Excerpts from my journal while in Detroit, moving backwards (not always), last to first.
About deindustrialization, depopulation, residential and commercial vacancy, corruption of capitalism—and the rise of urban gardens, local resistance and activist organizations—ending with news about the US Social Forum, Allied Media Conference, and the first public national gathering of anti-Zionist Jews in the United States.
In several parts, with periodic photos and videos.
A photographer is not a soldier nor a refugee, he is a spectator who tries to show a situation and if possible, also show how it feels. (emphasis added)
June 22, 2010, Tuesday, Detroit, home of KD
As I wrote Y yesterday, responding to her long letter:
The big news today at the assembly of Jews confronting racism and Israeli occupation—you’ve heard about this no doubt on Amy Goodman and Democracy Now and thru my emails today—was the Oakland picket that at least temporarily prevented the offloading of an Israeli ship. Whether it will offload somewhere else or later in Oakland is a question. Observing the growing solidarity between Palestine and workers around the world (including South Africa) is heartening. The Assembly [of Anti Zionist Jews] gave the bearer of the news a standing ovation.
Big news indeed, generating the most vociferous acclamation during of the entire Assembly, so far. I read later that the ship would probably be allowed to offload within 24 hours, which seems a huge mistake of the organizers, maybe result of negotiation, or simply caving in. I posted to my Levant list and others 2 items about this, hearing back from Sahar and Ellen C almost immediately.
Being with so many anti Zionist Jews fills me with hope. Yesterday I wore my Refuser Solidarity Network t-shirt to the Assembly realizing, this is about the only place I know of where I can wear this shirt and shirts like it among communities of Jews where I won’t get yelled and spat at, ostracized, threatened with arrest, or stoned. No one commented on it, which I thought slightly odd.
I missed all the workshops of the Assembly, not by intention, more by sloppiness and laggardliness. I’d intended to enter the spiritual and cultural reclamation workshop but I was late by 1 hour, which would mean missing 1/2, and the room was packed. So later I sat in with a group formed to discuss questions raised by the workshop. I thought this might be an ideal moment to dip into Judaism, learn more.
Initial questions were about definitions of spiritual, cultural, and reclamation, moving to the question of whether appearing spiritual can be a strategic decision, whether being spiritual is necessary to be an effective anti Zionist, and whether we should attempt a reclamation or “clamation.” I.e., claim to be the real or true Jews.
All very rich and informative. My contributions were to suggest the notion that spirituality is the adherence in practice to ancient wisdoms, teachings, principles. I admitted to not being a Jew (could anyone guess?), that I attended mainly to learn, and my spirituality is attempting to ground myself by listening to that still small voice inside. Furthermore, explaining that I make photo presentations about Palestine/Israel to my Quaker community, I believe appearing to be spiritual can widen the audience, that I’ve been criticized for not being sufficiently spiritual, not a real Quaker. When we closed by each expressing what stood out from the discussion, I said one word: parallels.
We’d opened by stating our name and then the pronoun by which we’d prefer used to refer to us. What, I asked, is that second question? Are you a he, she, or it? Oh, sexuality identification. You can call me a he/him. One woman wished to be referred to as it. Is this not a mark of radicalism and youth?
Along with this self-referential question is that of the toilets: maintain gender separation or blur it? Initially blur was the decision so one day I walked into what I thought was the men’s room and found 2 women waiting for the stall. Would I embarrass anyone is if use the urinal? Not at all, go right ahead. Then, due to opposition from the management, the organizers removed the use any signs to reveal the older his and hers. We were encouraged, however, to do what we wished regarding toilet choice.
2 serendipitous occurrences, as often happens at such events: 1st, meeting a young man on duty as peacekeeper. Wearing a large hoop in one ear, sporting a short black beard, himself short, I learned he will graduate from Hampshire College next year, is part of the divestment movement there, and with his group ponders how to meet the challenge of transience—students leaving the schools that had been the sites of their organizing. No answers, he said, and I suggested that he and they look at other student movements with the same problems, like the civil rights and anti Vietnam War movements. I gave him one of my handbills announcing next fall’s tour, hoping he could arrange a presentation at Hampshire.
The 2nd occurrence was meeting Tova Purlmutter at the Unitarian Universalist church as I tried to visit the Nakba photo exhibit, organized by Jewish Voice for Peace. She got me in, shared to some small extent my thrill when I saw about 6 of my photos in the exhibit, and as we were parting asked me to contribute something to the auction her organization, The Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice, is mounting in November. A photo from the Gaza series that I’ll exhibit at the US Social Forum. I noticed that Rula Halawani also contributed many photos to the exhibit, my once-colleague from my ill-fated Birzeit University experience.
The curators hope to tour the show, I offered to help find a site in Boston, Alice Rothchild will give a short presentation, Voices Across the Divide, on Thursday using her video interviews with Nakba survivors. Tova informed me that Alice’s mother had done a similar project about holocaust survivors. This is emblematic—a generational difference, a transition of attention, who is spotlighted?
Everywhere I turn I pick up aspects of the new day dawning: Jews and others opening of their eyes to the truths of Palestine/Israel. I can feel the buzz at the Assembly expressing a belief that they are part of an unstoppable movement.
However—and there is always a however—forces on the other side are strengthening and becoming more active. Karen told me about a group with the name of something like Huras, orchestrating defense of Israel. This might relate to the Re-brand Israel campaign that promotes ways of talking to counter Palestinian rights claims. As Tova said, this is a generational phenomenon, the olders being more supportive of Israel than the youngers. As others have asked, what is left if Israel is dismantled as a Jewish-only state, if anti-anti-Semitism in discredited?
Our research shows that Israel’s brand is essentially the conflict, said Ido Aharoni, the ministry official in charge of the program. Even those who recognize that Israel is in the right are not attracted to it, because they see it as a supplier of bad news. The conclusion is that it is more important for Israel to be attractive than to be right. (Anshel Pfeffer writing in Ha’aretz, October 6, 2008)
I am hopeful, not optimistic.
Walking up to the International Institute around lunchtime, I noticed a large “sub assembly” outside finishing their lunches. This, thought I, might make a good video. I’ll just meander thru the various groupings and show the variety of attendees. I did this but 3 times was gently stopped and reminded about many not wishing to be identified as a participant, not quoted, not recorded in anyway that would identify them. Yes, I know about this policy, that those wishing anonymity are wearing orange tags, I said, and agree with it, and I’m trying hard to split my attention between the video making and the needs of others.
Now, I wonder, what do I do to conceal identities but maintain the continuity of a single take? Learn how to blur selected portions of the frame; it’s done all the time. Maybe Tom can help me.
The reasons for the concealment range but are mostly wishing not to suffer should anyone connect them with the Assembly. People could lose jobs, sever from families, maybe destroy relationships. An indication of the power of the Israel lobby and Zionism generally. [I plan to post this once I’ve blurred certain faces.]
A few observations about Detroit: the word does not mean by the water as I’d thought, but by the strait, it is on the water link between 2 of the Great Lakes, Erie and Huron. In all my Detroit traveling so far, we’ve not passed one supermarket, nowhere to buy more than the rudiments except at liquor stores, a sure sign of desolation. Ditto for parks, Karen confirming my impression that Detroit seems to lack parks, despite the gobs of open space and the legacy of French urban planning.
Rick attended a Bury the Hummer event organized by the intrepid women of Code Pink. They bought a burned out abandoned Hummer in a junkyard, towed it to the Heidelberg art installation, hired a backhoe, dug a pit, dumped the Hummer in it. They did not fully cover it so it will remain a testament to the folly of that insane vehicle, poke jabs at local Blacks who might prefer Hummers, and footnote “the Detroit miracle” generally when Hummers probably were birthed. Now they die, or will soon.
Similarly, cultural jamming. Dunya gave another presentation that went over very well with the Assembly. They cheered at most instances of jamming—subway ads, bus shelter ads, slide projection, etc. [Recently, September 2010, she sent information about cultural jamming in Emeryville CA alerting people to Hewlett Packard supplying Israel with electronic surveillance equipment used at the checkpoints [including a video that seems to have temporarily disappeared from YouTube.]
Joey phoned, Y wrote, Lynn wrote on my wall, all wishing me happy dad’s day, but nothing so far from Katy. Which doesn’t alarm me, I trust her love remains firm despite a slight oversight. I will not de-home her.
As I sat in front of the Detroit Institute for the Arts, just outside the International Institute where the Assembly is based, I wrote Y, pleased she’d written me such a long loving letter, and eager to reply. She is house-sitting for me while I am here in Detroit. Yesterday also I land-mailed the card I’d written with well wishes as she travels west, a minor twist on our old tradition of offering to each other a short message of inspiration as one sets off on a journey. Collecting these might provide a cross section of our relationship.
I wrote about the bus ride, quoting my journal, then added:
I think you would have appreciated the tour I took a few days ago via the Allied Media Conference, the east side of Detroit, beginning with an abandoned auto factory, moving to a controversial new industrial site which displaced many residents and was billed as providing many jobs (not yet appearing), and ending at an urban garden named Freedom Freedom (I’m not sure why the doubling), built cleverly on abandoned land. Nearby we visited a scrap art installation that has been 2 times destroyed by the city and remains opposed by many in the community. Later I’ll send photos and video from this tour.
Happy Dad’s day, dear Skip
I remain happily here in your home–a hot thundery day today with high humidity–so I have the big fan on exhausting all the indoor hot air. did some watering to supplement the showers that came with the passing storm and will tie up tomatoes.
And besides writing about the Buddhist day of mindfulness, she added:
One more special thing–quite by chance I crossed paths with George C while walking to Sparks St. We had a little chat (not much time) and i told him–as it seemed overwhelmingly true in that moment–that he is looking more and more like Gandhi (the nose, the mustache). He was touched. And I noted that there was a speck of orange dust on his nose, which I asked his permission to dust off while we were talking (granted). I said George–this looked like pollen, have you been walking up this street smelling the flowers? He admitted to having stuck his nose into a lily and we both laughed at the delight of it. The little orange speck was quite becoming, like the touch of red people wear on their foreheads at Divali. So that was a very good encounter–so appropriate. he is such a lovely guy.
[George is one of the few in my primary community sharing my passion and activism for Palestinian rights, a tight bond.]
And now I’m back to work on my papers for Tufts–in your lovely workspace. thank you skip–and blessings on your journey.
If there is any “shopping bag” (like the one from Atlanta) at this SF [Social Forum—we’d attended that together], please get me one if you can.
We continue to feel the love that is part of friendship, committed by not being committed—filial rather than erotic, romantic, “in love,” or partnered. Perhaps something more enduring. Agapic, magnanimous—for the other, rather than primarily for the self.
Karen and I are getting along well, she a distinct blessing to my experience. We dined together again last night at the Cass Café, continuing to flow naturally together. We wrote on one email to Anne, me asking Anne to guess who I’m with. She seems deeply interested in what I’ve been doing and thinking, asks many questions about the immediate and the historic. Outside the International Institute she introduced me to a tall young man who turned out to be the man assisting me with participation in the Palestine tent, Andrew. Last night we were lost together in Detroit, trying to get home after the fireworks, which we watched from the top of a parking garage at Wayne State University. I feel in a couple with her and that she shares this. We make decisions together, laugh together, are a compatible team.
If only, if only…
Rick, very astute on these matters, always loving to hear me expound on my latest heartthrob, suggested we might make a couple. I shook my head, no Rick, my buddy, I don’t think so.
“Cost-Cutting Detroit Will Close 77 Parks,” June 25, 2010