Thinking Dialectically about Solidarity


Thinking Dialectically about Solidarity

By Grace Lee Boggs

Michigan Citizen, Dec. 19-25, 2010

The recent visit of two AfroColumbians to the Boggs Center started me thinking dialectically about the paradigm shift in the concept and practice of Solidarity made necessary and possible by corporate globalization .

In 1997 these AfroColumbians, members of a small farming community in Araba, Colombia, were among those displaced when a joint paramilitary and U.S.-backed military operation, under the pretext of fighting guerrilla forces, took over their resource-rich homeland so that global corporations could produce palm oil for the world market and carry on large scale cattle ranging and logging .

Determined to reclaim their territory, the farmers created “humanitarian zones” in the neighboring area as enclaves of peaceful civil resistance. These Humanitarian Zones are internationally recognized and protected by the Inter-American Court on Human Rights. They are supported by Witness for Peace.

After we had heard their story and viewed a DVD of their struggle we gave them a tour of our east side neighborhood.

Visiting the Hope District, Earthworks and the Feedom Freedom Growers, these South Americans got a sense of how in a North American city which has also been devastated by corporate globalization, we are resisting by growing our own food, struggling to bring the neighbor back into the hood, creating Peace Zones out of War zones, and redefining Work to mean makinga Life and not just a Living,.

They were thrilled, honored and encouraged to connect with grassroots Detroiters who are also reclaiming our land, community and humanity.

Reflecting on this experience, I was able to recognize and appreciate the paradigm shift in the meaning of Solidarity that globalization has made both necessary and possible.

For most of the 20th century, Solidarity has meant “Workers of the World Unite” and/or “the union makes us strong,”

But in the age of corporate globalization and the outsourcing and downsizing of jobs, Solidarity is beginning to mean connecting grassroots communities who are resisting corporate devastation and displacement by creating ways of living that give us control over our lives,.

The emergence of the Zapatistas in 1994 at Chiapas in response to NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) was the first announcement to the world that grassroots people are creating new self- healing civic groups in response to corporate globalization.

A decade later, according to one estimate by Paul Hawken in Blessed Unrest, there may be as many as half a million of these groups, most of them small and barely visible in every country around the world.

In two widely-read books, Empire (2000)and Multitude (2004), political theorists Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri emphasize the singularity or diversity of these groups. They do not fuse into some unity like “the people” or the “workers of the world.” Nor are they connected in centralized organizations like the 2nd`or 3rd Internationals, as in the Marxist-Leninist era,.What they have in common is that they are each imagining and creating the new social identities, the new political subjects that will take the place of the cogs and consumers to which global capitalism seeks to reduce us,

These self-healing civic groups and communities connect mainly through networks.

So Solidarity is beginning to mean the linking or networking of these communities in North and South America and around the world. ___________________________________________

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Trust the mayor?


Trust the mayor?

By Shea Howell

Michigan Citizen, Dec. 19-25, 2010

Mayor Dave Bing took to the media to announce his evolving plans. One of his main concerns, he said, is that the citizens of Detroit lack trust in him. “The African American community,” he told Devin Scillion, “has not been raised to trust government.”

But, he went on, “We’ve not done anything in these last eighteen months for people to distrust us.”

The complete absence of awareness in this statement is stunning. After this last week of contradictions, partial plans and new revelations, people who care about Detroit would be foolish to put trust in this Mayor or his administration.

The situation is becoming increasingly hostile toward the average citizen. That is why we need to send out a call now to every human rights organization in the country to establish a Detroit Watch. We need to invite the Carter Center and the United Nations to monitor the next election. We can’t trust this administration with our basic rights.

In Detroit we have a mayor who calmly talks about moving people out of their homes against their will. He knows he cannot do this legally. So he says quite openly that he will use incentives to remove people from the areas he intends to seize. These incentives include encouraging people to move into neighborhoods where basic services will be provided.

The only logical conclusion to this kind of statement is that basic services will not be provided to hold-outs. Police, fire, sanitation, water, schools and lighting have all been suggested as services that the city “cannot afford to provide.”

The idea that an elected city government thinks it can offer services to some citizens and not others reveals an unprecedented disdain for human rights. How can a mayor propose cutting off water to citizens? How can he contemplate allowing homes to burn? Why does he not feel compelled to provide shelter to those without it?

This callous disrespect for human rights has been obvious ever since Bing’s election. During the campaign he gave no hint of the schemes that have marked his administration. He offered no grand vision. In asking for our votes, he insisted he had no self interest, no big ideas. He was only a team player, willing to offer some stability. It was not until he took office that he became the point person for the corporate elite and their foundations.

If the mayor really wants to earn our trust, he should lead the way by inviting human rights organizations into the city now. He should invite elections inspectors to monitor his bid for a second term. He should immediately divest all his private holdings in the city of Detroit.

A so-called blind trust for his property holdings is not good enough now.

He should demand full disclosure of the financial holdings of the board members of every foundation donating more than $5,000 in the city of Detroit.

History tells us that every scheme to reshape Detroit has cost the people money. It has frequently cost us pain. And it has usually made money for corporations and those who sit on foundation boards.

It is nonsense to say that the reason Detroiters don’t want to give up their homes is because they are holding out for a “big payday.” Many of us suspect that there is a “big payday” coming but not for the citizens of Detroit. We expect it will be for those who have always benefited from such schemes.

Shrinking budgets is not a justification for violating basic human rights. If this mayor really wants our trust, if he wants to run again, he needs to start doing everything he can to ensure basic protection to every person in this city. ___________________________________________

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By James Godsil


Michigan Citizen,;Dec. 12-18, 2010

    JAMES GODSIl is a  roofer, poet, civic entrepreneur and visionary.   An activist in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam war movement in the 1960s, he has been a National Science Foundation and Fulbright fellow, an awardee for work  related to the Bonobo Congo Bio-diversity Initiative, and the Board President of  ESHAC, Inc., a community development corporation. 

    A board member of Growing Power Inc. , 2005- 2010, he is the founder and webmaster of Milwaukee Renaissance, founder and president of Community Roofing & Restoration, Inc., and also co-founder of Sweet Water Organics.

    The father of Rachel Godsil, Megan Godsil Jeyifo, Joseph and Bridie Godsil, he envisions the charismatic cities of the Sweet Water Seas  (Detroit, Chicago,  Cleveland, Toronto)  collaborating to win a bio-regional Nobel Prize for Peace.

    He and his partners invite on-line brainstorming<>. around the miniaturization of Sweet Water Aquaponics systems for use in schools, museums, as well as small home systems and small businesses- GLB


    Much of the story of Sweet Water is contained in the serendipitous power of the name.

    Five or so years back, a polyglot group began “bathing Milwaukee in Rumi” through Milwaukee Renaissance on-line broadcasts and astonishing performances at Club Timbuktu, an African music and culture venue. 

    Michael Macey, a Sufi priest and enlightened State Department cultural attache,  was thrilled that 30 of us had gathered at Riverwest’s Woodland  Pattern poetry bookstore.  So he e-mailed us from Saudi Arabia  offering us a Rumi reading upon returning to his beloved community in Milwaukee and a small farm a bit north.  

    The next morning, he was besides himself with joyful visions upon experiencing the magic of Will Allen and his Growing Power team. 

    Will and Macey “recognized” one another.  Macey orchestrated Will’s Address to the Royal Academy in London and a year later a visit by some of London’s top “urban agrarians” to Growing Power projects in Milwaukee, Chicago, and New York.

    At some point   during all  this, Macey told me that the First Americans named what we call the Great Lakes.the “Sweet Water Seas!”  This concept sparked a Sweet Water vision, i.e., the  collaboration of planetary citizens, first in the cities of the Great Lakes, then  the  world beyond, to advance a new technology called Aquaponics to renew our soil, our water, cities, our selves!  

    Milwaukee is greatly blessed with the ingredients required to co-create these fish veggie farms in historic factories and their yards for local markets.

    Key to the initial inspiration was the historic partnership of Will Allen’s Growing Power and Fred Binkowski’s Great Lakes Water Institute, a link sparked by Jon Bales and Leon Todd of the Urban Aquaculture Center.

    Growing Power has connected hundreds, even thousands, of Milwaukee citizens to the Good Food  (R) evolution, including myself and the other two original partners of Sweet Water Organics, Josh Fraundorf, and Steve Lindner. 

    The Great Lakes Water Institute is funded by the Wisconsin Sea Grant Foundation to re-populate the Great  Lakes with native fish and  enable  Aquaculture and Aquaponics to become, quite possibly,  major 21st century industries. 

    Will has often said that Milwaukee is destined to become the urban agriculture city of America.  Fred has proclaimed Milwaukee the likely urban aquaponic city of America. 

    Their teams, along with a deeply-rooted urban agriculture movement that includes the Milwaukee Urban Agriculture Network, the Victory Garden Initiative, Walnut Way, the Urban Ecology Center, Alice’s Garden, Mother Jan’s Riverwest projects, UW-Extension projects, Michael Field Institute, Center for Resilience, Well Spring, and more (!), provide the spirit and information necessary to explore whether the highest yielding  form of urban agriculture, Aquaponics,  can also help us grow a “higher humanity!”

    So Sweet Water is an enterprise whose creatives stand on the shoulders of ying and yang giants!

Truth to power


Truth to power

By Shea Howell

Michigan Citizen,  Dec. 12-18, 2010

Last year around  this time I was at the University of Michigan commencement ceremony where Detroit activist, writer and political theorist Grace Lee Boggs was awarded an honorary doctorate, along   with actor Jeff Daniels, ant scientist Edward O. Wilson and journalist Helen Thomas.

I was able to spend some time with Ms. Thomas, native Detroiter, daughter of Lebanese immigrants, and outspoken critic of every president since John Kennedy. After having been banished to the back of the room by George W. Bush, she had recently been restored by President Obama to her seat in the front row of the White House Press Corps.

In one of her last questions in November 2007, Thomas asked White House Press Secretary Dana Perino why Americans should depend on General David Petraeus to determine when to re-deploy U.S troops from Iraq. As Perino began her  answer,  Thomas interjected  “You mean how many more people we kill?” Perino, responded, ”Helen, I find it really unfortunate that you use your front row position, bestowed upon you by your colleagues, to make such statements…it is an honor and a privilege to be in the briefing room, and to suggest that we, the United States, are killing innocent people is just absurd and very offensive.”

I thought about this incident today as I read that WSU has withdrawn its Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity Award because of remarks she made in Dearborn last week.

Her remarks and the reaction to them did not make much news, even in Detroit. Instead, the whole incident has been lost under the much greater national attention given to the escalating assault on WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The day after WSU withdrew the award, Assange surrendered to London police in response to charges of rape in Sweden. These charges came after the release in July of this year of tens of thousands of secret military documents and, last week, of  nearly a quarter  million secret cables from U.S. diplomatic posts around the world.

The assault on Wikileaks and Assange has been swift. Amazon.Com, EveryDNS, and PayPal, Inc. severed their connections. His bank accounts have been cancelled, Wikileak’s websites have been attacked, and Mastercard has stopped processing accounts.

Helen Thomas and WikiLeaks Julian Assange are both raising the same challenge to a nation mired in secrecy and silence. How do we talk honestly and openly about the exercise of power and force? Who decides what we should know and how we should talk about it?

Democracy depends on the free flow of ideas and information. It demands critical debate, the willingness to listen to ideas we find offensive and to look at hard truths. It also depends on people willing to challenge power.

In an article defending WikiLeaks, Sreeram Chaulia, Vice Dean of the Jindal School of International Affairs in Sonipat, India , emphasized the importance of “disempowering power holders who are masters of doublespeak, and empowering the general public which has always been at a relative disadvantage owing to the absence of full information.” He goes on to say,“Assange’s route is not a criminal or illegitimate one but a praiseworthy push for greater social involvement in issues that govern ordinary people’s lives.

“WikiLeaks has never sold or traded its meticulously secreted information banks to those who could pay a fortune to get possession of such manipulative material. For releasing the ‘closed’ into the wide-open sphere in a non-profit manner, entirely to raise levels of social accountability of the establishment, Julian Assange deserves protection, not persecution.”

Everyone who cares about the direction of this country should come to the defense of those willing to challenge power and the conventional wisdoms that have justified, as Helen Thomas points out, “the  killing of more people.”

Reflections on Thanksgiving


Reflections on Thanksgiving

By Grace Lee Boggs

Michigan Citizen, Dec.5-11, 2010

I recall many Thanksgivings, some more enjoyable than others but each worth reflecting on.

When I was a child, relatives who worked in my father’s restaurant and lived bachelor lives because their wives and families had been left behind in China, would show up at our house on Thanksgiving, bearing gifts of fruits and nuts. I found it hard to relate to them because they only spoke Chinese, which we kids no longer did. But even as a child I sensed that, for these sojourners in a strange land, Thanksgiving meant connecting with family,

After my parents separated, my siblings and I had to celebrate Thanksgiving twice: in the early afternoon with my mother and, later, with my father.

At my first Thanksgiving with Jimmy, we had our first serious quarrel. He insisted on putting water in the pan in which we roasted the turkey. That’s what his folks did. I said that would be steaming, not roasting.

Years later , my 92 year old father, who was living with us, helped roast and carve the turkey. For many years we also enjoyed Thanksgiving dinners with Annie, Jimmy’s first wife, and their children, sometimes at our house, sometimes at hers.

Every Thanksgiving I wonder whether we should remind each other of how the Pilgrims exploited the Native Americans. Should the holiday be a Day of Atonement, as Robert Jensen, University of Texas activist Professor, proposes?

After Jimmy died,, I sometimes spent the day as a volunteer, serving dinners to homeless people at a local church.

This year I am very conscious that the turkeys we enjoy have been raised by agribusiness in cages so crowded that the birds can scarcely breathe, let alone move. So I am thankful for the rapidly growing Food Justice movement which aims to establish justice and health at every stage in the food chain, from farm or garden to table. These days. thankfully, there’s something that each one can do, according to our abilities and concerns, to become part of the solution.

For example, this year, like many others, I can’t stop thinking about our increasingly jobless society. Maybe the main reason we go through such tremendous hassles to get together at Thanksgiving is because it is the only American holiday reminding us that most early economies were driven by social relationships and use values rather than self-interest and exchange values.

As Karl Polanyi points out in The Great Transformation, Jobs (or Work done mainly for pay), are a very recent development in human societies. “The outstanding discovery of recent historical and anthropological research,” he writes in this 1944 book, one of my all-time favorites, “is that man’s economy, as a rule, is submerged in his social relationships. He does not act so as to safeguard his individual interest in material goods. He acts so as to safeguard his social standing, his social claims.”

Our increasingly Jobless society challenges us to begin building a new society governed by prioritizing social relationships and usevalues over economic self-interest and exchange values.

Thanksgiving gatherings could be a preview of that new society.

At Thanksgiving families and friends of many different ages, elders as well as youngsters, create together the long memory that we all need to make good choices.

As we enjoy the food, we also appreciate the craftsmanship and hard work of those, usually women, who have spent long hours in the kitchen preparing the stuffing, gravy and pies.

As we bid each other “goodbye,” we say ” Thank you” because we feel that our humanity has been renewed and enriched by our coming together. ______

My USSF Conversation with Immanuel Wallerstein can be read at

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More than Pain and Promise

By Shea Howell

Michigan Citizen, Dec.5-11, 2010

Sometimes it seems that the people who profess the deepest love for Detroit are doing the most damage to us. “Pain & Promise: An Essay on the Politics of Detroit” by Trevor W. Coleman in the November issue of BLAC is a prime example.

Introducing the article is this description of Coleman: “An astute observer of city and state politics for two decades shares his in-depth perspective on citizens’ role in creating today’s reality and their responsibility to transform Detroit into the place they want it to be.”

This enticing claim falls flat. Instead of reading something about citizens and their role in transforming the city, we find yet another article explaining how the government-foundation elite knows what is best for us.

Perhaps Mr. Coleman has spent too much time in the Governor’s office because there is nothing in the article suggesting that he talked to any of the many Detroit citizens who are engaged in visionary, transformative political work. Instead his only sources are Governor Granholm, Mayor Bing, Council Members Tate and Spivey, and Carol Goss, CEO of the Skillman Foundation.

Whatever else we might think of these individuals, they all share the belief that the current effort at “downsizing Detroit” is actually some kind of good idea.

Mr. Coleman knows better. As a former Free Press reporter, he should be among the first to recognize that providing only one perspective on a complex issue is shoddy journalism.

Moreover, his description of African American Detroiters ranges from “cynical, powerless and even defeated” to suffering from a “brain drain” or needing an “attitude change.”

The resilience and “steely determination to define their own reality on their own terms” that he admires is cast as a thing of the past. Why? According to Coleman, such strength of character was because Detroiters thought “city leadership had their back.”

This is nonsense. It is also a distortion of the history of this city and its people. Since the rebellion of 1967 the corporate elite and their foundations have been trying to “rebuild the city” through a series of failed mega projects. Every Mayor and almost every city council person has supported these mega projects, often over the opposition of citizens.

Central to this popular resistance was the oft-repeated conviction that by concentrating all their dollars downtown, city leadership was making the fatal mistake of leaving neighborhoods to die.

During the struggle against the destruction of the Poletown neighborhood to build a Cadillac plant, two critical ideas took root in the community. First, many people began to realize that a fundamental and historic change was occurring. Mass production no longer meant mass employment. Jobs were not “coming back.” There was no quick fix. Instead it was up to us to create new kinds of work and a new economy.

People began to say that we were entering a period of great transformation. The industrial age that built Detroit was coming to an end.

We were among the first to be abandoned by industrial capital and therefore among the first to ask ourselves what new kinds of lives do we create in this new world.

People also began to realize that the thinking that had brought us to this point was unlikely to generate the solutions we need for our future. The ways of thinking that got us into this mess would not get us out of it.

So we began asking ourselves new questions: What kind of city do we want? How can we make not just a living, but a life? How do we keep our communities safe? How do we create a new kind of education for our children while rebuilding our community?

In struggling to answer these questions, Detroiters turned the pain of loss into the promise of creating a new city from the ground up. This indepth probing is the source of change in today’s Detroit. That is what Mr. Coleman and the elite interests he favors find it hard to understand. ___________________________________________

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Ford Auditorium: Metaphor for Detroit

By Grace Lee Boggs

Michigan Citizen, Nov. 28- Dec. 4, 2010

After its opening a half century ago, Ford Auditorium was home to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and a hot spot for pop music concerts, high school graduations and famous speeches.

Today, after having been vacant and neglected for years, it means very different things to different people, depending on how you feel about Detroit’s past and future.

To Mayor David Bing, according to Karla Henderson, his executive planner:

Ford Auditorium is “like this monster right in the middle of all this progress that’s going on, so it definitely needs to be eliminated, (Demolishing it) sends the sign there is a change, there’s progress and hope. The mayor is clear he wants people to feel change.”

On the other hand, ,for veteran Detroiters and activists like myself and Ron Scott, Ford Auditorium is part of who we’ve been and are becoming. As Ron put it in his Detroit News blog:

“We must respect our history, the history embedded in the memory of that cold day when I was headed to see Donald Vail, precursor to the Winans, Vanessa Bell Armstrong, Fred Hammond and the Clark Sisters to name a few. Most of them spent time on that Ford Auditorium stage. Like the city itself, it should not be cast aside.

“Ms. Henderson’s language bothers me. It speaks of a disdain for the past and an arrogance about the present and future…. The word ‘monster’ is a strong term to use for a building still standing despite years of collective neglect by many administrations, and even to a large degree by the individuals whose name it bears.”

I have mixed but strong feelings whenever I think of Ford Auditorium.

I will never forget the night of February 14, 1965 when Malcolm made his last Detroit speech . It was at Ford Auditorium.

That morning Malcolm’s home in Queens had been bombed. He and his family barely escaped with their lives. Nevertheless Malcolm came to Detroit because he had agreed to do so and keeping his word was always important to him.

As we sat waiting in the auditorium and time passed without any sign of Malcolm or any announcement of what to expect, I got

up and went out to the lobby where I found Attorney Milton Henry, Malcolm’s close friend who had arranged the meeting. When Milton said “Malcolm’s dead.” I was devastated. But I was relieved when he explained that he only meant Malcolm was exhausted.

Much later when Malcolm finally entered from the wings and began speaking, the auditorium was almost empty. Most people had tired of waiting. After a few minutes I also left because I found it too painful to watch and listen to a sedated, exhausted but indomitable Malcolm struggling to carry on.

A week later, on February 21, “our own black shining prince” was gunned down at the Audubon Ballroom in New York.

Many years later in 1990, a handful of us, including City Council members Maryann Mahaffey and Mel Ravitz, with the assistance of attorney Curtis Blessing (son of former Detroit City Planning Director Charles Blessing) organized to oppose the effort by Mayor Coleman Young to demolish Ford Auditorium and give the site to a private developer to build a new skyscraper headquarters for Comerica Bank.

The plan was scrapped because the idea of giving public riverfront land to private interests infuriated thousands of Detroiters who recalled walking across the auditorium stage during their high school graduation ceremonies.

In freezing weather these Detroiters lined up to sign our petitions to save Ford Auditorium. ______

My USSF Conversation with Immanuel Wallerstein can be read at

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Time Wasted


Time Wasted

By Shea Howell

Michigan Citizen, Nov. 28- Dec. 4, 2010

TIME Magazine has wrapped up its yearlong effort to cover Detroit. Its writers ended where they started, telling the business and foundation elite gathered at the Detroit Economic Club what they wanted to hear. Echoing a phrase that corporate powers love, TIME editor in chief John Huey told his audience, “Detroit has some very difficult decisions (and) somebody has got to make some tough decisions or they’re going to get tougher and tougher.”

All the “tough decisions” come down to supporting the corporate plan to shrink Detroit. In the farewell article by Daniel Okrent and Steven Gray, we find this view put forward as absolute truth. “The city,” they write, ” has to abandon those overgrown parts of itself that are hopelessly blighted and refocus its resources on those parts that can be saved.”

“Detroit,” they pronounce, ” has to employ a form of triage …to abandon failed neighborhoods so still functioning neighborhoods can survive.”

After 100 print stories, 200 online stories, 750 blog posts and three cover stories, the best TIME could come up with was a repeat of the corporate wisdom that it heard the day it arrived.

So much for its standard of investigative journalism.

Lacking in TIME’s coverage was any indication that it questioned the capability of the “politicians and philanthropists” to provide good ideas about the future of Detroit. Since the rebellions of 1967, nearly fifty years ago, these same interests have poured billions into the city in one failing downtown development scheme after another. If their thinking about Parke Davis, the Ren Cen, Poletown and Casino Gambling has proved so wrong, why should we now trust their thinking about neighborhoods?

They think that uprooting people from place and memories and putting them in neighborhoods with which they have no connection, will somehow make their lives better.

In fact, the things that foundations do well, youth programs, support of arts and protection and development of natural parks, are now all going to suffer.

Instead of cheerleading schemes that shuffle people around like pieces on a checker board, TIME should have taken a second look at some of the policy decisions that have drained people and money from Detroit.

First among them was eliminating residency requirements for public servants in 2000. Nowhere does TIME acknowledge the impact on the city when hostile state legislature under pressure from the police and fire associations outlawed residency requirements.

As TIME was packing its bags, Mayor Bing acknowledged that 53% of Detroit police officers now live outside the city. “One thing we’ve heard from the community, loud and clear, is that we need more public safety officers living in the neighborhoods,” Bing said.

Restoring residency requirements for police, fire, teachers and all public employees should be the first step in attacking the vacancies in Detroit. Any new Charter School should be required to have 100% residency in the city.

Residency requirements should be combined with an aggressive program requiring our anchor institutions; hospitals, universities, banks and public utilities to spend 30% of their budgets on locally-produced products, services and labor.

Moreover, anyone who works in the city and earns more than $150,000 (10 times the majority of Detroiters) but lives elsewhere should be taxed at 3.5%. The 3% is what all residents pay; the .5% is in lieu of property taxes lost when they choose to live somewhere else

Rebuilding our city does not mean looking to the past as TIME suggests, Rather “defining the characteristics of city life that for centuries have made it an appealing way of living” requires rethinking how to create economic relationships that favor local production and consumption, self-sufficiency and ecological care.

Detroiters in neighborhood after neighborhood are creating a new urban life. TIME missed almost all of them. ___________________________________________

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Family Farms Campaign

Sen. Debbie Stabenow is poised to take the helm of the powerful Senate Agriculture Committee
Read more:
Email and urge Senator Stabbenow, as chair of Senate Agriculture Committee  to add to farm bill:  $10,000.00 credit/grant for creation of  Family Farms.  Pass it on?

Reverberations of War


Reverberations of War

By Kerry Vachta

Michigan Citizen, Nov.21-27, 2010

My grandfather ran away to join the army in 1915 when he was 14. He re-upped for WWII. The army literally raised him and it showed. He was rigid, hot tempered, hostile, violent. He became one of those men – riddled with rage – shouting racial epithets at innocent passersby who never knew the battle raging inside the car as he calmly aimed for the nearest light post, intent on taking us all out for objecting. Such was the value of human life – even his family’s – for this child of war. Inevitably, Nana dove across the seat to wrench the wheel aside – sometimes into oncoming traffic – often getting smacked for her “insubordination.” It’s a wonder we lived to talk about it. We didn’t until long after they were gone.

Young people seldom run away to “join the cause” today. They’re bribed by a government that maintains bad schools and an obsolete American Dream to ensure a supply of bright, ambitious young people with only one route to college and ‘success’. Their lives are valued at tuition and fees (if they survive with the capacity for higher education intact). We wonder how they don’t understand why if you enter a misguided war for tuition, you’re heroic – but if you battle in your own streets defending the lives of people you love in a cause you understand, you’re criminal. Why, killing for college is patriotic, not mercenary. How people who claim life is priceless but put a price tag on yours are shocked when young people increasingly see their own lives as disposable.

I don’t understand either. What I do understand is that ALL of these battles are producing scars – visible or not – like those my grandfather bore. Scars that run through generations who never volunteered for the front lines. That we choose to perpetuate them, convinced that OUR cause is just and lives lost along the way are honorable or unavoidable – collateral damage.

My grandmother was collateral damage to wars she never fought. So was my mother. Two years ago, 93 years after George first enlisted, WWI claimed another victim from my family. My brother’s suicide was more complicated than that – but as the only male progeny, he heard war stories the rest of us escaped. He worshiped my grandfather and could never reconcile that with the violence he witnessed and experienced at his hands. He spent our last conversations trying to come to terms with his love and admiration for a man who caused such damage – and to understand that it didn’t start with George.

When the army called to let his (Spanish-American War vet) father know that George was trying to enlist, his response was, “If he thinks he’s man enough for war, let him go.” Later, this man kicked my then-14-year-old mother out of his house for refusing to drink soy milk. She spent two years sleeping on a friend’s couch until George returned from WWII. My father didn’t know about that until after she died when, assuming it was common knowledge, I inadvertently shattered that particular silence. Like soldiers, women have secrets we keep from those we wish to protect. Women tell women things they never tell their men. Sometimes they tell children who are not ready to know.

My wish each Veterans Day is that we reject the notion of the noble soldier (whether ‘street’ or ‘armed services’) bearing in silence the costs of war rather than imposing the stories on loved ones, never recognizing that these stories are the least of it in the face of the ceaseless, pounding reverberations of that silence. That we reject the causes that bring us to battle, the false notions of bravery that validate imposing the costs – direct and indirect – on our children. generation after generation, and pretending the soldiers are bearing those costs alone. ______

My USSF Conversation with Immanuel Wallerstein can be read at

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