Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Beloved Detroit

The cry of the poor
is clear water
that rinses off our make-up;
we can let the mask fall.
The eyes of the poor
are two mirrors,
we need not be afraid
to see ourselves there.

Julia Esquivel, "Revelation" (1993)

A week ago we gathered with pastors, teachers, grad students and activists for a meeting to organize around the upcoming United Nations hearings in Detroit (October 18-20). The UN is coming to hear testimony on the impact of the water shut-offs and we are joining these folks in the process of gathering documentation of what is actually happening in neighborhoods where a large population of homes are being subject to water shut-offs. Why are bills going unpaid? What are the conditions in homes where water has been shut-off (how do they drink, cook, shower, etc?)? This is a massive canvassing effort, with the goal of reaching 250 houses per day for the next 2 weeks.

The leader behind this push is Monica Lewis-Patrick (below), a woman with a quick smile & the speaking cadence & articulation of Dr. King. She is part veteran point guard, part preacher. We are always rather hesitant to talk about how certain folks are anointed in their leadership. But, quite frankly, Monica is. When she speaks, God shows up. She is the mother of two teen daughters and came to Detroit to work for City Councilwoman Joanne Watson. Monica ran unsuccessfully for city council last year. God willing, she'll be back at it again. She is all about conducting the struggle for justice with dignity & discipline, passionately advocating for the poor and oppressed, but always gracious towards her opponents.

On Saturday, we joined up with our friend from the neighborhood Rev. Denise Griebler (below) & the folks at We The People on the north end of Detroit. It was a bitter cold late morning, with temperatures hovering around 50 and the wind whipping like it was demon-possessed. In the two hours that we spent canvassing the impoverished block (about every other house was vacant), we only had a few conversations with residents. Every house in the city that has had water shut-off has a blue line spray painted on the sidewalk in front of the home. This stigma was apparent in the voice of the people trying to raise families & survive in a city with a 14.6% unemployment rate (it was 25% just 4 years ago).

Beloved Detroit. This is the motto of We The People, advocating for Detroiters who have "stayed and paid" over the decades. As Lewis-Patrick metaphorizes, these are truly the children of Joe Louis, bobbing and weaving and resiliently resisting the multifaceted onslaught of injustice: water, housing, land, voting rights & business practices. These heroes are making a commitment to stop saying "We may not see it in our lifetime."

Just as Jesus prophetically imagined God's Dream for the World in 1st century Palestine, the leadership of We The People firmly believes that the Future of Detroit in 21st century America will belong to the meek, the merciful, the persecuted, the pure in heart and all those who hunger & thirst for justice. Like the urban gardens we see all over the city, a harvest of justice starts with just a few small seeds.

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