A number of people have answered my simple question. How far could you travel when you were a kid?I decided to actually answer this question myself by way of google maps. By walking/bike riding? The farthest I went unsupervised was about 7 miles on foot. And from the comments it sounds like I’m on the short end. Taking the subway from Harlem to Brooklyn (or was it vice-versa) is a lot more than seven miles (though it isn’t on foot).What we lose from this is not only autonomy (and audacity to quote from Craig Nulan), but also a sense of community. Checking out an interview with Grace Lee Boggs on Bill Moyers, as well as reading Keith Owens’ post about the lack of grocery stores in Detroit, helped to crystallize this for me.Keith (responding to the idea that Detroiters need to take the lack of grocery stores as an opportunity to rely on food co-ops and on community gardens):
As for the suggestion that we all get back to the earth and learn to grow our own, I’m afraid that is a ridiculous approach with an absolute ZERO chance of success when it comes to meeting the needs of the masses. And by the way, what are we supposed to do for things like meat? Last timeI checked it wasn’t legal to keep cattle in your backyard, and you damned sure can’t slaughter chickens on your front porch. And don’t even come at me with the vegetarian thing ‘ cause I am not among them and doubt I ever will be. Or is this considered a sacrifice that we lemmings should be happy and willing to make for the sake of ‘independence’?Look, to quote an old R&B song, sometimes I “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.” Yeah. I said it. Because we need more stores in this city. Large stores. Chain stores. Stock full with lots and lots of stuff that regular people like me like to buy at one time under one roof. Conveniently. We need these stores to meet the needs of the people who are here, and we need them for the folks we are trying to convince to move here and stay longer than a season before they get tired of driving to the next county in search of REAL STORES.I know times are tough in my beloved city. Honest. I live here, so how could I not know this? But this insane attitude voiced by some that it is better to live like a small war-torn nation so long as we’re not getting any help from anyone, than to live like normal folks with normal amenities, has got to be burned at the stake. Hell, give me the gasoline and I’ll light the fire myself.
Grace (interviewed by Bill Moyers):
GRACE LEE BOGGS: And I see this as part of a pilgrimage which human beings have been embarked on for thousands and tens of thousands of years. It’s– it’s too– you know, people think of evolution mainly in terms of anatomical changes. I think that we have to think of evolution in terms of– very elemental human changes. and so, we’re evolving both through our knowledge and through our experiences to another a stage of human– humankind. So, revolution and evolution are no longer so separate.BILL MOYERS: But the economic system doesn’t reflect this evolution. As– as you just described it, outsourcing of jobs, the flight of capital, the power of capital over workers. All of that has– the system isn’t catching up this.GRACE LEE BOGGS: Well– just– don’t expect the system to catch up, the system is part of the system! (LAUGHTER) What– what I think is that, not since the 30s have American– have the American people, the ordinary Americans faced such uncertainty with regard to the economic system. In the 30s, what we did, was we confronted management and were able, thereby to– gain many advantages, particularly to gain a respect for the dignity of labor. That’s no longer possible today, because of the ability of corporations to fly all over the place and begin setting up– all this outsourcing. So, we’re gonna have – people are finding other ways to regain control over the way they make their living.BILL MOYERS: You know, a lot of young people out there would agree with your analysis. With your diagnosis. And then they will say; What can I do that’s practical? How do I make the difference that Grace Lee Boggs is taking about. What would you be doing?GRACE LEE BOGGS: I would say do something local. Do something real, however, small. And don’t– don’t diss the political things, but understand their limitations.BILL MOYERS: Don’t ‘diss’ them?GRACE LEE BOGGS: Disrespect them.BILL MOYERS: Disrespect them?GRACE LEE BOGGS: Understand their limitations. Politics– there– there was a time when we believed that if we just achieved political power it would solve all our problems. And I think what we learned from experiences of the Russian Revolution, all those revolutions, that those who become– who to get power in the state, become part of the state. They become locked in to the practices. And we have to begin creating new practices.
How do these ideas relate? Now if the Bureau of Justice stats aren’t too far out of whack violent crime rates have actually decreased. (They ARE out of whack…but bear with me.) But fear of crime has. This fear is driven by a combination of media narratives (both non-black and black, both in the popular media and in the news), increases in technology (increased use of cell phones and other surveillance tech, increase in videogames), and decreases in public space (decreased use of public greenspace and public porches, increased reliance on YMCA’s and private clubs). It’s also driven by an increase in mega-shops (walmart as opposed to local hardware stores, grocery chains as opposed to mom and pop stores, borders as opposed to independent book stores).Boggs doesn’t talk about Farmer Jacks at all in her video. But she hits the nail on the head when she talks about local work. I’d like to suggest that local work represents one of the ways we can begin to bring our perceptions more in tune with reality.Keith is right in his call for more grocery stores…if other cities with upwards of 900,000 folks have them, then Detroit damn sure should. But at some point in order to rebuild our sense of community, and in order to begin to think about new ways of living, it seems to me that we should be thinking about new ways to get people to participate in growing our own food. Community gardens have all types of benefits…and generating them would likely get us to realize that the spaces we live in aren’t as unsafe as we think they are. They’d also help us move back to the type of local activism that has proven to be most fruitful for us (no pun intended). Not to mention the health and political benefits. Detroit’s land mass was designed to deal with 2 million people.It now deals with half of that.Should all that empty space be put to good use?