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Monday, July 28, 2008

Grace Lee Boggs on Obama: Must Read

Grace Boggs is an internationally respected scholar/activist who has been active in the struggle for many years. She was married to auto worker and activist James (Jimmy) Boggs. James was also a well-respected activist/author. Racism and the Class Struggle: Further Pages from a Black Worker’s Notebook. Her thoughts appear below. She posted this late February and early March. RGN

Wikipedia says of Grace:

Grace Lee Boggs is an activist, writer and speaker whose more than sixty years of political involvement encompass the major U.S. social movements of this century: Labor, Civil rights, Black Power, Asian American, Women's and Environmental Justice.

Born in Providence, R.I. of Chinese immigrant parents in 1915, Grace received her B.A. from Barnard College in 1935 and her Ph.D. in Philosophy from Bryn Mawr College in 1940. In the 1940s and 1950s she worked with West Indian Marxist historian C.L.R.James and in 1953 she came to Detroit where she married James Boggs, African American labor activist, writer and strategist. Working together in grassroots groups and projects, they were partners for over 40 years until James death in July 1993. Their book, Revolution and Evolution in the Twentieth Century, was published by Monthly Review Press in 1974.

In 1992, with James Boggs, Shea Howell and others, she founded DETROIT SUMMER, a multicultural, intergenerational youth program to rebuild, redefine and respirit Detroit from the ground up, which completed its 14th season in the summer of 2006. Currently she works with the Detroit City of Hope campaign and the Beloved Communities Initiative and writes for the weekly Michigan Citizen.

Her autobiography, Living for Change, published by the University of Minnesota Press in March 1998 is widely used in university classes in Asian American studies, on Detroit and on social movements.

For her contributions, she has received numerous awards.

Grace Lee Boggs, “The Authenticity of Obama’s Leadership”

Michigan Citizen, Feb. 24-Mar. 1, 2008

My eyes and ears are riveted to TV. I can’t get enough of Obama’s calling upon Americans of all ages, all walks of life, all faiths, all abilities, all sexual orientations, all political leanings, to stop thinking like victims and start believing that we have the power within ourselves to create the world anew.

“I am asking you to believe not only in my ability to bring about change in Washington . I am asking you to believe in yours.”

Obama is providing the authentic, visionary leadership we need in this period when our challenges are so great and our politics (as he puts it in The Audacity of Hope) so small.

That kind of leadership is very precious.

26 year-old MLK provided it in 1955 when he inspired Montgomery blacks, sick and tired of being sick and tired, to go beyond protest and manifest a more advanced humanity in their yearlong non-violent boycott.

Jimmy Boggs anticipated it when he said in his last speech to University of Michigan students in 1991 “I don’t believe nobody can run this country better than me. I’m saying you better think that way. You need to stop thinking of yourself as a minority because thinking like a minority means you’re thinking like an underling. Everyone is capable of going beyond where they are.”

Liberals and radicals tend to be skeptical of this kind of leadership. Viewing society as a laundry list of problems, liberals promise solutions. Radicals, having concluded that another world is necessary, begin to lose hope that another world is possible when only a few people show up for their meetings.

Obama does not promise solutions. He doesn’t view people as masses. Out of his experiences as a community organizer and his dialectical/historical appreciation of movement building in the U.S., he is asking us to become active citizens, builders of a new America that all of us will be proud to call our own.

As he put it in a 1995 interview:

"What we need in America, especially in the African-American community, is a moral agenda that is tied to a concrete agenda for building and rebuilding our communities, We have moved beyond the clarion call stage needed during the civil rights movement. Now we must move into a building stage…

"We have no shortage of moral fervor, In every church on Sunday in the African-American community we have fervor. .But as soon as church lets out, the energy dissipates. The biggest failure of the civil rights movement was in failing to translate this moral fervor into creating lasting institutions and organizational structures…

Chicago’s first African American mayor, Harold Washington was the best of the classic politicians, But he, like all politicians, was primarily interested in maintaining his power and working the levers of power. He was a classic charismatic leader,..

“How do we rebuild our schools? How do we rebuild our communities? How do we create safer streets? What concretely can we do together to achieve these goals?”

“For our agenda to work, we can't see voters or communities as consumers, as mere recipients or beneficiaries of this change. It's time for politicians and other leaders to see voters, residents or citizens as producers of this change. The thrust of our organizing must be the whole agenda of creating productive communities. That is where our future lies…

"The right wing talks about this but they keep appealing to that old individualistic bootstrap myth: get a job, get rich, and get out. Our goal must be to help people get a sense of building something larger…

"People are hungry for community, hungry for change…

"What if a politician were to see his job as that of an organizer, as part teacher and part advocate, one who does not sell voters short but who educates them about the real choices before them? As an elected public official, I could bring church and community leaders together easier than I could as a community organizer or lawyer. We would come together to form concrete economic development strategies, take advantage of existing laws and structures, and create bridges and bonds within all sectors of the community. We must form grass-root structures that would hold me and other elected officials more accountable for their actions…

"The right wing, the Christian right, has done a good job of building these organizations of accountability, much better than the left or progressive forces have. But it's always easier to organize around intolerance, narrow-mindedness, and false nostalgia. And they also have hijacked the higher moral ground with this language of family values and moral responsibility…

"Now we have to take these same values that are encouraged within our families--of looking out for one another, of sharing, of sacrificing for each other--and apply them to a larger society. Let's talk about creating a society, not just individual families, based on these values. Right now we have a society that talks about the irresponsibility of teens getting pregnant, not the irresponsibility of a society that fails to educate them to aspire for more."

That is what Detroit–City of Hope is about.

Grace Lee Boggs writings appear at:

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