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Justice Communicator Column 1: Denying youth access is an environmental injustice by Patrick Geans-Ali

This week, Detroit Evolution is pleased to repost the Justice Communicators column from The Michigan Citizen. Patrick Geans-Ali, Victoria Goff and I have been cycling through a loose discussion on the relationship between principals shared by the Environmental Justice, Media & Digital Justice and Food Justice movements. Thus far we have discussed the principals of Access, Participation and Community Ownership. Detroit Evolution will be posting these columns every day for the next nine days in the order they were published and invite you to join in on the discussion. Please share and thank you! ~Gregg
• Sun, Jul 31, 2011

By Patrick Geans-Ali

With the mounting wave of privatization and gentrification gathering momentum everywhere, the concepts of public facilities and public space are about as safe these days as the Fukushima Nuclear plant in Japan was on the morning of March 11. The need to control access and put up protective measures may well prove prudent steps in some cases. The key seems to be who gets access and on what basis. That challenge seems to be asking too much from some gatekeepers these days.

A couple of interesting — if not downright sad — examples happened at the East Michigan Environmental Action Council (EMEAC) the week of June 20. That was the first week of EMEAC’s Gardening Activism Media and Education (GAME) Summer Camp, when a group of a dozen or so youth attending the camp led by EMEAC Associate Director Ahmina Maxey visited two institutions in the city. One institution calls itself a “community garden,” but is in actuality is a private enterprise in Midtown. The other is a public building in the heart of downtown Detroit.

In both instances, the campers were met by individuals bent on denying them access to these facilities. Being new to Detroit, it’s completely baffling to me that a group of teenagers, attending an environmental summer camp and seeking whatever educational enlightenment these institutions had to offer, would be turned away by adult gatekeepers.

Although both business institutions are private, I do believe any question about whether all citizens have a right to enter public spaces and expect access to their services was settled in the 1960s. From an environmental justice perspective, our environment is where we live, work, play and learn. So long as citizens conduct themselves properly, being denied access is an environmental injustice.

In the first instance, the campers were purportedly denied access because there had recently been thefts at the garden — the implication clearly being that the campers were somehow likely to cuff something if allowed inside. Even after Ms. Maxey explained who they were, why they were there and that they were given the access codes to the garden by another member who was notified and approved of their visit, the gatekeepers still turned them away and saw fit to make sure the lock on the gate was turned to the inside — just in case the campers had a notion to double back when these vigilant gatekeepers were unawares and make off with the garden’s goods.

In the second instance the very next day, the campers were stopped that afternoon and told they couldn’t enter without a chaperone. When Ms. Maxey introduced herself as the chaperone and produced her driver’s license as proof, the gatekeeper still insisted they could not enter and only relented when Ms. Maxey appealed to a higher level staff member.

Maybe over the years, the city has been plagued with gangs of teenagers breaking into urban gardens on summer afternoons in search of fresh produce. I hear fresh vegetables are hard to find in the city, but is it really necessary for gardens to rest behind iron bars and locked gates as if they were a 24-hour Burger King? Are there really marauding hordes of youngsters so out of control they can’t be trusted to walk through a public building during the middle of the day?

I’m more inclined to think that whatever thefts had happened at the community garden were more likely done by gangs of four-legged rodents who can get through or under spiked gates; or solitary wretches driven to risk impalement in the middle of the night by force of a severe drug habit. In either case, I personally wouldn’t begrudge them the treat of some fresh vegetables any more than I would a group of inner city youth wanting to feed their minds.

What would lead these gatekeepers to deny access in these situations is puzzling. An opportunity to discuss what happened has been arranged and I’m keenly interested to know what the justifications are that would make some adults in this city so afraid of giving access to their institutions to young people trying to learn. Especially since we see them otherwise giving free access to the public treasury to shady business interests, politicians and their hired cronies in the form of emergency financial managers, who pay themselves and their buddies in the consultant industry six- and seven-figure salaries while leaving the public trust worse off in nearly every instance.

The tidal wave threatening Detroit and many communities throughout this country are not teenagers trying to get an education by day. It’s the blindness of adult gatekeepers who see their jobs keeping out the most vulnerable among us at bay while handing over the keys to the privateers who are threatening to sweep away the very idea of a public trust.

Patrick Geans-Ali is communications coordinator for East Michigan Environmental Action Council.

October 31, 2011   1 Comment

Guest Post: One step in building the ‘occupy/unify’ movement in Detroit by Adrienne Maree Brown

Thanks to our colleague, friend and source of inspiration, Adrienne Maree Brown for permission to repost this from her Luscious Satyagraha blog. Thanks also to Yusef Shakur, Jenny Lee and the rest of the people who assisted with and signed on to this important community response to ‘Occupy’ Detroit.  In Health, Joy & Liberation, ~Gregg

One step in building the ‘occupy/unify’ movement in detroit

as detroit began having conversations around what occupy efforts could look like here, it sparked conversations and self-reflection about our distinctions of movement and community. this letter was drafted on a pirate pad and collectively edited and signed onto by tons of detroiters – it is a living document which continues to be tweaked.

as the process continues to unfold, and unity continues to develop in the movement here, i feel that this is a powerful touchstone of the values being cultivated in detroit, and could potentially be a useful model for folks working to articulate their unique iteration of this international phenomenon, rooting it in history and current events at the most local level.

thanks to yusef shakur and jenny lee for taking the first steps on this!

To the first General Assembly of Occupy Detroit,

We are inspired by the actions of Occupy Wall Street and the opportunity it has given so many people to stand up and get involved in shaping the fate of this country.

We are inspired by the protocol of consensus decision-making and inclusivity being used on Wall Street, where anyone who shows up is asked: “what can you contribute to this movement?” In return, participants are supported to bring their best selves to the work of creating a new world. We propose that Detroit embrace that same protocol.

In the spirit of bringing our best selves to this process, we offer this background knowledge, which anyone attempting to organize in Detroit must first understand before taking any action that aims to speak for Detroit. We all have a lot to learn from each other. Nothing said here should be taken as a claim to “know more” or “better” than anyone else. As just mentioned it’s about all of us bringing our best selves to this historic uprising, and doing it creatively, nonviolently and together.

Detroit is a Movement City. Detroiters have been organizing resistance to corporate greed, violence and oppression for nearly a century; from the birth of the labor movement here in the 1920s to the radical black workers movements of the ’60s to the current poor people campaigns against utility shutoffs that allow dozens of people to die each year. We have organized resistance to racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, ableism, and the criminalization of youth, to the systematic destruction of the environment in poor communities of color, to the dehumanization of people with disabilities, and so many other injustices — as they manifest in our daily lives and are reflected in practices that dictate access and distribution of resources, as well as policies at the local, state and national levels.

Detroit is moving beyond just protest. Because we have survived the most thorough disinvestment of capital than any major U.S. city has ever seen; because we have survived “white flight” and “middle class flight,” state-takeovers, corruption and the dismantling of our public institutions; because the people who remained in Detroit are resilient and ingenious, Detroiters have redefined what “revolution” looks like.

Detroit is modeling life AFTER capitalism. In Detroit, “revolution” means “putting the neighbor back in the hood” through direct actions that restore community. It means maintaining public welfare programs for residents who are without income which protect said low income families from facing utility shut offs and homelessness. It means outlawing poverty in any form since the resources to prevent such a condition remain abundantly available to this state. It means Peace Zones for Life that help us solve conflict in our neighborhoods without the use of police, reducing opportunities for police violence. It means food justice and digital justice networks across the city supporting self-determination and community empowerment. It means youth leadership programs and paradigm-shifting education models that transform the stale debate between charter schools and public schools. It means “eviction reversals” that put people back in their homes and community safety networks that prevent people being snatched up by border patrol. It means artists who facilitate processes of community visioning and transformation, and organizers who approach social change as a work of art. In Detroit, the meaning of “revolution” continues to evolve and grow.

Detroit will not be “occupied” in the same sense as Wall Street: The language of “occupation” makes sense for the occupation of the privately-owned Zuccotti Park on Wall Street. But this language of “occupation” will not inspire participation in Detroit and does not make sense for Detroit. From the original theft of Detroit’s land by French settlers from Indigenous nations, to the connotations of “occupation” for Detroit’s Arab communities, to the current gentrification of Detroit neighborhoods and its related violence — “Occupation” is not what we need more of. We will however participate in creating anew out of what remains in Detroit today.

Detroit’s participation in the “Occupy Together” actions must grow out of Detroit’s own rich soil. It cannot be transplanted from another city’s context. We recognize that “Occupy Detroit” has attracted the participation of people from across the state of Michigan. This is a good thing, IF people take the time to understand the unique history and current work of Detroit’s social movements, this letter aims to be a starting point in that process. The reimagined work of activists is to confront and take down systems of oppressive power, on the one hand, while building a new and just world on the other. Let’s do it. Together. Now.

October 20, 2011   No Comments

Occupy Within Together Detroit

I’m sharing three pieces of media related to the occupy movement.

  • The first is a piece of propaganda that has been evolving over the past two years. I’m working on an explanation of the symbols, designs and colors for a separate post.
  • The second is a message to Occupy from Grace Lee Boggs. The emphasis on values requests the lifestyle changes that we rally for and strive to manifest in our own lives.
  • And finally, A clear expression of the “how” of the Consensus process as it has manifest at Occupy Wall Street. Thanks to many of our partners we’ve been learning to live and work within a consensus framework over the past two years.

Occupy Within,

Grace Lee Boggs’ message to Occupy Wall Street – 10/9/11 from American Revolutionary on Vimeo.

October 18, 2011   1 Comment