Turning Ms. Connie's Water Back On

This article originally appeared on DetroitWaterBrigade.org With help from the Read more

How a Detroit Homestead Act Could Fix the Motor City’s Housing and Revenue Crises

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A green city block was once the site of John A. Owen Elementary School, recently torn down as part of a Detroit Public Schools initiative to demolish vacant schools, seen as safety hazards. Photo: Alex S. MacLean, New York Times

A green city block was once the site of John A. Owen Elementary School, recently torn down as part of a Detroit Public Schools initiative to demolish vacant schools, seen as safety hazards. Photo: Alex S. MacLean, New York Times

” … each family shall have a plot of not more than (40) acres of tillable ground… in the possession of which land the military authorities will afford them protection, until such time as they can protect themselves.”

-Union General William T. Sherman’s Special Field Order No. 15, from which derives the famous phrase ‘40 acres and a mule’

 

My grandfather used to say the problem with Detroit is that it owns itself. He didn’t mean that Detroiters owned it, but rather that their government did: a 2011 study found that local, state and federal governments own over 50,000 properties in Detroit, a full 12% of the total. In the hardest-hit neighborhoods, that number is closer to 50%. If this year’s round of foreclosure notices succeeds in evicting 65,000 homeowners – 51% of Detroiters are property tax delinquent – that percentage will only skyrocket. And the cost of just maintaining city-owned land is driving the city further into debt: $25 per lot for lawn mowing, hundreds more to board up and secure abandoned properties, the public price tags go on and on…

 

The official response to this spiraling problem has been to initiate more and more tax auctions, in the hopes that people will buy city-owned properties and renovate them. If the news this week is any indication, that approach is not working. A plan to auction off 400 abandoned homes has placed new owners in only a third of them, primarily due to prospective buyers not finding sufficient financing. Detroit has over 650,000 residents, but only 578 new mortgages were approved last year. No one will lend to Detroit. The free market isn’t coming to save us.

 

There is another way.

 

Detroit has full power to distribute this vacant and blighted land, and it should utilize that power to put it in the hands of regular people ready to fix it up.

 

Why not create a simple application to allow individuals and families with the will and demonstrated ability to improve public land to take ownership of it? The city already does this for so-called side lots, where residents can purchase adjoined properties to their own for as little as $100. Expand this program to all city-owned lots, and broaden the qualifications to include any Detroit resident or future-resident whose committed to living on the land and working it. And reduce the fee to $0 while we’re at it. You can call it reparations, or land reform, or even homesteading if you’d like.

 

In the original Homestead Act of 1862, homesteaders had to “live on the designated land, build a home, make improvements, and farm it for a minimum of five years.” In the case of Detroit, homesteaders would clear out blight, renovate salvageable homes, grow urban farms and gardens, and rehabilitate abandoned industrial and commercial space with new small and medium-sized businesses.

 

I’m not the first to suggest this idea. Economist Jeffrey Dorfman floated a similar idea last year:

With the claimants paying the costs of clearing away the blight and improving the properties, the city would save over $1 billion. The blighted structures represent about 20 percent of all parcels in the city. If they are a proportional share of acreage, they would be about 18,000 acres. That means that if people claim the maximum amount Detroit would need about 2,000 people to claim property under their homestead act to solve their entire problem. With over 50,000 people employed in the construction sector in the Detroit metropolitan area and over 100,000 in the state of Michigan, it seems likely that Detroit could find enough takers to solve much of their problem.

I agree with much of Mr. Dorfman’s idea, perhaps only deviating in my opinion that low-income Detroit renters and un-housed or precariously housed people should be given first priority to homestead. An ambitious construction training and apprenticeship program could benefit many of the nearly 16,000 Detroit homeless residents today and help them build financial independence while simultaneously solving the pervasive problem of people-less homes.

 

Governor Rick Snyder last year proposed a variation on this theme, though his plan would be only for foreign immigrants and would not actually entitle them to free/low cost land, just expedited Green Cards. I don’t oppose the idea of making Detroit a safe haven for undocumented immigrants – with this new Republican administration we may really need one – but first preference should not go to those with “high-skills” in whatever new industry Gov. Snyder decides will save Detroit, but rather to those with a demonstrable interest in cleaning up and building/working on the land.

 

The Detroit Homestead Act of 2015 could be a precedent-setter for the entire struggling rust belt, where blight pervades and exacerbates deepening inequalities in society. We have an opportunity to make post-bankruptcy Detroit livable again for millions of diverse people, reinvigorate the economy and the local tax base. All it takes is some bold thinking and long-term vision. And it starts with the land.

Turning Ms. Connie’s Water Back On

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This article originally appeared on DetroitWaterBrigade.org

With help from the Detroit Water Brigade and small donors from around the world, one more Detroiter has running water and peace of mind again.

Learn more about how we’re helping Detroit turn the water back on: http://detroitwaterbrigade.org/waf/

Video by KC Burns, Detroit

 

 

Bringing Detroit Online: How New Social Network Tsu Could Help Close the Digital Gap

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The Detroit Water Brigade's profile page on new social network Tsu.

The Detroit Water Brigade’s profile page on new social network Tsu.

Last week on a visit to New York City, I met a polite, unassuming young man who has a plan that could bring down Facebook. His name is Sebastian Sobczak, and he’s the founder of Tsū, a new social network that shares 90% of ad revenues with its users. In only its first three months of life, it has grown to over three million members worldwide. And it’s growing fast.

Sebastian and I sat down in his SoHo office and spoke for over two hours, where I drilled him intensely about everything from his politics to Tsū’s business model. The basics of it are simple: users sign up to join Tsū through existing users, who get small referral fees for bringing their friends onto the network. Then, every user gets ad royalties when their original content brings other users to see ads that appear in the margins of their feeds. It’s common sense: what brings people to a social network are other people, and they should be compensated when companies make money advertising on that network. It’s a kind of worker ownership for the Facebook factory.

But how does Tsū make money to keep the network going? They are actually a payment-processing company, Evacuation Complete, so their money comes from their 10% cut of ad revenues, and eventually a 3% payment-processing fee on all transactions on the site. (Right now, nobody hooks up their banks or credit cards to the site and all transactions are in digital “dollars” that get transferred around on the site. When your royalty payments exceed $100, you can request a check that is mailed to you.)

While social network ad revenue sharing is revolutionary in-and-of-itself – Facebook generated $5.1 billion in revenue in 2012 but still charges its users to share content beyond Facebook’s throttling limit – my ears perked when I heard from Sebastian what many Tsū users were doing with the money they earned using social media: donating it back to causes that had set up pages on the site. Charity Water, a non-profit that serves international water-scarce communities, has built 3 much-needed water wells in Ethiopia with the revenues and generations they’ve generated on Tsū alone. My mind immediately turned to Detroit, where disastrous shutoff policies have created first-world water scarcity. Could Tsū help Detroit get the water back on?

Here’s the thing: a full forty-percent of Detroiters lack Internet access at home, neither through a computer nor a smartphone. Even if they wanted to start making money from social media, they wouldn’t have the tools to do it. But what if Tsū itself could change that, by making Internet usage a net income rather than an expense for Detroiters? Like ad-sponsored free Internet in airports or train stations, Detroit could partner with Tsū to provide Wide-Area Network (WAN) Internet access to Detroiters subsidized by their social media browsing. Plus, the e-commerce generated by this expanded access would bring revenue to Tsū’s payment processing company as well as lower costs for Detroiters by opening them up to new markets that don’t price-gouge them.

It’s already happening. My organization, the Detroit Water Brigade, opened an account on Tsū last week and we’re already earning ad royalties and receiving donations. (Sign up at this link and you’ll be supporting us just by joining, plus we’ll shout you out!) Many of our international fans have joined the network and donated their ad revenues to us, and we use that money to deliver emergency water and winter essentials to Detroiters in need. We’re already dreaming of signing up families to stay connected with us through Tsū, where they can share their stories and seek out, or give, financial support through our growing network.

Could Tsū be the key to bringing equity and ownership to social media, and in doing so broaden the economic prosperity generated by our digital labor? I don’t know yet, but Detroit could be a good test run.

Dispatch from Detroit: Let’s Put Detroit Back to Work

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A boarded-up house next to the former Michigan Central Station building near downtown Detroit. Photo: Balazs Gardi

A boarded-up house next to the former Michigan Central Station building near downtown Detroit. Photo: Balazs Gardi

This article originally appeared on JustinWedes.com

Over the course of the last few painful months, I’ve descended into the depths of another world that does not feel like America. A world illuminated by creaky old stove burners, backyard pit fires, and backseat car lights where people take shelter from the cold. On these pot-holed streets, even the streetlights don’t shine any more. The dark world of Detroit hunkers down in silence.

 

I broke this silence often last year, knocking on doors to half boarded-up homes whose only sign of human inhabitance were the tipped-over tricycles on the front lawn.

Do you have water running in your home?

No sir. I don’t.

Can I come in and talk with you about that?

I guess… 

 

The walk to the sofa to look at the water bill was often a shameful, hesitant one. The floors crunched under our feet from the stick of no mopping water. Cases of Poland Spring stacked up in the kitchen to feed the babies and cook. (Maybe also to bathe?) Plants shriveled up in the windowsills: plenty of sun but just no water. What Mother Nature gives man has taken away.

How much do they say you owe?

$3,200.

How long you been living here?

‘Bout 8 months.

 

The squeeze from above turns little blood out of these proud but humbled turnips. The bondholders demand more interest; the bankruptcy judge pounds his gavel and sips his water bottle. But life must go on. Life will go on.

Did you go down to the payment center?

Yeah, they told me they’d cut me back on if I paid $56 and got on their 2-year plan.

Did you sign the contract?

No, I don’t got the money.

 

The light outside is dimming, and I know that I should get going. After dark these streets are dangerous to navigate on bicycle. It’s not the “criminals” I’m worried about – most of those don’t live in these poor neighborhoods – it’s the distracted driver who doesn’t see me under the faint moonlight in rural-urban Detroit. I make plans to go with her to the payment center tomorrow with the check for 56 treasury notes that stands between her and hydration. Then a hug goodbye and a nod of reassurance.

 

America is better than this, goddammit! The country that built the automobile, that put a man on the moon, made a vaccine for polio, invented the Internet and gave us Miles Davis. How have we sunk so low? When did we turn off the motor to the Motor City?

 

Enough pity. Enough shaming. Enough guilt. Life is resilience. Life is opportunity.

Donde hay vida hay posibilidad / Where there is life there is possibility – Rubén Blades

 

Detroit is going to come back stronger, but it won’t happen on its own. You are needed to make Motown great again. Detroit will rise when workers rise. Detroit will rise when the 99% rises. Where Detroit goes, the country will go.

 

One thing I’ve learned in my hundreds of dark hours breaking the shameful silence of the street is that Detroiters are resilient and proud. They live with deep dignity and spit in the face of injustice and impossibility: where else will you see a man walk out of a half boarded-up home in a three-piece suit? And to a fucking job interview!

 

Detroit wants to work, it doesn’t want just charity. What life is there in begging on the streets? Dependency is a sickness upon both the individual and society, driving us into deeper apathy where we survive rather than thrive. What we seek is independence from the forces that have placated us and held us down. What we seek is dignity.

 

America is better than this, goddammit. Let’s put Detroit back to work.

 

I am the Chief Organizer of the Detroit Water Brigade, a non-profit organization that provides emergency relief to families without water in Detroit and advocates for an end to the water shutoffs. Join us in the coming months as we build equitable solutions to deep systemic poverty. Visit detroitwaterbrigade.org to learn more and follow us on Facebook & Twitter!

Dispatch from Detroit: Work is What We Want And Not Charity

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"Ah, but SEE! He still has a TELEPHONE! And evidently, he has enough money for CARDBOARD and INK! Just as I suspected, another lying hustler! Get a job, loser!" Source: http://goo.gl/d6RW8q

“Ah, but SEE! He still has a TELEPHONE! And evidently, he has enough money for CARDBOARD and INK! Just as I suspected, another lying hustler! Get a job, loser!” Source: http://goo.gl/d6RW8q

In a time of deep de facto austerity policies, when our so-called leaders preach catalyzing economic growth by stimulating the private sector, to demand anything from the government might seem like wishful thinking at best and pointless at worst. The powers-that-be are banking on the Dan Gilberts and Mark Zuckerbergs of the world to somehow pull millions of good-paying jobs out of their magic hats and bring back the once-great American Dream. We have become so collectively numb and acquiescent to the living nightmare of the Great Recession that our once-great expectations have receded with our fortunes, stolen from us by the same reckless capitalists that now promise us a slow but steady recovery. When that recovery doesn’t come, year after year, they turn their armies of lobbyists to our captive government and quietly plead to them on sofas in Washington: more tax breaks for us and a few more crumbs of charity for the rest of them!

And so they go placating us with handouts, feeding our apathy so we survive when we could thrive[1]. Not the banks and corporations directly but their insidious network of Foundations, that glossy façade of corporate greed that some term the non-profit industrial complex. Since 2008, these seemingly benevolent institutions have poured nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars in private philanthropy into key sectors of Detroit: education, health, housing and shelter, and “community improvement.”[2] This with absolutely no accountability process or assurance that the funds reach those most in need. In return, the Foundations and their corporate sponsors craft glowing PR statements and curry favor with a deeply corrupt local government. And the people get: crumbs.

Behind their carrots of meager welfare there are long sticks of punishment. We witness deliberate underfunding and privatization of the public commons, or outright usurpation such as during the period of Detroit’s “Emergency Management” under bankruptcy.

They wage economic warfare on us by withholding good jobs and opening the floodgates to the most extractive and exploitative of industries. Solid auto manufacturing jobs may have left for China and Mexico, but the dirty raw crude remains in Detroit: Marathon’s refinery plant sends thick wafting smoke over our heads.[3] Even deeper down the pit of exploitation we reach the vice industry: smoking, liquor, sex work and casinos. This keeps Detroiters paradoxically addicted to hustling by any means for, and quickly losing, the very thing we have the least of: U.S. Dollars. Those who perversely blame the poor for buying beers or going to the casino for a long shot at millions fail to recognize that it is just the worse elements of elite American culture that some in the hood seek to emulate.

Enough. Work is what we want and not their charity.

Unemployment is the real crisis in the city of Detroit, not a decay of morals or work ethic or other such racist and classist nonsense.

The federal government could this very day implement a New Deal-style Works Progress Administration (WPA) program to put Detroit back to work rebuilding itself, the emaciated midwest rustbelt and the entire country’s crumbling infrastructure. Detroit could once again become the country’s manufacturing hub, producing the sustainable energy technologies and equipment to drive this economy forward: solar paneling, renewable batteries, high-speed rail, the list goes on…

In the coming weeks, the Detroit Water Brigade and other community organizations on the front lines of Detroit’s humanitarian crisis will be presenting a plan to put Detroit back to work. Let’s do this.

 

Footnotes

[1] I borrow the phrase from an exquisite poem from the 2014 Irish Water Revolution, On the 10th of December Ireland Will Rise, https://facebook.com/notes/maximum-homosapien-poet-playwright-artist-performer/on-the-10th-of-december-ireland-will-rise-by-maximum-homosapien/856724671015355/?__tn__=C

[2] Source: http://philanthropy.com/article/Can-Philanthropy-Rescue/142415/

[3] America’s dirtiest zip code 48217, is located in Detroit: http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/3/3/michigan-tar-sandsindustryaccusedofactingwithimpunity.html

My Last Tweet: A New Chapter for Me and for @OccupyWallStNYC

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“No bombs or bullets or rocks or guns. Just hashtags and voices at the tops of their lungs!”

-Lupe Fiasco, To the Sep17 Occupiers “Moneyman”

It is with hopeful optimism that I announce today my resignation from the Occupy Wall Street social media collective. Effective immediately, I have appointed Priscilla Grim owner and chief steward of the account. Priscilla has been an integral part of OWS media since day one, and she has already begun to assemble a stellar and diverse team around her. I wish the team best wishes in carrying on the game-changing work that has positioned @OccupyWallStNYC as a leading voice in this growing resistance movement.

I have come to this decision after many months of introspection and dialogue with many of the stakeholders in our movement. They have told me of the urgent need to support young, emergent movements like #BlackLivesMatter with bold tactical media in the streets of NYC and elsewhere. We have worked together to bridge independent media groups across the country and the world all working to document and amplify the voices and actions of solidarity movements. Of course, this work is unending and will continue even as I move on to help build the movement in Detroit and other rustbelt cities.

The team writing for @OccupyWallStNYC is now more demographically diverse than it has ever been. If our movement is to succeed, it must constantly adapt and speak to and with those most deeply silenced by corporate greed and political corruption. They bring solutions rooted in centuries of oppression and fight-back, and what is good and just for them will be good and just for all of us. I could not be more convinced that the team I leave today is capable of handling the enormous task of tweeting truth to power.

The current team is also working to resolve the pending lawsuit over the account and establish a structure/process that will allow for even greater diversity and inclusivity in line with the long-standing mission of the collective: to serve the movement as a voice of, and with, and for the voiceless.

As for me, my next steps will be to commit myself full-time to the work of building true political alternatives for the 99%. The successful launch of the After Party – an experiment in building a non-traditional, networked political party – in Detroit has lead to our first elected official (a Highland Park city charter commissioner) and a humanitarian movement to bring an end to that city’s disastrous #DetroitWater shutoff program. This year, we’ll be developing a sustainable eco-village in one of Detroit’s hardest-hit neighborhoods and holding an international Human Rights Summit in Detroit on May 1st. Save the date!

Twitter has been one of Occupy Wall Street’s strongest weapons in the fight for social justice: with it we launched this movement, put thousands in the streets and occupied parks across the world, launched a Freedom School, ignited a disaster relief program, and bought up millions of dollars of distressed debt, amongst many other accomplishments. I salute everyone who has contributed original media to the movement, and look forward to celebrating many more victories with you in the years to come.

#OccupyWallStreet #AllDayAllWeek #WeAreThe99Percent

For an archive of the first year of OWS tweets, visit Occupy The Tweets

Occupy-Wall-Street-620x480

VIDEO Dispatch from Detroit – #DetroitWater + Bankrupt-o-Mania

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SUBSCRIBE to my channel + blog for more updates!

Here’s the Tricycle Collective project mentioned above.

Searching For Seymour | The Cemetery

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On my drive home from family dinner tonight I passed by my Papa Seymour’s grave. It took me two city blocks to muster up the courage to turn around and enter the cemetery, an uncomfortable place for living people like me. With a deep, long breath I pulled into the old Nusach H’Ari Cemetery in Ferndale, just north of 8 Mile Road at Woodward

“I live here,” said Paul, H’Ari’s caretaker. Ari in Hebrew means lion, and Paul’s thick mane flowed down all the edges of his kind face, mingling with the smoke of his lit cigarette.

“Do you ever get freaked out with all the people underground?”

“Oh, no. It’s the people above ground that freak me out.”

Amen. Ashé.

He led me through the narrow rows of gravestones, down dirt paths and here and there across a patch of well-kept grass. I thought about the few feet of dirt beneath me that separated life from death. Paul chatted as we walked, a strangely beautiful ramble of words and steps that soon landed us at D-050, Seymour Wedes.

As we stood together over my grandfather’s grave, I told him how masked robbers at his costume jewelry store had killed Seymour in 1970. Paul’s face betrayed little emotion, and I wondered how many widows and orphans and curious grandchildren he had led to the material remains of their departed loved ones. How many times had he opened his directory and turned a grave number into a human name, with all of its emotive baggage

I lingered a few minutes over the grave alone, touching the stone and running my hands across the flowers that someone had planted there. I felt a tug from the past pulling me down to the ground, as if the weight of my father’s pain suddenly fell upon my shoulders. Then history flooded in, not in pictures or sounds – I have yet to find those – but simply in raw feelings. How do you remember someone you’ve never met?

As I walked out, Paul rejoined me and pointed to a bird that lives in the crevice of his roof in the little stone building at the center of the cemetery. He told me how long the bird had been living there, and it occurred to me that it takes a certain kind of misanthropy to work the cemetery. And that the occupational hazard of such a job is a heavy dose of fatalism.

“Read Nostradamus. Everything that’s happening right now was predicted. Nostradamus. And George Orwell.”

As I packed up to leave, Paul turned to me and asked, “Hey, did they ever find the guy who killed your grandfather?”

“No.”

He shook his head with evident disillusionment, replying: “The people outside those gates are cruel, man.”

 

Grave-hand

The Hebrew reads: “Here lies Shmuel Binyamin, son of Mr. Joseph, departed on the 13th day of the month of Tishri, 1970. May his soul be bound up in the bond of everlasting life”

Paul

Paul, Caretaker of Nusach H’Ari Cemetery in Ferndale

Dispatch from Detroit 5 | Searching for Seymour

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I’m at 8 Mile Road and Wyoming Ave. This is the corner where my grandfather Seymour Wedes was killed on October 13, 1970. He was shot by robbers in his popular costume jewelry store ‘The Jewel Box’ at 20727 Wyoming Street. For the next month leading up to his anniversary (in Hebrew yahrzeit, יאָרצײַט) I’ll be exploring his life and death and writing about the experience on my blog.

I know there is something I’m meant to learn about my life from this man who I never met, not even in a picture. And hopefully the search for Seymour will also teach me many things about Detroit, my heritage and my future. I hope you’ll follow along on the journey.

 

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Me at the corner where Grandpa Seymour was killed in his shop, ‘The Jewel Box’, on October 13, 1970

 

grave site

Grandpa Seymour’s gravesite at Congregation Beth Tefilo Cemetery in Ferndale, Michigan

Obit

The obituary in the Jewish News of Detroit, October 16th, 1970

 

Towards a Politics of Love Over a Politics of Fear

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“We can’t bombard the people with more fear. They are frightened. They are terrorized”
-Gael García Bernal, ‘No’

 

In the 2012 Chilean drama ‘No’ by Pablo Larraín, Gael García Bernal plays René Saavedra, a hip young ad man who is recruited to help a precariously-united left coalition topple the country’s 8-year dictator Augusto Pinochet in a nationwide plebiscite vote. The film is based, albeit loosely, on the true story of how a dictator fell from power democratically after miscalculating how powerful and united his opposition could become. Even in the last moments of the vote, when it has become clear that Pinochet will lose, his generals abandon him and his maniacal plans for a “self-coup” to incite violence and take back control of the country under pretext of a national emergency.

 

The film is powerful in our age of hyper-mediated living when a 24/7 news cycle bombards us with complicated and often contradictory sensations of fear, resolution and uncertainty. Twitter, Facebook and other social networks aim to bypass official and corporate channels of communication, but in doing so overwhelm us with an echo chamber of un-curated rage and righteous indignation. Meanwhile, our truly public spaces – once the anchors of democracy and civic participation – are quietly privatized and turned to a faceless market accountable to no one. When we turn back to these places en masse, as we did during Occupy in 2011, we are greeted by an ever-more militarized police state hiding behind a façade of “counter-terrorism.” Strange times indeed!

 

The Politics of Fear

 

Activists have long understood that autocratic regimes are upheld more by fear than by love:

 

Upon this a question arises: whether it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, is much safer to be feared than loved, when, of the two, either must be dispensed with… a prince ought to inspire fear in such a way that, if he does not win love, he avoids hatred.

-Nicolo Machiavelli

 

The Politics of Fear is the staple of every cocksure dictator and crumbling empire. Grandiose displays of force and genocidal collective punishment are sure signs of a failing state, not a prosperous one. Fear immobilizes the people, turning their aspirations to apathy. The natural and prideful independence of people turns to dependence when people are shocked into fearing for their livelihoods and families. In today’s world, this fear is instilled by massive debt burdens, overbearing police forces and an imposed culture of misogyny and racism/classism under capitalism. Fear’s cousin guilt runs rampant: we are made to feel guilty for being too rich, too poor, too old, too young, too white, too black, too fat, too thin, too anything

 

A Politics of Love

 

The alternative to a Politics of Fear is a Politics of Love. It is the Politics of humor and irreverence, of satire and mockery, of creative expression. This Politics embraces diversity of opinion and lifestyle while striving towards ideals of self-reliance, autonomy, dignity, tolerance and – of course! – love.

 

Rather than demand of each other or of the government, we command over ourselves.

 

Rather than conquer, we convince.

 

Rather than oppose or impose, we compose.

 

The Politics of Love does not mean we should never directly oppose unjust systems, but it acknowledges what Sun Tzu proclaimed thousands of years ago: you don’t attack your enemy at its strongest point but at its weakest. The weak point of a regime that has lost the consent to govern (the current U.S. Congress has a 7% approval rating, less consent than King George III had in the Colonies) is to be found in the way that everyday people relate to it, not just at the vanguard of a protest march. Knowing that people desire to live in dignity, if the current system can’t provide it: can we?

 

Waging Love in Detroitphoto-3

There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance.

-John Lennon

 

The City of Detroit is undergoing massive transformations today that can be likened to a failed state. A failed state, according to Fund for Peace, is characterized by:

 

  • A loss of control of its territory, or of the monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force therein
  • Erosion of legitimate authority to make collective decisions
  • Inability to provide public services
  • Inability to interact with other states as a full member of the international community

 

If you’ve been watching the erosion of democracy in Detroit under the imposition of a state-appointed “Emergency Financial Manager”, you will have noticed all of these criteria present in Detroit:

 

  • Police, under emergency management, have resorted to militaristic shows of force including armed tanks and SWAT teams, further eroding the public trust in their legitimate use of force.
  • The administration, unelected and unaccountable to the people, has bypassed the consent of the governed, leading to an abysmal 5% voter turnout in the latest election primary.
  • The massive water shutoff program implemented in March aimed to shut nearly 40% of the city out of running water – a clear inability to provide basic public services
  • Detroit’s Mayor and City Council no longer govern the city nor represent it democratically to outside parties, eliminating Detroit’s sovereignty and ability to interact with outside municipalities, states and federal or foreign governments.

 

How is this massive imposition of autocracy over democracy implemented and maintained? Entirely through the Politics of Fear. Long-time residents of Detroit, most of whom are Brown or Black, live in constant fear of eviction, water shutoff, electrical disconnection, police stop, parking ticket, outstanding warrant, debt collection, and myriad other disincentives to speak out about the abysmal state of democracy here.

 

Furthermore, sometimes good people seeking to counter this trend in fact perpetuate it by themselves operating under a Politics of Fear. Often they don’t intend to do so, but even veiled threats aimed at one’s enemies can backfire and instill fear amongst one’s allies. Succumbing to provocation by police and security guards can lead to violence that then justifies a harsher police response and more drastic measures. When seen through an already-biased media lens, these skirmishes can have the effect of suppressing grassroots opposition rather than catalyzing it. It is only through a Politics of Love that a real enduring alternative power structure can be built, because it is only through love that regular people can overcome the fear instilled deep in them by oppressive systems.

 

A campaign called #WageLove, inspired by the late, great Charity Hicks, is working to end the water shutoffs in Detroit through a beautiful mix of creative direct action, traditional street protest, and mutual aid. By balancing short-term opposition and long-term institution-building over a decentralized network of organizations, I believe Detroit can win this fight and end the shutoffs altogether while also charting a path forward for water sovereignty in Southeast Michigan and beyond. As Sun Tzu said, “Build your enemy a golden bridge to retreat across.” No one fights harder than he who is cornered to death, and a solution that doesn’t work for our enemies too – once we’ve got them where we want them – isn’t really a solution at all.

 

Occupy Love and Build Institutions

 

In the aftermath of the initial Occupy protests in 2011, a patchwork of emergent organizations were formed that sought to transform the grassroots energy of Occupy into more enduring social change. I have been fortunate to have participated in several of these organizations, including Occupy Sandy, the Paul Robeson Freedom School and now The After Party. Organizations, unlike movements, base themselves not merely in mobilizing people into the streets but organizing them in their neighborhoods for change. In an age of isolation and declining Labor, community organizing is more important than ever. What will tomorrow’s UAWs and AFSCMEs look like, and who will lead them? In an age of New Work / New Economy, where workforce size and profit are dissociated and profit margins eventually trend towards zero as production costs decrease, what does labor organizing look like? These are the questions we must ask of ourselves if we seek to build institutions that will lead to a more equitable and creative future for our kids.

 

The Packard Plant in Detroit may lay barren of its once 60,000 line workers, but a few miles away a community garden is growing local food, a 3-D printer can replicate entire machines, and a community-owed solar streetlight is going up to replace the one ripped out by the city and its monopoly utility company for non-payment. Change is inevitable, but not easy without forward-thinking institutions that make old systems irrelevant. Only armed with the Politics of Love, with all of its humor and joy and sadness and hope, can we build a world where fear and intimidation have no place.