yesterday was a good day to be a woman in Detroit.
the morning was a celebration of international women’s day, bringing together labor and community. the afternoon and evening were spent with the Detroit Full Circle Doula Collective, naming ourselves and planning some work.
hanging over this was news that i received on friday – a woman in my community found out that her best friend (a 3rd grade teacher) had been killed, by her boyfriend, in front of her child and her niece. he then went and shot himself.
that shocking act of violence is the sort of thing that drops the bottom out of me, makes me so so hopeless. it happens so often – search “man shoots girlfriend/wife/partner, then self” and millions of stories come up. it’s not the only violence, but it is such a specific and intimate violence that it scares me.
holding that in my heart, i went to be with women.
the international women’s day event was beautiful – we were at the UAW-Ford building. i had to go park down by the river because i was driving a suburu, and i appreciated that.
i got to work with union leader connie leaks, as co-facilitator of the event. speakers included cindy estrada (UAW vice president, mama, grandmama), grace lee boggs, lottie spady and kim sherobbi (both doing amazing work at EMEAC – in digital/food justice and education respectively), kim hodges and joan moss from the MI alliance of timebanks, gloria moya, myrtle thompson-curtis (feedom freedom growers) with poetry by gloria house and janice fialka.
from the beginning it was clear we were doing something really wonderful. we all brought to mind the women who have gotten us to this point, our ancestors and women who held space for us to grow.
cindy spoke first, and she was a powerhouse – it’s easy to see how this woman, who looks like a really together college student, is a grandmother, mother, and the first Latina to hold the UAW VP office.
“I was taught to always give my attention and time to the working people.” — Cindy Estrada
she spoke brilliantly to the current political moment in Detroit, in MI:
Detroit appointing an EFM is a way of saying that people of color, poor people, don’t know how to live, educate, and work. — Cindy Estrada
cindy’s pointed out that bob king, the president of the UAW, was sitting in the back corner of the room. it was a good thing that he was there.
after cindy riled up the room, i got to introduce grace lee boggs…here’s what i said:
grace lee boggs is a chinese-american community organizer who has beautifully held the balance of organizing and philosophy. she has left no issue unexplored, un-analyzed. she encourages everyone around her to be studying, thinking, developing an analysis and reflecting on the moment it is in the univers – to make sure our work is worthy of our context.
she often says she’s still got all of her marbles, but i think she is helping to create an entirely new game. at a moment like today, when i received news of great violence against a woman and i feel so hopeless, i think of grace’s words that we must ‘transform ourselves to transform the world.’
i am most familiar with three of grace’s projects – detroit summer, the boggs center, and the newly forming boggs educational center, which will start growing these ideas, rooting them with our babies, supporting a new generation to make a way out of no way.
grace is in a state of glory these days when she speaks – she knows exactly what her message is as she approaches her 96th birthday.
on this day, the 100th anniversary of what was originally called international working women’s day, grace reminded us of the triangle shirt factory fire where 149 girls and women died because the doors were locked. she placed the women in the room in that context, and reiterated that it is time to grow our souls.
People are hungry for a new way, people are longing to grow their souls. — Grace Lee Boggs
after grace were a myriad of speakers…here are some of the words that stood out to me:
You can learn from anyone, at any time, in any place. Everyone has some education to give. I ask that we all become conscious, committed teachers. All the time. What do we need to share, to grow Detroit? — Kim Sherobbi
Everybody deserves healthy, fresh, affordable food, period. — Myrtle Thompson, Feedom Freedom Growers, whose philosophy is “grow a garden, grow a community.”
the ideas were incredible – lottie spoke about our work with the digital justice coalition and that fundamental human right to communicate.
kim hodges and joan moss made timebanking so simple and accessible: “how many people here cook? how many need something done around the house? timebank. get your needs met by giving to your community.”
a fiery community activist named ann heller got up and spoke about how she and her community, knowing nothing about clinics, had started a free community clinic twice a month and it was booming.
it was incredibly inspirational…then we opened it up to the crowd. one woman spoke to the struggle of being a black lesbian in the unions, and how isolating that was, and how it filled her up to be in this space. another woman sang for us, “ain’t gonna let nobody turn me round,” till there wasn’t a dry eye in the place. my friend ife got up and asked a critical question, how do we rethink the work we’re doing and the impact of it – “not to offend Ford, but I just came from Senegal and it’s a car graveyard. all of our waste, the cars we are done with, end up there, and there’s nothing to be done. what is our responsibility as women, to change that?” it was brave to ask that, in that room – and i was so pleased to see the heads nodding, union and non-union, the question received in earnest.
gloria house, the great and humble civil rights activist/professor/poet came up and shared 4 poems, ending with the poem she wrote grace on her 75th birthday – “china and africa are married, in you”.
janice fialka got up and shared a poem that spoke of her journey with her son micah, who was born with disabilities, and how it has shaped their lives, her and her husband rick, and wonderful micah. she shared the fights they have chosen, right up to the first disability pride march. we all learned to sign “grow our souls”, and to sign our applause.
mama sandra simmons, undoubtedly the most dignified woman anyone has every seen, got up to lead us in calling out the names of our ancestors, and then had us yell with her: “i will live, and not die.”
when the event ended, women rushed the stage, to meet all these amazing organizers, and to buy grace’s book. dozens of UAW women came up to me to say it was the best event they’d ever been to. cindy estrada said to all the uaw women – “i want you to ALL have this book, so if you can’t afford it i will buy it for you.” sometimes change happens in quick bursts and you could see a shift, feel it, in the room.
i rushed back to my home to prepare it for the next meeting. the murder had taken the best friend of one of our doula circle women, so we shifted plans for location and childcare, and somehow it came together.
we started by holding space for check-ins, and again i was amazed at how needed such circles are. so much was shared, and then we got into the work. we got the landscape for birth and abortion laws laid out to us, and then we mapped everything we know in terms of how women get support to give normal birth, breastfeed, get postpartum support, how incarcerated women give birth, how women get abortions and have support through that process…there’s a lot out there, and a lot of gaps. our first work will be educating ourselves, growing our collective toolbox so that we can truly begin to create a holistic healthy experience of birth and abortion and sexual health in Detroit. because every experience of pregnancy is a complete experience, and because we are politically committed to supporting the full spectrum of reproductive experiences, we are calling ourselves Detroit Full Circle Doula Collective. the word doula is complex, because it means servant/slave to women, and while none of us are interested in slavery to anyone…because it is so new in detroit and the terms is really being claimed by folks, we’re going to use it for now. we mapped out our work, and it feels so clear and needed and good.
the day was so full, and then so was the moon. i saw a quote last night – “the moon is always full, it is just our perception that changes.” i also spoke with a friend about how the moon, up close, is just a bumpy ass rock. but in orbit of us, in our constant view, and perfectly made to reflect the light of the sun with such brightness, she becomes so incredibly intoxicating.
i think women, humans, are like that as well. left completely alone, we are just – messy, somewhat gross, too hard or soft, afloat in the dark. it is only in relationship to others that we begin to feel the power of being in orbit, begin to glow so bright we can call home the ocean. and i have an unchecked desire to see us call home something as vast and incomprehensible as the ocean, into every woman, until there can be no more violence against us, against our loved ones, and against our beloved homes.
the circle is growing.