By Shea Howell - As 2014 gives way, new energies are swirling through the country, bringing hope of real change based on values that respect life and the earth that sustains us. Much of this hope comes from the resistance of people to the dehumanization and destructiveness that have become ordinary in our country.
People in Ferguson, LA, Detroit, Oakland, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and communities in between are saying “Black Lives Matter.” A simple sentence that goes to the heart of the kind of country we have yet to become. It is an idea that challenges the racism, greed, inhumanity, and violence woven into every facet of our culture.
In Detroit these new energies are welcome. For most of the past year we endured the accelerated, brutal force of efforts to turn our city into a profit center for corporate greed at the expense of our children, our elders, and the life of people who have sustained the city for generations. We have learned some important lessons through these struggles.
First, corporate power will no longer tolerate even the semblance of democracy. From subverting the constitution, to setting aside petitions, imposing legal fictions and dismantling elected governments, the public space is being destroyed. Violations of human rights and human life have become normal.
In response, a new democratic impulse is being born. It is evident in the testimony of elders before the bankruptcy court, as they eloquently objected to the severe cuts in the pensions they had worked lifetimes to secure; in the marches and meetings against the emergency managers as people presented viable plans to redevelop the city based on principles of fairness, public responsibility, regenerative design, and compassion; and in the gatherings demanding justice for all the young black lives lost to violence. These forms of resistance are creating the opportunities for us to develop new democratic practices.
We have also learned the limits of legal fictions. From managed negotiations about the fate of our city conducted behind closed doors under the mandate of court orders to the failure of grand juries to acknowledge what we have all seen with our own eyes, the legal system fails time and again to protect people from unlimited profit and unrestrained police power.
We have witnessed the resilience of people in the face of these forces. The efforts to resist bankruptcy, emergency managers, police violence, and despair are generating a new political landscape, capturing our best aspirations.
People are demanding that we create new forms of governance in our cities. Community councils, organizations and advisors are forming. Practical policies are being generated advocating benefit agreements and land trusts to guide value based development. Neighbors are creating new ways to care for one another and share joy. People are demanding that basic human rights be respected and protected. Water should be made available to all. All should be able to live, work and play in safety. Our lives matter.
In a new book describing the emergence of these new forces, social philosopher Emanuel Castells says,
“No one expected it. In a world darkened by economic distress, political cynicism, cultural emptiness and personal hopelessness, it just happened. Suddenly dictatorships could be overthrown with the bare hands of people, even if their hands had been bloodied by the sacrifice of the fallen. Financial magicians went from being the objects of public envy to the targets of universal contempt. Politicians became exposed as corrupt and as liars. Governments were denounced. Media was suspected. Trust vanished…Yet at the fringe of a world that had come to the brink of its capacity for humans to live together and to share life with nature, individuals did come together again to find new forms of being us, the people.”
This is the challenge in front of all of us as we enter 2015. The old institutions of the 20th century are no longer capable of resolving any of the problems we face. It is up to us to create the new ways of living and being that will bring the beloved community to life.