The following excerpt is from legendary philospher, community organizer and social activist Grace Lee Boggs’s new book, The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism For The Twenty-First Century, published by the University of California Press. Click here to listen to a Nation Conversation with Boggs, and here to watch a video of Boggs speaking with Amy Goodman and Scott Kurashige at New York City’s Brecht Forum on April 15.
Detroit is a city of Hope rather than a city of Despair. The thousands of vacant lots and abandoned houses provide not only the space to begin anew but also the incentive to create innovative ways of making our living—ways that nurture our productive, cooperative, and caring selves.
The media and pundits keep repeating that today’s economic meltdown is the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. But in the 1930s the United States was an overproducing industrial giant, not today’s casino economy. In the past few decades, once-productive Americans have been transformed into consumers, using more and more of the resources of the Earth to foster ways of living that are unsustainable and unsatisfying. This way of life has created suburbs that destroy farmland, wetlands, and the natural world, as well as pollute the environment. The new economy also requires a huge military apparatus to secure global resources and to consume materials for itself, at the same time providing enormous riches for arms merchants and for our otherwise failing auto, aircraft, and ship manufacturers.
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.
That is what I have learned from fifty-five years of living and struggling in Detroit, the city that was once the national and international symbol of the miracle of industrialization and is now the national and international symbol of the devastation of deindustrialization. That is why so many people, especially young people, have their eyes on Detroit today.
Two decades ago, the urban agricultural movement seemed Utopian. But with shrinking supplies of fossil fuels, rising fuel prices, and global warming, it is beginning to look more and more practical. Even the mayor of Detroit now considers agriculture to be a pillar of the city’s future. The key question is whether the vision for urban farming emanating from the grassroots will continue to be paramount.
For example, at a small meeting of the St. Ignatius community on the Eastside of Detroit following Hurricane Katrina, members were asked, “If you had your way, what would you like us to do in this neighborhood?”
In the ensuing discussion folks who had never heard of Adamah made proposals that seemed to come right out of the Adamah vision: community gardens to grow their own food; grocery stores, banks, barber, and beauty shops within walking distance; green spaces with trees; more intergenerational activities; a small neighborhood school where, instead of the old kind of schooling for jobs, children would develop responsibility for one another and for the community through a curriculum that engages them in community activities; a resource center with a community theater, artists’ studios, and information about the different skills available in the neighborhood (e.g., car repair, plumbing, carpentry, tutoring).