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Organizing for the future

By Grace Lee Boggs
Special to The Michigan Citizen

Occupy activists from the midwest held their “Another World is Possible” regional gathering in Detroit over the Aug. 24 weekend.

The purpose of the gathering was “to strategize how concepts of democracy, self-determination, education, livelihood, sustainability, social equality and community can all be re-imagined and achieved.”

In my welcoming remarks to the activists on their first evening, I told them how my thinking has been affected by living in Detroit.

I moved to Detroit in 1953 and have lived here for 60 years, most of that time in the same house. In 1953, I had been in the radical movement for over a decade, during which I had studied Marx and Lenin with the West Indian Marxist C.L.R.James. But that study, valuable though it was, had not prepared me for the kind of thinking in terms of “epochs” that Detroit requires and inspires.

When I arrived in 1953, the American Dream of good factory jobs was alive. The Chrysler-Jefferson plant where my husband, Jimmy Boggs, worked, employed 17,000 workers. But by the next year, that number had been cut to 2,000. The American Dream was dying, and Detroit, which for the first half of the 20th century had been the national and international symbol of the miracles of the industrial epoch, was on its way to becoming the national and international symbol of the devastation of deindustrialization.

The Soviet dream was also still alive, in 1953, competing with the American Dream in the “Cold War.” But in 1991, when the USSR came apart, the Soviet dream also died.

That is why organizing today has to go beyond protest organizing to visionary organizing. In order to create hope and overcome despair, we have to begin re-imagining everything: Work, education, public safety, community. We have to begin creating new dreams for the 21st century.

As University of Michigan Professor Bunyan Bryant put it in his introduction to “The Future: Images for the 21st Century:” We need to move forward with new ideas and constructs. We need to free ourselves to bring forth new paradigms for interacting with nature and each other.

That is why we need to practice organizing for the future! “Futuring is based upon hope. Hope allows us to view these phenomena (urban blight. Pollution etc.) as challenges. These challenges give motivation and meaning to life. We need to view our cities as a collective challenge similar to that of placing a person on the moon.”

That’s why living in Detroit despite its devastation is so exciting. It demands more than complaining and protesting.

In earlier years, we had made some attempts at visionary organizing: in 1972 with our crime statement and in 1982 with the American Manifesto. But our first real practice of visionary organizing was when we launched Detroit Summer in 1992 as a multicultural, intergenerational youth program/movement to rebuild, redefine and respirit Detroit from the ground up.

We were challenged to organize Detroit Summer as an alternative when Mayor Coleman Young called us “naysayers” for opposing his proposal of a casino industry to reduce crime by providing jobs for young people .

Young’s proposal viewed youth as the problem. Detroit Summer was based on a visionary view of youth as the solution.

The results were beyond our wildest hopes. The Gardening Angels, an informal group of African American elders raised in the South, leapt at the opportunity to involve urban youth in community gardening. Detroit youth, raised in the asphalt jungle, expanded their human identity by getting in touch with the Earth.

The urban agricultural movement came to Detroit! The Motor City began its rebirth as a post-industrial city, and we began a new epoch in human evolution!

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