Detroit, the once-proud capital of industrialization is now the paragon of de-industrialization and urban decay.
“We are at a stage in human history that is as monumental as changing from a hunter/gatherer society to an agricultural society and from an agricultural society to and industrial society. Where we’re headed now will be different because we have exhausted planetary space and human space for us to continue to look at things through the Cartesian measurement of material things.” -Grace Lee Boggs, Ph.D
In other words, a new epoch is emerging that emphasizes relationships and communities more than the accumulation of things — and the counting of profits.
A trip to Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, a mere 30 minutes from downtown Detroit, illustrates how the nineteenth century Industrial Revolution grew into the twentieth century consumerist society, which was plush with inventions and conveniences that raised the living standards of middle class Americans. People could afford these products because so many of them left their farms and took higher-paying factory jobs in the cities. However, those good wages came at a price: people became mindless cogs in a giant machine, as Charlie Chaplin depicted in the film, “Modern Times.”
Industrialization was a far cry from the first American Revolution of 1776, which was about people giving of themselves for the larger community. That sentiment yielded to a European colonial mentality that justified taking natural resources from Africa, Asia and Latin America in order to manufacture products and sell them at huge profits.
“We need to face the way we used the world for our gains, pleasures, satisfactions. This is the way we evolve to a higher stage of humanity. And unless we want to live in terror for the rest of our lives, we need to change our view about acquiring things.”
The industrial society also skirted social justice concerns by focusing on jobs and paychecks as a means of keeping the economy going and the people happy. It didn’t face the fact that the workers were demeaned and deskilled or that some of the products they made (like military equipment) or some of the processes they used (which involved dangerous chemicals) could be harmful.
Actually, people have only had “jobs” for the past 100 years. These jobs had nothing to do with being productive, making products essential for living or deriving personal growth or the enjoyment of life. Jobs led people to believe that anything they did for pay was good — no matter how destructive it was to the person, the community or the environment.
Now, in the twenty-first century after hundreds of thousands of jobs have been moved offshore and collapsed many local economies, Grace believes that the way has been cleared for the next American revolution, especially since a number of other factors make the need for change both obvious and necessary:
* Occupation of Iraq
* Environmental degradation, species extinction and global warming
* Polarization of the rich and poor in the United States and in the global North and South
* Economic instability with trillions of dollars of debt, housing foreclosures and the loss of local small
businesses and farms
The turning point occurred in 1999 when protesters’ demonstrations effectively closed the World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting held in Seattle. A worldwide movement was kicked off to challenge the rapacious global economy that was shifting the labor market to the lowest bidder in a kind of race to the bottom.
“We usually think of revolution as violence, However, revolution is more about envisioning what is possible when it appears that things are changing.” She believes that Detroit, in particular, is fertile ground for this next revolution because it is such a devastated city.
Detroit has 70,000 vacant lots where neighborhoods and commercial properties once stood. And although the city looks like it has been bombed, Grace sees a silver lining: the city no longer has to adhere to the usual capitalist mantra of growth and expansion because it is absolutely clear that the industrial system is finished. This fact allows citizens to respond by starting something new all over again.
This revolution urges citizens not to stand around and wait for leaders to initiate needed changes. Instead, individuals are learning that they can enlist others to help them rebuild their communities. Interestingly, it’s the young who are especially stepping up to this challenge through local service programs, college projects, and the creation of small businesses and organizations.
“What we’re witnessing is a national government that is incapable of solving the questions of our society and our world because politicians are so subject to lobbyists and corporations that fund their campaigns, that they can’t do what needs to be done. We have the opportunity to take a great leap forward in these very challenging times, We need to change our institutions and ourselves. We need to seize opportunities. We need to launch our imaginations beyond the thinking of the past. We need to discern who we are and expand on our humanness and sacredness. That’s how we change the world, which happens because WE will be the change.”
-Olga Bonfiglio, (Excerpt: "You Say You Want a Revolution?," CommonDreams.Org, 7.20.2008 Image: -Constitutional Convention: United States Constitution, Government begins operations under document on 3.4.1789).