Participatory Spirituality for the 21st Century
photo credit: http://americanrevolutionaryfilm.com/
Grace Lee Boggs died on Monday, October 5, 2015. She was 100 years old.
She was born in Providence, Rhode Island, on June 27, 1915, to parents who were Chinese immigrants. Boggs earned a Ph.D. in philosophy at Bryn Mawr College in 1940 ("an unprecedented achievement for a U.S. born daughter of Chinese immigrants"). Her philosophical influences included Hegel, John Dewey, and George Herbert Mead ('who transcended the individualist strains of American ideology and philosophy to emphasize the ways that self-identity is constructed through engagement with community"). Finding academic employment in white male-dominated academia was another matter. She ended up on the South Side of Chicago at the end of the Great Depression, and the beginning of the civil rights movement and found her mission in life as an activist. She became employed by the philosophy library of the University of Chicago, where she earned $10 a week
She was one person who could say "been there, done that" in relation to the major activist movements of the 20th Century, over seven decades. She started off working with the Worker's Party, and has been involved with the civil rights movement, the labor movement, women's movement, Black Power movement, and environmental justice movement.
She later moved to Detroit to work at Correspondence, a socialist workers newsletter., and in 1953 married James (Jimmy) Boggs, a black auto worker. Together, they became a great team working for change, combining his "organic" intellect and personal experience with her understanding of "philosophers, left-wing polemicists, and radical agitators."
After James’ death in 1993, Boggs "moved away from confrontational politics and toward growing political consciousness through local community organization."
She co-founded Detroit Summer, a community group for young people to learn skills, experience positive influences, and to engage in meaningful community projects.
This brief bio has been based on the Introduction to Grace Lee Boggs' 2011 book The Next American Revolution by Scott Kurashige, and Larry Gabriel's Yes! Magazine article: Grace Boggs: Reviving the Living City.
In the aforementioned book, Kurashige writes, "she embodies the unity of theory and practice in a manner that has become increasingly rare....Many U.S. activists are too quick to view intellectual work as the domain of those with academic jobs, deeming it elitist in general, and too prone to discount the role creative thinking plays in movement building."
"...Unlike those radicals devoted almost exclusively to action in pursuit of an "old truth" they discovered during their political awakening, Grace is constantly seeking to make sense of new developments and conditions, tracking changes both within the dominant culture and the forces of resistance."
As she moved away from confrontational politics, she became increasingly involved in grassroots, bottom up action, working "to transform blocks, neighborhoods, and cities."
Kurashige also notes, "In words that will resonate throughout this book, we must define revolution both by the humanity-stretching ends to be achieved and the beloved community-building means by which to achieve those ends."
Projects that are "local in scope are projecting and shining a light on the fundamental human values of hope, cooperation, stewardship, and respect. It is in this regard that we have come to see the sprouting of a farm in the middle of a concrete jungle as transformative in ways that even a large mass protest is not. As Grace argues, echoing author Margaret Wheatley, movements are born of critical connections rather than critical mass."
"Revolution, as Grace emphasizes, is not a onetime, D-day event that will happen when a critical mass of forces takes the correct action at the proper time. It is a protracted process tied to slower evolutionary changes that cannot be dismissed."
Boggs was also not a "flatlander," recognizing the supreme importance of transforming interiors as well as exteriors. Chapter 1 of the 2011 book is titled "These are the times to grow our souls." She writes, "These are the times that try our souls. Each of us needs to undergo a tremendous philosophical and spiritual transformation. Each of us needs to be awakened to a personal and compassionate recognition of the inseparable interconnection between our minds, hearts, and bodies; between our physical and psychical well-being; and between our selves and all the other selves in our country and in the world...
"...the interlocking crises of our time require that we exercise the power within us to make principled choices in our ongoing daily and political lives - choices that will eventually although not inevitably (since there are no guarantees) make a difference."
In my view, The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the 21st Century should be read by all who are concerned about resilience and sustainability, as well as those concerned about social justice. Probably in my top 5 list of books published over the last 10 years. Molly Lawrence's review (excerpts reprinted here at Resilience) prompted me to purchase the book.
Grace Lee Boggs was also the subject of the documentary "American Revolutionary." The PBS program "POV"is streaming the film for free until Nov 4: www.pbs.org/pov