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More Than Lights

By Shea Howell

Special to the Michigan Citizen

Stephen Henderson of the Detroit Free Press recently wrote about his frustration living in the dark. He wrote, “This is the fourth column I’ve written about this issue this year, and nearly the year mark from when I first noted the lights going out on major thoroughfares around the city.

“The lights. Don’t. Work. In what other first-world city on the planet can you say that’s true?”

Mr. Henderson’s frustration has led him to a deeper truth. Much of life in Detroit is not “first world.” It is more reflective of life in Mumbai, San Salvador or Nairobi than it is of New York or Chicago.

That is because Detroit, once the epitome of industrial production, was abandoned by corporate development for more than half a century. The political, cultural and economic spaces left behind have slowly and painfully given birth to what many of us regard as an emerging, healthy, new culture, striving toward local production, consumption and control as the basis for new ways of living.

As a result, the corporate strategies for our “redevelopment” look and feel very much like those being forced on people around the globe.

The clearest example of this is the controversy over land use. For example, John Hantz has repeatedly said his motivation for wanting large tracts of land is to “create scarcity.”

Creating scarcity is central to the logic of global corporate domination. A recent report by GRAIN, an international nonprofit that documents global land grabs, describes the importance of scarcity for corporate growth. It reads:

“The logic of destruction is part of a larger logic of scarcity, the foundational premise of the capitalist economy, which consists of transforming scarce goods uncontrolled by the market into commodities. Everything is evaluated by the scarcity of goods. The scarcer the goods, the more willing we will be to pay for them. … If everyone who needed a piece of the earth to farm or to live had access to it, no one would need to buy or rent land. The earth becomes a commodity when whole populations are evicted from it, either by means of fencing it off, or by concessions, land grabbing, agricultural exploitation, etc. … Programmed destruction is simply a way to create scarcity. … In order for the salaried workforce to be lucrative, capitalism had to destroy ways of living that offered alternative social systems across the entire world. It did so by playing the ‘modernity’ card and even by having recourse to the bullets of imperial wars. To transform seeds into a big commercial enterprise, we have encouraged the destruction of traditional systems of caring for, improving, saving, exchanging and producing seeds, destroying the ability of thousands of rural men and women to produce their own seeds. This destruction continues even today. There is no other way to explain the absurdity of banning the sale and exchange of local seeds in Europe and its imposition across the world through intellectual property laws.”

Sounding very much like how some of us see Detroit, the report concludes by celebrating global resistance to these efforts, saying:

“We are part of a growing number of people, organizations, communities and populations who know that an expansion of the market cannot restore what has been exploited and destroyed. We are part of a majority of people who have in their hands the experience and determination to put in place and strengthen real solutions, dignified ways of life that depend neither on consumerism, nor on unrestrained growth, but on local forms of agriculture and food production based on the sovereignty of people and on the permanence of indigenous people and peasants on rural lands.”

We in Detroit share much more than the absence of lighting with our brothers and sisters around the globe.

Contact Shea Howell at howell@oakland.edu

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