Fidel & The Cuban Revolution: A Black Perspective

By Baba Charles Simmons

Cuban Premier Fidel Castro Ruz, who joined the ancestors on November 25, 2016, stands on the shoulders of centuries of great revolutionary leaders and people’s movements for justice and dignity throughout our American hemisphere since the time of Columbus. A lawyer by training, Fidel spent his adult life in the fight to break the chains of U.S. and Western colonialism for millions of embattled families whose only crime was that they dared to dream of a better world.

Whenever he spoke with his fiery tongue, jabbing his finger toward the heavens, his words were of justice and dignity for everyone: a home for a healthy family, food and medicine. Fidel, as he was called by comrades and citizens, called on the spirits of our heroic ancestors such as the great Black Cuban general, Antonio Maceo, whose entire family gave their lives in the wars against Spanish rape and pillage. In a moment of historic oppression, Antonio’s parents called their sons and daughters together and they all promised in prayer to serve the cause of justice with their last drop of blood. All the sons would die in battle, as the daughters led the nurses in healing the wounded. His mother commanded healers and warriors in the jungle hospitals deep in the Sierra Maestras. On horseback, that defiant Antonio would lead poor farmers and escaped slaves into battle with only a few rifles and bullets and an assortment of machetes. On their journey through jungles and swamps full of alligators and cougars, across the Sierra Maestras, they marched daily, with a meal and a nap now and then, in search of liberty for the little people. Antonio suffered over 20 gunshot wounds during the course of two wars, but in each instance he kept fighting.

As he demanded free education for all Cubans, Fidel would summon the spirit and memory of Jose Marti, the humble philosopher and poet.  Marti crossed the continent in the footsteps of the Liberator, Simon Bolivar, who rescued entire nations from the clutches of the Spanish Empire, which had trampled the poor into the dust with the cross and sword. In Santiago, Fidel called for volunteers to educate the illiterate and exploited rural masses who were the majority of the population. A quarter of a million Cubans answered the call, half of them youth. In several years the country was transformed from illiteracy.  There were thousands of proud, avid readers, as well as a new and positive relationship between Cubans in urban and rural communities.

In earlier times, we would know the spirit of Fidel as Harriett Tubman, Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey, or John Brown, and the leaders of thousands of slave revolts by our captive ancestors. We find that indomitable spirit in our heroic Native American warriors, Sitting Bull and Tecumseh.  In Haiti, the spirit was strong in Toussaint, who led the enslaved Blacks –with machetes and a few muskets — to smash the Napoleon’s armies. The warrior spirit was also expressed by the maroons of the forests and mountains throughout the Americas.  

Fidel’s contemporaries to the North were the great freedom fighters in the United States.  He knew many of them well, from Harlem to Havana: Malcolm X, the Robert and Mable Williams family, Assata Shakur, the Black Panthers, the Young Lords and the League of Revolutionary Black Workers.

Throughout the Americas – Guatemala, Grenada, Puerto Rico, ancestral spirits led the way.  In Nicaragua, it was Sandino, and in Mexico, the revolutionaries, Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata.  In the 1970s, the Comandante sent tens of thousands of troops with heavy artillery and fighter planes, teachers and doctors, to tackle the racist white settler governments and wrestle victory on the side of the African liberation fighters of Angola, South Africa, Rhodesia, Namibia. The giant, rich imperialists trembled at the sound of African drums and warriors returning home after centuries of captivity. On each continent the goal was the same: equality and dignity for our indigenous, our enslaved, our women and our children.

To call the names of these giants, sons and daughters of truth, who fought for the poor and oppressed, it is not enough to read false corporate news on dead trees or witness the march of live propaganda on the Internet. One must stand upon the highest peak of the Sierra Maestras, or soar with eagles across the ferocious sun. As Marti would ask about the urgency of liberty: “Why live if one cannot move across the Earth like a comet moves across the heavens?

Fidel, a rugged son of Cuba, was known as “the Horse” because he worked so hard and for such long hours. Comandante Fidel could be seen surrounded by villagers on the ground fixing a refrigerator, or cutting tall sugar cane with his machete. On the other side of the island, he might be found talking to college students or factory workers. In the mountains, he was blazing paths for new homes and collective farms for peasants. He made mistakes for sure – and he announced his mistakes and those of his government for all to hear during the July 26 commemorations. On one of those occasions, a farmer argued with Comandante Fidel that the project involving importing cows to improve the quality of the local herd had not been successful. Fidel stopped his speech, turned to the farmer, conversed with him until the problem was understood and an alternative plan was conceived.  Then he returned to the audience and his speech — until there was another interruption.  

The U.S. government attack on the people of Cuba has continued since the War of 1898, in which the U.S. seized from Spain the colonies of Cuba, the Philippines and Puerto Rico. By its own admission, the CIA hired pilots to drop poison on Cuban crops, attempted to assassinate Fidel over 600 times, blew up bridges and infrastructure, burned sugar cane fields, bombed harbors, interrupted communication signals and pushed their own U.S. propaganda. The CIA recruited other Cubans, mostly White, to a privileged lifestyle in Florida, with special immigration status, in exchange for participating in the ongoing plot to overthrow the revolutionary government and re-establish U.S. colonialism. And most important, Washington established a military-economic blockade against the socialist island, whose main income has been sugar cane and tourism. Other nations were prohibited from trading with Cuba or they would be punished by “Massa in the White House.”  Spare parts for vehicles and machinery, new equipment and commercial and consumer goods were banned. Medicine, medical equipment, and even baby’s milk were banned.  U.S. tourists, journalists, scholars, and families were prohibited from travel without State Department permission. This blockade of 54 years has contributed to the overall stagnation of the Cuban economy, prevented the country from industrializing, and prevented it from becoming the best that it can be among agricultural nations. However, these crucial facts are seldom mentioned in context or depth by the U.S. government or corporate media when reporting on Cuba or its leaders. The lies of U.S. government and the media have persisted since Cuba won independence in 1959 and continue to this day.

In spite of all of Washington’s criminal assaults, the Cuban people continue to outsmart the gentlemen of Wall Street and the State Department. Even after the crash of the USSR, which was a major trading partner until 1989, the Cubans continue to lead the world in health care and education. Cuba has responded with overwhelming generosity to offer medical service in many of the world’s health crises in Africa, Asia and South America. Cuban doctors, mostly women, will be found in the most remote places on Earth, the most distant jungle, desert or mountain, where many doctors of the host nation will not go. The Cuban government sponsors a full scholarship program for people of color in the U.S. to study medicine and language in Cuba with the stipulation that they return to the U.S. upon graduation and serve poor communities. When we suffered the ravages of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, there were 1500 Cuban medics sitting in the airport in Cuba, fully packed, ready to come to New Orleans, but the U.S. President would not allow them to come here because Cubans are “communists.” The Cubans also offered to assist first responders in New York following the bombing on 9/11, but were rebuffed by the U.S. President.

In the many places where Cuban military barracks stood before the revolution, there are now residences for scholarship youth from the remote rural areas of the country. An entire Island, the Isle of Pines, formerly a prison during the time of the U.S.-backed dictator, Batista, is now called the Isle of Youth, focused on education and development for the population.

Immediately after the revolution of 1959, most of the medical professionals fled the island, leaving the new government to start from the beginning. Today, instead of catering exclusively to the rich, most Cuban medical schools are filled with the sons and daughters of workers, trade unionists, sugar cane and hog farmers, soldiers, sailors and teachers, most of whom had only minimal access to any type of medical treatment prior to the revolution.

Despite the Herculean efforts of the most powerful imperialist nation in the world to undermine the Cuban revolution, from this tiny island in the Caribbean, the spirit of Fidel continues to inspire current and future movements to build new men and new women for a better world. The Cuban revolution’s support for peoples’ liberation throughout the Americas, and its boots-on-the-ground solidarity with Mother Africa in the long battles against apartheid and colonialism, continue to be heralded wherever there are defiant whispers or bold shouts for justice.


Prof. Charles E. Simmons is Co-Director with his wife, Rev. Sandra Simmons, at the Hush House Black Community Museum and Leadership Training Institute for Human Rights and the Simmons Center for Peace and Justice Studies.  His book, Detroit Black Youth Confront the Cuban Revolution, will be published in Spring 2017. 

Sacred Sites: Remembering the 1967 Rebellion

Sites chosen by Jamon Jordan

Photos by Piper Carter

Commentary by Peggy Gwi-Seok Hong


Each of these locations bears the marks of the Rebellion. In some cases, all historic identifiers have been permanently erased, and without the sharing of stories, will be forgotten. In a few cases, you can still see and feel what it was like in ’67. Consider visiting each site, to honor the stories and lives that were shaped there, or lost.


Shrine of the Black Madonna

7625 Linwood Avenue

Black Arts Convention, June 29- July 2, 1967


Black Power leaders gather in Detroit a few weeks before the uprising at the church on 12th and Linwood, the heart of the conflict to come. Earlier that year, at Easter, the stained glass window of the pilgrims at Plymouth Rock had been replaced with Glanton Dowdell’s painting, “Black Madonna and Child.” Reverend Albert Cleage would, in 1970, change his name to Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman (Swahili for “Liberator of the People”).


dip your fingers into the black soil

of the church gardens.

touch your fingers to your forehead, your heart

and each shoulder.

vow to stay in the struggle.

ask the earth to hold you,

ask the sky to protect you,

ask the wind to cleanse you.






1756 Euclid Avenue

July 26, 1967, 12:30 a.m.


On the second floor, a man lights a cigarette. Sergeant Mortimer LeBlanc in the National Guard tank stationed in front of the apartment building mistakes the flick of light for a muzzle flash, and begins blasting. A bullet from his machine gun tears through the heart of four-year-old Tanya Blanding.


siri says we have arrived.

imagine the building between the snow banks

of the empty parking lot

and the tank where we are now.

born in 1963,

tanya would be my age now.

kneel between the snow banks,

open fire to a sage stick.

let the smoke send up your prayers.




United Community League for Civic Action/Economy Print Shop, 12th and Clairmount.

July 23, 1967, 3:00 a.m.


The police come and raid this after-hours spot all the time. This night, it’s a crowded welcome home party for two Vietnam vets, and the cops decide to arrest all 85 in attendance. The fed-up crowd starts busting the windows of the police cars with bricks and bottles. By the time the last car leaves, a crowd of hundreds has gathered. As the police, eager to leave the angry mob, drive off, the crowd, releasing years of pent-up rage, starts busting store windows. The Rebellion begins.


sit among the bare winter trees.

imagine the wall-to-wall businesses

before 12th was renamed Rosa Parks.

pick up a pebble

and put it at the foot of the sculpture,

“Detroit 1967.”

trace with your finger on the cold steel

the names of the victims of police brutality.

meditate on how to turn rebellion

into revolution.






Algiers Motel

8301 Woodward Avenue

July 26, 1967


A starter’s pistol, shooting blanks, pierces the night. National Guardsmen 200 feet away, suspecting the presence of a nearby sniper, panic and call the Detroit Police Department (DPD). Just hours before, a cop had been killed (the only officer killed during the uprising). Detroit police raid the motel annex, interrogate and torture twelve people, and kill, point blank, three unarmed black teenagers. No snipers, just three innocent young men.


circle the park three times,

once for each life lost.

Carl Cooper, age 17,

Aubrey Pollard, 19,

Fred Temple, 18.

pause at the “no loitering” sign

to do something the teenagers were unable to:

call your mother

wherever she may be,

tell her you’re on your way home.






Sacred Heart Major Seminary

July 24, 1967


The day after the uprising began, a Black housepainter paints black the face, hands, and feet of the statue of Jesus. Soon after, the statue is repainted white; but the Rector, Monsignor Francis X. Canfield, orders that it be painted black again, and the seminary pledges that it will remain so. Now iconic, the Black Jesus is viewed by the seminary as representing Christ’s love for all, and the statue serves as a point of pride for the neighborhood.


black jesus behind bars,

head bowed and arms outstretched,


“no photos allowed,” they warn us.

stand at the fence and face the statue,

inhaling, spread your arms

and remember a time when you were broken.

exhaling, put your hands together

and remember a time when you were whole.

tuck both your broken self and your whole self

under your breastbone

and carry on.




Vaughn’s Bookstore

12123 Dexter

July 26, 1967


Unable to find the books he wanted in local stores, Ed Vaughn orders them himself, and sells them out of the trunk of his car. He opens the store in 1962, specializing in Black Power books, and it becomes a gathering place for revolutionaries. During the Rebellion, the store is untouched, except for graffiti reading, “Long live the Black Revolution.” But later, the Detroit Police come in, destroying the pictures of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., and firebombing the building. The next night they come back, flood the building, and waterlog all the books. The police admit to doing this under the guise of looking for weapons.


stand at the threshold

and pour a libation

for the waterlogged books.

pour it for the water wars now.

pour it for the writers, poets, teachers

speaking truth to power.

pour a libation

for the lost knowledge

we must vow to regain.


Peggy Gwi-Seok Hong is a mother, poet, healer, and organizer. Gwi-Seok helps run Iyengar Yoga Detroit Collective, a cooperatively-owned and community-run healing center. She can be found at

‘It Used To Be Here’ : Book Review of ‘The Turner House’

 by Shea Howell

Set in 2008, The Turner House is a familiar story to many Detroiters: A family came to Detroit in the 1940’s, bought a house on the East Side, and raised their children. Now, the house and the family are showing the signs of wear. The decades have taken their toll. The house is facing foreclosure and the children, scattered, with lives of their own, must decide the future.

This is a loving tale of family and forgiveness. It is also a tale of how we are shaped by the stories we are told and the secrets they often hide. Much of the story unfolds through the eyes of Cha-Cha, the eldest of 13 children.  He was a young boy during the Detroit uprising, and now, in the mature years of his life, finds himself rethinking who he is and who he wants to be. Reflections on the responsibilities of family, the past, and what is real and unreal swirl through his mind. His relationships with his father, ailing mother, faithful wife, and large, growing family weigh him down as he struggles to determine how to resolve compounding crises — from foreclosure to addiction and faith. And he is haunted by a haint.

This fall, I had a chance to meet the author, Angela Flournoy, at Kalamazoo College. The Turner House was selected as the shared summer reading book for all incoming freshmen, so there were campus-wide conversations about the book. Flournoy grew up on the West Coast and had only lived in Detroit for a short period while working on the book.  In a public session, she talked about how nervous she had been to write about Detroit as an outsider; but she felt Detroit posed a unique question.  

Flournoy’s father, of Cha-Cha’s generation, grew up in Detroit. He would frequently bring her to visit Detroit and the family left behind. Her memories of those visits include images of riding around the city with her father to see “what used to be.”  He would drive pass open spaces and say, “That used to be my high school. That used to be where we played basketball. That used to be where we lived. That used to be where we bought ice cream.”

It was this sense of memory having no physical structures to anchor it that intrigued her.  While this experience is common among many Detroiters, she thinks it is unique for most people.  What does it mean to us that memory is not held in place? How does this affect us? How does it change who we think we are and how we think of our past and future?

The Turner House invites us to consider relationships among parents, children, brothers, and sisters who share a complicated and complex history, moving with the tides of a changing city. It moves through time and space, following the decades as children grow, parents age, people die, and time brings new questions. It is a book to be shared across generations.


Shea Howell is a community-based activist in Detroit where she has lived for more than four decades. She works with the Boggs Center To Nurture Community Leadership, Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management and the Detroit Independent Freedom School Movement. She writes a weekly column, Thinking For Ourselves, and is a professor of communication.

Standing Rock Reflections

By Antonio Rafael

Lisa Nemikigokwe, Soufy, and Supreme Flows were the first of our crew to drive out to Standing Rock. Lisa drove down to take supplies, representing her work as Four Directions Wellness, and her reservation, Lac Vieux Desert, an Ojibwe reservation near the border of Michigan’s upper peninsula and Wisconsin. The crew was welcomed by LaDonna Bravebull Allard, a tribal historian at Standing Rock, and the owner of land adjacent to the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) Missouri River crossing. LaDonna called for people to come fight the pipeline, urging, “As we speak, they are violating our ancestors!” She began Sacred Stone Camp in April 2016. Lisa supported the water at Standing Rock, Flint and Detroit. Indeed, women are the keepers of the water. We must follow their lead.

The report they gave when they returned inspired many of us here. They said we were invited back on Thanksgiving weekend to perform at the MniWiconi concert. MniWiconi is Lakota for “water is life.”  As an organization, the Raiz Up has been opposing Columbus Day and Thanksgiving for the past five years through various events and teachings (Columbus Axe). This year we decided to take a road trip to the largest gathering of indigenous peoples in this century, to help in the fight against the black snake.

En route we saw the beginnings of the police cracking down on those taking supplies out to Standing Rock. They would later ban the support all together, issuing tickets of over $1000.  We saw multiple box trucks and step vans pulled over as we neared the encampment. The hills of the great plains rolled on, capturing our imagination, a beige-brown, treeless autumnal color as far as the eye could see. We wondered if any of those hills might be native mounds of the great Sioux nation. We have some mounds in a polluted area in what is called Delray in #SouthwestDetroit. On the advice of some friends, we took a less traveled route into Standing Rock to protect ourselves and our offerings.

The encampment is located where the Cannonball River meets the Missouri River, just north of a smaller tributary. This is where Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) planned to take the DAPL across the Missouri River. This is where they had been staging their drilling equipment. At the time of our arrival, that tributary north of the Cannonball River had become the perimeter, the frontline. The bridge across the tributary on highway 1806 had been blocked off, with burnt cars standing on the road as relics of resistance. Just as you arrive, driving north on 1806, you can see both the now infamous bridge/military-like-blockade and the barbwired “turtle island” peninsula as you enter the Oceti Sakowin camp.  Sacred lands live where these waters meet. According to Ladonna, “Of the 380 archeological sites that face desecration along the entire pipeline route, from North Dakota to Illinois, 26 of them are right here at the confluence of these two rivers.” This #NODAPL movement is not only environmental work, but spiritual, decolonization work. Colonialism has never stopped.

There is a continuous stream of vehicles entering and exiting the camp. We were told the line of cars on Labor Day weekend stretched farther than one could see as nearly 10,000 flooded into the camp. As you drive up, the first things you notice are the flags of the indigenous nations represented from all over the Americas and beyond. I even saw a Palestinian flag. Our host Jenna told us about the background of the camp, which had evolved from the first camp, Sacred Stone. Oceti Sakowin was the largest camp on the North side of the tributary. The name means “the great Sioux nation,” represented by the seven sacred council fires. This was the first time the seven Lakota nations had come together since they defeated Custer 140 years ago. Today there are over 400 indigenous nations represented at Standing Rock. Jenna spoke of the roar of excitement that hit the Lakota when the Cree, a historic enemy of Lakota peoples, came to this movement.

The militarization of America’s police forces is a serious issue everywhere — from Ferguson to Palestine, Detroit to Standing Rock. We arrived just days after the November 20 action in which a protector, Sophia Wilansky, nearly lost her arm, and Vanessa “Sioux Z” Dundon nearly lost her eye. Around 300 people were injured. Dozens were shot. One elder went into cardiac arrest after the police used water cannons during freezing weather on hundreds of water protectors. Jenna communicated a sense of posttraumatic stress, as she led us around the camp. “I’m part of the Standing Rock Emergency Task Force. When we get told, ‘We’re gonna have some injured people,’ we come down with EMT’s and emergency services.” Jenna described the barbarity of the DAPL and police forces, who specifically target the heads and groins of protesters.  A few protectors proudly displayed large, brown, purple and red bruises on their legs, hips, and arms.

Adding to the atmosphere of surveillance, there was the constant noise of helicopters and airplanes circling above. We heard hundreds of eyewitness accounts of chemical crop dusting on the campers. The corporate-state, ETP and Morton County sheriffs also employed floodlights along the northern frontline to make it difficult to sleep and work at night. The security has abusively used dogs, LRAD (noise radar8*), tear gas, pepper balls, mace, barbed wire and electronic spy equipment against the camp.  “I’ve never been to war; but I feel like I was at war,” Jenna said, confiding that she almost breaks down when she goes home and reflects on her experience.

Before the snows came, the camp was a combination of built structures, vehicles, mini camps, tents, teepees and a geodesic dome. During our limited time there, it was well organized.  Located at central points near the sacred fire, there were corkboards with notices of various meetings and workshops that campers could attend. There was a lot of work to do and seemingly many able hands. There were orientation meetings for newcomers, decolonial meetings, and strategy meetings. The Indigenous Environmental Network had strict media policies for anyone with a camera. No photography or video of ceremonies or prayer was permitted.

For those considering supporting the movement in person, the Michigan camp in Oceti Sakowin is still open. Even to strangers, many of the protectors were extremely friendly and hospitable. There were multiple spots where anyone could walk up and grab winter gear — hats, jackets, sweaters — as they needed. There was a Medic and Healer camp. As we walked around, we were invited to come inside, warm up, and speak with people from all over. In the mornings, there would be a water blessing and prayer. There was drumming and food throughout the day.

We didn’t spend nearly as much time at the camp on the second trip. We performed, attended the forum, and met a tribal council.  It was a powerful atmosphere of indigenous-led struggle! Soufy, Nemiki, Supreme Flows and Reyes had been invited to perform. The Mni Wiconi Concert schedule kept us moving. We arrived and received a cultural presentation and introduction from the Tribal Council. Reyes of We Are Culture Creators and Supreme Flows of Awkward Theory performed at the Standing Rock High School with Supaman, Taul Paul, and Hell n Back, Renee Gardner and others. The following day at the Standing Rock Casino, Soufy and Nemiki performed with Nataanii Means, Lyla June, Frank Waln, Tabo of the Black Eyed Peas, and others. Emcees Supreme Flows and Soufy Anishnabe represented for #SWDetroit. Anishinaabe emcees had a chance to network with their native hiphop peers. I had a chance to meet some activist heroes like Dallas Goldtooth, Tara Houska, and Madeeha Benjamin.

I would love to have done some graff out there. I was able to share my hotel room with a group of protectors including a friend from Michigan, Samantha Magdaleno of One Michigan. Her partner BJ Nastacio is currently facing charges of “terrorizing” a DAPL worker for an incident in which BJ disarmed an overly aggressive guard who was pointing his gun at protectors. It was nice seeing our neighborhood and community shine at Standing Rock.

While we were in Standing Rock, the announcement was made that the camp would be evicted by December 5th.  According to a few friends involved with security, there was tension between Standing Rock Tribal Chief Dave Archambault, a liberal, and more radical folks concerning strategy and tactics.  Archambault stated that his aims were to get an environmental impact study and ensure that the black snake would be rerouted out of his tribal territory. However, many of those on the ground, including the Red Warrior Camp, who are consistently more radical in their aims, are seeking to “kill the black snake,” stop this pipeline from being built, period.

After we left, the first snow hit the camp and a large contingency of veterans joined the struggle. The camp population again swelled to nearly 10,000 people as the eviction day approached. In those tense moments, the Obama administration finally made an announcement that the Army Corps of engineers would suspend the easement that would allow the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross the Missouri River. The tribal leadership and many in the media declared victory. Dave Archambault went so far as to ask the campers to go home.  According to him, “the fight was over.”

But no company will leave a multi-billion dollar pipeline unfinished. Many are very skeptical of the staying power of the Obama executive action. The Red Warrior Camp released a letter that spoke to this concern and decided to take their movement to the rest of the country. A mass exodus of visitors staying at the camp followed soon after. The population is down now to roughly 1000 committed, well fortified, and supplied folks, who are hunkered down for the winter. These water warriors know that this struggle isn’t over.

There are many reasons to believe that President Trump will force the Army Corps of Engineers to allow the project to cross the Missouri, without changing route. Trump himself is financially invested in the ETP. His appointee to Energy Secretary, Texas Governor Rick Perry, sits on the board of Energy Transfer Partners. At this moment, it is a waiting game. Maybe Standing Rock will make a call for more protectors to help resist when Trump comes into office this winter. I’d love to go back, yet it’s important to think locally too.

Back at home, I longed to be in the Dakotas. In Standing Rock, there was an incredible concentration of people I respect and admire. I was with indigenous activists and artists. Then it was back to the struggle, the mundane: checking in with my probation officer, paying bills, running errands, cleaning “my house.” Our lives are so individualized. That works well for capitalism. With everyone owning their own home, everyone is required to fill that home with cheap goods. I was decompressing and feeling low for a day or two. Others have communicated similar feelings. I regretted leaving Standing Rock. I had a bad case of FOMO, Fear Of Missing Out. It was right in that moment that a Homrich demolition truck pulled up next to me at the traffic light. He was dragging a large compressor with the equipment to perform residential water shutoffs. In Detroit our water system is partially privatized and shutoff duties have been sold to Homrich demolition. I honked my horn at him, and I thought to myself:  Our water is under threat here. I’m exactly where I need to be right now.

We need to add to the formidable Standing Rock mass movement a decentralized movement based on local issues. The Raiz Up is part of the People’s Water Board Coalition. We collaborate with We the People, Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management, Detroit Eviction Defense, the Coalition Against Tar Sands and other organizations resisting the extraction of our resources, the privatization of our public spaces, the taking of our homes and lands right here in Detroit. The City doesn’t have a reservation in close proximity, but we consider Detroit as an internal colony surrounded by contemptuous anti-black suburbs in a hyper-segregated metropolitan area. This area also has the highest concentration of indigenous populations in Michigan.

The Wendat and Anishnabe have lived in the Detroit area for well over 5000 years, with their respective names for this land being Oppenago, “where the waters meet,” and Zagajibiising, “where the waters go round.” Our connection to this place has everything to do with protecting our water, and our air — not for us, but for the next seven generations.

Environmental racism is another byproduct of our existing capitalist society. Pipelines lead to processing facilities, black snakes take crude from Canada to places like 48217 in Southwest Detroit, a historically segregated black working class community with some of the highest cancer rates in the country, a direct result of pollution by companies like Marathon and US Steel. Marathon is finishing up a 10 billion dollar expansion of its facility to process tar sands. Michigan also has the 63-year-old Enbridge Line 5 pipeline running under the Mackinac Bridge, right past the historic sacred Anishnabe lands of Mitchimakinak, carrying Canadian crude to Aamjiwnaang, an indigenous reservation across the straits in unceded Anishinabe territory near what is now called Sarnia, Canada.

We in Raiz Up feel called to connect the struggles of black Detroit folks in 48217 and our Anishnabe family resisting in Aamjiwnaang. Indigenous and Afrikan solidarity will be key in protecting our communities from monsters like Trump and Trudeau. 

               We are engaged in the struggle on multiple fronts. My homey Soufy wrote a dope song called “Pay to Be Poisoned” about the Flint water crisis, and we’ve supported the work of Flint water warriors, Water We Fighting For and Flint Rising. We have organized conferences, spoken on panels, facilitated workshops and engaged in popular education circles around these and other issues facing our gente. Our comrade Lucka and I just beat 12 felony charges for resistance graffiti, tagging “Free the Water” on a water tower in Highland Park. We are steeped in the struggle to protect water. We have resisted the shutoffs, turned water back on and supported folks like the Homrich 9 in stopping the Homrich demolition shutoff trucks. We will continue to use our art to build on a culture of education and resistance to these systems of oppression. MniWiconi!  Water is Life!


Antonio Rafael is a Xicano Boricua organizer, farmer, artist and entrepreneur from #SWDetroit He co-founded #RaizUp collective hiphop for decolonial education and supporting movement. More than just resisting the abuse of land, water and people, Antonio started #SWGrows urban farm and ecological design cooperative to expand art, agriculture and green development in his neighborhood.

The J-O-B System

By Frank Joyce

It’s one thing to theorize about new and better ways to organize work; but the idea of new work/new culture, as articulated by Frithjof Bergmann of the Center for New Work in Flint, Michigan, is to combine thinking and doing. Bergmann describes “new work” as “the transformation from industrial to community production.” The Brightmoor Makerspace watercycle project is a terrific example.  

The youngsters at Detroit Community High have created a “makerspace,” where the idea of work is being redefined to address the immediate needs of communities.  Their project is a model of many efforts to reimagine work that are taking place not only in Detroit but throughout the world.  It reflects a critique of the J-O-B system of organizing work, which was examined at the New Work/New Culture conferences held in Detroit in 2011 and 2014.  The J-O-B system organizes the work of the world in the following ways:


  • It offers too much to some and little or none to others.
  • It depends on production for the sake of production and consumption for the sake of consumption.
  • It compels unequal relationships between employers and the employed.
  • It is cruel to the unemployed.
  • It pressures even its managers to be frightened, overworked, and exhausted.
  • It drives the insatiable destruction of precious natural resources.
  • It is hostile to the creation of community.
  • It is inherently stressful to individuals, families and society.
  • It deforms the entire process of education.
  • It politically empowers some to the unnecessary disadvantage of others.
  • It reproduces entrenched racial and global disparities.
  • It promotes conflict rather than cooperation.
  • It requires dishonesty and deceit at every turn, especially in the marketing of everything.


As currently structured, the global J-O-B system is not only failing, it is a menace to life on the planet. It is a system whose time has passed.  The Brightmoor Makerspace watercycle project invites us to open our minds to more holistic definitions of work. We can find remedies for the grand issues of sustainability  — access to clean water, viable transportation and alternative energy sources. In a community-based work environment, the people who become problem-solvers are people who know best what the real problems are. As such, they are in the best position to solve them.  For more information:


Frank Joyce is a lifelong Detroit-based writer and activist. He is co-editor with Karen Aguilar-San Juan of ‘The People Make the Peace- Lessons From the Vietnam Antiwar Movement‘.