Friday, March 16, 2007

my first community meeting

It says "weekly updates" in the description of my blog (yea right), anyway here's a good one from a few days ago, finally.

IF i ignore the ruthless militarism and other death machine called globalization, ever present in the outer world, on a more personal level, today was one of the good ones. There are good ones, bad ones and to be fair some that I just can't make up my mind about.

Today was particularly good because after work I walked 1 block, just 1 block, to a community meeting. Which means that it is literally my community and that's sort of a big deal for me. As a radical type I go to some meetings, as a matter of fact, I'd say often. Considering it's possible I may just live the rest of my life here, a meeting in that context could be a deal breaker. As it turns out it was just the opposite. My first community meeting felt like the most real thing in the world and made me feel like 'I belong here'.

Like I said, I go to some meetings, as do many of my good friends because those are the types of people I like to be around (actively engaging in solutions to our problems), and I've probably seen in my days some of the best, worst, hardest, most boring, baffling, infuriating and informative meetings as it gets, so coming into this one it was not so much I was prepared for the worst, but was wondering how it was going to be. Will it be organized or kinda all over the place? How long would it last? Who would be dominating the conversation? These were all thoughts I had in my short walk over. Never the less, I went in feeling relaxed, but left wholly energized.

In the beginning the facilitator spoke a lot, but before I could grow concerned she acknowledged her time on the mic, while refusing to apologize? She was making a call out to rally our community and make things happen-refuse, resist and come together. With such sincerity and passion her enthusiasm broke through walls of caution and skepticism so that I immediately wanted to work with her, no, everyone. Not unlike a skilled politician she spoke, but really it was an activist that I heard. She used her power for much needed purposes. To bring us closer together as one of the other participants said, "that's why we're here right". I suppose you could call her a natural leader.

Until recently "leader" was a word I associated with master (aka boss of me, aka fuck that), so it was seldom that I used that word in a positive manner. To be a good orator and to share convictions for sure is a healthy activity, it's just when people expect the payment of power for their ideas and voice (like in politics, religion, family or business) that is when the title "leader" comes out with contempt from my mouth. Indeed they are leading people, right into a mess. In a lost society such as ours though, one or many, who are able to light up a room with their enthusiasm is appreciated, because I am for "us" and would like to find my way out of this place together. That place is called a healthy community, not the "afterworld", as Prince calls it.

The organizers of this meeting were the pastor and the CDC that works out of the church and they were on it. There was a brief agenda passed out to all, plus snacks and time for the 12 attendees to bring up what we wanted, along with our comments and questions as to the updates on the work that the CDC has been engaged in. Even the prayer at the end was short and interesting, and I'm not one for religion period. Rather than give an "amen" I said "thanks". The whole thing lasted just over an hour, they were shooting for just 45 minutes. Impressive.

It was announced that after an amazing effort they had tracked down the current owner of a Brownfield almost directly across from the church. With two severely damaged and dangerous buildings on it, I've often dreamed of what good could be made out of them. We were told the current title holders were found in Chicago and had agreed to sign over the property so that the CDC could build a community center! Not just agreed, like sure, but that it was really in the works. Aware of what it meant to take this on, all the site cleanup and studies excitedly she asked that we be all be as involved as we would like. A community center kitty corner from the art park next to my house, I repeat, not some ugly new apartment building, or worse condo, but something I personally considered prior to this... how sweet is that.

Out of that conversation we talked in general about the quality of our soil and the possibility of a nearby former Superfund site as an area we're not really certain to be safe and something to research. One of the folks said she had collected a massive amount of primary source material and other info. from back when all this was going down and was asked to lend it to a class, but was told later that is was not to be found. Sorry, it's just disappeared. Hmm. This was all by way of an organization I'll not name right now. Anyway, I personally will be looking into soil testing done by a friend and some students at CFA 4 or 5 years ago and perhaps do more of the same, maybe with help from the Garden Resource Program. If we are going for a healthy and safe community I think it is wise for us to start with what is actually in our soil.

Another interesting conversation that was had concerned the scrappers who frequent our neighborhood and who apparently have created a smelter here. Oh great. This means the stolen aluminum, copper pipes or wire and whatever else can be had locally, has been going there where they get paid cash in hand! rather than making their way to a scrap yard across town. The person paying then can more easily transport it in a melted down form and I'm sure make more money too. I have seen fires on several occasions where they were just burning the coating off the wire, but to actually smelt it down sounds to me like someone is getting organized.

The church had been hit pretty hard this winter and cost them at least a thousand dollars not to mention it cost me a few hours of frustrating labor as I repaired a part of the school's fence the scrappers had cut through for some reason. Rather than view these folks stealing from us and in reality plaguing the city as a whole, through a single dimensional viewpoint ala "arrest em", we talked about the possibility of employing them in some of our clean up efforts and that if we want to truly deal with any issues of crime in our community that most importantly we need to be out, active and together so that it is harder for scrappers and others to come in unnoticed and feel like no one cares enough here to do anything.

We also talked about the potential for the police to both be helpful or oppressive. One woman told of a terrifying account which happened about a month ago where a black van with masked men jumped out of it while she was walking home. They questioned and searched her while their badges were turned around, a drug enforcement unit. She said "yea I am skinny and might look like I do drugs, which I do not, but it's not right for them to treat anyone this way". YEA! Immediately another woman handed her right then and there a district complaint form and our facilitator urged her to make a report because this is not something that we should stand for and we need to send that message. Also, it was mentioned on what days we could go to the local precinct meeting if we want to and that it is possible to get a top cop to attend one of our meetings too. Hell yea. A few minutes prior, we talked about how quickly they responded to an abandoned vehicle that turned up over night. It was gone in hours of making the call.

There were 12 of us and one child and nearly everyone spoke. Some of us talked afterwards outside about organic gardening, medical marijuana, chemtrails, the school farm and the suspicious nature of the fires last summer, mentioned in an early blog. I think these folks might just be down with my crazy City Repair visions for the hood along with orchards, fish ponds, jobs, community policing, festivals and being there for youth. It's sorta all too unbelievable. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Many people had lived their entire lives here, raised children and want to stay here for the kids now and make this a place they experience in a positive way. "Don't leave it, build it" is what some of us dare say about this city we love and struggle for.


At 9:11 PM , Blogger Jeanette said...

wow jhon, i'm really excited for you. let's make dsco meetings that awesome ;)

At 11:40 AM , Blogger ilana said...

the church on poplar is the best...i remember having their youth choir sing at the block party and it was the highlight of the whole day.
are u talkin bout the empty lot across the street from there where the old lightbulb factory was?
thats crazy...
u know the soil testing CFA students did was actually through Detroit Summer...initiated by Yamini...another one of my favorite memories of your block is the mothers day event they had as a part of that.
the more i think about all the memories i have of the neighborhood the more elated i get at the realization you are living there and actively participating in the community...which is already organizing and active itself.
Emily Lawsin did oral histories with ms washington (across the street from you now demolished) and some other elders about the area. Would be dope to keep building off that and amplify the sense of neighborhood pride and ownership that exists.
Cant wait to talk to you about this campaign adrienne put me on to called "rights to the city" initiated by the workers center in miami. will send u more info real soon. feel better!!!

At 8:27 PM , Anonymous wsoftheart said...

This was so wonderful to read! I'm really happy that you have found such an energizing space and group of people to work with..all in YOUR neighborhood. detroit's doing big things!

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