Tuesday, October 6, 2015
The death of an American revolutionary: Grace Lee Boggs (1915-2015)
'I think that too much of our emphasis on struggle has simply been in terms of confrontation and not enough recognition of how much spiritual and moral force is involved in the people who are struggling. We have not emphasized sufficiently the cultural revolution that we have to make among ourselves in order to force the government to do differently.'
'Activism can be the journey rather than the arrival'
Grace Lee Boggs
'We are not subversives. We are struggling to change this country because we love it'
Grace Lee Boggs
After 75 years of committed social and political activism, the legendary Chinese-American author, activist, philosopher and campaigner Grace Lee Boggs (1915-2015) has died. Boggs was one of the oldest American activists and campaigners.
Grace Lee Boggs was involved with the civil rights, labor, Black Power, Asian-american, feminist, climate change and urban renewal movements.
Boggs was a deep thinker, committed to the role of philosophy in social change. She did not believe in mindlessly doing in the name of good. For her people had to think deeply and critically about the world around them. She distinguished between what she called protest organising and visionary organising. Whilst recognising the importance of the former, she called for more of the latter.
Boggs also refused to be put in any particular "cause" box, using her voice for civil rights, education reform, anti-racism, climate change, urban revitalization, and countless other issues that she saw as all undeniably connected.
She thought that the systematic failures of capitalism were at the heart of most social pathologies and social problems, and believed that transformation would come not from the actions of elected leaders, but through action at the grassroots level.
A film about her life and ideas American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs was released in 2014.
The New York Times wrote:
Her odyssey took her from the streets of Chicago as a tenant organizer in the 1940s to arcane academic debates about the nature of communism, from the confrontational tactics of Malcolm X and the Black Power movement to the nonviolent strategies of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and finally to her own manifesto for change — based not on political and economic upheavals but on community organizing and resurgent moral values.
In the online journal Guernica, Michelle Chen writes that Grace Le Boggs lived in Detroit from the 1950s, with her husband, activist and auto worker James Boggs, in the early days of the civil rights movement. Chen writes:
'Her life has spanned numerous human catastrophes, from the Great Depression and the atom bomb to the incineration of Vietnam. But what keeps her optimistic is the fact that she’s also lived through “the great humanizing movements of the past seventy years,” including the black freedom struggle, the antiwar campaigns, and other historic mass actions. Detroit is now at the vanguard of an even more massive transition, she argues, evolving a new way of organizing society that focuses on self-reliance and a rejection of material excess.'
Grace Lee Boggs wrote extensively about the history and potential of revolution as the driver of radical social change, based on an optimistic belief that revolutionary change was just around the corner
In the early 1970s she co published Revolution and Evolution in the Twentieth Century, a sweeping historical text that explores forms of Marxist revolution through uprisings in China, Russia, Vietnam, and contemporary community-based groups.
In 2011, aged 95, she wrote her fifth book The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century, in which she reimagined revolutionary politics as a project of holistic transformation connected to global and historical transformations and intimately embedded in the individual soul.
"People are aware that they cannot continue in the same old way but are immobilized because they cannot imagine an alternative. We need a vision that recognizes that we are at one of the great turning points in human history when the survival of our planet and the restoration of our humanity require a great sea change in our ecological, economic, political, and spiritual values."
In an interview she said:
I think that rebellions arise out of anger, and they’re very short-lived. And a revolution has some sense of a long time frame, millions of years that we’ve been evolving on this planet. We have to think in a very different sense than the way we think now. We think in terms of quick fixes, that solutions will come out of a few protest demonstrations, and calling upon the government to do something. And we can keep trying to do that, and it won’t work.
Boggs argued that it is the people most directly affected by injustice, the victims of injustice, who are the real agents of revolutionary change:
I think the trouble is that most people tend to look for quick solutions. .............I think people look at revolution too much in terms of power. I think revolution has to be seen more anthropologically, in terms of transitions from one mode of life to another. We have to see today in light of the transition, say, from hunting and gathering to agriculture, and from agriculture to industry, and from industry to post-industry. We’re in an epoch transition.....We have to think of revolution much more in terms of transitions from one epoch to another.