It’s January 14, 2032, the day before Martin Luther King Jr.’s 103rd birthday. Over the weekend there was a record-breaking winter storm that old-timers are comparing to the blizzard that paralyzed Detroit on the eve of King’s 63rd birthday, 40 years ago. But people are not worried about getting to the citywide celebration tomorrow. All the streets were cleared of snow by the young people organized into Youth Block Clubs who have assumed the Right and Responsibility to keep the streets clean and safe for the community, especially elders. So it will be easy to get to the bus stop and ride down to Ford Auditorium, which is now the political and cultural center of the city. Very few people drive cars now, because public transportation is so clean and convenient (although some still rent cars for private trips).
For 40 years – ever since Detroit Summer in 1992 when young people came from all over the country to work on community-based projects to "recivilize Detroit" – the eyes of the nation and the world have been on this Michigan city. Detroit Summer ’92 had demonstrated how eager young people could serve, and how much they needed to be engaged in productive activity in order to achieve their full humanity. As a result, Detroit began step-by-step to incorporate community work into the school curriculum. [Ed. note: Detroit Summer ’92 was an actual event, the events following are possibilities.]
By 2010 A.D., elementary school children working with elders were growing much of the food for the city in organic vegetable gardens and greenhouses, while middle and high school students did most of the work of preparing and serving food for the community. Involving young people in the production and preparation of food brought a noticeable boost in the physical and social health of Detroiters. For one thing, vegetables were fresher because they no longer had to be adulterated with preservatives for transportation from great distances. The self-esteem of children increased because they felt needed. There was a deepening sense of process and a greater interest in science, nutrition, and ecology. Moreover, since children were working closely with and socializing with their elders, they had a better sense of evolution and continuity with the past and the future.
Over the last 40 years, cities have become the vital center of the nation’s life as Americans are increasingly conscious of the human and ecological wastefulness of fleeing to the suburbs and abandoning the population of the inner cities and the infrastructure of older urban neighborhoods.
Because of struggles against companies whose products were endangering the health of consumers and despoiling the environment, and because of the search for jobs, Detroit began producing most of the goods and services needed by residents of the city and region. As a result, the quality of goods improved. Workers became conscious of the fact that what they produced was consumed by their own families and neighbors. Now a great deal of the work is done in neighborhood shops, factories, and offices. As a result, workers walk or bike to work, and parents have much more time to spend with their children and in their communities.
As a result of exercising more responsibility for the city and region, Detroiters have developed a deeper sense of rootedness and pride in "place." Their global consciousness has also grown because a number of environmental disasters (especially the epidemic of skin cancer in North America in the early part of the century because of the hole in the ozone layer) increased everyone’s sense of interdependence.
Because Detroiters have developed a deep sense of social responsibility, citizens decided in a referendum vote in 2015 A.D. to adopt a Universal Basic Income Grant (UBIG), which had been debated for years as an alternative to welfare.
The UBIG is based on the idea that every citizen has a right to the basic material necessities of life, including health care and education, and that every citizen also has a duty to share in the responsibilities of the community, city, nation, and planet, and to contribute in some form to the overall well-being. Every citizen is entitled to a Universal Basic Income Grant, but every citizen is also expected to propose and practice a socially necessary activity that is within the capabilities of the citizen (or can become such through further training and education).
Time of Reflection
After Martin Luther King’s birthday was declared a national holiday, people all over the country wondered how to keep King’s celebrations from degenerating into pageantry, empty rhetoric, or shoppers’ jamborees, as had happened with other holidays.
In 2015 A.D., Michigan residents, in the course of the debate over the UBIG, hit upon a solution. Beginning in 2017 A.D., King’s birthday became the opportunity for a collective re-evaluation of where they had come from and where they were going, and, if necessary, a time to redefine or reinvent where they wanted to go. Each year in the fall, four months before King’s birthday, neighborhood groups begin to meet to decide on the focus of the discussion.
This year neighborhood groups have decided to focus on the Universal Basic Income Grant. The UBIG has functioned fairly smoothly for 15 years, but recently, there have been increasingly more complaints from both employers and community activists that too many people are just sitting around doing nothing. The Martin Luther King birthday celebration and re-evaluation will address these complaints. Decentralized procedures for city government call for city-wide public discussion and evaluation followed by discussion and solution implementation by neighborhood groups.
Grace Lee Boggs is the editor of So Sad Newsletter, and is currently involved with Detroit Summer and Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice.