Saturday, November 5, 2011

An open letter to Occupy Detroit

Here is an open letter to Occupy Detroit published in People of Color Organize! From Occupy Detroit: Moving Beyond Capitalism
To the first General Assembly of Occupy Detroit,

We are inspired by the actions of Occupy Wall Street and the opportunity it has given so many people to stand up and get involved in shaping the fate of this country.

We are inspired by the protocol of consensus decision-making and inclusivity being used on Wall Street, where anyone who shows up is asked: “what can you contribute to this movement?” In return, participants are supported to bring their best selves to the work of creating a new world. We propose that Detroit embrace that same protocol.

In the spirit of bringing our best selves to this process, we offer this background knowledge, which anyone attempting to organize in Detroit must first understand before taking any action that aims to speak for Detroit. We all have a lot to learn from each other. Nothing said here should be taken as a claim to “know more” or “better” than anyone else. As just mentioned it’s about all of us bringing our best selves to this historic uprising, and doing it creatively, nonviolently and together.

Detroit is a Movement City. Detroiters have been organizing resistance to corporate greed and violence for nearly a century, from the birth of the labor movement here in the 1920s to the radical black workers movements of the ’60s to the current poor people campaigns against utility shutoffs that allow dozens of people to die each year. We have organized resistance to racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, ableism, and the criminalization of youth, to the systematic destruction of the environment in poor communities of color, to the dehumanization of people with disabilities, and so many other injustices — as they manifest in our daily lives and are reflected in practices that dictate access and distribution of resources, as well as policies at the local, state and national levels.

Detroit is moving beyond just protest. Because we have survived the most thorough disinvestment of capital than any major U.S. city has ever seen; because we have survived “white flight” and “middle class flight,” state-takeovers, corruption and the dismantling of our public institutions; because the people who remained in Detroit are resilient and ingenious, Detroiters have redefined what “revolution” looks like.

Detroit is modeling life AFTER capitalism. In Detroit, “revolution” means “putting the neighbor back in the hood” through direct actions that restore community. It means maintaining public welfare programs for residents who are without income which protect said low income families from facing utility shut offs and homelessness. It means outlawing poverty in any form since the resources to prevent such a condition remain abundantly available to this State. It means Peace Zones for Life that help us solve conflict in our neighborhoods without the use of police, reducing opportunities for police violence. It means food justice and digital justice networks across the city supporting self-determination and community empowerment. It means youth leadership programs and paradigm-shifting education models that transform the stale debate between charter schools and public schools. It means “eviction reversals” that put people back in their homes and community safety networks that prevent people being snatched up by border patrol. It means artists who facilitate processes of community visioning and transformation, and organizers who approach social change as a work of art. In Detroit, the meaning of “revolution” continues to evolve and grow.

Detroit will not be “occupied” in the same sense as Wall Street: The language of “occupation” makes sense for the occupation of the privately-owned Zuccotti Park on Wall Street. But this language of “occupation” will not inspire participation in Detroit and does not make sense for Detroit. From the original theft of Detroit’s land by French settlers from Indigenous nations, to the connotations of “occupation” for Detroit’s Arab communities, to the current gentrification of Detroit neighborhoods and its related violence — “Occupation” is not what we need more of. We will however participate in creating anew out of what remains in Detroit today.

Detroit’s participation in the “Occupy Together” actions must grow out of Detroit’s own rich soil. It cannot be transplanted from another city’s context. We recognize that “Occupy Detroit” has attracted the participation of people from across the state of Michigan. This is a good thing, IF people take the time to understand the unique history and current work of Detroit’s social movements, this letter aims to be a starting point in that process. The reimagined work of activists is to confront and take down systems of oppressive power, on the one hand, while building a new and just world on the other. Let’s do it. Together. Now.
The two paragraphs I italicized are the ones most germane to the theme of this blog. When I say great things are going to happen here, I mean that they will be the results of those particular struggles.

Hat/tip to Unusualmusic on Dreamwidth.


  1. From my “It's Too Soon To Tell” post [] regarding Sixties nostalgia and skepticism vis-a-vis The Occupy Movement: "Back then everything seemed to be coming apart. Viet Nam. Urban riots every summer. The Manson Family. So many were certain the Revolution was almost here. But what we got instead was Richard Nixon and Disco. And I have to say that in retrospect, they both look pretty damned good at this point."

  2. Spelling out the differences between #OccupyWallSt and #OccupyDetroit. This is a very good comparison looking at how these two Occupy movements while motivated by the unrest of the 99% may have different end-goals.