I moved to Detroit on September 3, 2015. Eight days later, I attended a meeting at the Boggs Center. It was a convening of community activists to organize for the 2016 North American Social and Solidarity Economy Forum in Detroit. The walls were adorned with posters carrying slogans like “Another World Is Possible.” A bookshelf in the corner overflowed with writings like The American Revolution: Pages from a Negro Worker’s Notebook by Jimmy Boggs and How to End Police Brutality by Ron Scott.
Before the meeting began, I started talking to a community activist, Richard Feldman, who, after learning why I moved to Detroit, handed me this book, The Next American Revolution by Grace Lee Boggs. “Read it,” he said. “And next time I see you I’ll check and see if you did.”
When I moved to Detroit in the fall of 2015, I immediately sought to educate myself about the city: its politics, history, economics, and culture. One of the books that kept popping up in my research was Origins of the Urban Crisis by Thomas Sugrue. Several weeks into my move, I came down with a seasonal flu that confined me to my bed for several days. Having grown up in Southern California, I surmised that some Michigan bug was welcoming me to the state in its own unique way. Sitting in bed, agonizing about how I couldn’t return to work, I read Sugrue’s book to keep me connected to the city’s own struggle towards revitalization. My review of the book is as follows.
Ed Whitfield—an activist, writer, and artist based in North Carolina—has a saying. “Resist. Advocate. Do For Ourselves.” The phrase—RAD for short—is meant to describe the three approaches to social change. First, those who are oppressed must resist, or defend themselves from oppression. Second, the oppressed must advocate, or organize to reform existing systems of oppression so that they are less oppressive. And third, the oppressed must do for themselves, or create their own means to serve their needs and values that are better than the existing system, and can hopefully transform it altogether.
Ed explains the relationship between the three approaches as follows:
Capitalism is failing people and the planet. However, its failures are not yet pervasive enough to force humanity to develop a better alternative. Not yet.
Detroit, on the other hand, does not have the luxury of time. Here, the old economy has failed so badly and the need for survival is so great that Detroiters must do for themselves and
must do so differently. At the same time, should their transformative efforts succeed, they could serve as a model for the world’s next system.
Therefore, Detroit is not only the canary in the coalmine. Detroit is the great hope of humanity.