“We will fight, and we will win!”
– Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), July 18, 2014
Fighting the tyranny of an oligarchy that withholds the existential needs of its people in an effort to subjugate them is the act of a rebel. Fighting for the change that leaves the members of a society empowered and self determined is the act of a revolutionary. Both rebel and revolutionary are heroically selfless in their sacrifice, but it is the revolutionary who makes it possible for the changes sought by the rebel to become an unshakeable part of the social psyche.
The need to create change, to keep trying to get this experiment that is the United States right, is an essential part of being an American. “Stamped into the DNA of every American citizen, is a healthy skepticism for orthodoxy,” Vice President Joe Biden told the annual gathering of progressive activists and bloggers, Netroots Nation, in Detroit, Thursday, as he related the story of a conversation he had with Malaysian leader Lee Kwan Yew about what makes our country so resilient. We are not only willing to change; we are constantly finding new ways to affect change, so we can grow.
After all, our Constitution was laid out “in order to form a more perfect union,” which means, to me, that we will never have the “perfect” union, just one we will always be striving to make better.
Detroit is an appropriate town for the vice president to continue the conversation for change because it’s a city where hope is what people scratch and claw for, and have for a century. Detroit, you see, is a city of fighters. It’s the birthplace of the American labor movement, and also the city of heavyweight champion, Joe Louis, fiery civil rights activist, Malcolm X, and socio-political philosopher and activist, Grace Lee Boggs.
Boggs showed up at Netroots early Thursday, for a screening of the documentary about her life, American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs. At 98 years old, she is still an ideas driven firebrand, committed to a cultural shift. “We are on the verge of a change as big as when humans stopped being hunter/gatherers and moved to agriculture,” she told those gathered to watch the movie. “We are moving into a post industrial epoch.”
Joe Biden agrees. “We are at an inflection point, where things change in a significant way,” he said. “We are at an inflection point of national and world history.”
This is a time when we can control the direction of human destiny, if only for a little bit of time. This is what a life is for. This is our purpose, and, as Americans, Biden said, “We hold the wheel,” adding “This is one of those moments, the few times in our history, that people can bend history just a little bit.”
What this is, if Biden and Boggs are to be believed, is a rare opportunity for self-determination to control our own evolution. That has been Grace Lee Boggs’ philosophy for decades – before you have revolution, you must have evolution.
In her book, The Next American Revolution, Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century, she wrote:
“All over the world, local groups are struggling, as we are in Detroit, to keep our communities, our environment and our humanity from being destroyed by corporate globalization…
“[Those who are part of this movement] are joined at the heart by their commitment to achieving social justice, establishing new forms of democratic governance, and creating new ways of living at the local level that will reconnect us with the Earth, and with one another…
“Millions of people in the United States are part of this organically evolving cultural revolution.”
For Boggs, the greatness of her city is not the unlikely reassertion of the automotive industry that built it. That’s gone, she said, and therein lies the possibility of something great and new. “A place where justice and fairness reign supreme,” is how one of the Netroots participants, Diane Matsumoto, a Detroit native who now lives in North Carolina, put it.
Matsumoto sees the squeeze Governor Snyder’s emergency manager is putting on the town’s citizens, particularly regarding the inhumane withholding of water in the summertime, as creating a space where activism creates opportunity, which creates more activism. “The roots of Detroit is getting its legs back,” she said, “and maybe it takes us all being taken to our knees to remember where we came from.”
She said having awareness raised about the issues in Detroit will, like a car coming off the assembly line, roll out to the rest of the country. The city is, she said, “the canary in the coal mine” of the American middle class, and while she was heartened by the attention the Netroots crowd was bringing to the water issue, she said it’s only the beginning. “It doesn’t matter if there’s more of us [than there are of them], if we sit our ass on the couch eating bonbons. Now is the time,” she said, “we join the fight.”
Maybe this time, the cultural evolution we seek will finally lead to a permanent, stable and sustainable revolution.