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A New America in the Making

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Grace Lee Boggs
Grace Lee Boggs

While the Obama administration in D.C. is doing its best to resuscitate a dying economic system, people on the ground have begun to create another America.

That is the huge difference between today’s response to our interlocking crises and yesterday’s to the Great Depression.

In the 1930s a wave of strikes by blue and white collar workers forced the government to pass the Wagner Act, guaranteeing workers the right of self-organization that they were already exercising.

The recent inspiring sit-in of the Chicago Republic Window workers is unlikely to spark a similar wave, not only because the number of workers has shrunk so drastically but because today’s economic crisis is inseparably tied to the crisis of our planet, our cities, our communities, our schools–and our souls.

Every day it becomes clearer that we are approaching the end of the short-lived (less than 300 years) industrial/capitalist epoch.

So people in communities, rather than the workplace, have begun to create another America.

One obvious sign is the mushrooming urban agricultural and local foods movement.

Organizations and networks to renew and develop communities and cities are also emerging, calling themselves Detroit: City of Hope (DCOH), Mothers on the Move (MOMS), Transitions, Allied Media Conference (AMC), etc.

In America Beyond Capitalism, Reclaiming Our Wealth, Our Liberty and Our Democracy, Gar Alperovitz, co-founder of the University of Maryland’s Democracy Collaborative, explains how these evolutionary, peaceful steps to replace capitalist institutions are also revolutionary.

Thus the way we think about revolution and evolution is also changing. Young people especially see revolution more as transformation, coming from themselves rather from the government (as Lenin’s generation did).

Jenny Lee ( Detroit Summer Collective & Allied Media Conference) explains this epistemic revolution in her blog: greater detroit, "Economies as cycles"

“At our 3 day intensive training Jon, Andrea and Starlet were each drawn to one of the subject areas (Respect, Alternatives to Criminalization and Cooperative Economics). Starlet, whose topic was cooperative economics, broke it down like this: ‘economy means cycle. So when you have an unhealthy economy, where there are no jobs, and no support systems, it creates a cycle where schools are bad, and people use drugs, and children have no future. Alternatively, a healthy economy supports the health of the community in all those different ways. But a healthy economy doesn’t have to start with jobs. It can start with the ingenuity of young people, and it can be fostered through a better system of education.’

“At the time I remember thinking—economy doesn’t actually mean cycle. It means the system of production, distribution and consumption that dictates our lives. But why should we accept that definition? We have to embrace a new meaning of economy altogether. It should be viewed as a cycle. As organizers working for justice and transformation, in our lives and our communities, we have to begin thinking in terms of creating new economies (which is cyclical), rather than simply “movement-building” (which is linear).

“We can create economies of information, creativity, resource-generation and sharing. At the heart of an economy is an exchange–the recognition that you have something to gain and something to offer. Too often the idea of movement-building relies on an assumption of everything to give and nothing to gain. We become obsessed with having the perfect analysis, and we isolate ourselves among increasingly narrow communities of people who affirm that analysis. But in an economy of information, we are constantly giving and receiving. We wrestle with contradictions and move ideas to their next level, only to uncover new contradictions.

“Whereas movement-building implies that we just need to organize all the masses of bricks and 2x4s into the right design towards an end-point of ‘justice,’ movement-making is about a much more ongoing, experimental, horizontal approach to transformation. It accepts that we are never “done,” but constantly in the process of making and remaking.

“To create that kind of shift in consciousness, from linear thinking to cyclical thinking, from answer-giving to question-asking, we need radical new forms of education. I’m interested in the idea of an economy that cycles through everything—from the way we learn to the way we solve problems, to the way we sustain ourselves and generate wealth. And when I say wealth, I mean it in the economic, cultural, environmental, intellectual, and spiritual sense: community in all those different ways. A healthy economy doesn’t have to start with jobs. It can start with the ingenuity of young people, and it can be fostered through a better system of education.”


Grace Lee Boggs has been an activist for more than 60 years and is the author of the autobiography Living for Change. She will celebrate her 94th birthday in June. This article first appeared in the Michigan Citizen, Feb.8-14, 2009, and is reproduced with the kind permission of the author.

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