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--Audre Lorde

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Report Back: USSF: "A Conversation with Grace Lee Boggs and Immanuel Wallerstein"

Submitted by alycia on Sun, 07/11/2010 - 16:41

The presence of Grace Lee Boggs at the U.S. Social Forum this year--95 years into her life as an activist and free thinker--was one of the aspects of the Forum that touched everything else that I experienced in Detroit.

Image from Americans Who Tell the Truth

During one celebration of her 95th birthday at the Social Forum, I heard Grace talk about once living in an apartment that she could only access via an alleyway that was infested with rats. "And that was important," she said, "because it made me rat-conscious!" I am amazed by her resilience and her tremendous mind.

On Thursday, I had the opportunity to hear Grace Lee Boggs speak with Immanuel Wallerstein. Introduced as "avid seekers of new truth," they have known each other since the 60's and seemed delighted to share the stage. Here are a few notes I took as I listened.

GLB: Came to Detroit in 1953. It was a symbol of the "miracles of industrialization"

IW: Everyone lives in historical systems that do not go on forever." Our current system is capitalism. Each system moves slowly from equilibrium until they move too far away, enter a structural crisis. There are pushes away from equilibrium and pushes back. We're struggling for the next system. Another world is possible, not certain.

GLB: Wanted certainty when became activist, looked to Marxism, yet in uncertainty there is hope.

IW: To live well ≠ endlessly consume.

GLB: "The system" is not something you can wipe off a blackboard (as she had previously desired). How do you think about change in a personal way?

IW: Commodification of everything (50 years ago were not commodified: bodies, water, universities, hospitals)...

GLB: Blessed Unrest by Paul Hawken

IW: Not in a recession, in a depression. But people do not like to use that word. Un-winnable situations with no good options (left and right).


  • We need to assert our human identity, search for a new human identity.
  • The study of philosophy is important; we need time not only to act but also to think. Philosophy is not only an abstraction but a way of thinking.
  • How do we use education to serve our communities?
  • Participatory democracy; what is a nation-state?
  • In the way that labor was important to America the 1930's, education is at the forefront today.
  • Film: Good Food
  • Changing concepts of revolution; we need to discuss further as radicals. Not captives of the state but those that are challenging hegemony. How do we create new ideas? How do we continue to understand that revolution is a new beginning and a chance to be more human?
  • The 1960's were an attempt to re-discover the American past. "Our revolution needs to be giving up things," a new type of revolution.
  • "If you don't believe in socialism, you're a fool!"
  • "Every concept has a historic origin. It is born..." in a time/place/context.

IW: The world we want will be relatively democratic and relatively egalitarian. This is not the world we have now. Feudalists couldn't imagine capitalism, so we can't know what will come. But we need to push for a system that's relatively egalitarian and relatively democratic. It will be difficult and new.

GLB: "Democracy is not a bourgeois concept."
Too much focus on other countries as a model for U.S. revolutions--in the 40's, they looked to Russia and didn't realize that the U.S. revolution should be a different kind of revolution.
"You can't be revolutionary unless you have an understanding of the human spirit."

IW: On the use of anger vs. love: Anger makes you strike out, maybe not at the enemy, but at whoever is close at hand. If you come closer to the other, you come closer to compassion and the ability to understand.

GLB: Knowledge comes not just from the brain, but from the heart.

IW: On non-profits and making a living: No good solutions, "When they try to bribe you, take the bribe and do what you want!"

Book on the way by Boggs: "The Next American Revolution"

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