In the TV series Game of Thrones, the saying “winter is coming” has become infamous as a potent reminder that change is on the horizon, and you must get prepared to protect yourself against what may be some long, cold, dangerous days ahead. Here in Michigan, this idea is nothing new, as many of us are familiar with the steps that we must take to mentally and physically get ready for a time of the year that can often pose serious challenges to our everyday lives and force us to think innovatively about how to surmount them. Right now, as trees shed their leaves, sunny days give way to rain and shadow, and temperatures cool is an excellent time to pause and think about the changes to come and those that are taking place. We might recognize that though we may be facing some rough days ahead, our past experiences give us wisdom and that our greatest strengths often lie within those things we approach with the most trepidation.
It is in this mood, that we here at Riverwise have spent a lot of time lately, as we ponder the ways in which the many upheavals, uprisings, and up-endings of systemic injustice we’ve witnessed over the past year and half are exposing a moment in history of transition and transformation. A moment that, if we pay attention enough to the lessons of the past, and to the work being done right now across the city and beyond, we can see as getting us ready to enter into and engage with new dimensions of humanity, social justice, and solidarity.
Our collective knowledge and strength can serve to move us towards more visionary ideals of society. By examining the responses we’ve had to old and emerging threats we believe we are witnessing an identity crisis on a societal and social scale. Over the past year, we’ve seen elected officials, greedy corporate actors, and those who wish to profit off of the pain of others, use a devastating pandemic in order to vie for more power. They have weaponized knowledge through disturbing and deadly mis-and disinformation campaigns. However, in a rejection of those systemic abuses, we’ve also watched as revolutionary, community-focused, place-based organizing has stepped up to push back against such forces. People feed their neighbors, bring water to those without, open their homes to those with nowhere to go, provide rides to the polls, care for sick friends and family, and help one another ease the burdens we are all facing in this time of collective grief. The idea of mutual aid has become once again a hot topic as many deepen their understanding of the ways in which the resources we need to survive and thrive are often available right within our own networks. As we grapple with what kind of society we want to be, what kind of people we want to be, who we want to follow as leaders, it is clear that our ideas of identity and representation are shifting.
(R)evolutionary movements are often born or reinvigorated during times of crisis…when the veil is lifted off of our eyes and we’re given a peek behind the wizard’s curtain. Across the globe, as the top 1% increased their wealth by nearly a trillion dollars, millions of people were left to sink further into poverty and to succumb to a deadly virus or the side-effects of depression, trauma and joblessness it has imposed. In addition, as our forests and communities burn, flooding becomes more and more commonplace, our water is poisoned by corporate dumping and oil spills, our atmosphere becomes more and more polluted, the majority of the world’s climate scientists have warned that if we don’t take action now we will be too late to turn back the tide on the kinds of catastrophic disasters we are already facing here in Michigan at an increasing pace. And, as shown by the willingness of the Canadian government to back Enbridge as it continues to illegally pump oil through the Straits of Mackinac, rather than the people in both the US and Canada rallying against further environmental destruction, we cannot afford to fall prey to any false sense of security emanating from systems designed around extraction and exploitation.
Around the world people are starting to recognize the truth about neo-liberal capitalist systems; they are unnecessarily harsh, abusive, environmentally disastrous, fundamentally inequitable, and will never deliver us from a reality based upon the continuation of poverty and dehumanization.. Workers of all sectors are standing up against intolerable working conditions for inhumane pay; artists, musicians, poets, activists are taking to the streets to reclaim spaces that we have been told don’t belong to us or aren’t for us anyway; water protectors are putting their bodies on the line to defend our right to water and the right of the water to be free from industrial pollution; people everywhere are speaking out against the kind of misogynistic, transphobic, racist and classist rhetoric which seeks to place blame on and shame people for being “abnormal,” actively oppressed, and not willing to take it anymore; many of us are putting serious energy into rethinking our values and priorities and what kinds of legacies we want to leave behind for future generations.
None of this is easy, and we must be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking that everyone feels as we do. Right here in Detroit, for example, with the defeat of Proposal P, a serious and painful blow to many of the organizers and community members who worked so hard to create such a beautiful piece of liberatory policy, we must acknowledge that we’ve got our work cut out for us as we fight against a system that in it’s own attempts at survival is willing to do anything to survive. But, as the visionary and active forms of resistance we highlight in this edition of Riverwise shows, change is possible, and community engagement and activism works. It will continue to take difficult conversations that we’d often wish to avoid, curious experimentation, changing our narrative frameworks from those of dependence upon the system to freedom from it, grappling with lessons from the past both in ways which recognize where things went right, and where things went wrong, and a reclamation of our true histories, not just those put upon us by those who are afraid of our collective voice and power.
So, as we think about new visions, new ideologies, new pathways forward, this edition seeks to highlight the work of those who actively seek to challenge the status quo and dogmatic norms, those who see moments of crisis as opportunities to create culture shift, and those who push us to embrace the ever-present revolutionary potential of the here and now.
The work of cover artist, Konstance Patton, who is also featured in a discussion for Riverwise Podcast 22, exposes how a simple act of reclamation of space during the pandemic has generated new pathways for collaboration; Katey Carey’s discussion of her participation in the protests against Line 3 provides a glimpse into how allyship and self-reflection is a crucial component of our continued survival; the work of Dr. Walter Rodney reminds us that movements are measured in generations and there is still much to be done to ensure a place in the world for all that is free from the toxicity of white supremacy.
As we work here at Riverwise to uplift visionary work, we agree that now is the time for all of us to dream big and dream out loud. We don’t have to have a crystallized picture of the future, we just need to know that along our way toward it we are committed to a set of principles that puts more stock in the infrastructure of people than that of profit, that sees all people as deserving of dignity and recognition, that sees community building and knowledge transfer as the real form of generational wealth, and which respects and protects the natural resources and other creatures on this planet on which depend and with whom we share this earth.
Winter may be coming, but we will get through it just fine, as we work together and keep one another warm.