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Our ultimate end must be the creation of the beloved community.

—Martin Luther King, Jr.

Excerpts from my journal

PHOTOS (in two parts)

November 25, 2014, Tuesday, on the train east of Cleveland heading home to Cambridge

The main event of yesterday [November 24, 2014], other than my departure from Detroit after 3 weeks (which on the universal scale counts for very little) was photographing the Boggs School, a publicly-funded charter school. Initially the head, Amanda Rosman, seemed nervous about my presence and asked me to estimate how long I’d be in the school. She also cautioned me against photographing the kids of one family whose mother refused blanket permission for photography, a prohibition that baffles me, especially at such a renowned school as the Boggs.

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I was deeply impressed with the quality of education. The teachers seemed skilled in handling their subjects and discipline problems (the latter were frequent in one art class I observed, not in others). A main pedagogical principle is place-based education, meaning the students are to learn about where they live and go to school. One group, with the theme of orienteering, went for a walk around the block. When they stepped outside, the teacher, a burly fellow with thick arms teaching gym or physical education, asked them which directions were north, east, etc. I added and he agreed, what direction are the clouds coming from? and he added, and that means the direction of the storm—all central to moment and place.

[Place-based education is] local, and it’s connected to students in a way that they can identify with. It’s either a problem in their community or an event that’s happening, or it could be a geological phenomenon. But it’s something that they’re familiar with….so it means something to them. And then we ask questions about it.

—Cay Graig, Vermont teacher

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After the walk —perfect for me because it shows the East-side neighborhood, typically deteriorated—they built something inside that I failed to locate and photograph.

Another teacher dealt with garbage, putting on the board 3 key questions: what happens to our garbage, where does it go, and what does it mean to throw it away? She had them write in their notebooks, and then read from them. Later she showed them an effecting movie about garbage.

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The school runs kindergarten thru 5th, in 3 groups, something like kindergarten, 1-2-3, and 4-5. One teacher wears a hijab, about 1/3 the other teachers are black. Amanda, now softened toward me, not overseeing me as she did at our first location, the playground, and apparently assured I will do the school well, is a cofounder. I promised to send her a selection before I post, to make sure no kids whose parents refused permission are included.

Upon entering I noticed immediately two things: pizza for lunch and the policy of choices rather than self-control. The latter came up when a teacher in a contentious situation, rather than preaching self-control, reminded the student that he had choices. This reflected a conversation with my dear friends, Anne and Fred, when Anne advocated the choices approach. A good principle to keep in mind—with one’s self as well as others.

Because Thanksgiving was later in the week, let us think about Native Americans

Other observations: the art teacher showed them drawings of Indian language symbols in the context of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. (I wonder what spin they’d put on the traditional Thanksgiving story, probably a more accurate one.) Water bottles with names were in many rooms, presumably an effort to teach conservation. On my second pass at the bottles I photographed them with neighboring houses in the background. Often I used my Canon camera’s pullout viewfinder so I could hold the camera at my waist level, thereby distracting the children so they noticed me less.

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Our challenge, as we enter the new millennium, is to deepen the commonalities and the bonds between these tens of millions, while at the same time continuing to address the issues within our local communities by two-sided struggles that not only say ‘no’ to the existing power structure but also empower our constituencies to embrace the power within each of us to crease the world anew.

—Grace Lee Boggs, The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century

Now the big story of that event, altho minor in the grand picture (too bad that I have no photos), this meant a great deal to me: wind. Gusting to more than 50 mph, swiveling between south and north, it blew me to the school, but ferociously resisted me on my little pedal machine (my folding bicycle) later when I tried to return home from the school. It nearly blew me over when I left the protection of a building and entered an intersection. I shifted down to the lowest gear to make headway against the tumultuous wind. Crackling, snapping, flaring, ripped-by-the-wind power lines forced a detour. I thought I might not make it without the intercession of either a divine being or someone like my neighbor Johnny with his huge truck. One block from the school, it blew over my bike when I stopped to photograph a recently burned house, stepping thru bags of what turned out to be shit to get a position. The wind-induced fall damaged my bike light needed in the dim, dank, afternoon darkness. Riding on the leeward side of buildings, on sidewalks, I achieved my objective: home. Thank god, humdilila. Outside my home I washed the shit off my boots and bike pedals and brought my bike inside.

My bike ride thru the wind might represent the school’s course thru the perils and challenges of troubled but perhaps recovering Detroit.

Down the street

Burnt house

TO BE CONTINUED

LINKS

Boggs School website

Boggs School Facebook page

A story about the founding of the school

Place-based education

“The Boggs School Oral History Project: Linking Youth and Elders to the Past, Present and Future,” by Laura de Palma, December 2014

Children’s Voices, Dave Eggers Illustrates Stories by Elementary Schoolers,” by Maria Russo, December 2014

Detroit Walk-In Portrait Studio, a video about a photographic project at the school conducted by Corine Vermeulen, December 2014

New coalition on Detroit schools unveils its membership,” by Ann Zaniewski, December 2014

Activist Boggs honored for work toward social justice,” by Amy He, December 2014

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Homes in Palmer Woods, a district of Detroit

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Excerpts from my journal

PHOTOS

November 19, 2014, Wednesday, Detroit, Karen’s house

Extremely cold, upper 10s, overcast, calm—light snow expected over the next several days.

 A big day with Colin Connair (formerly of the Detroit police department, now a sergeant with the Grosse Pointe Park police department). First the absences. We did not manage to visit the functioning Detroit police station as I’d hoped—they never responded to Colin’s requests. We did not get permission to photograph the private security company in Palmer Woods that he told me about—altho I do have a tentative visit lined up for this early afternoon but I think I’ll cancel for several reasons: 1. Colin is not available to accompany me and he is a central feature in the photos and he presents himself as a police officer which might sweeten the conversation. 2. It is frigid and snow is expected, making biking difficult. And 3. I have a date with Kim at 3:30 pm for the New Work events of the afternoon and evening. So I might request a postponement.

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Home of a Grosse Pointe Park woman murdered in this garage by a killer allegedly hired by the woman’s husband

Despite those setbacks we did photograph in Grosse Pointe Park, his home city, two sites of crimes—the murder of a woman allegedly by her husband and a robbery in an alley. Plus a barrier erected by the city to block easy access from Detroit [since partially removed]. Maybe not the most dramatic photos but they can offer a taste of life in Detroit and environs.

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Barrier between Grosse Pointe Park and Detroit, from the Detroit side

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Looking into Detroit from the other side of the barrier

Colin showed me the gas station that was the site of a shooting, the victim badly injured and bleeding, customers stepping over him as he lay there—as a Detroit police officer Colin came upon this scene later. And another site, a vacant lot, was the scene of a raging fire during a frigid time—Colin doubles as firefighter, common in small towns to conserve resources.)

Scene of a crime in Detroit that Colin responded to when on the force

The gas station where a man lay bleeding

We explored a rehabilitated housing complex which appears to house mixed income people. And the Roosevelt Hotel, the squat I thought the two guys at Manna’s kitchen told me about. But it is being renovated and seemed tightly secured. Other buildings near the intersection they’d named, roughly 14th and Vernon, did not look like squats. That Colin was willing to explore with me heightens my love and respect for him.

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Roosevelt Place Hotel, under renovation, across from the abandoned Michigan Central Train Station

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The hotel next to what remains of two buildings named Imagination Station, both burned and gutted, one ripped down

We cruised thru Palmer Woods, hoping to bump into private security in their Hummers. No luck. I made a series of photos of the houses, each distinctive, most of them exceedingly elegant. We found the so-called Bishop’s House, once occupied by the city’s bishop, now sold to private interests. In preparation for this, it was made “profane,” i.e., all religious articles removed including the Stations of the Cross and the papal throne, whatever that might be. We never found the Fisher Mansion that Spenser, Barbara’s husband, told us about.

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Catholic bishop's former residence

Catholic bishop’s former residence

We joked about the church and its wealth. I told him about the day before meeting Father Tom who runs a women’s shelter, much like that of Shelly Douglass in Birmingham Alabama (Tom and Shelly know each other). The two residences represent the two poles of the Catholic Church—“royal splendor” and “catholic worker grit.” Similar to the gap between Palmer Woods and a somewhat less affluent Grosse Pointe Park, and most of Detroit.

I thought I recognized the home of Barbara and her husband Spenser, but I was mistaken. A woman appeared in a second floor window, peering at me suspiciously. She called, what do you want?

Is this the home of Barbara H?

It is not!

Do you know where she lives?

I don’t!

All very curt, unneighborly and indicative of fear.

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Photo courtesy of internet

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Dale Brown of Threat Management Center checks in on an elderly woman in the Boston Edison neighborhood in Detroit, Mich., AP Photo | Detroit Free Press, 2011

Colin phoned the security company, Threat Management  Division/Century Security (TMD), formerly known as Recon, identified himself as a police officer, said he was with his friend, a photojournalist from Boston, explained we’d like to talk with them about how they work, said this is not an expose. I complimented him on his phone presence and asked again whether he’d consider moving into detective work. No, he likes what he does, street patrol in a car as a sergeant partly because of the hours.

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Colin and I discussed our work, how we both are drawn to danger and accept it. He asked me about danger when I photograph in Israel-Palestine, whether I’d ever been threatened with kidnapping. Yes, I have, and I told him about the time I and friends searched for the site of Rachel Corrie’s murder, when we encountered armed men, they looked inside the car and saw me, how I believed I was about to be kidnapped, but I was shockingly calm. He reminded me of the occasion when a man he was about to arrest leaned forward in the driver’s seat and could have pulled out a hidden gun. And the many times during a street chase that ended with capitulation of the suspect.

He works 2 back-to-back 12-hour shifts, 7 pm to 7 am, with 2 days off between. Which he finds ideal for his family life, 4 kids by 2 marriages, the youngest in pre-school. He calls this stage “the last days of my many-year nightmare with young kids.”

How do you deal with boredom, Colin? I asked. He replied, as a friend says, the Internet is a great boon for cops. Grosse Pointe Park cops know where all the open Wi-Fi hotspots are in the city. When I was doing street patrol in Detroit, I often read books during my down times.

We discovered that he was raised on Franklin Street in Cambridge. I told him where my younger daughter and her family live and he replied, I grew up next door! My mom built a trellis for the grape vine that is on the border fence. I remember looking over that fence at the set back house where your family now lives.

This coincidence is yet another element in what I call our “line up,” elements of our close friendship. On a lesser level, it’s like my friendship with Dan Turner—many eerie correspondences, seemingly incomprehensible. Colin is one of my Detroit treasures—a gateway to Detroit divergences and contradictions.

A stop for coffee and donuts

Donut and coffee stop

TO BE CONTINUED

LINKS

Palmer Woods

“Palmer Woods Historic District”

“The Other Detroit” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, February 2011
The city’s grandest enclave clings to the dream.

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Palmer Woods channel 2 story demonstrates the efficacy of the Threat Management Center V.I.P.E.R.S. bodyguard training program. By creating non-violent outcomes through non-offensive, non- intrusive tactics, strategies and logistics preventing the conditions that lead to inappropriate societal conditions that are not conducive for a good quality of life.

“Homegrown Documentary Focuses on Paramilitary Security Force in Detroit” by Allan Lengel, December 2012
The movie “Detroit Threat Management” by Jacob Hurwitz-Goodman

“Fisher Mansion sells for $1.6 million in Detroit’s Palmer Woods,” September 2014

“Detroit’s Fisher Mansion to be retreat for addicts,” by Christine MacDonald and Joel Kurth, September 2014

“The Cities of Grosse Pointe Park and Detroit have reached an agreement regarding the construction of Piazza Square.  The following links contain an artist’s rendering and street plan for the new Piazza Square:  Artist Rendering & Approved Joint Plan.”

“Road barriers aim for safer streets in Detroit neighborhood”

“$10,000 reward offered in Grosse Pointe teen’s death,” by Mara MacDonald [recently increased to $100,000]
Local real estate developer offers reward for information

Written for a group exhibition at the Friends Meeting at Cambridge, about artistic process.

…designed to reveal the process or steps involved in producing our art. If our final product is a destination, what is our journey, and how is meaning created along the way?…There has been a trend for museums to reveal the artist’s journey or process as part of an exhibition…

—Exhibits Committee

Simply put: listen to that still small voice; find a place where the noise of civilization and the quotidian do not drown it out; sit, walk, bicycle, sleep until the notion, the impulse, the need to photograph arises. Then photograph only what presents itself to be photographed (and then maybe a little more).

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Some 50 years ago when I was 21 years old, I heard the whisper of the Great Plains, crossed it alone in my old Ford pickup truck named Cimarron, stopped to listen in the silence, heard only the sound of my own blood rushing thru my cochlea, and made a photograph.

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Around that time, winter 1962—I’d photographed since I was 7 years old, inspired by my father’s gift of a cheap box camera, a Brownie no doubt—I visited the Iowa farm family of one of my best college friends, Mark Chapin. I noticed his father standing by the window, imagined what he might have been feeling, and photographed.

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(Click image for an enlargement)

In the winter of 2004, I joined The Journey of the Magi pilgrimage walking to Bethlehem from Jericho thru the Judean Desert Wilderness, not far from where the devil reportedly tempted Jesus. There I discovered and tried to express the luminous winter desert landscape.

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Finally, urged on by that still small voice, that same year I entered Gaza for the first time, drawn by the knowledge that the American Friends Service Committee had a program there. On subsequent visits facilitated by them, I often wandered thru downtown Gaza City, usually the only foreigner, and one day in 2013 a group of young men signaled an invitation to photograph them. Who is this young man, I pondered, with his multivocal expression? I worry now, after last summer’s violence, whether he still exists. Maybe only in this photograph.

It is said, let your lives be examples, sermons, and images so that you may then walk cheerfully over the earth, answering to the divine in all people, creating images of people and many lands.

This benefit of seeing…can come only if you pause a while, extricate yourself from the maddening mob of quick impressions ceaselessly battering our lives, and look thoughtfully at a quiet image…the viewer must be willing to pause, to look again, to meditate. 

—Dorothea Lange

LINKS:

Words at an Exhibition, an earlier blog about my process, with more details and photographs

Photos

Slide show: “And you will be carried where you do not wish to go,” a photographic witness & a summary (for the moment & as of 2005) of my photography

“And you will be carried where you do not wish to go,” a photographic witness
(part 8 & earlier, added April 2 – May 24, 2010)

As an Artist, How Do I Survive & Thrive?
Revised and added February 15, 2010

The Palestine-Israel Kaleidoscope, a memoir-part 1
Newly revised and added January 16, 2010

The Palestine-Israel Kaleidoscope, a memoir-part 2
Newly revised and added January 21, 2010

Last night, December 21, 2014, was winter solstice, the beginning of returning light.
Tonight is the seventh night of Hahukkah, the festival of lights.
Today is five days before Kwanzaa, a celebration of community, family, and culture.
And today is three days before Christmas, a celebration of hope.

During the holiday season, please take some time off to take care of yourself, your loved ones, and friends. Find time to be with nature, to enjoy the stars, and the white clouds and to truly come home and be at home within ourselves, as Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh, a revered Vietnamese teacher, monk, activist, and poet) always encourages us to do. You may like to write love letters instead of spending money and consuming more. The New Year is a wonderful opportunity to begin anew with ourselves and let go of resentments and regret.

—Monks and Nun of Plum Village (Buddhist community led by Thich Nhat Hanh)

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If you’re interested in my photos of the Boggs School in Detroit, click here.
And for my video about the blacklivesmatter-hanukkah event in Boston last week on the first night of Hanukkah, try this.

New Work advocates for work that is meaningful, for the worker and the society, beyond a paycheck. New Culture calls for a community based on love and respect, beyond money, greed, violence, and competition. Think of Karl Marx for New Work and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and the Beloved Community for New Culture. Think of the visionary Frithjof Bergmann for both—more about him later. And consider Detroit and other stressed cities as seedbeds of the New Era.

…after the enslaving subordination of individuals under the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished, after labor has become not merely a means to live but has become itself the primary necessity of life, after the productive forces have also increased with the all-round development of the individual, and all the springs of cooperative wealth flow more abundantly—only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be fully left behind and society inscribe on its banners: from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.

—Karl Marx

Love is creative and redemptive. Love builds up and unites; hate tears down and destroys. The aftermath of the ‘fight with fire’ method which you suggest is bitterness and chaos, the aftermath of the love method is reconciliation and creation of the beloved community. Physical force can repress, restrain, coerce, destroy, but it cannot create and organize anything permanent; only love can do that. Yes, love—which means understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill, even for one’s enemies—is the solution to the race problem.

—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

All around the world, the future of work, the transition to new forms of work, the absence of work, and the lack of the right training for work have become the most burning issues.

—Frithjof Bergmann

Please scroll down for photos, and then writing.

At a planning session, organizers of New Work New Culture:

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Frithjof Bergmann

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At a party held at the Boggs Center celebrating the New Work New Culture conference:

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Excerpts from my journal

October 18, 2014, Saturday, home in Cambridge

Phil’s sister Liz Downey is in Detroit [October 2014] for a conference about work connected with the Boggs Center and wrote me:

[My brother] passed along your email and I’ve been meaning to write you for awhile.

I’m attending the new work, new culture conference in detroit this weekend and I’ve you to thank!

I was reading up on israel palestine some months ago and stumbled upon your website. after delving into your writing and photos I came across your mentioning of grace boggs.

I quickly got ahold of her book, watched her documentary and then reached out to the boggs school.

I spoke with rich feldman over the phone and he convinced me that I should make a solid attempt at attending the conference.

so I’m going! and I couldn’t be more excited to hear people speak and be surrounded by genuine individuals who are interested in the same things.

I just wanted to reach out and thank you.

and any advice on what to see or do in the area would be great!

I did reply with suggestions.

November 13, 2014, Thursday, Detroit, Karen’s house

Last evening, something of a surprise and a minor coup, I attended a planning meeting following up from the New Work, New Culture conference related to the Boggs Center held last October. Liz had written me.

Me to Liz:

providential that you should write. thanks so much for your report. i plan to attend a conference follow up meeting tonight and meet some of the organizers, probably also hear their assessment. assuming this is ok with you i might pass along some of your comments. they plan a celebration which i hope to attend, if before i leave on nov 24.

i can understand what you write about finding a jumping off pt, esp where you are on the west coast. locating one’s passion is hard for most of us. it took me decades and some false beginnings—never wasted—before i found what i think is my true entry pt to activism and art. patience and counsel both helped me. a recently read book that helped me in broad terms is active hope by joanna macy. i recommend it, esp the exercises, all of which i did….

At the Jenin Freedom Theater event last week at the Arab American Museum in Dearborn I’d met a man with a bushy white beard wearing an Arab-looking cap, along with his French wife or partner or friend, who told me about a meeting this Wednesday at which Frithjof Bergmann, the founder of the New Work movement, would speak. After writing Rich Feldman who, being in Chicago, knew nothing about it but who posted the question to a list, I discovered where and when and what—and best of all, how to get there without biking or using public transport: Kim lives 4 blocks from me and drove me both ways. She, like others in this community, have been receptive, responsive, caring, and generous, enfleshing the principle of Beloved Community.

As we drove she laid out some of the thinking of the post Grace Lee Boggs plans for the Boggs Center succession or transition—primarily continuing the team approach they’ve used for decades, Grace herself an inspiration and icon, but not the only driver. Utilizing the network of other similar organizations that have formed over the years can broaden this collaboration. One aspect might be the group evolving from the conference that met last night.

They worked on administrative details like membership, funding, and program, deciding to present two programs in the near future, one a recap of Bergman’s thinking in a series of seminars or lectures (see the links below for this thinking), the other a celebration of the conference with a strong expression of gratitude. Both would serve to recruit membership.

I felt privileged to attend this meeting and photograph it even if the meeting itself—and the photos—might not be earth-shaking. Little by little, I am an infiltrator, I worm thru the political and social infrastructure of the Seeds of the New Detroit Miracle.

Arriving a few minutes early at the site in East Detroit, Red Door Digital, I spoke with Ulysses and Blair about racism in the city, how, if the leadership were more mixed, racism might not be so rampant. Blair told us about his project to portray the history of Black Panthers in Detroit. Soon he will go to Chicago to attend an honoring of Fred Hampton and will work on his project, if I understood him properly. I do not hesitate to engage with people of color, drawing on my “Struggles Against Racism” photo collective days working closely with people like Reggie Lewis, Lou Jones, and Don West, fellow photographers in the struggle.

November 15, 2014, Saturday, Detroit, Karen’s house 

New Work New Culture is highly relevant to me and many I know. A good proportion of us, S particularly, is trapped in modest paying (or low), relatively meaningless jobs, unable to find a solution. S does interior design, reasonably close to her heart and talents; K writes and coordinates social media, and does some photography, all reasonably close to heart and talent. But neither job fully, deeply, passionately, satisfies their deepest centers. They wish for more. Thus, New Work, a changed perspective about meaning in work—and the role of work in society—and better yet—since I’m sure this insight is widely known—a network, slowly emerging, that might support the quest to follow one’s bliss. Thus Liz’s advocacy for a support mechanism in the form of at least a functional website.

I am graced by my position in life. Perhaps I am unrecognized to the extent I might wish (I withered during Corine Vermeulen’s presentation at the Detroit Institute of Art, but rallied eventually), not shown, not financially remunerated as I’d like, but alive, working, free. Not a bad station in life; not ideal, but manageable. I do not usually lose sleep over my position.

November 18, 2014, Tuesday, Detroit, Karen’s house

Kim invited me to the New Work celebration tomorrow, offering a ride since she lives only 4 blocks from me. I accepted and told her about the Reverend Pinckney talk and rally which apparently she did not know about. She agreed to attend and drive me. She also invited me to a string of events on Thursday, but I plan to work with Karen on the house and then drive to Ann Arbor.

She is tall, nearly my height, black, maybe in her 60s, a retired physical education teacher I believe. She is now very active with New Work, having understood the importance of political activism relatively late in her life. She is close to the Boggs Center.

November 20, 2014, Thursday, Detroit, Karen’s house 

A big celebration last night at the Boggs Center to honor and thank the organizers of the October New Work New Culture conference. About 20 people eventually showed up, some only for food (delicious Mideast food from Harmony Gardens in Midtown), including Blair Evans who I’d like to meet more privately, Sophia and her son Nils from the UK, Bart who runs a school program featuring hands on learning, Rich Feldman who I’ve known since attending one of his tours during summer 2010, Frithjof praising my photography, Jamal who explained why he refused permission to photograph him at the Red Door Digital meeting, and others.

A fine time to build those connections, such as with Bart, for later photography. And to dig a little deeper into the culture of New Culture itself, who people are, what the mission is, why bother.

I can imagine working more closely with Bart. He bases his pedagogy on the apprentice model, orients the education to employment, works with high school students within the public school system. He promised to send me information.

As we arrived during the snowy afternoon a man with a snow shovel asked if we wanted the sidewalk cleared. Perfect timing. How much? Kim inquired. You set the price, anything fair, I’ll trust you, he answered.

I recall that during one of my most dire moments Y suggested I turn myself into a neighborhood snow shoveler. This fellow might be a former teacher out of work, or construction worker, or even a photographer who couldn’t make his trade and passion pay.

Kim drove me both ways, thru the snow. We arrived early and set up, me on coffee. And cleaned up, me on the broom.

To thank her I gave her a recent photo from Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary in Natick Massachusetts, the long view of tree, pond, man sitting on a bench. (I’d give another from this set to Colin, boy on boardwalk at Broadmoor.) She phoned after dropping me off, thanked me and asked me to tell her about the photo. She then confided that she loves trees. (How did I know? Good guess.)

November 22, 2014, Saturday, Ann Arbor Michigan, Remley’s house 

I dreamt I met with a group of investigators or testers. I was to speak on the theme of variations or choices (not clear which in my memory). The investigators included triplets, 3 adult men looking exactly alike. I expounded on the New Work New Culture theme until they stopped me and told me, you’re speaking to the wrong theme! I felt this dream was good preparation for my actual discourses on the subject (as I’d given in brief form earlier to my Ann Arbor friends, Anne and Fred Remley)

TO BE CONTINUED

LINKS 

New Work New Culture

New Work New Culture A Manifesto by Frithjof Bergman

“An Interview with Frithjof Bergmann: Rethinking Work on a Global Scale”

AlterNet Covers NWNC 2014 Conference (Is New Work an Economic Theory?) by Mark Linsenmayer

Can New Economic Model Save Detroit From Financial Collapse? by Terrell Jermaine Starr

The Boggs Blog

 

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Plan for a new city from New Work New Culture

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Downtown

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Near my house, West Side, vicinity of Grand River and Wyoming Avenues, early morning

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Rasmea Odeh, tried and convicted in Detroit for a fraudelent citizenship application



A wrap up of 3 weeks in Detroit, searching for those seeds. November 4 thru 26, 2014.

Despite the catastrophic conditions in Detroit and the possible impending failure of the bankruptcy agreement, I detected in myself and in others in Detroit a nearly jubilant spirit. Maybe equivalent to gallows’ humor, but tangible nonetheless.

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MGM Grand Casino

A casino and hotel.

Motor City hotel and casino

Of course this feeling of joy and hope depended on where I was. Downtown—no problem, eat chicken shuwarma at Mike’s Kabob Grille, or stroll thru the MGM Grand Casino wondering if I could hit it big. Or Midtown, AKA Cass Corridor—snacking at the Cass Café or Avalon Bakery, pumping up my bike tires at the Hub of Detroit and Back Alley Bikes, or lugging my bike over the new light rail tracks along Woodward. Or the East Side—bicycling the many streets empty of homes, or examining the burned-to-near-annihilation Heidelberg Project, or stepping in open bags of shit while photographing a recently burned and leveled house near the Boggs School. Or my neighborhood in northwest Detroit, near Wyoming and Grand River—some vacant lots, many liquor stores, a rapidly expanding Grand Price supermarket owned by Arabs who probably live in Dearborn. Or further northwest in Brightmoor—said to be a district under renovation but to my eyes nearly as desolate as the emptiest regions of the city. Or Dearborn itself with its mix of Arab-Muslims, Arab-Christians, Christians and many others, and its plethora of bakeries, restaurants, and supermarkets. Each region with a different feel, different history, perhaps different destiny.

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Slow Roll, group bicycle ride

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Back Alley Bikes, Midtown

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Detroit’s East Side

Down the street, Washburn near Wyoming and Grand River Ave, where I stay

One block from my house

Shrine to someone murdered in Brightmoor

Brightmoor, shrine to someone murdered

As I wandered these varied Detroit landscapes and cultures I searched for the seeds of the new Detroit miracle: Detroit Down and Up, where and what are those seeds? Using my two cameras as tools, I made 2,180 images, requiring 31.9 GB of memory. Roughly 100 per day, equivalent during film days to about 3 rolls.

SEEDS

Here are a few:

New work new culture, a movement for meaningful work rather than just a job and a culture based in love and respect rather than competition and obsession with money, in short, the Beloved Community of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The movement organized a conference in October 2014 which drew more than 300 people from across the country; so surprising that they temporarily ran out of food. The movement is based on the thinking of Frithjof Bergman, an Austrian philosopher who taught for many years at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. The James and Grace Lee Center to Foster Community Leadership spawned it. I attended several of its meetings and celebrations and heard directly from an excited conference participant who happens to be the sister of my son-in-law, Phil.

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Frithjof Bergman

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Kim Sherobbi

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Planning meeting for New Work New Culture

Grass roots activism generally which includes urban agriculture (Detroit may be among the leaders); opposition to the bankruptcy settlement which many believe favors the financial and corporate industries; opposition also to large-scale development putting dollars before people; Detroit Summer based on Freedom Summer of 1965 in the south, a project spawned by the Boggs Center which continues to bring young people to the city to build morale and leadership and contribute to the community; and several remarkable schools amidst a generally debilitated school system.

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Recycle Now, established by a grass roots movement, now with city support

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Reverend Ed Pinkney, convicted of petition fraud in a campaign to recall the mayor of Benton Harbor, accused of siding with local corporations rather than the citizens

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At a support meeting for Rev. Pinkney

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Detroit Friends School

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Detroit Friends School

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Boggs School

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Boggs School, observation of the neighborhood

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Grace Lee Boggs with students of the school (photo courtesy of the internet)

Big money-driven development such as emanates from the billions of dollars invested by the mogul CEO of Quicken Loans, Dan Gilbert, and the founders of the Little Caesars Pizza chain, Mike and Marian Illitch. The Illitch’s also own the Detroit Red Wings hockey team, Detroit Tigers baseball team, and Motor City Casino. The combined net worth of these Big Three is $8.1 billion. Gilbert has exploited cheap downtown real estate, and the Illitch’s clear land and will build a sports stadium. Also the automobile industry; some feel Detroit may become the Silicon Valley of the Midwest because of high-tech automobiles.

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Light rail project along Woodward Ave in Midtown,
AKA, Cass Corridor

The hipster movement has come to Detroit, largely the downtown and Midtown areas. Consisting mostly of young people, in their 20’s and 30’s, they are also called the “creatives” because of their new ideas. Broadly speaking, Hipsters are young, well-educated, energetic, politically apathetic, bring more resources than most current residents have, and most importantly they transform—gentrify—the character of the neighborhoods they reside in. I’ve heard local Detroiters derisively refer to them as Outliers or New Hipsters. I wonder myself as I pedal thru my Black neighborhood on my fancy folding bike whether I’m suspected to be one of those, at least to be shunned, if not attacked.

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My folding bike

Contrary to my worries, so far I’ve been roundly greeted with waves, smiles, friendly questions, and for a few neighbors near my house, invited in for food and conviviality.

Artists, often part of the hipster movement, thrive here as they do in Brooklyn and some other cities like Chicago and Boston. These folks paint murals, not only downtown and in Midtown, centers of White culture, but in Mexican Town, honoring the indigenous ancestors. With a friend last spring, Colin, we discovered an arts center in an abandoned police station, the artists using the cells for studios and shops.

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Mexican Town (click image for enlargement)

Along the Grand River Corrdor

Grand River Arts Corridor

Urban agriculture spreads; Detroit, one-third vacant, offers much land for this form of development. Dating back to 1893 during a depression, mayor Hazen S Pingree wisely encouraged Detroit citizens to grow vegetables in unused plots—Pingree’s Potato Patches. Unfortunately because I was in Detroit in late autumn, well past the growing and harvesting seasons, I found little agriculture to investigate and photograph.

Urban agriculture near New Center

Put to bed for the winter

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Investors have also discovered Detroit, a preponderance from China. As of June 2014 the China Daily reports that “a total of $1.1 billion from China has been invested in Michigan since 2000, the vast majority of it in the automotive and aviation industries, according to a January 2014 report by the Rhodium Group. From 2000 to 2008, Michigan received $232 million from Chinese investments. By 2010 that total rose to $714 million.”

In addition the China Daily also claimed that “according to the National Association of Realtors, Chinese spent $8.2 billion on US property in 2012, generating approximately $492 million in commissions for US Real Estate Agents that year. Preferred destinations for the Chinese throughout the US include New York, Los Angeles, Detroit and San Diego.”

Renovation along the route

 Along Woodward Ave, Midtown

CONTRADICTIONS, COUNTER INDICATIONS, UNEXPECTED CONSEQUENCES

As I search for the seeds of the new Detroit miracle I also investigate exceptions to expectations about power dynamics. There are three primary power sources: Big Money with cash to transform reality, Grass Roots with people to transform reality, and Hipsters with ideas to transform reality. Big Money has the resources to eradicate blight; it might also foster wealth and income disparity. Leaders arise from the Grass Roots and may become corrupt, as was allegedly the case of a former Black mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, currently serving a 28-year prison sentence. (He recently lodged an appeal.) Hipsters can tune to their neighborhood, and like many in the congregation of Bill Wylie-Kellerman, pastor of St Peter’s Episcopal church in the gentrifying neighborhood of Corktown, they may open a soup kitchen, host meetings of community activists, and risk arrest for political actions.

Colin Connaire, a police officer in the nearby suburb of Grosse Pointe Park, formerly served with the Detroit police force. On two different trips he toured me to sites in both cities he’s had contact with, telling me stories and inspiring my photography. The police station series we toured and I photographed last spring is one example, and most recently the beginning of a series about private security in an upscale Detroit neighborhood called Palmer Woods is another. We looked at several crimes sites in his own city, as well as that city’s attempt to curtail access from Detroit.

Scene of a crime in Detroit that Colin responded to when on the force

Colin Connaire at the scene of a crime that occured during his days on patrol in Detroit

A SURPRISE: THE TRIAL OF RASMEA ODEH

I experienced an unexpected confluence of my two major photographic themes, Detroit and Palestine-Israel: the trial, conviction, and jailing of Rasmea Odeh, a Palestinian activist serving her community in Chicago. I attended most of the trial and rallies outside the federal courthouse, as well as attempting to visit her in the Port Huron county jail, as she waits sentencing in March 2015.

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The jury convicted her for a fraudulent application for citizenship. Judge Drain prohibited her defence attorneys from arguing that alleged Israeli torture and rape elicited a false confession and subsequent imprisonment for her alleged bomber operation in 1969—influencing her current conviction. The trial was in Detroit because this is where she first settled and applied for citizenship. Many feel she has been attacked by the FBI and Homeland Security—the intelligence apparatus generally in this country—because of her support for Palestinian rights and Arab-American women generally. In Chicago she has been in the forefront of encouraging Arab-Muslim women to fight for their rights not only as human beings but as women. This counters two cultures, an Arab-Muslim sexist one, and another denying voice and rights to Arab-Muslims.

Convicted of one count of Unlawful Procurement of Naturalization, she plans to appeal. Until recently she languished in the Port Huron county jail, in solitude for many days, with health and dental problems, no visitors and no letters. After an international campaign, Judge Drain finally granted release on bail and so, assuming her community can raise the needed $50,000, she can return to her family and community in Chicago until sentencing.

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Rasmea Odeh during her trial

BACKGROUND

The book, The Origins of the Urban Crisis, Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit, by Thomas J. Sugrue is a seminal analysis of Detroit. Altho published in 1996, I found its history and general insights about Detroit’s problems useful in leading me to sites, people, and ideas I can photograph. In the summer of 2010 I attended the US Social Forum, perfectly located in Detroit. I attended workshops and a tour (led by Rich Feldman who offered an excellent introduction to the city and its history and struggles and has provided invaluable leads), remained in Detroit an extra week, explored the refinery district, learned Marathon was upgrading to process the highly toxic and polluting tar sands oil from Alberta Canada, and immediately visualized the water body I’d grown up near in Chicago, Lake Michigan, flooded with oil from a major pipeline or tanker spill. That same year, heavy crude oil leaked from an Enbridge pipe into the Kalamazoo River in July, and in April the Deepwater Horizons oil rig operated for British Petroleum exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, both desecrating vast swaths of earth. Marathon and tar sands oil helped inspire my Detroit project.

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MY HOME & NEIGHBORHOOD

While in Detroit, thanks to Karen, a very generous and compassionate woman living in Ann Arbor Michigan, I stay in her unoccupied but fully maintained house near Wyoming and Grand River avenues, in a reasonably intact black neighborhood. Living there for nearly of 2 months each year since 2010 I’ve gotten to know some of the neighbors such as Gloria across the street and Johnny next door. For the first 3 days of my recent trip I had no water. Johnny provided facilities, fed me dinner, and we watched a boxing movie together on his enormous flat screen TV. Later at his urging I photographed him in his Civil War Buffalo Soldier uniform. Gloria lets me use her Internet connection, at times feeds me breakfast, and several years ago arranged for me to make portraits of other neighbors. With his gun Johnny claims he will run off neighborhood criminals, and Gloria watches the house when no one lives there.

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School nearby—every other morning I circumambulate its grounds

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Gloria

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Johnny

WHAT’S NEXT, FOR DETROIT AND FOR MY PHOTOGRAPHIC PROJECT?

I’m convinced a new spirit permeates Detroit, a mix of forces embodying new ideas, energy, cash, and will. Perhaps Detroit will resume its status as the Paris of the Midwest, or become the Bicycle Capital of the United States, or the Urban Agriculture Model for the world.

Or sink into oblivion, harbinger of failed post-industrial American cities. Or forced to bend its knee to massive corporate power as seems to have happened to much of post-Katrina New Orleans.

Detroit Down and Up. Searching for the Seeds of the New Detroit miracle (or Bust). I plan to return next summer during the growing season.

 

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Speramus Meliora; Resurget Cineribus
(Latin: We Hope For Better Things; It Shall Rise From the Ashes)

TO BE CONTINUED

LINKS

“Detroit by Air,” Photographs by Alex S. MacLean

“Six grueling demographic indicators of Detroit’s decline (and some pictures)” by Philip N. Cohen (December 2014)

“Detroit Pushes Back With Young Muscles”
An influx of young creative types is turning Detroit into a Midwestern TriBeCa. by Jennifer Conlin (2011)

“Detroit Urban Agriculture Movement Looks to Reclaim Motor City” on Democracy Now (2010)

“Detroit Doesn’t Need Hipsters To Survive, It Needs Black People” by Ashley Woods (2014)

“Detroit Rink City: Ilitches’ grand plan to supersize the entertainment district” by Bill Shea (2014)
A gargantuan 3-year plan: 5 new neighborhoods, a $450 million hockey arena and an accelerated timeline to complete it all

“Judge orders Palestinian American Rasmea Odeh freed on bond” by Ali Abunimah (December 8, 2014)

My blog about attending the trial of Rasmea Odeh

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Detroit-buildings-8856

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PHOTOS

Excerpts from my journal

November 10, 2014, Monday, Detroit 

Cool, upper 30s, 80% cloudy with altocumulus, calm. 

Yesterday, Sunday [November 9, 2014], a day departing from my more usual Detroit days: attend Detroit Friends Meeting in the morning where I met a few people like Peter and Mike who provided photographic leads (later Peter very kindly toured around many parts of Detroit I’d not previously visited and Mike offered me possible use of an extra car), a discussion after meeting with a young woman and man who are part of the Friends of Jesus Quaker group, and generally a chance to exercise my tribal tendencies by linking with local Quakers and discover a home away from home.

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Photo courtesy of Detroit Friends Meeting

Since the meeting site is, you might say, inner city, near the river, (West Fort St and Livernois Ave), in an industrial zone (and they hope to keep the meeting located in such a site, after they’ve been forced to move by new bridge construction), by bike I cruised the area and acceded to my strong desire to photograph industrial landscapes. Plenty of them here: a former commercial harbor area, now mostly abandoned; a building with all its window frames scrapped; a mysterious industrial structure about 4 stories tall; a long warehouse without variation; a tall wide building missing all its windows; each structure an icon of Detroit, each a source of beauty—and potential. This was my first experience on this particular trip of free wheeling, spontaneous photography, the type I love to practice best. From Old Fort Wayne to under the international but privately owned bridge.

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Then thru Mexican Town thinking I might devour a steaming burrito in a small restaurant or café. Nothing. Only one large restaurant which probably had waiters and table cloths and whose burritos might be too expensive for my budget and needs. I found some new construction, small houses, ticky-tacky type, but housing none the less, perhaps in a neighborhood convenient to downtown and possible jobs. Also some gorgeous murals. One I made a panoramic photo of, a testimonial to indigenous people.

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Home finally in the late afternoon, hungry, I feasted on my fish-chicken-lentil combo, beer, coffee, Arabic sweets, and accessories such as stuffed grape leaves from my favorite Dearborn bakery, New Yazmeen. After a nap, I phoned Rich F and when he called back (from Chicago) he was warm and helpful, promising many leads which I see in this morning’s email he’s provided. We have established a vital relationship. This type of photography relies on good contacts—to alert me to photographic possibilities, to inform me about underlying dynamics, to introduce me to otherwise wary communities, and in some cases for protection. Leads provide this and I give back photographs.

A few days ago I found lying along the sidewalk outside my house a notice about a crime:

Help solve this crime!

Cash reward up to $2,500

KENNETH PEETE KILLED!!!

On Friday, August 4, 2013, Kenneth Peete III, a.k.a. Skip was found murdered in his home on Detroit’s west side. He was found during the early morning hours at West Outer Drive and Santa Barbara.

To submit a tip: …

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Chilling for sure, especially because we shared first names, Skip, sad also. I find nothing on-line about consequences, expected none. Could be me, I suppose, killed by a robber or because of mistaken identity. Thus I run a risk.

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Yesterday [November 9, 2014], bicycling home, a minor mishap. I was tired, I was hungry, I was cold, the light was beginning to fade, I was about 4 miles from home. And when I shifted, the bike chain jammed itself so tightly between the freewheel and the bike frame that it stuck. I was rendered powerless. What to do?

Free the chain of course. How do it? I had no tools. I was on Grand Blvd. West, apartment blocks nearby. I searched for something strong, maybe wooden, that I could use to pry the chain loose. Wood didn’t work. I wheeled the bike around a corner, into an alley, the area gasping with garbage. Maybe in one of these piles I could find something metal, a tool. First pile—no luck, just clothes, containers, old mobile phones, furniture. Second—none here either. Then finally, searching thru the debris behind one of the empty buildings—was anyone watching, prepared to jump me and steal my gear and bike?—I found a 1 foot length of metal, relatively thin. Would it be strong enough?

Yes—it worked. I finally freed my chain, vowing to either adjust the shifter so this doesn’t happen again when I suddenly shift to high gear, or remember to slowly shift into that cruising gear.

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I had been close to panic. Who could I phone? I thought. Could my neighbor, Johnny, pick me up with his truck? But I don’t have his phone number. Maybe another neighbor, Gloria, could give it to me or get Johnny to the phone. (She doesn’t own a car.). Karen? Lives in Ann Arbor, too far from here. Wink, maybe. All not needed, thank god. Skip’s little adventure, another in a long string.

Down the street, Washburn near Wyoming and Grand River Ave, where I stay

TO BE CONTINUED

LINKS & MORE INFORMATION

“Detroit’s Staggering Murder And Violent Crime Rate Are ‘A Public Health Issue'” by Kate Abbey-Lambertz, November 14, 2014

“Detroit Crime Dropped In 2013, But City Had Same Number Of Murders As New York,” by Kate Abbey-Lambertz, January 3, 2014

Detroit Friends Meeting

How will the new International Trade Crossing affect the Detroit Friends Meeting? (from the meeting’s website)

The proposed International Trade Crossing between the United States and Canada will force the Detroit Friends Meeting to relocate.  The DFM is currently discussing ideas for a new meeting house and location.  The meeting is committed to remaining in the City, but an exact location has not been determined.

So why aren’t shovels in the ground? Well, the short answer is bureaucracy.

Because it is an international crossing, a presidential permit is needed. The Obama Administration has signaled it is strongly in favor, but getting a permit takes months. After that, there are needed site preparation measures. Building a billion-dollar bridge is a bit more complicated than adding a deck in your back yard. But Roy Norton, Canada’s consul general in Detroit, told me he expects to see actual work begin next year, or in 2015 at the absolute latest (Lessenberry, 2013).

Commentary: The latest on the bridge,  Lessenberry,  Jack, Retrieved from: http://buildthedricnow.com/,

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