The Spirit of Detroit
“Go ahead and laugh at Detroit. Because you are laughing at yourself.”
Charlie LeDuff: Detroit, An American Autopsy
I am naturally an optimistic person, however, after the elections of 2012 when most of the small amount of people who did manage to vote, voted for their oppressors of the Democrat or Republican Parties, I was feeling a little hopeless. There were at least 25 other candidates to choose from and 98.4 percent the people chose War Party A or War Party B.
After decades of propaganda and mass marketing of politics, it seems like the American people have nearly lost the ability to critically think and see through bullshit and that’s discouraging.
One of the goals of the Tour de Peace is to encourage others to break free from the chains of partisan politics and re-connect with our own values. Few people that we have met on this tour have the values of war, economic oppression and environmental destruction, but they keep voting for that. People not only vote for people that grossly deviate from their own principles and essentially hand their power over to scoundrels, murderers, and crooks. But, on Tour de Peace, I am thrilled to report that we have encountered communities that are beginning to reject any kind of governmental oppression and are turning away from it to each other.
We have been in countless of these fine communities, but I have to think that Detroit is the best example of this. Who would have thought that in Detroit my fountain of hope would be filled—and this is not “hope” based on illusion, but reality-based hope.
Recently (June 7-9), Charles and Sandra Simmons founders of Detroit's Hush House hosted the Tour de Peace. The Hush House is a “Black History Museum” and community center in Detroit’s District 8. Charles and Sandra have deep roots in the community, and, in fact, the grandparents of Charles lived in the house that has been set up to be this museum and community center. Our team stayed in two bedrooms upstairs and we were treated to delicious vegan and gluten free community meals that were catered by locally owned black chefs and caterers. As soon as we arrived, we instantly felt like valuable and loved members of the family.
Tour de Peace left Ann Arbor, MI towards Detroit via Seven Mile Road. Until we hit Grand River Blvd, the road was lined with McMansions and white suburbia. Incredibly, we even saw a lawn jockey at the end of one driveway. Seven Mile Road was mostly wide shoulders and clean roads once we hit Grand Mile, however, that all changed.
Cycling down Grand Mile Road was a wonderful experience of life and urban art. We came across a miracle called the African American Bead Museum and I missed Oakland where I used to live.
We spent hours talking to “Baba and Mama” Simmons and other members of the family about the attack against the poor in Detroit that has been ongoing for decades.
I think most people understand the Detroit has “problems” but to sit with our brothers and sisters and hear their stories, that weren’t unique, but systemic was heartbreaking. Mothers with young children and breathing equipment who can’t get the Detroit power company to restore electrical and gas power. In the suburbs, gas and electrical are two different bills, but in Detroit they are linked and both shut off with any delinquencies.
We heard of a young mother of three who refused to vacate her home when it was scheduled for demolition. In Detroit, after a home is condemned, it is often burned down and entire neighborhoods are often slashed and burned. This mother’s home was endangered by one such plan of urban “renewal” and she stood fast and the fire department eventually helped her, but her children had to live with debris and toxicity and she was forced to sleep in the living room with a gun on her lap to ward off hostile invaders demanding that she leave.
Naturally, the much-celebrated “bail-out” of the auto industry was accomplished off the backs of the workers who were forced to make terrible concessions in order for the top tier executives to not have to make any significant ones. With unemployment at 65% the corporate unions are also diabolically quick to sell out the workers.
The voters in the city voted down the plan to have an Emergency Manager (EM) who would co-ordinate massive police state collaboration between the FBI, state, local, and private security and police forces called Detroit One. However, governor Rick Snyder and Detroit mayor, Dave Bing, collaborated in some political hanky-panky to foist it on the embattled citizenry, anyway. Along with the EAA (Educational Achievement Authority that has long had this EM concept), Detroit One is bringing the people together to fight it.
We were told horrific tales of elementary school principals walking around with baseball bats and chaining young children into their school cafeterias during lunch in sweatshop conditions that is inviting trouble, not preventing it.
What gives me hope in the midst of all this blight and oppression generated from above is that through it all the embattled Detroiters refuse to become embittered. The oppressed Detroiters refuse to be oppressed and turn toward each other as they have discovered that the solutions lie in their churches and neighborhoods, not in WashedUp, DeCeit or Lansing.
There are almost no fresh food grocery stores in Detroit, so community gardens are springing up. Children must walk to school past condemned buildings on sidewalks bounded by weeds higher than them. Elders come out to make sure these youngsters get back and forth to school safely. Women, wonderful women, are running for office to be in city government. Some of the abandoned buildings are being reclaimed for these revolutionary communities of compassion.
I was profoundly honored to be invited to speak at the Historic King Solomon church where Malcolm, Martin and the mother of Emmet Till have spoken. For the leaders of that community to mention my name in the same breath and sentence was very humbling. I never forget that we stand on the shoulders of giants and our work must always strive to recognize and honor that.
Tour de Peace was also welcomed at the Liberty Temple where I spoke during Sunday services and was so sad for a mother there who had recently buried her son. I was able to tell her that she would never “get over” it, but with the help of her community and family, she would get through it. After I spoke, the dynamic pastor told me that I was a “jewel” and a “gift” to this world. The love and support extended to us combined with the tales of thrival (new word I coined in Detroit) are some of the reasons that being in Detroit re-filled my hope tank.
Tour de Peace was also able to share with the family in Detroit about how the “great” experiment of the attack on the poor, privatization, and increased austerity is now being extended into every community we have been in, but now we will also be able to share with each community that we pass through how Detroiters are learning to overcome their problems together, in community.
I am not a huge church person, but when I see believers who are honestly engaged in the work that is the ideal of Jesus of Nazareth, I don’t have a problem like I do with the war-loving sects and their hypocrisies.
On Sunday morning at the Liberty Temple, I was reminded of a song that I sang when I was a youngster in Sunday school that is exemplified in the people whom we were with in Detroit, but tragically rejected by most:
“Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow; black and white; they are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
When the struggle is long and hard, it’s very encouraging to be reminded of why we are in it.
Tour de Peace arrives at the African Bead Art Museum in Detroit
Cindy speaking at the Liberty Temple
Press Conference at The Hush House
Cindy and Mama Sandra touring the neighborhood
Mama Sandra and Cindy
Grace Lee Boggs and Cindy at the Boggs Center
CINDY SPEAKING AT HUSH HOUSE
CINDY SPEAKING AT HISTORIC KING SOLOMON CHURCH
ALL PHOTOS AND VIDEO TAKEN BY DAN LEVY OF DAN LEVY PHOTOGRAPHY