Poverty Redux

by Kweku Opoku-Agyemang, co-author of Encountering Poverty: Thinking and Acting in an Unequal World

This guest post is published in advance of the American Sociological Association conference in Seattle. Check back every week for new posts through the end of the conference on August 23rd.

Roy.EncounteringPovertyPoverty remains one of life’s biggest mysteries, although it seems to be more ethereal than usual as election years around the world kick into high gear. Through accidents and orchestrations of history, poverty is constantly exploited by politicians on the left and right and argued to have tidy and neat answers. In a time of what appears to be mass fear around the world, the demand for tidy solutions is probably at an all-time crescendo. I see this, not just in the San Francisco Bay Area, where homelessness is raging, but in Ghana (where I’m writing this blog post), where we too are preparing for an Election 2016. However, one thing my contributions to the new book, Encountering Poverty: Thinking and Acting in an Unequal World (co-authored with Ananya Roy, Genevieve Negron-Gonzalez and Clare Talwalker) has taught me is that there is still much that we do not know about poverty. Every election is just an opportunity for us to be reminded about this sobering reality. Perhaps some reflection is in order. Being an economist, I’ll draw upon a recent illustration from my field.

A week or so ago, I read about a fellow economist in the news who was, of all things, “de-planed” — a nice way of saying he was mistaken for a terrorist and taken off a flight he had paid for—due to the discomfort of his fellow passenger with the mathematical proofs that the economist was writing on a notepad, of all things. This violation of his rights and peace of mind is outrageous for obvious reasons. It is interesting, to say the least, that to his fellow passenger, the first thing that came to mind from observing a social scientist was a negative effect on personal safety. But, although the comment sections on many media websites have trashed this passenger into the ground (and then some!), I think that this event shows the yawning gap between social science research and the public in general. One can only imagine the relatively fearless conversations that might have transpired about poverty on that plane if we worked towards sharing our thinking with the public in an inclusive way. For all we know, the economist might have even learned something beneficial.

While these new opportunities present themselves to reintroduce poverty studies to a new generation of scholars, policy makers, activists and students, I find myself wondering what role I might play as an economist. As the profession has benefited from a shift towards technology and data-driven development economics research to complement and discipline economic-mathematical theory, I’ve concluded that the perspectives of the public in general, and the poor in particular, is more important than ever before.

Long ago, G. K. Chesterton argued that the essence of a picture is its frame. How you look at something determines what you see. But one does not have to fly on a plane with a social scientist to figure this out: we only need to take a look at one of the major issues of our times that is playing a dominant role in this election cycle: economic inequality. Global inequality, seen through the distributions of income and wealth and the stratospheric rise of the 1 percent, is the flavor of the month to a wearied journalist, a political platform for a cynical politician, and the reality for millions of middle-class Americans.

Why is it critical to ask better questions of global poverty and inequality? Even global inequality, as important as it is, appears to focus mostly on the  gap between the very elite of the very elite and the merely very elite…when framed as a discourse between middle-class Americans and the rest of the world. The missing voices in this discussion, as important as it is, is the voices of the poor, whose needs are obviously on an entirely different plane.

What does this mean for the next generation of social movements, which require a level of social media-savvy and technological exposure that, not only abound in today’s movements like Black Lives Matter, but are championed by a new generation of start-ups that are fast remaking non-governmental organizations around the world in their image? For better or worse, such awareness is necessarily absent from people who are too poor to afford a mobile phone—the very people who the poverty discourse must serve.

As economists, I believe that we need to follow the poor in asking better questions in our research and of ourselves, and make an effort to understand how to share our perspectives to broader audiences in ways that bring them on board as partners, not just subjects. Although I don’t have all the answers, I think that we have not yet began to ask the best questions, such as whether we need the poor more than they need us. As we try to show in Encountering Poverty, all of us, as researchers, students, policy makers, activists, can come closer wrestling with the questions that may help us to better understand poverty—not just as a policy problem, but as a lived experience.


Kweku Opoku-Agyemang is a Research Fellow at the Center for Effective Global Action at the University of California, Berkeley.


Brexiteers and the Sheer Cliff into the Unknown

This post was originally featured in Social AnthropologyAnthropologie Sociale, the journal for the European Association of Social Anthropologists, and has been reblogged with the permission of the author and Social Anthropology.”

by Ruben Andersson, author of Illegality, Inc.: Clandestine Migration and the Business of Bordering Europe

Amid Brexit hysteria, the academic temptation may be to hide behind the ‘expert’ mask so derided by the nasty Leave campaign. But besides their dismissiveness, there’s a bigger problem looming for UK-based scholars: our deep personal involvement. As an ‘EU migrant’ studying migration, I’m also caught up in the free fall of Brexit – comically depicted by the New Yorker in the shape of John Cleese silly-walking off the white cliffs of Dover, yet frightening all the same as the world around seems consumed in panic.

Andersson.IllegalityInc

Instead of offering ‘expert analysis’ on migration, then, I’d rather write about the emotional charge of this political moment. Let’s start with anger: at the prime minister and his selfish, simplistic referendum; at the mendacity of Brexiteer politicians now covering their tracks; and at UK newspapers that have spouted hatred of migrants and Europe for years only now to cash in on the turmoil. Next follows a rather continental Schadenfreude. Gloat at the dimwits! Look what you just did! However, chuckling at the madness on Twitter does not protect against another emotion – anxiety, roiled into fear. Which other countries may jump off the cliff towards the 1930s-style mayhem on the rocks below? And where do I stand in this migrant-bashing season as a white northern European? The Murdoch-owned Sun publishes pictures of East European shops while Polish migrants are attacked and called ‘vermin’; research colleagues receive hate mail while ‘foreign-looking’ people are abused in the street. Meanwhile, employers (including my own) assure ‘non-UK staff’ that they remain valued. I have lived in London longer than I care to remember yet never before have I felt that invisible line drawn between my colleagues and myself. A chill wind sets in – this is visceral and real in a way that I until now have experienced vicariously, through the undocumented African migrants among whom I have worked.

This emotional dislocation mirrors that of my enfranchised neighbours. Set aside the racism fanned by the media and politicians, and it is clear that both sides’ anger, gloating, anxiety and fear keep feeding off one another. One Twitter meme reads: ‘Of course foreigners steal your job. But maybe if someone without contacts, money, or speaking the language steals your job, you’re shit.’ In this callous rejection, repeated everyday in myriad forms in class-divided Britain, fear can easily be whipped into hatred.

Yet as we’re all buffeted by political emotions, social science remains curiously underinvested in exploring them. This includes ‘migration studies’, where academics including myself often veer towards the bigger picture, assuaging fear by numbers or offering detailed critiques of migration policy. This is all fine, but we also need a broader lens. Not in the least, we need to craft a better ethnographic understanding of how anger, anxiety, fear and hatred blow through communities, of who fans the flames and who reaps the whirlwind. We need deeper analyses of how destructive emotions globalise and propagate, and how they attach to objects and people: be they refugees, borders, ‘EU migrants’ or Brexiteers stepping over that sheer cliff into the unknown.


Ruben Andersson is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Department of International Development, London School of Economics and Political Science, and an associated researcher at the Department of Social Anthropology, Stockholm University.


101st Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide

Author Joachim Savelsberg was invited by the President of the Republic of Armenia to present a talk on the occasion of the 101st anniversary of the Armenian genocide. Savelsberg delivered his lecture on April 23, 2016, at the Global Forum against the Crime of Genocide in Yerevan, Armenia’s capital. The event was introduced by a speech by President Serzh Sargsyan and concluded with an address by Armenia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Eduard Nalbandian. Other speakers included genocide survivors, several ambassadors, other scholars and activist-actor George Clooney. Savelsberg’s lecture addressed the relationship between human rights and humanitarian aid in the context of genocide. It was based on materials from his recent book Representing Mass Violence: Conflicting Responses to Human Rights Violations in Darfur, available as open access online. Savelsberg also participated in the official wreath laying ceremony at the Armenian Genocide Memorial on April 24, the official day of commemoration, and at the inaugural award ceremony for the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity. Upon his return Savelsberg reported about his experiences to the Armenian community of Minnesota.


Don’t Make A Mystic into a Martyr: Fethullah Gülen as Peacebuilder

This guest post is by Jon Pahl, Ph.D, the Peter Paul and Elizabeth Hagan Professor in the History of Christianity at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia


I can’t speak to the causes of the recent failed military coup in Turkey—although there is certainly precedent for coups in the history of the Turkish Republic (1960, 1971, 1980). But I can speak to the accusations by journalist Mustafa Akyol and the Turkish government that an imam living an ascetic life of prayer and teaching in a Pennsylvania retreat center was somehow “behind” the most recent military uprising: they’re preposterous.

For the past four years, I’ve been researching a biography that focuses on Fethullah Gülen’s life and theology. I’ve been to the impoverished rural village in Northeastern Turkey where he was born. I’ve visited the mosques across Turkey where he preached and taught—in Edirne, Izmir, and Istanbul. I’ve spoken with hundreds of people inspired by him, and some who simply hate him. And I’ve read nearly everything he’s written that’s been translated into English (over two dozen books, and countless sermons), and I know the vast literature for and against him.

My conclusion? He’s a mystic in the Sufi tradition of Islam. And like other famous mystics in history—notably Gandhi, or Rumi—from whom Gülen draws deeply, Fethullah Gülen is a peacebuilder. And history teaches us that peacebuilders are likely to be misunderstood, vilified, and targeted. It would be tragic if once again historical forces conspire to turn a mystic into a martyr.

In fact, Gülen has previously been the victim of military coups in Turkey. Despite being an advocate for the compatibility of Islam and democracy, he was imprisoned in the 1971 and 1980 military takeovers in Turkey. Having lived through the chaos of such times, he has written against “unbridled force.” “The Prophet [Muhammad] defined true Muslims,” Gülen writes in his most accessible work, Toward a Global Civilization of Love and Tolerance, “as those who harm no one with their words and actions.” Indeed, “there is no difference between a physical and a verbal violation,” Gülen goes on. This sensitivity to even subtle violence plants Gülen quite clearly in the mystic camp—and about as far from the instigator of a military coup as one can imagine. This sensitivity to violence—call it engaged empathy, is also likely to be badly misunderstood by outsiders.

One of the features of especially Sufi Islam is what is called fana—an Arabic term which means (in rough translation) the cessation of ego. Many Americans are familiar with the whirling dervishes—who in their ecstatic dance demonstrate this Sufi loss of ego in the whirl of life and in submission to God (every step of a dervish is in fact a prayer). So Sufis often speak of themselves in terms that minimize their individuality—which makes them easy targets for demagogues. Gülen is very much in this tradition.

Even more—there is ample evidence throughout Gülen’s extensive writing and public speaking that points away from military force and toward a very different kind of power. Like Gandhi, who practiced satyagraha—or “truth-force,” Gülen teaches that “power depends upon truth.” Like Rumi, Gülen teaches that “love is the most essential element of every being, and it is the most radiant light, and it is the greatest power.” And for Gülen, love, in politics, means a commitment to the democratic practices of persuasion. One of Gülen’s favorite phrases—drawn from another Sufi teacher, the poet and philosopher Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, is that: “among civilized persons victory is won by persuasion.”

At the heart of what Gülen has taught throughout his life is the Turkish ideal of hizmet (service). This ideal of Hizmet has motivated thousands of volunteers around the globe to build schools (mostly math and science academies), to develop social enterprises (e.g., newspapers and publishing houses) and other businesses to support these schools (many recently confiscated illegally by the Turkish government—a process underway before the failed coup), and to sponsor interreligious dialogues. As Graham Fuller recently put it in a cogent article, this movement is not a “cult” with political ambitions driven by “shadowy” leaders and furtive “followers.” It is one of the most encouraging faces of Islam today.

In contrast to this long history of teaching peace (and inspiring a global movement of peacebuilding volunteers), there’s the history of Turkish politicians finding Gülen a convenient scapegoat against whom to secure their own political ambitions—again, in 1971, 1980, and in all likelihood today. It’s as if Western media (and especially the New York Times) cannot conceive of an apolitical Muslim leader actually dedicated to good causes. The Turkish government then reinforces this Islamophobia in a convenient feedback loop, which of course serves its purposes (Erdogan began his career as an Islamist—recall).

In any event, such scapegoating of a Sufi mystic serves primarily to reinforce the authoritarian ambitions of the current political regime; a regime that has all but shut down the free press; imprisoned thousands of rivals and intellectuals; allegedly engaged in torture—according to Amnesty International; and built for its President a place of such grandiose proportions as to make the White House look like a shack.

So the scapegoating of Fethullah Gülen and those inspired by him ought to be read with utter suspicion until, as Secretary of State John Kerry put it well—credible evidence to the contrary is provided. I don’t expect to see any. An accusation is not evidence. Let’s not turn a mystic into a martyr: there have been enough of those already in the distant and recent past.


For more on Fethuallah Gülen and Hizmet, read Hizmet Means Service: Perspectives on an Alternate Path Within Islam, edited by Martin E. Marty

Hizmet Means Service


Jon Pahl is the Peter Paul and Elizabeth Hagan Professor of History at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. He can be reached at jpahl@ltsp.edu


The Immigration Issue for Election 2016

Yet again, immigration has become a pivotal issue in the elections. Presidential candidates have shared their varying stances. And in response, many Latinos did their best to register to vote despite various obstacles.

Many believe that the Latino vote will be a game-changer. From now until November elections, as candidates continue to discuss immigration in regards to paths to citizenship, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), deportation raids, or border control, we should remember that every immigrant’s story is a personal one.

Below are some titles that share the immigrant experience. You can see more titles on our website re: Immigration and Emigration. And save 40% on these and all other UC Press titles, including upcoming Fall ’16 new release pre-orders, by participating in our Summer Sale from June 14th-June 21st. Use discount code 15W4890 at checkout. (Sale excludes e-books and journals, and some restrictions apply; please see Summer Sale info).


Beyond Mass Incarceration: The Cognitive Legacy of the Clinton Era

By Michela Soyer, author of A Dream Denied: Incarceration, Recidivism, and Young Minority Men in America 

SoyerheadshotWhen Bill Clinton signed the federal “Three Strikes Bill” in 1994, most of the teenagers I interviewed between 2010 and 2013 were barely a year old. Some of my interviewees were not even been born yet. For several of those young men, the upcoming presidential election will be the first one in which they are able to cast their vote. One of their likely choices will be the woman whose husband’s political choices in the mid-1990s have wrecked havoc in their communities. Twenty years later, Hillary Clinton works hard to put a distance between herself and her husband’s legacy; on her campaign website, she calls for an end of mass incarceration and criminal justice reform.

For the teenagers whose lives I describe in A Dream Denied, Clinton’s promise to undo some of her husband’s damage comes too late. Five of the young men I portray in my book won’t be allowed to vote in the upcoming election; they are either serving time in a state prison or are on parole for a felony. The others may have escaped the tragic cycle of incarceration and recidivism, but their formative teenagers years were nevertheless stunted. Their life trajectories have been shaped by a juvenile justice system unable to fill the void Clinton’s welfare reform has created. Their middle class counterparts may face anxieties about their lack of self-fulfillment and financial insecurities. The young men in my study learned early on that their basic freedom is nothing they should take for granted.

In June 2013, I conducted my final interview for the book. The young man I spoke with had just suffered through a string of family tragedies. His cousin and his aunt had been killed. “Why does this s*** keep happening to me and my family?” he asked. I didn’t know how to respond, and I still believe that there was nothing I could have said to ease his pain. His experience of incarceration, recidivism, fosSoyer.ADreamDeniedter care and death are deeply personal. On the other hand, the seeds for his troubled teenage years were laid around the time of his birth, when the Clinton administration ended “welfare as we know it.”

These young men grew up with the double disadvantage of a defunct welfare system and a racially biased highly punitive criminal justice system. Astonishingly, these young men still believed in a bright future. If Hillary Clinton were to meet with them, they probably would not confront her like a protestor did recently in South Carolina. Most of the young minority men whose lives I describe blamed themselves. They pointed to their lack of self-control, their laziness, or inability to listen to the adults in their lives. In that sense, they are true children of the Clinton years. They did not expect the government to help their families. Some even believe their punishment was justified. Worse than the time many young men have lost in the juvenile or criminal justice system, however, is that they were never able to develop any concept that they deserve better. This cognitive burden may be the most tragic legacy of the Clinton years, and it will shape the life trajectories of the young men in my study well beyond the presidential election this fall.


Michaela Soyer is Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at Hunter College.


Living at the Edges of Capitalism

The newly released Living at the Edges of Capitalism explores communities living in exilic spaces, or spaces outside of state capitalism—Cossacks on the Don River in Russia, Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico, and prisoners in long-term isolation. Andrej Grubačić and Denis O’Hearn write from their personal experiences and solidarity with these groups. We’re happy to present an excerpt from the Preface below, which explains how they came to write this book:

The subject of this book is exile. Not in the sense it is usually expressed: as a longing for something lost or a hope to return to what one once had. For us exilic life is not Victor Hugo’s “long dream of hope,” a nostalgic longing to return to something, but rather a journey of hope for a future that has not yet been. The instances of hope we have chosen to research for this book are provided by people who left or were banished from places of discontent and sought something better.

Both of us hold an interest in exilic community that comes from our own experiences. We have both lived in places that attempted something akin to exilic community, one of us in a war zone where people had to practice mutual aid in order to exist, the other in a historic experiment in self-management. Both experiments ended, one in a peace process and a return to “normal” electoral politics, and the other in a tragic war and split-up of the trans-ethnic political community. Along the way, both of us became exiles in the usual political sense, unable to return to our communities because we were hunted by corrupt state police forces.


 

Andrej Grubačić is Professor of Anthropology and Social Change at the California Institute of Integral Studies. He is the author of Wobblies and Zapatistas and Don’t Mourn, Balkanize!

Denis O’Hearn is Professor of Sociology at the State University of New York at Binghamton and the author of Inside the Celtic Tiger: The Irish Economy and the Asian Model; The Atlantic Economy: Britain, the US, and Ireland; andNothing But an Unfinished Song: Bobby Sands, the Irish Hunger Striker Who Ignited a Generation, among other titles.


How Foundations Avoid Tackling Inequality

By Erica Kohl-Arenas, author of The Self-Help Myth: How Philanthropy Fails to Alleviate Poverty

This guest post is published in conjunction with the American Association of Geographers conference and in advance of Cesar Chavez Day

Kohl-ArenasWhile conducting research for my book, The Self-Help Myth, a California foundation program officer told me, “Foundations are bizarre beasts. They are created to solve societal problems by using inordinate amounts of wealth—wealth that is inherently contradictory because it was gleaned out of the inequalities that it proposes to address.”

Recent debates across the Twittersphere reveal how this grand paradox of philanthropy is unfolding today. The Gates, Walton, and Broad foundations claim to address inequality in educational achievement but advance competitive approaches that build market opportunities for private educational service providers while failing to improve outcomes for poor students. In settings such as New Orleans, disaster recovery aid has displaced low-income residents through partnerships between nonprofits, foundations, and private developers. The same story is playing out in the fields of global health, agriculture, and technology.

Without the explicit profit generating schemes evident in our current ‘philanthrocapitalist’ moment, major foundation initiatives of the twentieth century similarly avoided confronting entrenched systems of power and production by favoring individualistic and behavioral approaches to addressing poverty and inequality.

In my research I found that the Rosenberg, Field and Ford Foundations were interested in addressing farmworker and migrant poverty by supporting the historic California Farmworker Movement. Movement leader Cesar Chavez believed that addressing the inequities faced by farmworkers required collective ownership by farm laborers, strikes, boycotts, union organizing, and popular protest. Through highly charged debates that are documented in archived correspondence, program officers from these foundations tried to convince Chavez that grants to the movement could not include union organizing or confrontation with the agricultural industry. For example, in 1967, Leslie Dunbar of the Field Foundation changed his tune about funding the movement when he found out that it was affiliated with the AFL-CIO, America’s largest labor union federation.

Chavez pleaded to Dunbar that social, economic, and civil rights must be addressed together in a broader movement to achieve dignity, justice, and equality for farmworkers:

“Dear Mr. Dunbar… Your letter implies that our organization does not come within the area of your interests, which are civil rights, human relations, and child welfare. Somehow we are not able to draw the same conclusion . . . Our approach has been to offer a broad program of services, which build a base of membership cooperation from which to launch out in the direction of strikes for union recognition . . . In every action we take, we face tremendous opposition . . . Consistently our pickets have been arrested as a means of harassment. Our civil rights are disregarded daily.”

Yet the Field Foundation refused to fund any work in the ‘economic sphere.’ Eventually, Chavez incorporated nonprofit organizations (which he initially nicknamed “the Hustling Arm of the Union”) in order to channel funds to its service work. He ultimately retreated to these organizations, and moved away from organizing field workers, when the movement met major challenges.

Kohl-Arenas_NSGiven this history, what can be expected from foundations that intend to address inequality today, especially if they want to transform the systems and structures that produce it in the first place? To join the conversation, follow Erica Kohl-Arenas, author of The Self-Help Myth on twitter @EricaKohl


Erica Kohl-Arenas is Assistant Professor at the Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy at The New School in New York.


5 Things Most People Get Wrong About Grad School

This guest post comes from Zachary Shore, author of Grad School Essentials: A Crash Course in Scholarly Skills, who debunks 5 myths about attending grad school.

Shore.GradSchoolEssentials

1) You are supposed to read every word of your assignments.

This approach works fine if you never eat or sleep and give up on any semblance of a life worth living. The reality is that no one reads everything. Instead, they learn to read strategically, gutting texts for their key questions, premises, and arguments.

Solution: Skim for thesis and meaning. One surprising tip: read the last section first! (Chapter 1)

2) Critiquing a text means saying whether you liked it or not.

In elementary school your book reports came back with smiley stickers when you did well. In grad school, a critique is a rigorous analysis of the author’s argument: its strengths as well as its weaknesses. And there are no smiley stickers. But sometimes there are jobs when it’s all over.

Solution: Spot an argument’s weakest links–and break them! One surprising tip: the title of a book/article gives you key clues to the author’s intent! (Chapter 2)

3) It’s okay to give presentations by reading from a script.

This may cure your professors’ insomnia by putting them to sleep, but you won’t get strong recommendation letters from the people you bored to death in grad school.

Solution: Speak in public with verve, humor and substance! One surprising tip: end your presentation with a twist! (Chapter 4)

4) Professors are there solely to help you.

This is a heart-warming belief that makes me want to coo as if in the presence of a baby deer. The harsh reality is that most professors are also concerned with advancing their careers. Some of them will definitely help you, but many will also wonder what you can do for them.

Solution: Be the best apprentice possible. One surprising tip: learn to smile when being criticized! (Chapter 5)

5) Doing research means writing about a topic.

Remember that you are actually writing about a question, rather than vaguely circling a topic. Scholarship aims at advancing our understanding of difficult puzzles. Your goal is to locate those puzzles and solve them.

Solution: Formulate an original thesis. One surprising tip: compress your research question into 8 words or fewer! (Chapter 6) 


Learn how to do all of the above—and more—to succeed in grad school! Grad School Essentials: A Crash Course in Scholarly Skills by Zachary Shore teaches you how to read, write, speak, act, and research at a higher level – saving you time and upping your game. This succinct guide–jam-packed with key information–contains practical, ‘essential’ tips that will help make your learning experience both productive and fun.


In Memoriam: Grace Lee Boggs

Legendary activist and advocate for social change Grace Lee Boggs passed away on Monday at the age of 100. UC Press published The Next American Revolution in 2011. Her editor, Niels Hooper, shares what it was like to work with Grace and what he’ll miss about her.

Grace Lee BoggsI came to Grace Lee Boggs late, in 2009, through my friend Scott Kurashige. Scott—teaching at the University of Michigan—was living in Detroit and working with Grace, shaping her prolific articles, columns, speeches, notes and correspondence into a book, with the working title, Radical Wisdom from a Movement Elder.

Grace Lee Boggs certainly deserved that moniker. Born during the First World War, she earned her Ph.D. in 1940—a remarkable feat for a young Chinese-American woman—when Martin Luther King, Jr. was still in grade school. She worked with the famous black Marxist intellectual, C. L. R. James, married the labor organizer Jimmy Boggs, counted the Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah among her close associates, and met with Malcolm X to persuade him to join her organizing activities. She was not just a witness but, as she said, was “privileged to participate in most of the great humanizing movements of the past seventy years—the labor, civil rights, Black Power, women’s, Asian American, environmental justice, and antiwar movements.” She thought long and hard about what it means to be an American and a human being as well as how we can be “the leaders we’ve been waiting for.”

Living in Detroit from 1953 until her death on Monday, October 5, 2015, Grace Lee Boggs also witnessed the heyday and nadir—and led a grassroots revival—of the great American city. Credited in some quarters as being among those who incited the famous 1967 Detroit rebellion—the largest in US history until the Rodney King rebellion in Los Angeles—Grace Lee Boggs came to see Detroit as a paradigmatic American site of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s devastating “triplets of racism, militarism, and materialism.” Situated, now, at the epitome of the decay of an industrial society—as Scott writes, “a firsthand look at a dying order”—Grace Lee Boggs saw instead the possibility of rupture with the mistakes of the past, and opportunities to remake society anew locally, organically, through critical connections on the ground, from below. The James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership and the Detroit Summer are testament to that. And they brought attention and praise from visitors—Time Magazine, Rebecca Solnit writing in Harpers. . . even the Financial Times.

So while the book that Scott and Grace proposed was inarguably full of “radical wisdom from a movement elder,” that title belies the fact that Grace Lee Boggs’s last book was, above all, a book rooted in the economic, political, and environmental crises of our time, and a book that argues for the future. Till the end—this week—Grace Lee Boggs was looking forward, not backwards, and working with unflagging faith in the inevitability of the next American Revolution.

She argued that the next American Revolution…

  • has to be radically different from the revolutions that took place in pre- or non-industrialized countries such as Russia, Cuba, China, or Vietnam.
  • is about living the kind of lives that will not only slow down global warming but also end the galloping inequality both inside this country and between the Global North and Global South.
  • requires very different forms of courage, commitment, and strategies than those required to storm the Winter Palace . . . it requires the courage to challenge ourselves to engage in activities that build a new and better world.
  • needs to begin creating ways to live more frugally and more cooperatively NOW.
  • requires rebuilding, redefining, and respiriting from the ground up: growing food on abandoned lots, reinventing education to include children in community building, creating co-operatives to produce local goods for local needs, developing Peace Zones to transform our relationships with one another in our homes and on our streets, and replacing a punitive justice system with restorative justice programs.
  • doesn’t aspire to the “political class”
  • sees that we can solve our health and education problems only by first creating a new concept of citizenship.
  • recognizes that Martin Luther King, Jr. began to develop a profoundly cultural and political concept of the next American Revolution as a revolution of values.
  • creates a revolutionary alternative to the counterrevolutionary and inhuman policies of the US government, but struggles to change this country because we love it.
  • is being created not by the cadres of a vanguard party with a common ideology, but by individuals and groups responding creatively with passion and imagination to the real problems and challenges that they face where they live and work.

Grace Lee Boggs argued that even though, in her lifetime, over 80 million people had been killed in wars, the times we live in today represent a crisis of epochal proportions that she had not seen before. And she saw more than ever that today’s cataclysmic climate change, economic instability, and rupturing of empire, created new opportunities both in America and across the world, to remake society from the ground up. “That is what Detroit is about and that is how the next American Revolution is beginning,” she insisted, while she remade Detroit and began the next American Revolution, and we would all do well to make these her legacies.

—Niels Hooper, Executive Editor

Learn more about Grace Lee Boggs at her website, graceleeboggs.com