The Role of A Witness

Modern creatures, we must remember that we are essentially the products of a long and slow evolution. That, in the course of that time, everything we saw was both Here and Now. It was necessary to react to what we saw to maintain social order, to protect ourselves, to simply live.

Now, much of what we see on a daily basis is the product of a unilateral consumer relationship, it seems we’ve forgotten our own agency. We witness but we rarely bear witness. We just let the screen make us laugh or cry, but rarely do we let it rouse us to action. Technological achievements require us to calibrate our brains to react appropriately to what we see, which is often neither here, nor now, nor even real. When we learn to stifle the action impulse, we lose the power to act and react when we are called to do so. The dampening of consciousness acting in the police who watched their colleague kill George Floyd is the same as the one acting in the young adults who awkwardly awaited their brunch while a march for justice marched by. And despite our adeptness at looking the other way, we are still responsible for what we see, and, despite the diluted effect of distance, there is an added power in that we are now collective witnesses to so many of the crimes of humanity in our world. Continue reading

Post Moratium

Wayne County’s moratorium on tax foreclosures causes collateral damage to some of Detroit’s most vulnerable

Originally published in MetroTimes












Last week, the Wayne County Treasurer announced a total moratorium on tax foreclosures for the year 2020 due to the state of emergency caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Suddenly, the pressure was off for over 12,000 properties, including 8,000 occupied homes in Detroit that were likely to be foreclosed this year.

Most people’s first reaction to this news was a huge sigh of relief; a success years in the making, and long overdue. My job title at the United Community Housing Coalition is literally to prevent tax foreclosure, yet my first reaction (after the shock) was to mourn the collateral damage that this blunt tool will cause. Few recognize that this sweeping moratorium, while very beneficial to homeowners, perpetuates housing insecurity for many residents who live in but do not own their would-be foreclosed home, as well as delaying necessary interventions for vacant homes.

For years, there have been calls for a moratorium on tax foreclosure of owner-occupied homes. More than 1 in 4 Detroit properties have been foreclosed since 2010, causing many to lose their homes and spreading blight across neighborhoods. Past calls for moratoriums have been met with the same response: “We have to foreclose, it’s the law.” Yet Wayne County has decided to unilaterally defer foreclosures with no higher direction from the legislature.

Governor Whitmer has issued an extension for tax foreclosures across Michigan, and other counties will be using discretion to determine which properties will need additional leniency. In Ingham County, for example, it is likely that no occupied home will be foreclosed this year, while foreclosures continue for vacant structures or vacant land so that they can hopefully be restored to productive use. Other counties may suspend foreclosures for property owners directly affected by the coronavirus while proceeding for others.
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Until You Love Yourself

written February 17, 2016. Recovered March 1, 2020. Happy Eating Disorder Awareness week.

I used to hate the phrase “you can’t love somebody else until you love yourself.” Probably, because I was in a self-destructive relationship with myself and an “in love” relationship with someone else. So what did that mean? Maybe I loved myself, but I just treated myself terribly? Or maybe I didn’t love myself, and I didn’t really love him. Or maybe that phrase was bullshit. I hated it in the way that a child hates most about her parents the things that remind her of herself. I hated it in the way we all hate unflattering reflections of ourselves, especially when they imply the need for change, most especially when that change feels damn near impossible.

When bulimia came into my life, I immediately recognized it as a threat. I never liked it, never willingly made room for it. I confessed to friends and family and physicians. I tried to bleach it out of existence in the harsh light of truth. But there was some sort of cavity deep down inside of me that let the poison linger, and grow. Perhaps its because those other people could not fix me, they could only help. Perhaps it really was because I didn’t love myself, didn’t know myself enough to fully love myself, that I stayed sick.

For five years I was “getting worse.” Hardly a single day went by that I didn’t vomit. I accommodated my disease like an enabling parent to a spoiled child: “if I’m going to have to live with you, I’d rather you weren’t screaming all the time, so I’ll give you what you want.” It wanted food. All of it. All the time. At any cost.

Ah, but the memory does strange things to emotions. It’s easy to know for a fact that I was engaging in acts of self-hatred all those years, and to know that I didn’t love myself. But it’s harder to know if I was “really” in love with the man I got engaged to, and then married.

I really don’t believe in redacting past emotions. If I said I was in love and I meant what I said, than that’s good enough for me. I will not hold my memories up through the fuzzy prism of retrospection and say “but was I really in love? I mean really?” I was in love because I said so, and I have to trust my former self. But I do believe that I did not love myself and so, to reconcile the two, I’ll concede that I just didn’t love with my whole heart. I was an occupied nation, and the independent region still waved its flag, but whole swaths of the map were enemy territory. I imagine a report card of myself at the time might read “Michele loves at an 8th grade level.”

So many year later, when my husband and I split, I clung to the idea that really I couldn’t solve my bulimia if I was still married. It defied the order of operations. I thought I had to remove all the trappings of my grown-up life, relationship included, to isolate the problem and face off with it directly. Do you have to stop loving another in order to love yourself? I cannot say. But I remember the tragedy of realizing that the longest relationship of my life was with an illness rather than a person.

Isolating the problem helps, in a way, but it can also serve to remove the support structures that kept it at bay. As I wrestled alone with my eating disorder, it seemed to sense its mortality and gain a supercharged burst of energy. Before I knew it, I was pinned as ever, and alone. Every move, break-up, drastic thought or action that I’ve undertaken to CURE myself has a flip side, which is that it makes more room for the illness in the shuffle. It’s hard to discern whether my strong urges for change are based on what I want for myself, or it they are just my illness’ way of stealing more room.

I would like to build a home. I would like to have stability. I would like to distance myself from the days when I binged and purged and get used to the feeling of feeling my feelings. I would like to free my heart I would like to be alone enough to fall in love with myself. And then, I would like to fall stupidly, wholeheartedly, irrevocably in love with someone else too.

A Plea For Environmental Leadership in Hamtramck

In my kitchen there is a pile of clean milk cartons, collapsed cereal boxes, aluminum cans, an empty jug of laundry soap. This pile is there because it doesn’t belong in the garbage, yet I have nowhere else to put it. I used to utilize the monthly recycling pick-up station on Caniff (when I remembered and had time). More often, I drove to Recycle Here in Detroit to self-sort my recyclables. Inevitably, the outrageous generosity of our local recycling warriors has run out.
After the closure of the local drop-off, I went to Recycle Here only to learn they cannot accept products from outside of Detroit due to changes in the local and global economics of recycling. Hence, my pile grows. I could throw it out. I could sneak it into Recycle Here, or pay a free. I could drive west on Caniff across the Detroit border, find an alley with a blur recycling bin and dump my items in. I could drive to my hometown of Chelsea, where for over 30 years, reliable metal bins have stood ready to take sorted re-usables. What I cannot do, is recycle them here in Hamtramck.
It always been important to me to make sure I was minimizing my contribution to the landfills and incinerators of my community. I have lived in many states and countries, and always made sure to recycle. The only place I have had a harder time recycling was when I lived in South Africa.

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Opinion: GM’s Poletown closure proves we should treat corporations like people

Originally published in MetroTimes

There is something jarring about flipping between the news stories of General Motors’ Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant closing and Fiat-Chrysler’s new east side facility breaking ground. When a plant opens, public and private sectors invest together, with millions in tax subsidies, land deals, and other incentives from local government. When a plant closes, the company doesn’t pay back what they were given for one simple reason — they don’t have to. Government either needs to stay out of the “economic development” game or learn how to write some more fine print when they invest public funds. Continue reading

Lawn’s Lesson

The people I know say bad things about lawns.
They know about monoculture and monotony and suburbs.
They defend the dandelion and they weep for the weed
and dream blindly of how better times used to be.

But when I was ripping up grass in my back yard
to make room for a garden,
I put aches in every part of my back from the strain of unearthing the carpet
of earth-woven roots and green fibers. I pardoned the worms near the blade of my hoe, as they sprinkled the dark soil beneath me, and contemplated the sheer magnitude of life that I had to work so hard to eliminate.

I had to wonder if it was all a mistake- would my produce produce all the green it displaced?
Would I raze it into a barren blank space? And what is so wrong with my lawn?

If every plastic loving person in every sterile home in every cul de sac surrounded themselves with a moat of pure oxygen
they could do a lot worse. Even if they did it by accident, they could do a lot worse.

I will try valiantly to evolve beyond mere mowing to cultivate a space that nourishes my home and myself.
But if I started too late, or give up next year, if I learn that what I discarded was better than what I replaced it with,
then I’m the one who bad things should be said of.

Of all the problems with my culture, it is not lawns I am most worried about.
It is people like me who know so much about what is wrong and so little about what to do about it.

Called to Say- Marija’s Story

I met Marija twice. The first time when I was working as a property surveyor around Hamtramck. I took pictures of properties and recorded data from the sidewalk. I saw this eager woman with a strong accent standing on her porch and, before I knew it, she was dragging me by my upper arm into her front door so she could show me her water bill. Way too high, apparently. She asked me if I had a boyfriend and said I was “mental sick” when I said “no.” I loved her accent and her intimate aggressiveness. She was a funny stranger who made an impression, and that was it.

The same day that I met Marija, I met another memorable person the next street over. Strange story short- his house became my house when I moved in 18 months later. I’d forgotten all about Marija until I saw that stocky old-world frame standing at the fence of my new backyard one sunny day. Once I heard that incredible accent again, I knew she was the woman with the water bill! Continue reading

The Policy Path of Detroit’s Destruction

As published in Riverwise magazine

How state policy legalized the destruction of Detroit.

Detroit is a city with so much to lose and so little to spare. Popular narratives which attempt to describe Detroit’s struggles resort to abstract reasoning, such as the ‘invisible hand of market forces’. Other times, corporate submission to global market trends is blamed for the exodus of a once-thriving auto industry. However, when we trace the path of exploitative policy decisions at the state level in recent decades, we see that our own state laws have aided, if not forced, the hand of destruction. Detroit has suffered an inverted urban renewal process, through which homes are turned to blight, homeowners to renters, and neighborhoods to fields. This is the story of a predatory scheme that Michigan lawmakers, developers and special interests have devised during Detroit’s recent history.

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What god or scientific force
would put the sun and moon on course
to grant us an eclipse?
What trick of serendipity
would let their size appear to be
a truly perfect fit?

On other days, they square with Mars,
or some assembly of stars
in geometric rhyme.
The triangle protracts through space
then flattens, and, with winking face,
to You they do align.

A lesser mind would lie prostrate
awaiting predetermined fate
for minor mortals, we!
Another might dismiss as chance
this rare celestial mating dance
and fail to truly see.

But you and I stared at the sun,
unblinded, and we did not run
from night that dawned in day.
The lightless moon, haloed in flame,
subdued the sun, a moment, tame
but we were unafraid.

They say a line’s the shortest path
between two points, but space is vast
and beauty’s in the arc.
And those who travel by ellipse
are grander for their scenic trips
slow twirling in the dark.

Clock hands anchor from one point
two passengers, a single joint
who intersect in time.
Coincidence is all life is
and love’s the greatest gift it gives
for those who let it shine.

What randomness or holy act
would put me back along your tract
in love’s sweet gravity?
I’ll travel round the sun again.
But this time, I’ll be hand in hand
with he who’s chosen me.