This post was co-written with Jenny Lee
Dear 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 inclusion being used on Wall Street, where anyone who shows up is asked: "What can you contribute to this movement?" and they 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.
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 current poor peoples's campaigns against utility shutoffs that kill dozens of people each year. We have organized resistance to racism, sexism, homophobia, 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 policy, and in our everyday lives.
Detroit has moved beyond protest. Because we have survived the most thorough divestment of capital that 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 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 that 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." The language of "occupation" makes sense in the context of Wall Street, but it will not inspire participation in Detroit. From the original theft of Detroit's land by French settlers from indigenous nations, to the connotations of "occupation" for Detroit's Arab American communities, to the current gentrification of Detroit neighborhoods and its related violence -- "Occupation" is not what we need more of.
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.