Listen Up!

I often have the pleasure to be engaged in conversation with brothers who have served time with the BPP.  This article with an interview with the legendary Black Panther Party member Russell Maroon Shoats has much to say and to think heavily about.

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On Being in Detroit

In December, before the holiday Krista Tippett of NPR’s On Being was in town for an interview with Grace Lee Boggs at her home on the East Side of Detroit.  As fate would have it some of us had an opportunity to have Krista visit our projects:  Feedom Freedom Growers and The Project House.

Anyway, this announcement, just in:

On Being in Detroit

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

A few days before the holiday break, we flew to the Motor City for an interview with Grace Lee Boggs at the Boggs Center in East Detroit. The 96-year-old philosopher and activist did not disappoint, and neither did some of the wonderful people and projects happening there. Look for our show “Becoming Detroit” this coming Thursday, January 19.

Along the way, we stopped by to see our good friend Mikel Ellcessor, the general manager ofWDET at Wayne State University, and couldn’t resist having Krista pose with this massive wall sign in the lobby. This public radio station is doing some pretty interesting on-the-ground reporting and community building; check ‘em out online or on the radio, if you’re in the area.

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Detroit on the Radar, Again

We are always on the watch for new and exciting sustainable ideas happening in and around the Detroit area and this is the latest quiet story….. Element Electronics.  For those of you not in the know, Element has created and is selling a made in America, environmentally sustainable LED TV.  Check out the story:

CES 2012: Element Electronics will make TVs in the U.S.
Jan 12, 2012 11:30 AM

Element, a value-priced TV brand you may have noticed during promotional selling times such as Black Friday, is doing something few other TV manufacturers would dare: It’s going to start making its televisions in the U.S.

The company also announced at CES that the new TVs will sport premium sound systems from JBL as part of a deal with Harman, JBL’s parent company.

Starting in March, the company will start cranking out TVs from a new flat-screen facility in Detroit, Michigan, making it the only company currently assembling TVs in the United States. While everyone assumes that labor costs here make that prohibitively expensive, Element Electronics is gambling that by shortening the supply chain—the time and cost of bringing fully assembled TVs to the U.S. from China or other offshore factories and suppliers—it can remain cost-competitive while being able to react faster to changing market conditions here in the States.

But there’s also a little patriotic pride in being able to bring work to the U.S. while many other manufacturing-type jobs leave the country, says Element Electronics president Mike O’Shaughnessy, who believes that global economic trends will make American production more viable over time.

The company says it can produce larger-sized LCD TVs, including those with LED backlights, here in the States for about the same price as those made in China. The company will focus on LCD TVs in the 46-, 50-, 65-, and 70-inch screen sizes, with a mix of both CCFL and LED backlights. TV features will include 120/240Hz anti-blur technology, 3D, and Internet capability.

The JBL by Harmon partnership will result in a co-branded TV line with integrated soundbar-style premium sound systems that use JBL drivers designed to create big sound from smaller speakers, the company says.

Please check them out at:  http:// http://www.elementelectronics.com  and tell the folks you know about them and let’s start to recreate Detroit and Michigan.

Element TVs are currently available in storefront retailers such as Target, Walmart ,and Costco retail, as well as through some online retailers and via QVC.

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Another World Is Possible

By Olga Bonfiglio

It was a serendipitous weekend of soul-searching, collaboration, information sharing and problem solving as activists “occupied” Detroit, one of the world’s most de-industrialized cities, to re-imagine “work” and ways it can reinvigorate local communities.

Over 300 participants from around the country converged on the Focus: Hope facility October 28-30 to address the nation’s accelerating decline of the jobs-based industrial economy, where over 14 million Americans are unemployed and another 9.3 million hold “involuntary part-time” jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“We never anticipated Occupy Wall Street or the Arab Spring when we planned this conference,” said Richard Feldman, from the Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership. “Nevertheless, we are here to show the world that Detroit is the place where we can imagine what the 21st century can look like.” Activists in Detroit have been preparing for change long before this year’s revolutionary wave of demonstrations and protests in the Middle East, Europe and Occupy Wall Street. Neighborhood leaders were among the first to promote urban gardens, and they started re-visioning the concept of “work” two decades ago when it became obvious that globalization was taking a toll on jobs.

“Something is happening to the world and we see it right here in Detroit,” said Grace Lee Boggs, long-time activist, teacher and philosopher. She, with her Chrysler autoworker spouse, James Boggs (now deceased), had been looking at a post-industrial future back in the 1980s as automation replaced workers in the auto plants.
“What was created 200 years ago [during the Industrial Revolution] is coming to an end,” said the 96-year- old author of The Next American Revolution. “All over the planet people are pursuing alternatives to the economics of greed, over-consumption and destruction of the eco-system. It is our birthright to create something new.”

The conference included an impressive line-up of guest speakers including Ms. Boggs; Vandana Shiva, environmental activist and author from India; Gar Alperovitz, author of America Beyond Capitalism; and Frithjof Bergmann, founder of the Center for New Work and a philosophy professor emeritus of the University of Michigan.
However, much time was provided for community leaders to share what they were already doing and for participants to dialogue about what they could do to transform our economic and community relationships. Throughout the conference participants distinguished “work” from “jobs.” Basically, work is about one’s calling in life and contributions to the community while jobs are more about the specific tasks people perform for an organization.
People moved from the farm to the city to take jobs, said Ms. Boggs. They went from making clothes and growing food to buying clothes and buying food. Humans changed from producers to consumers. The models and ideals of work became factory oriented.

“We have to see work as going beyond jobs,” said Mama Sandra Simmons, whose opening remarks set the tone for the meetings.

This theme of re-defining our humanity was widely accepted at the conference as the prerequisite for “work.” “Jobs” have a dehumanizing effect as people fill interchangeable slots in a big machine. In today’s global economy workers can be easily replaced with those willing to work for lower wages. Transformation to any new system of “work” must begin with one’s own personal discernment about identity and purpose in this life, participants said.

Former autoworker Gloria Lowe illustrated this point by describing her relationship with veterans with PTSD in her home rehabilitation work, We Want Green Too! The project helps create work for neighborhood craftsmen.

However, before the work began, she invited the veterans to share their pain with each other. “My compassion, giving, sharing and loving transformed them,” she said. “These guys who were spiritually destroyed were then able to stand up tall physically because someone cared about them. “Then, they were able to use their construction skills to rehab homes because they wanted to “give back” to the community they now felt a part of.

Participants and speakers emphasized that building relationships with one another also creates supportive and transformative communities as evidenced by the urban gardens movement.

“Growing food is a revolutionary act of love for oneself and others,” said Myrtle Curtis, who with her husband, Wayne, founded the Feed’om Freedom Growers community garden on an empty lot in their Detroit neighborhood. “My job was killing my spirit until I decided my work was to become a farmer in the city.”

Patrick Crouch, manager of Earthworks Urban Farm in Detroit, talked about his work as something he loved doing even though it was hard and sometimes taxed his body.  “But hard work is its own reward,” he said. “I get vitamin D, physical exercise, conversation with others, a spiritual connection with my hands in the soil, and I know where my food comes from.”

Another conference theme focused on preparing youth with 21st century skills.

Yvette Murrell of Detroit uses art, music, theater and yoga to provide youth with a place for healing and leadership in order to address urban ills like racism, poverty, drugs and imprisonment. She also teaches high school students how to become “conflict reconcilers” as an alternative to the schools’ punitive suspension system and its reliance on the criminal justice system.

Sweetwater Organics of Milwaukee offers youth an aquaponics program, a cross-disciplinary approach of science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics. Aquaponics is a system where fish and plants are grown together for harvest. Sweetwater started out working with four schools and in six months attracted 35 schools and four universities as it led students to design an “urban village” that aims to feed itself, said Emmanuel Pratt, executive director of Sweetwater Organics. Today, there are 100 schools between Chicago and Milwaukee involved in this project.

Pratt, who is also director of Chicago State University’s Aquaponics Center, is currently converting a 20,000 square foot warehouse at the university into a living laboratory for aquaponics and urban agriculture.

“We need to change the perception of how we see our communities and cities,” he said referring to the Midwest’s lost industries and neighborhood blight. “Aquaponics provides the chance to envision new 21st century neighborhoods and cities transformed from the Rust Belt to the Fresh Coast.”  To do that, Sweetwater is currently raising 40,000-50,000 tilapia and thousands of pounds of lettuce, watercress and basil. Pratt, an architect and urban planner, said that aquaponics can play a key role in urban agriculture by feeding growing populations, while saving the environment through increased water efficiency and smarter land use.

Participants were anxious to interact with one another and conference planners provided them many opportunities, including a two-hour future economy workshop where they divided themselves into four groups (artists/media workers, entrepreneurs, educators, community organizers) to discuss what each group imagines as its work, what help each group needs and what each group can offer the other groups.

For example, artists/media workers know how to work independently, tell stories and express emotion. Educators know how to teach skills and knowledge. Entrepreneurs know how to bring a product to market and make money while community organizers know how to transform spaces, expose truths and work with the media.

This workshop illustrated how collaboration can take place among diverse groups of people who don’t ordinarily talk with each other. It also showed how work can take on new configurations when grassroots people focus on community needs and relationships rather than to allow the leaders at the top of a hierarchical organization to decide what must be accomplished and how it will be evaluated.

As exuberant and philosophical as participants were, some expressed concern that discussion about money as a means of regenerating a new economy was often omitted.“Making money doesn’t have to be evil,” said Mike Wimberley, founder of the Hope District on the Eastside. He also rehabilitates local housing and commercial properties through Friends of Detroit and Tri-County, a nonprofit organization that his mother, Lily Wimberley, founded in 1994.

“We need to re-populate our city and put down roots so that people have houses, education, health care,” he said. “That takes money and we have to figure out how people here can make it.”

Other participants mentioned that money should be put back into the community. For example, most people who make their living in Detroit don’t reside there, and many major institutions don’t make many of their purchases from local businesses. Being mindful and diligent in re-investing money into the community is a way of bringing back the city and helping local businesses succeed.

In another discussion, participants acknowledged that relying on political and economic leaders to lead was a fruitless endeavor because they have forgotten the people they are supposed to represent. A “we have to do it ourselves” attitude permeated the conference in a recognition that representative democracy is in serious decline. Besides, they said, societal change usually occurs at the grassroots level–and rigid social class distinctions and hierarchies have no place in the new economy we are envisioning.

“A gardener isn’t better or worse than a doctor,” said one man.

Shaun Nethercott, founder and executive director of the Matrix Theatre, expressed the same sentiments from another point of view.  “In Platonic idealism, which is completely infused in European economic, political and social structures, ‘the idea’ has more value than ‘the practice,’ the mind is more important than the body, the planner is more important than the maker. This is why an architect makes more money than a carpenter, why a doctor has higher status than a nurse, why CEOs have more value than anyone working in his company. It is why we value humans more than animals, and animals more than plants.”

Treating people as human beings is essential, especially those who have been disenfranchised by losing their jobs, their homes, their health or their status through some form of discrimination.“As a city, we have unique things to teach,” said Shea Howell, one of the conference organizers. “[As a global center of industrialization] Detroit was in the front line of dehumanization and we have a lot of experience behind us to respond.”

The “Reimagining Work” conference was launched by the Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership, in partnership with the East Michigan Environmental Action Council, Allied Media Conference, Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, Putting the Neighbor Back in the ‘Hood, Damon Keith for Civil Rights and Focus: Hope.

Olga Bonfiglio is an author and activist based in Kalamazoo. She blogs at http://www.olgabonfiglio.blogspot.com. If you would like to contribute to Off the Bus, the Huffington Post’s platform for citizen journalism, please sign up at http://www.offthebus.org.

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A New World Awaits

In re-imagining work, we often ask the question of “Why it Matters?”  The team dealt with this important soul-stirring question very early on.  Why did it matter that we started with a visual such as the half-moon window?  What was the message?

It did not take long for us to think about our purpose in our work.  We thought of how our work, was in fact, spiritual work.  It had connected people unknown to one another in a common goal to emerge and become like family.  We cared, protected and shared visions.  We became community.  As we became community, so did those who walked by the window each day and smiled, soon they became community, not only with their smiles but now with their ‘hellos’.

The message became very clear:  We only have to look inside ourselves and discover that which we like to create and make it so.  You see, each of us has all we need to create the world and everything in it…it only has to be done.   And the window, well, it is the window into our souls, just asking for a peek see!

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Welcome!


Finally we have gotten to our blog page.  This has been such an extraordinary year for us as we have been underground in our endeavor for some three years now.  In this time much has started to evolve in our community.  We are moving, slowly, but continually to embrace neighbors with our vision to regain our sense of belongingness and love for one another.

The house, hopefully, we will give it a name, is 95% complete, trekking is in process from visiting architects and completion is just around the corner.  Green has been the theme, along with sustainable means of reducing our footprint and energy use.  This is the initial project and we are already into next steps.

We are excited…this is community developing at its best as we move to create the healthy, wholesome sacred spaces we desire.

Stay tuned…we promise to keep you abreast of what’s happening in and around us.

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