Revolution and Counter-Revolution
By Grace Lee Boggs
Urban Design and Social Change
University of Michigan
November 30, 2006

In the early 1970s my husband Jimmy Boggs and I began coming to this class every November after the elections. Jimmy made the presentation and I fielded the questions. Since Jimmy’s death in 1993 I have continued the tradition and at 91 I keep making the effort because so many UofM alumni have told me how much this class of Professor Jim Chaffers has meant to them. I am especially thinking of Jackie Victor who took the class about 20 years ago and tells everyone that it was after hearing Jimmy’s challenge to become part of the rebuilding, redefining and respiriting of Detroit that she decided to settle in Detroit and with her partner, Ann Perrault, establish their hugely successful bakery, Avalon International Breads, in the Cass Corridor.

The class that is most vivid in my memory is the one in 1976 following the election of Jimmy Carter to the presidency by a coalition of all the progressive groups that had come out of the movements of the 1960s: blacks, women, anti-war activists, environmentalists.

In Jimmy’s presentation, which is reprinted in this little pamphlet, Towards A New Concept Of Citizenship, he explained why the electoral victory of the Democrats over the Republicans was not going to help us get rid of the military-industrial complex on which so much of our economy has depended since World War II or grapple with the new issues that have come out of Hi-Tech and the emergence of multinational corporations that owe no loyalty to this country or to any of the hard-earned safety nets that have been created through generations of struggle. To grapple with these issues, he said, we need a new, more participatory, kind of Citizenship,

The pamphlet concludes with these two paragraphs:

“The coming American revolution will not be made to complete the first revolution (as most radicals and liberals believe) – but to answer new questions that have been created by the successes that we had in developing our economy of abundance and our incredible technology in the last two hundred years. But the fundamental choice remains the same – to believe in the inherent power of human beings to begin afresh, to put public good over private interest, and to become active participants in the ideological and practical struggle necessary to rid ourselves of an economic and political system that reduces us to subjects, so that as active citizens, together, we can create a better society for ourselves and our posterity.

“This country is still in its infancy. The ancestors of the overwhelming majority of today’s Americans were not among the few millions who founded this nation 200 years ago and established the political and social patterns which have brought us to our present crisis. The ancestors of today’s blacks were here – but they were excluded from participation in the political and social process, even though their labors were building the infrastructure which made possible this country’s rapid economic development. Thus the people now living in the United State have had no real experience of the great revolutionary struggles by which any great nation is created.

“That political and humanizing experience still lies before us all.”

This November most progressives are celebrating the recent election in which the majority of Americans responded to the debacle of the Iraq war by voting against the Republicans. The popular repudiation of the war in Iraq and the defeat of what has been for the last six years a one-party state are indeed cause for celebration.

But even as we celebrate, we need to remind ourselves that the 2006 victory of the Democrats will not resolve the increasingly profound issues now facing the American people any more than the 1976 victory did.

To begin with, even though it is clear that we have to get out of Iraq, I don’t know, and no one knows how we are going to do it or how the Middle East is going to look after we’re outed. But what I do know, and what a lot of people know, is that our defeat in Iraq is going to create a dangerous situation here at home because it comes at the same time as large numbers of American workers, both blue collar and white collar, are facing joblessness and insecurity as a result of outsourcing by multinational corporations. That means that in the near future we may be facing a situation much like that in Germany after World War I when Hitler and the Nazis came to power because the German people were looking for scapegoats for their defeat.

The recent passage of Proposition 2 banning affirmative action by 58% of Michigan voters is a warning that the forces for such a counter-revolutionary movement already exist in the millions of workers who in the privacy of the voting booth blame blacks and women for their joblessness because it is easier to do that than to grapple with what appears to be the insurmountable power of the multinationals.

In order to forestall such a counter-revolutionary movement, we urgently need to be developing a vision and engaging Americans in creating another kind of economy that, instead of being controlled by global corporations, is organized on the principle that we, the people, have the right and the need to be participants and decision-makers in producing the goods and services of our communities.

In order to forestall and defeat such a counter-revolutionary movement and the anti-Americanism that our foreign policy has created all over the world, we also urgently need to be developing and engaging Americans in creating a new relationship to the peoples of the world that respects and treats them like fellow-citizens instead of believing that because we have the military power, we also have the right to decide how countries all over the world and especially in an oil-rich region like the Middle East should be governed. It is this arrogance of power that has led us to support the occupation of Palestine by Israel, the Saudi regime, the invasion of Iraq – all of which have provided and continue to provide recruits for the growing number of terrorist networks.

Also in order to forestall and defeat such a counter-revolutionary movement, we urgently need to be developing a media that instead of being controlled by huge multinational corporations and viewing the American people as audience rather than as active citizens, is founded on the conviction that the press should be a weapon in the struggle of the American people to create a nation that all of us can be proud to call our own.

These are some of the challenges that you will be facing in the coming decades as you go out into the world. The world of 2050 A.D. will be what you make it.

Seventy years ago , when I was a student in my teens and early 20s, I never imagined that one day I would become so active in the Black Power movement in Detroit that FBI records would suggest that I might be Afro-Chinese. Or that my twilight years would center around rebuilding, redefining and respiriting Detroit, the world symbol of de-industrialization, disinvestment and depopulation.

But when I left academia in 1940, as you will be doing one of these days, my life began to change drastically because the world was changing and confronting me with choices that I had never anticipated.

You don’t have to start from scratch.

In the last forty years millions of Americans have been responding to the insecurities and suffering caused by huge multinational corporations by creating new forms of community-based institutions to give “we the people” ownership and control over the way we make our living.

  • 130 million Americans are now involved in coops, mostly credit unions and coop housing.

  • 11,000 ESOPS (Employee-owned companies) already exist in this country. Together they involve more workers than are members of unions of private corporations.

  • The number of community development corporations (CDCs) and municipally-owned utilities is steadily growing.

  • Since the 1960s countless non-profit organizations have been created to serve community needs. Most of these are funded by foundations but many support themselves by organizing local enterprises.

  • Locally-owned businesses have also increased from 30% to 60%. Many of these were founded by socially conscious entrepreneurs not only to make a profit but with the aim of protecting the environment and promoting social justice.

Together these new economic institutions are giving communities all over the country a sense of what can be done through collective ownership and management. Their successes and failures provide important lessons for a new radically decentralized community-based economy.

Information on their locations and advice on how to organize them and learn from their experiences can be found on the Internet, e.g. www.community_wealth.org/

These new economic institutions are being created not by starry-eyed idealists but to fill a need and a void. An increasing number of Americans are beginning to create alternative economic institutions not only to bring greater stability to our communities but to provide us with the control over the ways in which we make our living that is necessary for a real democracy.

A movement city like Detroit which pioneered the labor movement and which has now been abandoned by multinational corporations provides a window of opportunity for rebuilding, redefining and respiriting itself by undertaking to create this new economy.

Many kinds of proposals are also emerging to help create what Martin Luther King Jr. called a concept of “global citizenship in order to retain the best in our national tradition.” Some people are advocating a global Marshall Plan to rebuild Iraq, the Middle East, and other nations in the global South. That proposal may attract some of you. Others may want to join some kind of Peace Corps.

My own inclination, because I believe that Americans can only create and maintain a just relationship to the world if we humanize our own society from the ground up, is to continue working on a local level to create new ways of living that will give us back control over our own lives and redefine what it means to be human in the 21st century. We need these activities not only to transform ourselves but to let the world know that we are struggling to bring about the radical revolution in values against the giant triplets of racism, militarism and materialism which has made us collaborators with
multinational corporations in creating the growing inequality between the global North and the global South, robbing human beings and communities of any control over our daily lives, and reducing all our human relationships and relationships to Nature to commodity relationships.

Grassroots resistance to this new form of capitalist domination has already begun. It first emerged on January 1, 1994, the day that NAFTA went into effect, when the Zapatistas took over Mexican cities, making clear that their goal was not to take power but to create space for indigenous peoples and all sections of Mexican society to enter into democratic discussions on how to go beyond Opposition (or Confrontation) to Resistance by creating new horizontal alliances and infrastructures from below.

A few years later in November 1999, the whole world witnessed “the Battle of Seattle” in which nearly 1400 groups representing very diverse sections of society, including environmentalists, feminists, steel workers, longshoremen, anti-war activists, religious groups, native peoples, peasants, prison abolitionists, artists, elders, mostly rooted in local communities, closed down the WTO.

Since the “Battle of Seattle,” similar convergences of diverse groups have taken place in Toronto, Miami, Davos, Genoa, Cancun. Also, beginning in 2001, tens and hundreds of thousands of individuals and groups from all over the world have gathered every January at World Social Forums in Porte Allegre, Brazil, and Mumbai, India, to announce that “Another World is possible.”

In the process of convening these massive demonstrations and gatherings, a new form of Democracy is being created which is much more participatory, deliberative, cooperative, consensual and (like the cosmos) more rooted in community, more diverse, and more horizontal than the representative democracies that were struggled for and achieved within 19th and 20th century nation-states.

At the same time, below the radar, individuals and groups are coming together at the local level to imagine and begin to create new ways of living that will give us back control over our own lives and redefine what it means to be human in the 21st century. One estimate (by Paul Hawken) is that there may be as many as half a million of these self-healing civic groups, most of them small and barely visible, in every country around the world.

In two widely-read books, Empire and Multitude, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri emphasize the singularity or diversity of these groups and how they do not fuse into some unity like “the people” or the “workers of the world” and are not connected in centralized organizations like the 2nd`or 3rd Internationals, as in the Marxist-Leninist era, but connect through networks. What they have in common, they say, is that they are each imagining and creating the new social identities, the new political subjects that will take the place of the cogs and consumers to which global capitalism is seeking to reduce us.

A movement to build a U.S. media that serves the needs of active citizens in a democracy is also in the making. Bill Moyers has been taking some very important steps towards this goal. See, for example, his 5/25/05 speech at the National Conference on Media Reform.

In 2007 Allied Media, the largest gathering of young grassroots media makers from all across the country (which has been meeting at Bowling Green State University) will be holding its next annual conference in Detroit at Wayne State University over the June 23rd weekend. These conferences feature hands-on workshops (from marketing to investigative reporting), group discussions (on topics like hip hop organizing and media justice), film screenings, artist presentations, a large exhibit displaying the finest alternative media from around the country, and a whole day for educators to learn how to use independent media in the classroom.

I’d like to conclude these opening remarks by reminding you that next year, 2007, is the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s Time to Break the Silence speech in which he explained that the Vietnam war was a symptom of a far deeper malady of the American spirit,” and challenged us to “recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores, and thereby speed the day when ‘every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.’

On January 16, 2007, I encourage you to place this speech at the centerpiece of your celebration of Dr. King’s 77th birthday and to use it throughout the year for discussion groups, sermons, teach-ins and conversations with families and friends AND to initiate local life-affirming actions that begin the process of creating peace at home and abroad. connecting us to one another, restoring community and healing our pain and anguish, by moving us from Fear to Hope and from Destruction to Restoration and Reconstruction.

Last edited by godsil.   Page last modified on December 11, 2006

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