Grace Lee Boggs, who passed on October 5, 2015 at 100 years old, was a mentor and inspiration to many of us at Allied Media Projects. We join our wider community at this time in mourning her loss, sharing memories, and celebrating Grace’s extraordinary legacy.
Grace's ideas and the community that she nurtured have profoundly shaped the Allied Media Conference and the work of AMP as a whole. Grace taught us commitment to place and respect for the long arc of history and evolution. She instilled love and intellectual rigor as values of community-building. She issued a call for a kind of revolutionary change that requires self-transformation alongside system-transformation. She saw the purpose of our work as nothing short of "making the world anew" – not through the fulfillment of a singular vision, but rather through a continuous process of love and struggle. Grace's life had a gravitational pull that changed everyone it touched and we are grateful to have been drawn into her orbit.
Because of her influence, Grace has been an honorary AMP board member since the Allied Media Conference’s move to Detroit in 2007.
On the last day of the 2008 Allied Media Conference, the second AMC held in Detroit, we invited Grace to share closing remarks after having attended the three-day conference. Her speech at the close of AMC2008 is transcribed below.
Closing Remarks for AMC2008 by Grace Lee Boggs
Detroit - June 22, 2008
Thanks for a wonderful conference. It’s been even more inspiring than last year’s. I feel blessed that, even though I’m hard of hearing and not very mobile, I still have enough of what I call my “marbles” to participate and to make these closing remarks.
This has been an incredible week for me. Last Sunday we had a party to celebrate Invincible’s new album and my 93rd birthday. The party was held in the Hope District a few blocks from the Boggs Center. I hope that those of you who go on the tours being given this afternoon will visit the Hope district. It will give you a sense of why we call Detroit a “City of Hope”.
I also hope you’ll take home with you and read this Hope District Broadsheet which the Boggs Center distributed at the Left Forum in March. It will give you an idea of why these Allied Media Conferences held in Detroit are so fabulous. Detroiters, as I point out in this article, are out of necessity pointing the direction for 21st century cities.
I spent the few days between last week’s party and the AMC conference writing a new introduction to Revolution and Evolution in the 20th Century, the book by my late husband, Jimmy Boggs and myself which Monthly Review published in 1974 and is republishing this year as Revolution and Evolution in the 21st century. This is the jacket of the 1974 edition.
We wrote the book after our intense involvement in the Black Power movement of the 60s because we realized when black youth rose up in rebellions in cities all over the country before and after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, their attraction to the Black Panther Party was logical. They thought that the revolution had come and they wanted to be a part of it. So, as revolutionists with a long history both as activists and theoreticians in the movement, Jimmy and I felt a responsibility to point out the limitations of these uprisings and to explain why they were rebellions and not a revolution.
A rebellion is important, we said, because it throws into question the legitimacy and supposed permanence of existing institutions. A revolution, however, requires that a people go beyond struggling against oppressive institutions and make a evolutionary/revolutionary leap towards becoming more self-conscious, more self-critical, more socially responsible human beings. In order to transform the world, we/they must transform our/themselves.
Thus, unlike rebellions, which erupt spontaneously and usually last only a few days, revolutions require a patient and protracted process of two-sided transformational struggles. Going beyond rejections to projections, they bring onto the historical stage human beings who are practicing new, more socially responsible and loving relationships to one another and to the earth.
In the rebellions of the 1960s there was a lot of very righteous and understandable anger because in the 1960s we defined ourselves by our oppression, not by the power that we have within us to create new loving relationships.
The movements of the 60s were led mostly by men coming out of a patriarchal culture. So there was a lot of top-down vertical leadership. At most of our meetings, conferences and demonstrations, charismatic males made fiery speeches that made bitter and angry masses angrier and more bitter. The focus was on replacing white power with black power. There was a lot of competition for leadership, a lot of militarism.
In the 1960s the model for revolution came from the lives of men outside the home. There was none of the love and caring that is an organic part of the everyday lives of women, none of the appreciation of diversity that goes into the raising of a family. For example, when women like Elaine Brown became leaders in those days, it was because they were as tough as men. Ella Baker was the exception.
Our meetings were mostly mass meetings to agitate and mobilize faceless masses. There was none of the respectful listening to everyone, no breaking up into small groups so that everyone can participate and contribute, none of the laughter that has made this conference such a joy. Our meetings and our demonstrations lacked the sense that I have gotten this weekend, that our souls and the souls of those we worked with are growing, that in our relationships and in our community organizing, we are patiently building a spiritual framework for our everyday lives. Today we are not agitating or mobilizing faceless masses but organizing a community base of caring individuals transforming ourselves and becoming the change that we want to see in the world.
I was especially moved by the video of the Sista II Sista program that was shown during Friday night’s opening ceremony. These are people in a community, living together like family, taking care of children and of elders, dealing with each other and with conflict in new ways, not out of anger at injustice but from love for one another and for our communities. Not building power over others but empowering one another.
I believe that you have arrived at these practices mainly because so many of your activists these days are female and queer.
In Detroit those of us who were in the movements of the 60s arrived at these new practices mainly through our evaluation of the movements of the 1960s; from struggle with the blacks who came to political power after the massive rebellions; from our involvement in the women’s movement; and from our involvement with the young people of the Detroit Summer Collective who have played a big role in organizing this conference.
I am not dissing or dismissing the black movements and anti-war movements of the 60s. Without them none of us would be where we are today. The women’s movement, the chicano, the Asian American and Native American movements, the gay and lesbian movements were all inspired by both the achievements and the limitations of the 60s. We have all evolved out of their limitations and their contradictions. That is how each generation develops dialectically from the one that preceded it.
I have learned a lot and am very impressed with the imaginative uses that your generation is making of the new informational technology to build the movement.
Friday night Lottie Spady told the story of how her group, In Our Own Backyard, is using a Second Life program to help a Detroit community explore how it would like to re-create itself. I have heard that this software is also being used in fourth grade classes to involve children in imagining how to rebuild their communities.
I was also very moved by Ricardo Dominquez’ story of how his group was unwilling to accept that people from Mexico and Central America, struggling to feed themselves and their families in a world where jobs have been eliminated by transnational corporations, are dying by the hundreds as they cross the U.S./Mexico border because they are not able to tell in which direction they need to go to reach their destination safely or where they can find water. So Electronic Disturbance Theatre is assisting them with cell phones and geospatial information systems, for example, GPS (Global Positioning System), which provide them with a virtual geography to mark new trails and potentially safer routes across the desert of the real.
I was especially impressed with the transparency with which the group is engaging in these life-saving activities; how they view themselves as acting in the evolutionary humanist tradition of Thoreau, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, the abolitionists and the underground railroad. So they act openly rather than furtively and have thus won the respect and even the support of the Mexican and U.S. embassies.
That, I believe, is the way we need to view our role as American revolutionaries. We are creating a revolutionary alternative to the counter-revolutionary and inhuman policies of the U.S. government, but we are not subversives. We are making the leap forward in the precious human qualities of social responsibility and creativity that is now necessary and possible in the evolution of the human species. We are creating the kind of global citizenship Martin Luther King Jr. said every nation needs to create in order to preserve the best in its traditions. We are struggling to change this country because we love it.
Two weeks ago the National Conference on Media Reform, which every year brings together thousands of big name journalists like Dan Rather and Bill Moyers, took place in Minneapolis. I have a lot of respect for Bill Moyers and I am glad that he is exposing the deceit and disinformation of the mainstream media and the demise of democracy in this country. At the Minneapolis conference he made a passionate call for journalists to come together and organize to struggle against the media conglomerates. But I think he and his fellow journalists and our country would gain a lot by attending a conference like this where the participants are too busy creating and celebrating the new to spend time struggling against the dinosaurs of the past.
I was one of the major organizers and Jimmy was the chairman of the Grassroots Leadership Conference in 1963 at which Malcolm made his famous speech. Malcolm was a beautiful man and he made a remarkable speech. But compared to this weekend’s gathering and organizers, we were Neanderthals and you are all Jenny Lees and Adrienne Browns and Paula Rojas.