NIGHT SCHOOL: Letters From Detroit

Sunday, August 12 at 6pm. Free.
Join Peggy Hong, James Godsil, Janice Christensen, Eric Frank, Joel Katt, and Nerissa Eichinger for a conversation about Detroit and Milwaukee.

Detroit 2012 was one of those moments where you could see the paradigm shifting. All of a sudden, nothing looked the same. Maybe something clicked the third time there were huge plumes of smoke billowing over the city – in two weeks. Burned out houses in the middle of the block, not even secured or boarded up; standing empty and crumbling with trees growing in the rain gutters. Ruins. The end of the empire. And in the midst of the green fields where houses used to stand, people were putting up raised beds and hoop houses and compost bins and growing food for themselves. People with light in their eyes and dirt under their fingernails and music and poetry and murals and outdoor classes in the gardens where kids talk about food security. It made me want to come home and create that interdependence here – and do it now while we are all still so incredibly wealthy. Because the change can happen any time. It’s a change of spirit. A change of view. A paradigm shift. -Jan Christensen

“The story really begins with Grace Lee Boggs and the Boggs Center in Detroit. Grace is the intellectual and philosophical center of a movement that is shaping a post-industrial civilization in Detroit, with urban agriculture as its lifeblood and inspiration.

For the last few years, Grace Lee Boggs has been organizing gatherings to “re-imagine” parts of our culture. “Re-Imagine Work” was last summer’s event. The idea of that conference was that we don’t need “jobs” designed to sell our time to big corporations – that sucks the energy out of our neighborhoods. Rather, we need work that enriches individuals and neighborhoods, creating local goods for local commerce.

The goal of the Detroit 2012 event was to “re-imagine the world.” Those who attended worked in the urban gardens, and got to know the people who are striving to create new institutions in the ruins of Detroit that remain after the fall of the empire.

And the empire has fallen; make no mistake. Our first visit was to the Packard Plant, a huge factory campus where workers used to make Packards – every single part of them, from the engines to the leather seat covers. It’s an epic ruin, like the Coliseum or the temple of Venus.

The Packard Plant tells the story of the fall of the American Empire. It closed in 1958. By that time, the mechanization that had been created during WWII had already done much to displace workers, and Detroit was already on a downward slope.

As of 2012, Detroit has a “footprint” of about 130 square miles – an area that used to be home to two million people. Today, there are about 700,000.

But again, within the devastation, what hope! Farms and gardens and bicycle collectives and bakeries and markets that sell fresh veggies from local urban farmers. Gathering spots with amazing spoken word artists and singers. New approaches to schools. And strong, strong people.

To top it off, on Wednesday, July 11, at the building controlled by Occupy Detroit, a woman named Charity Hicks called for the neighborhood of Southeast Detroit to become an autonomous zone.

The borders of the zone coincide with the borders of a proposed project by the Hantz Corporation, a purported “urban agriculture project” that is actually a land grab by a big corporation. The project would allow for the sale of some 200 acres of land to one individual for large-scale industrial “agriculture” – if the planting of a hardwood forest can count as agriculture. The land would be sold at $300 a parcel, about one-tenth of what the city wanted. And the Hantz Corporation won’t even sign an agreement with the city, indicating how they would use the land after only five years.

Excerpt from the article, “Growing Hope – Detroit 2012” by Peggy Schulz, Riverwest Currents, August, 2012


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