Mourning her passing, celebrating her life: Grace Lee Boggs

Reposted from AL Jazeera America

Until her passing, the Detroit-based community activist never stopped questioning

October 7, 2015 2:00AM ET

It seems odd to reinvent oneself after 95 years, but in 2011, Grace Lee Boggs, a Chinese-American philosopher turned radical civil rights activist, basically started afresh. In her last book, “The Next American Revolution,” she began to call for a new, holistic way of human development that braided environmental and social justice; she urged activists to looked to direct action in the community, not law or government, as a wellspring of urban change.

Last year she told me about her new vision of social renewal in one of her final interviews, published in Guernicaafter the release of a biographical documentary. I pressed her on the need for poor people to seize control of their lives and political systems, expecting her to agree. But she demurred on the question of power, turning instead to the question of healing souls. “I think that at some level, people recognize that growing our economy is destroying us,” she said. “I think there’s a great human desire for solutions, for profound solutions — and that nothing simple will do it. It really requires some very great searching of our souls.”

These were searching words from a woman who never stopped questioning.

When Boggs died earlier this week, she had lived for a full century, but her social and political movement — the product of 100 years of witnessing and pushing forward cycles of social struggle — remains incomplete.

Writing on her adopted hometown of Detroit a few years ago, where she moved in the 1950s from Chicago, she described the American economic system as doomed. She called for a program of humanistic development. “Instead of trying to resurrect or reform a system whose endless pursuit of economic growth has created a nation of material abundance and spiritual poverty — and instead of hoping for a new FDR to save capitalism with New Deal–like programs — we need to build a new kind of economy from the ground up,” she wrote in “The Next American Revolution.”

At the heart of Boggs’ vision of social renewal was a reimagining of America as a more compassionate society. As a veteran radical of the civil rights and black power movements — an Asian-American academically trainedphilosopher with a Ph.D. from Bryn Mawr who devoted decades to working with racial and environmental justice campaigns — Boggs knew too well the power and contradictions of social movements.

Her final proposition contains tough lessons on both their potential and their complexities.

Boggs saw hope blossoming in a city that had been written off by politicians and even some of its own residents as hopeless. She found it by redefining hope itself. In contrast to the Fordist industrial evangelism that spawned, then cannibalized the Motor City, she didn’t see the future springing from mass production. She instead drew upon the grass-roots ethos cultivated in the youth development projects she helped found, such as Detroit Summer, which championed social change through sustainable and cooperative restoration of neighborhoods. Hope, for her, was the spirit of community regeneration.

The most sustainable solution for Boggs seemed to be to reach equilibrium by turning inward, constructing the neighborhood asa utopian microcosm.

Having witnessed Detroit’s hellish demise in the years leading up to the Great Recession, Boggs saw developmentin terms of artisanship and creativity, not the assembly line or the relentless drive to consume more, faster. Or, in her words, when blending socialism and anarchism, “we need to see progress not in terms of ‘having more’ but in terms of growing our souls by creating community, mutual self-sufficiency and cooperative relations with one another.”

In her ideal social structure, one’s sense of personal worth would be invested in one’s neighbors and the local social fabric and, down the line, invested yet again in the economic infrastructure through mutual aid and place-based education — the urban farm, community center and neighborhood store instead of the factory compound or big-box retailer.

Constructing such a society could require some self-sacrifice — giving up material comforts we take for granted, for instance. But to Boggs, these weren’t so much modern indulgences as they were burdens that needed to be shed. She saw materialism and greed as impediments to genuine social innovation; at the same time, she saw human invention taking place on a far more intimate level than the massive scale on which public social programs are executed today. She theorized that we wouldn’t have to wait for wealth to trickle down: A horizontally structured economic landscape would not focus on pursuing redistributive policies but rather revolve around sharing of resources and decentralized governance.

The Right to the City movement, which operates in cities from New York to Los Angeles, picks up where Boggs left off, with urban communities taking ownership of the city’s land and claiming the right to public space in an age of gentrification, police oppression and economic blight. Its members reimagine urban space to build economic justice, seeing communities as ecosystems and ecosystems as social structures. Mobilizing against a toxic waste dump in a poor neighborhood becomes as vital an environmental issue as curbing global carbon emissions or fighting deforestation on the other side of the world. Locally, fighting structural poverty might start with tiny acts of solidarity and resistance — rallying to block a neighbor’s eviction or planting a community garden.

Although her new vision certainly helped humanize radical politics, I see an underlying element of resigned, hardened realism, which ought to inform future movements struggling to balance local and global and to combine community service with political organizing.

The most sustainable solution for Boggs seemed to be to reach equilibrium by turning inward, constructing the neighborhood as a utopian microcosm. Perhaps that is the best way to maintain a revolution, writ small; while she observed generations of sweeping social change, tiny revolutions thrived on the community level.

It’s nevertheless incumbent on the rest of us to look beyond this sphere. Perhaps her primary legacy might be not her Detroit experiments but her willingness to connect the soul, with all its vulnerabilities, to the political, environmental and economic challenges facing future generations. I still wonder about the question of power that she left unanswered. Building solidarity doesn’t mean retreating to anti-politics or rejecting the role of the state in bringing about social equity. We can’t work toward social solutions without social conflict, whether we’re resisting police violence with Black Lives Matter, demanding gender equality at work or marching for climate justice. Achieving racial and economic equity by dismantling oppressive institutions requires more than soul searching.

The arc of Boggs’ life embodied the vast potential and inevitable limitations of the individual as revolutionary. She left open the question of bringing an individual revolution to scale. We all need to seek peace within ourselves, but that cannot preclude — indeed, that demands — a parallel pursuit of justice.

Saturday! Enter the Greens Cook-off & Fried Green Tomato Festival

IMG_4189To celebrate the harvest season, Our Kitchen Table, managers of the Southeast Area Farmers’ Market, is planning three autumn events at the market.

This Saturday, the Greens Cook-off and Fried Green Tomato Festival gives neighborhood residents opportunity to cook and enter their favorite greens and green tomato dishes in a judged competition. Judges will rate each dish for its taste, appearance and “wow” factor.  Winners will receive gift certificates from local businesses and market vendors. During the event, the market will demo how to fry green tomatoes and offer sampling.

To enter the event, simply bring a prepared greens or green tomato dish to the market by noon Saturday, Oct. 10. The Southeast Area Farmers’ Market is open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays through Nov. 14 at Gerald R. Ford Academic Center, 851 Madison Ave. SE in Grand Rapids.

  • On Oct. 17, the market hosts World Food Day activities including soup sampling, children’s activities and the kick-off of OKT’s Just Food Dollars campaign.
  • On Oct. 31, the market hosts its Fall Festival, complete with costume contest, pumpkin decorating, cooking demo and “treats not tricks” from market vendors.

The Southeast Area Farmers’ Market accepts Bridge card/SNAP/EBT and also offers bulk whole food items from Country Life Natural Foods along with fresh, local fruits, vegetables and herbs.

LINC UP! with Tim Wise Oct. 1

LINC UP! with Tim Wise, speaking on privilege, race and the effects that inequality has on the community. At Wealthy Street Theatre, 1130 Wealthy St SE, Grand Rapids, 6- 8 p.m. Oct. 1. Free; donation suggested.  Ticketed event. Must RSVP to

About Tim Wise

“Tim Wise is among the most prominent racial equity writers and educators in the United States. Named one of ’25 Visionaries Who are Changing Your World,’ by Utne Reader, Wise has spoken in all 50 states, on over 800 college and high school campuses, and to community groups across the nation.”

Wise has been featured in several documentaries, including the 2013 Media Education Foundation release, “White Like Me: Race, Racism and White Privilege in America.” The film, which he co-wrote and co-produced, has been called “A phenomenal educational tool in the struggle against racism,” and “One of the best films made on the unfinished quest for racial justice,” by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva of Duke University, and Robert Jensen of the University of Texas, respectively. He also appeared alongside legendary scholar and activist, Angela Davis, in the 2011 documentary, “Vocabulary of Change.” In this public dialogue between the two activists, Davis and Wise discussed the connections between issues of race, class, gender, sexuality and militarism, as well as inter-generational movement building and the prospects for social change.

Wise speaks on the topics of:

  • Civil Rights Movement
  • Economy/Economic Visions
  • Electoral Politics
  • First Year Read Programs
  • Leadership
  • Multiculturalism
  • Programs for High School Students
  • Racism/Racial Justice
  • U.S. History
  • White Privilege
  • Youth/Student Activism
For more information about Tim Wise, visit

“Support Local Food” discussion did not address Downtown Market concerns

On Monday Sept. 14, Urban Roots hosted a panel discussion at the Wealthy Theatre titled “Support Local Food: A conversation on access, growing, and the local food economy.” An organizer of the event contacted Our Kitchen Table to ask if we would like to represented on the panel for the event, which was to continue the conversation started by Urban Roots‘ Levi Gardner in his recent opinion piece, a critique of the Downtown Market’s failure to address food insecurity in the neighborhood where it is located. We were excited to at long last be part of such a public conversation.

Since the Market was in its planning stages, OKT has raised concerns about it to planners, city commissioners and our own constituents via our website and food justice classes. Initially, OKT raised concerns that such a market project, using substantial public monies, should only proceed with input from food insecure neighbors and have a goal of improving food security in the neighborhood, which offers income challenged residents here nearly no access to affordable, healthy foods (other than through charities). After the Downtown Market Farmers’ Market opened, OKT again raised concerns that it did not provide a welcoming atmosphere for income challenged people and most of its product was far too expensive.

During last Monday’s event, the panelists did deliver an animated discussion about the challenges of building an equitable food system; the high costs and small returns experienced by small local farmers; and the need for an alternative to the failing industrial food system as well as a heart touching testimony shared by a long-term Heartside resident.  However, OKT had hoped to challenge the Downtown Market with these questions:

  • Millions of public dollars were used to build the Downtown Market. Hundreds of thousands more are maintaining it. Because the market is publicly funded, should it not serve the public, specifically the people living closest to it, seeing as income-challenged neighbors living nearby have very little access to affordable, healthy foods?
  • Many people living near the market have limited or no access to a good working kitchen. Since the market’s kitchen facilities were built using public funds, is there not a moral imperative to give people with income challenges — living in its neighborhood –access through community kitchen programs where they could prepare healthy foods?
  • The Downtown Market farmers’ market participates in government food assistance programs. Why is not more effort made to create an environment more welcoming to people with income challenges and people of color? For examples, the sign advertising the Double Up Food Bucks program also warns against loitering and soliciting. What kind of message does this send? Most of the foods are high end gourmet items. What does this product selection tell people with income challenges?
  • Vendors have shared that fees at the Downtown Farmers Market are prohibitive and force them to charge higher prices. Why can’t this publicly funded market subsidize or waive fees for small-farm vendors selling local fruits and vegetables as this would increase food access for neighborhood people with income challenges?

Let’s get back together and get some answers to these questions. Together, we can make the Downtown Market a place Grand Rapids can really be proud of. Not only because foodies from across the country make it their destination, but also because it is helping to bring food security to its income challenged neighbors whose health is currently being ravaged by nutrient-poor diets.

Rapidian reports on food justice discussion taking place tonight at Wealthy Theatre

Reposted from The Rapidian

Urban Roots to continue conversation on supporting local food at Wealthy Theatre

Presented by Urban Roots, an upcoming panel discussion at the Wealthy Theatre titled “Support Local Food: A conversation on access, growing, and the local food economy” will be free and open to the public on Monday September 14.

We all want everyone in our community to have access to good food. We all want to support our local farmers and food producers. Doing that well, however, comes with real and complex barriers and challenges. Two weeks ago, Levi Gardner, Founder and Director of Growth at Urban Rootsaddressed some of the challenges he sees when he shared his thoughts in an article that addressed concerns about the Downtown Market. That article, with the highest share rate of any Rapidian article to date on the citizen-driven platform, revealed the need for further conversation around how we support good local food- both those who grow it and those who need access to it.

In order to continue this conversation with a broader range of perspectives, Urban Roots is presenting a panel discussion at the Wealthy Theatre this September 14. The event, titled “Support Local Food: A conversation on access, growing and the local food economy,” will begin with a social hour at 5:00 and the panel discussion starting at 6:30 p.m.

During the social hour, food will be provided by Tacos El Cunado at the Downtown Market and various organizations will be available at tables to provide ways for local citizens to learn more and get involved in supporting our local food economy.

The panel discussion will include representatives of our local farmers, food vendors, agroecologyexperts experts and our neighbors in need of access. During the event, a Twitter wall will collect questions and comments from the audience and those following in the Twittersphere, utilizing the hashtag #foodrapids to collect the conversation.

This event, hosted by the CMC at Wealthy Theatre, and broadcast live on GRTV and live-streamed here on The Rapidian, is made possible thanks to the generous support of sponsors such as theMSU Extension OfficeBartertown Diner and CVLT PizzaWorld RenewTacos El Cunado at the Downtown Market and the Grand Valley State University Environmental Studies Program.

Kids’ Food Basket will also be available at the event for those interested in learning more about increasing food security for our community’s children.

To help fund the event, Bartertown Diner/CVLT Pizza’s support will be raised through a fundraising support night at the restaurants on Friday, September 11. From 4 p.m. to close at both establishments, 25% of all proceeds will go directly towards supporting the event.

Learn about Urban Foraging Sept. 12

seafm-8-3-foraging (1)On Saturday Sept. 12, the Southeast Area Farmers’ Market offers a free Urban Foraging workshop. Did you know that sumac berries can be brewed into delicious faux pink lemonade? Our Kitchen Table’s urban forester, Laura Casaletto, will share how to identify this and other edible plants growing in our neighborhoods and give tips on how to prepare them as tasty side dishes and beverages. For Casaletto, foraging is not just a hobby. She has foraged to feed her family for years.

The Southeast Area Farmers’ Market is open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays at Gerald R Ford Academic Center. The market warmly welcomes SNAP/EBT, Double Up Food Bucks (DUFB) and WIC & Sr. ProjectFresh as well as cash and debit cards.