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Grace Lee Boggs, "The Worst and Best of Times"

"The Worst and Best of Times" Grace Lee Boggs, The Michigan Citizen

My first column with this title appeared in the December 31-January 6, 2007 issue of the Citizen. We were living in the worst of times, I wrote, because of the Iraq war, the planetary emergency, the growing gulf between rich and poor, corporate takeover of the media, and a president who was acting like a king and losing all connection with reality.

But it was also the best of times, I said, because Americans were beginning to create new forms of community-based economic institutions that are less vulnerable to globalization, like coops and ESOPs (employee stock ownership enterprises). Local and state governments were assuming the responsibility, abdicated by the federal government, to reduce global warming. The urban gardening movement was growing by leaps and bounds.

Also, in the 1999 “Battle of Seattle,” tens of thousands of individuals and groups, representing very diverse sections of society, had closed down the WTO. Since then hundreds of thousands of individuals and groups from around the world had gathered at World Social Forums to proclaim that “Another World is possible.”

In the process of convening these global demonstrations and gatherings and in these local initiatives, I said, a new form of Democracy was being created which was much more participatory, cooperative, consensual, more rooted in community and more horizontal than the representative democracies that were struggled for and achieved within 19th and 20th century nation-states.

What I wrote then was all very general and seemed remote, except for the urban gardening movement, that was 19 months ago.

Now, the worst has gotten much worse and like high gas prices, this much worse is very close to home.

Now, it is floods in Midwest states like Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Michigan, Wisconsin.

Now, it is the U.S. economy melting down. Car sales are plummeting. Factories are closing, layoffs are increasing. Chrysler has stopped leasing. GM has unilaterally eliminated health insurance for its salaried retirees. On Wall Street there’s talk of GM, the symbol of this country’s industrial might, going bankrupt.

The value of the U.S. dollar has sunk so low that foreign companies are buying up American ones (like Anheuser-Busch) at bargain prices.

Every time we spend our hard-earned pay or dwindling savings to buy something, we’re using money we borrowed from China to buy goods that we should be producing here at home.

All across the country, on block after block, homes sit empty, boarded up, stripped bare. Modest neighborhoods like Ohio’s Slivac Village , where low-income Americans took pride in their little detached houses, now resemble Detroit after decades of de-industrialization.

Their former owners, if they’re lucky, are being put up by relatives. But millions have ended up in homeless shelters, fathers in one, mothers in another and the children going to school only episodically. What should we be doing?

Should we rely upon the government to rescue us when we know very well that it is mainly concerned about lenders like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac who are so big that they cannot be allowed to fail. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the new housing bill will help only 260,000 renegotiate mortgages and hang on to their homes. That is only five percent of the 2.5 million to 3 million expecting foreclosure in 2008 and 2009. The other 95% are out of luck.

Or can we begin to rely more on ourselves and on one another? Why can’t more of us grow our own food? Why can’t we come together in community centers (e.g. schools or churches) to create ways and means, like skill banks, to exchange goods and services?

Einstein said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. When will we begin considering basic, fundamental changes?

Maybe the time has come for us to stop pursuing the old American Dream of each family achieving home ownership and a higher standard of living on its own and start creating a new American Dream of communities in which we depend more on each other.

That could turn the worst of times into the best of times.