A New Movement for Humanization
When I first met Grace Lee Boggs in 2003 she transformed me, along with everyone else. We were at the culminating Learning Exchange of the Animating Democracy Initiative in Flint Michigan, talking about the urgency of the times, and how unfortunate it was that this was the last time we would come together. Boggs challenged us to organize our own gathering -- with at least half of the participants being young activists. Within an hour a group of us had created a national planning committee, within days we circulated a call to action, and within three months the National Convergence of Artists, Educators and Organizer brought together over 200 people in New Orleans and spurred us into action.
As we wrote in our call: "At certain moments in history, an idea catches on that transforms how social change is thought about, discussed and practiced.... The idea that sparked us was this, as articulated in Flint by Grace Lee Boggs of the Boggs Center in Detroit: Working within our separate arenas, progressive artists, educators and organizers have hit a wall in our ability to move society towards a vision of a healthier, more equitable world. No longer can we think about social change as a revolution of only the body (organizing), the mind (education) or the spirit (art). It is all three at once in concert, and this calls for nothing less than a revolution in how we think about and practice social change." This idea was later included in the essay, "These are the Times that Grow our Souls."
Each time I encounter Grace Lee Boggs she grows my soul; The U.S. Social Forum in Detroit was no exception. Boggs embodies the social forum concept of "another world is possible, another U.S. is necessary," and she celebrated her 95 birthday there looking to the future. A highlight of the forum was her conversation with Immanuel Wallerstein of Yale University. In his introduction, Detroit activist and professor Scott Kurashige commented that "the work of Boggs and Wallerstein helps us put the current crises we face-the wars, economic meltdown, climate change, and the failure of government-into context. They open our eyes to how we have been shaped by history and how we are capable of reshaping the future....We cannot be fixed to a rigid ideology; we must instead remain open to new possibilities. As Wallerstein declares, ‘uncertainty makes possible creativity.'"
The liberating message of free will -- "the world of 2050 will be what we make of it" --continued throughout the conversation. Boggs spoke of the need to get beyond oppositional thinking to create new ideas and alternatives. She described how the Detroit mayor accused a group of residents who opposed bringing casinos to Detroit of being naysayers. Detroit Summer was their affirmative response, an inter-generational program "rebuilding, redefining, and respiriting the city through creativity and critical thinking. In the case of the urban agricultural movement, the vacant lots of Detroit became a place to grow food to fulfill basic needs, "not just belly needs, but cultural needs." She called for "a new movement for humanization," a movement that requires not only a transformation of systems, but also the transformation of ourselves, and the way we engage in organizing.
Click here for a recording of Boggs / Wallerstein conversation.
Bogg's weekly column can be found on the Boggs Center website: http://www.boggscenter.org