blight. That will be studied too. And then we can expect quick action.
The New York Times summed up the report as “dire.” The Times explains, “The picture of debt and disarray he paints may be bleaker even than earlier grim portrayals.” The best the Detroit Free Press could come up with was, “It’s hard to imagine how something could be disappointing and illuminating at the same time.” Nancy Kaffer noted it is “not exactly groundbreaking.”
As the Times suggests, the report is likely “to become a new focal point for debate for some in Detroit who have questioned the seriousness of the city’s troubles and the need for state intervention at a level rarely seen for a city of its size.”
But the limitations of the report rest more in the thinking it represents than in accounting.
Here unions are singled out as the major reasons for the problems of city finance. Pension and health care responsibilities are targeted as primary contributors to long-term debt.
There is no mention in this report of the serious, sustained disinvestment in the city by corporations. No mention of ill-conceived tax incentives given over the years to all kinds of development schemes. No mention of the role banks played in the encouragement of suburban over urban development. No mention of the foreclosure crisis and its acceleration of the depopulation of our city. No mention of the hostile state legislature that has done everything from remove residency requirements to renege on revenue sharing promises. No mention of the millions of dollars squandered by foundations.
The solutions the EM seeks will be directed primarily at what he has identified as the sources of the problem—unions, pensions, and healthcare. Moreover, the solutions are seen in isolation from one other.
He continues the worn out strategy of asserting “demolition” of abandoned structures will improve neighborhood life. He makes no mention of the use of “deconstruction” by neighborhood groups, churches and civic organization as a way to increase the economic activity in a community and to harness valuable resources. Instead, the current picture of “demolition” he advocates is one that conjures up destruction, dumping, and dollars leaving the city.
Nor does he talk about the connections between various sectors of public life. We know that increasing recreational facilities and opening public parks decreases criminal activity. Yet this report, in its desire to privatize and punish, talks of these areas as unrelated.
The Emergency Manager got one thing right. He said, “You don’t get the magnitude of neighborhood blight we have overnight.” He went on, “Without a vision for what you want your city to be three, five, 10, 20, 30 years out, the totality of those circumstances drove us here” will continue.
That is the challenge. We need to take every opportunity in our neighborhoods, block clubs, faith and civic organizations to talk with one another not only about how we want our city to look, but what values we want that vision to reflect. That, in the long run, is the only path to a new future.
New Work & Community Production: Eyes on Detroit
By Babara A. Stachowski
May 19th, 2013
Jimmy Boggs (1919-1993) encouraged people to “make a way out of no way.” That is what we have been doing in Detroit as we have been grappling with the economic devastation of the postindustrial era and have had to imagine our lives anew.
A tsunami hit us decades ago when robots began replacing human beings on factory assembly lines. Resilient Detroiters became keenly aware that, to avoid the catastrophe of another tsunami, we had to move to ‘higher ground,” to a new way of life, of work. We call this New Work.
What is New Work and how does it promote New Cultures and New Economies? How is it different from the old culture?
Frithjof Bergmann, the international philosopher activist of New Work, New Culture, explains: “First we must realize that the current jobs system is only about 200 years old and obviously doesn’t work. Everything connected to the jobs economy has been reduced, diminished and made worse. New Work is an effort to turn the whole thing around from the bottom to the top.”
Frithjof warns that in the next relatively few months or years, we will experience a calamity on the level of six or eight tsunamis if we do not find an alternative to the current jobs economy. “These tsunamis are rolling in from the ocean towards us and if we do not do anything very intelligent and imaginative, they will destroy us and we will be drowned.
“New Work from the start was conceived as a possible staircase up to a new culture that will be more humane, more intelligent and more cheerful than the one we are leaving beneath and behind us.”
Specifically, New Work makes use of new technologies to become independent and self-reliant, to NOT depend on a boss to get a job.
Bergmann reassures us that, “A quantum leap is now possible, and it is important to understand that this is not just a fantasy, not something that people in some ways just dream about. Detroit is the place where this is becoming more real, more substantial, more graspable, more graphic than maybe any other place in the world.”
This quantum leap has to do with an astounding technological development called miniaturization or micronization. An iPhone is an example of this technology. Like smartphones, miniaturization applies to manufacturing and factories.
“With 3D printers it is now possible to manufacture anything from houses to electricity, to computers, to electric cargo bikes. Almost anything can be produced almost any place.
“In remote villages in Africa, on blighted neighborhoods in Detroit. Community production is what makes possible the quantum leap up to New Culture, a new way of life, a new experience of the spiritual.”
Community production has an enormous advantage over archaic attempts to rebuild an economy of meaningless jobs because it allows people to focus on doing work that they really, really want to do to make things that we really, really need. We can now move into a New Culture that, as Grace Lee Boggs says, concentrates on developing people and growing our souls.
When we do work we really, really want to do, we realize a sense of strength and not exhaustion. We begin to feel that we are living; we begin to feel that our lives have meaning.
As the waters of the economic tsunami continue to recede, leaving behind fertile ground, Detroiters are creating a New Culture based on Community Production. Grassroots community-based centers of work and culture are emerging in the Brightmoor and Birwood neighborhoods, the MakrSpace in the Church of the Messiah, and the Feedom Freedom Growers’ Manistique Garden project.
According to Bergmann,“The fact that Detroit has a tradition that goes over generations makes it plausible that Detroit can become the model for no end of other cities that will come here to study how this is accomplished and what it looks like.”
Barbara Stachowski is now in Germany visiting with Fritzhof Bergmann’s associates.
(note from GLB: President Obama referred to 3D printers in his February State of the Union speech. The May issue of the Smithsonian Magazine features an article on “a factory in every home.” TIME Magazine, April 22, is about the “comeback” of HiTech Manufacturing in the USA).
DETROIT 2013: Making a Way Out of No Way Towards the Next American Revolution
In our quest for humane responses to gentrification, foreclosures, school closures, joblessness, emergency managers, transportation cuts, and police brutality, people are working diligently every day to re-imagine everything from democracy to public safety, education and work. This year, as we commemorate the 50th Anniversaries of Malcolm X’s Message to the Grassroots at the historic King Solomon Church, Dr. King’s march on Woodward in Detroit before over 100,000 people and James Boggs’ epic release of The American Revolution: Pages from a Negro Worker’s Notebook, we invite the world to join us as we come together again this summer to build on the abundant soul growth that we experienced in Detroit last July.
Let us come together for our 2nd annual gathering as we:
lay the groundwork for a national network of “Re-imagining Cities,” each taking on revolution, democracy, education, work, food justice, and public safety in fresh ways which make sense for our respective communities, as we continue our work of restoring the neighbor back to each hood.
create a “think tank” atmosphere to support each visiting delegation, in order to learn about their own history, contradictions, concepts and practice of visionary organizing.
As capitalism continues towards collapse, and as disenfranchisement rises, it is critical that we continue to work together to create a space which nurtures the growing of our souls this summer in Detroit. What inside of yourself would you like to transform? What would you like to make happen in Detroit this summer? In your own community?
Join us: As We Shake the World with a New Dream . . .
June 23 – 30, 2013
SAVE THE DATE: “American Revolutionary:
The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs”
June 29, 2013 at the DIA
What Matters: Week 7 of the Occupation
By Shea Howell
May 12th, 2013
Sometimes the earth slows you down. It is planting time in Detroit. There is a rhythm and focus brought by the turning of the seasons. At long last the weariness of winter is falling away. Soil must be prepared. Soon seedlings will find their way into the thousands of urban garden and small backyard plots that have made Detroit a global leader in urban agriculture.
Such moments of slowing down and finding focus are much needed in the whirlwind of changes sweeping through our city.
Outrageous assaults, double-dealing, and double speaking have become ordinary. They are having a cumulative effect. It seems we are living in an upside down reality. The man charged with saving the city is selling it off. He sees nothing wrong with $10 million contracts for out of town consults while laying off city workers. Yet another Emergency Manager of the schools is looking for the door, having closed schools, created chaos, and claimed hollow victories while leveraging a loan for the state created district that was to show us how education should be efficiently run. Formerly progressive leaders tell us democracy is over rated. We should be happy with street lights. Detroit’s version of the 1% are buying up large pieces of downtown and staging wholesale evictions. And regional authorities give more money for buses to the wealthy suburbs and less to Detroit. Virtually every arena of common life is under assault.
In the midst of this, it is important that we slow down and focus on the depth of the changes we are facing. The privatization of public life, the turning of every basic need into a profit center, and the grab to control land, water, and people are global trends. These are the desperate efforts of the dying industrial order to protect the power and privileges wrenched from the last 5 centuries of empire building. And they are coming to and end. As surely as the seasons change, the ways of life defined by industrial might and military force are ending.
We are in the midst of a global shift from industrialism to a yet undefined future. This shift is as great as that from hunting and gathering to agriculture, or from agriculture to industrial life. Such transformations happen rarely in the human experience, giving us little guidance from previous generations.
That is one of the reasons why Detroit matters so much. Because we were central to industrial development, its collapse was too painful to ignore. We were forced to rethink what our city could become. If not a home for people who work in factories, what will we be? What is the purpose of a city? How do we do the work that needs to be done, when the jobs have disappeared?
We are fortunate to be faced with these questions in a city defined by the African American experience. It is this experience that serves as the touchstone for how we have respond to these changes and challenges. Our elders saw vacant lots not only as abandonment, but as possibility. They remembered communities, often in the south, that survived and thrived through difficult economic times by raising their own food, sharing what they had, and making a way out of no way. They called on the deepest values of collective care to fashion new ways of living that are rekindling our ties to the earth, to one another, and to the possibility of a new kind of city based on cooperation, local production, and care for one another.
The future of Detroit is unfolding, but not in the corridors of a dying power structure. It is emerging slowly, sometimes painfully, as people come together to make lives of meaning. This transformation has deep roots that endure through the changing seasons.