How a new type of social movement is transforming Detroit

This is an excellent example of how a people can bypass established power structures and directly seize control of their destiny. It’s something we American Indians should be watching closely. Do we wait around for the Federal Government to give us…. more dependence? Or do we roll up our sleeves, ignore the naysayers, ignore the big money grants, casinos and politics that have gotten us nowhere and get to work!

How a new type of social movement is transforming Detroit

Excerpted from Grace Lee Boggs, Scott Kurashige, in Yes magazine:

“The Detroit Summer began in 1992 and has since been an ongoing and developing program for more than fifteen years. Since 2005 it has been organized by a multiracial collective of twentysomething young people, many of whom have been a part of our past summer programs. With this younger generation now at the helm of leadership of the Detroit Summer Collective, the organization continues to tap the creative energies of urban youth.

Some skeptics question whether a program such as Detroit Summer can make much of a difference, given the magnitude of the city’s problems. They doubt that a program, which at its greatest capacity involved sixty youth, could have an appreciable effect in stemming the crises of school dropouts, violence, and incarceration that are stealing lives by the thousands. They ask how tending to a handful of gardens, painting one or two murals a year, and fixing up a house or vacant lot here and there can address the blight that has taken over much of the urban landscape. And they lament that small dialogues—between youth and elders, between neighbors, between people of different backgrounds, and between activists from various cultural and political traditions—cannot match the force of large demonstrations involving tens of thousands.

What they don’t understand is that our goal in creating Detroit Summer was to create a new kind of organization. We never intended for it to be a traditional left-wing organization agitating masses of youth to protest and demonstrate. Nor did we intend that it become a large nonprofit corporation of the sort that raises millions of dollars from government, corporations, and foundations to provide employment and services to large populations. Both of these forms of organizing can be readily found in Detroit and all major cities in the United States, but the system continues to function because neither carries the potential to transform society.

By contrast, our hope was that Detroit Summer would bring about a new vision and model of community activism—one that was particularly responsive to the new challenges posed by the conditions of life and struggle in the postindustrial city. We did not feel this could be accomplished if control of our activities was ceded to the dictates of government or the private sector, even though this meant that we would be working on a small scale. However, by working on this scale, we could pay much closer and greater attention to the relationships we were building among ourselves and with communities in Detroit and beyond.

The result has been that we have been able to develop the type of critical connections—of both ideas and people—that are the essential ingredients of building a movement. The best metaphor Detroit Summer has come up with to characterize itself is “planting seeds of Hope.”

What has developed through both conscious organizing drives and the actions of many individual residents is a significant urban agricultural movement in Detroit. All over the city there are now thousands of family gardens, more than two hundred community gardens, and dozens of school gardens. All over the city there are garden cluster centers that build relationships between gardeners living in the same area by organizing garden workdays and community meetings where participants share information on resources and how to preserve and market their produce.

When I think of this incredible movement that is already in motion, I feel our connection to women in a village in India who sparked the Chipko movement by hugging the trees to keep them from being cut down by private contractors. I also feel our kinship with the Zapatistas in Chiapas, who announced to the world on January 1, 1994, that their development was going to be grounded in their own culture and not stunted by NAFTA’s free market. And I think about how Detroiters can draw inspiration from these global struggles and how—just as we were in the ages of the CIO unions and the Motown sound—our city can also serve as a beacon of Hope.

Living at the margins of the postindustrial capitalist order, we in Detroit are faced with a stark choice of how to devote ourselves to struggle. Should we strain to squeeze the last drops of life out of a failing, deteriorating, and unjust system? Or should we instead devote our creative and collective energies toward envisioning and building a radically different form of living?

That is what revolutions are about. They are about creating a new society in the places and spaces left vacant by the disintegration of the old.”


About Vince

I am a Tlingit, born and raised in Tlingit Country, and a proud member of the Tlingit Nation.
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