Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Guest Essay: Living for Change A Year to Remember

by Grace Lee Boggs and Scott Kurashige
Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership

2011 opened with the Arab Spring when the people of North Africa decolonized themselves, thrilling the world with their nonviolent gatherings, ousting the dictators the United States has supported to secure its access to Mideast oil.

The world’s eyes next focused on the struggle to defend the collective bargaining rights of Wisconsin public workers against the right-wing attacks coordinated by Governor Scott Walker. The growing mobilization swelled to tens of thousands of union members, their families, and supporters.

By the fall of the year hundreds of thousands had participated in the Occupy Wall Street movement and its offshoots throughout the nation and across the globe, We/they were not only righteously and rightfully protesting corporate domination of our culture and the suffering that that is inducing.

“We/They were taking back our government, taking back our humanity, ” as Danny Glover put it in his unforgettable speech at the Oakland Mall, on October 15.

The ongoing struggles of 2011, from the Arab Spring to Wisconsin and the Occupy/Decolonize movement and our current crises, are rooted in the decline of the empire which made possible the middle-class standard of living and the welfare state with its thousands of public employees to take care of tasks for which we the people must become increasingly responsible.

With the end of empire, we are coming to an end of the epoch of Rights. We have entered the epoch of Responsibilities, which requires new, more socially-minded human beings and new more participatory and place-based concepts of citizenship and democracy.

Now is the time for us to re-imagine work and re-imagine life. The new paradigm we must establish is about creating systems that bring out the best of each us, instead of trying to harness the greed and selfishness of which we are capable. It is about a new balance of individual, family, community, work, and play that makes us better human beings.

This means that we need to practice visionary organizing. Every crisis, actual or impending, needs to be viewed as an opportunity to bring about profound changes in our society and in ourselves. Going beyond protest organizing, visionary organizing begins by creating images and stories of the future that help us imagine and create alternatives to the existing system.

Revolutionaries, Evolutionaries, and Solutionaries

The first edition of The Next American Revolution, our new book, was released in the spring of 2011. Since then it has been a true joy to see so many diverse peoples turn to this little book for help in understanding how and why another world is necessary, possible, and already in the process of being created.

We have met hundreds of people at book release events, where we have shared the stage with good friends and fellow visionaries like Ruby Dee, Danny Glover, Amy Goodman, Michael Hardt, and Lisa Lee. And we’ve continued the conversation through radio interviews with figures like Michael Eric Dyson, Celeste Headlee, Krista Tippett, Tavis Smiley, and Cornel West.

Many readers have bought multiple copies of TNAR to share with family and friends. Teachers have begun assigning it to their classes. Faculty, students, and staff at several small colleges are reading it together. Activists have started study groups revolving around the book. And because so many others in faraway places want to talk about The Next American Revolution, I have become a regular user of Skype.

Why is this book having such a deep resonance?

Maybe it’s because it is giving Americans in all walks of life a more people-friendly view of revolution as empowerment rather than struggle for political power.

Maybe it helps us view Revolutionaries as Solutionaries, working together to solve very practical problems of daily life, growing our souls by growing our own food and bringing the neighbor back into the ‘hood.'

Maybe it’s giving us the new, more positive view of ourselves that we’ve been hungry for.

Maybe it helps us envision ourselves as Revolutionaries, moving away from the wrong side of the world revolution where we have seemed stuck since the Vietnam War.

Maybe it also helps us see ourselves as Evolutionaries, making the radical revolution of values that Dr. King called for during that war, transformimg ourselves from materialists, militarists, and individualists into a people who can be proud of how we are advancing humankind to a new stage of consciousness, creativity, and social and political responsibility.

But transformational organizing takes more than growing numbers. We need to ask ourselves new questions about how to provide for the general welfare and how to educate our children. We must create ways to meet these basic needs not mainly through a growing number of public workers but through caring for one another in beloved communities.

We must begin reorganizing our local, state and federal budgets so that we spend public monies not for military domination and to support the Mubaraks of the world but for constructive human and domestic needs.

From Promoting Jobs to Reimagining Work

In cities like Detroit, abandoned by global corporations, community people are struggling to build more self-reliant, localized economies, growing our own food, and restoring the neighbor to the ‘hood’.

At the peak of the industrial epoch in the twentieth century we were convinced that progress depended on the continuing expansion of government and mammoth enterprises like GM. It was difficult to remember that “doing it for yourself” is probably one of the three or four key instincts that we have inherited through evolution over millions of years. It is part of what makes us human. If we can do something for ourselves, we don’t feel as powerless as the person who has to get somebody else to do it for them. The more we can do for ourselves, the more in control of our future we are.

This is an idea whose time has come back as we enter the postindustrial epoch.

That is why I have been so inspired by the Detroiters who in the midst of our city’s devastation are discovering new ways to make Detroit a City of Hope. We are seeking to expand our humanity not by growing our economy but by growing our souls.

Those of us who live here feel fortunate. Our city has a proud tradition of plowing new ground. We are excited to be doing so now—literally in our urban farms and gardens and figuratively in our non-stop conversation about a new economy.

Industrial jobs came here early and in large numbers. They left here early and in large numbers. The continuing jobs crisis is an opportunity to go beyond clamoring for more jobs and begin imagining work that frees us from being the appendages to machines that we have become because of our dependence on jobs. Instead of looking to politicians for programs that will provide millions of jobs, we need to encourage the creation of work that not only produces goods and services but also develops our skills, protects our environment, and lifts our spirits.

We have been thinking and doing a post jobs-system economy in Detroit for almost two decades. But we know we have not been alone. All over the planet more and more people are thinking beyond making a living to making a life—a life that respects Earth and one another.

Cultural Revolution and Visionary Organizing

We must come together as inventors and discoverers committed to creating ideas and practice, vision and projects to help heal civilization. My friend Wayne Curtis calls this creating “a whole new culture.”

His remark suggests to me that we need more discussion and understanding of the cultural revolution Detroiters are now making in response to the devastation of deindustrialization. A former Black Panther, Wayne founded the Feedom Freedom Growers urban farm on a sparsely populated eastside Detroit block with his partner, Myrtle Thompson. Their efforts to “grow a garden, grow a community” and their dedication to “make a way out of no way” demonstrate how the vacant lot represents the possibilities of cultural revolution.

Detroit’s cultural revolution is transforming how we view our selves, our surroundings and our institutions. We are making a life and not just a living by feeding ourselves, educating our children and taking more responsibility for each other and our communities.

This cultural revolution is very different from the cultural revolution involving the education of mostly illiterate Russian peasants advocated by Lenin after the Bolshevik seizure of state power in 1917. It is also very different from Mao’s 1966 cultural revolution, which sent millions of educated Chinese youth to work in the countryside and learn from the peasantry. It goes beyond the cultural revolution of the 1960s that began to redefine race, gender, generational relations.

Today’s cultural revolution, which is emerging from the ground up especially in Detroit, is as awesome as the transition from Hunting and Gathering to Agriculture eleven thousand years ago and from Agriculture to Industry a few hundred years ago.

I anticipate that in the second decade of the twenty-first century we will deepen and broaden the visionary advances that became visible in the first decade.

It will become clearer to more millions that our good health depends on our making the good food revolution. Instead of relying on an industrialized food system that keeps us ignorant and powerless about what we take into our bodies, we will be producing most of our food locally, not only growing vegetables on neighboring lots, rooftops and balconies but raising chickens in backyard coops and fish in home and other local aquariums. This is not just a question of physical health but also one of spiritual values.

In the second decade of the twenty-first century, I anticipate that our work will increasingly take the form of crafts because as robots replaced human beings on the production line in the twentieth century, we began to realize that, while the industrial age produced material abundance, it was really a digression in the continuing evolution of the human race because the Labor which it required, be our payment high or low, was so fragmenting and inhuman that it could be done by robots.

In this decade I anticipate that in view of the obvious failures of No Child Left behind and Race to the Top, the continuing schools crisis will be resolved by our creating community-and-place-based schools. By making the tackling and solving of community problems a normal and natural part of the school curriculum from K-12, our schools will empower children and young people, showing our respect for them as fellow citizens. We will finally realize that the best way to interest children and young people in their own education is by community involvement and not by tests, threats and other punitive measures.

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