22nd International Pedagogy & Theater of the Oppressed Conference Meets Detroit

I was first introduced to Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed in 2005 when I was deeply immersed in a career in the not-for-profit theater world. Shortly thereafter I was introduced to Theater of the Oppressed as a practice. The combination of these two events has led to a profound change in the way I think, the way I approach my work, the way I imagine the future. Nothing has pleased me more in the time since my discovery of popular education as outlined by Freire and my formal introduction to the work of Augusto Boal, than each opportunity to share these tools with others and seeing them, in turn, profoundly transformed by the experience.

Pedagogy & Theatre of the Oppressed has been convening people from around the world for 22 years, bringing people together to express ourselves, exchange ideas, explore possibilities and engage in dialogue. Participants come to sharpen their analysis, to expand their toolbox, to deepen understanding of the work, practices and expressions of Paulo Freire and Augusto Boal. The conference, according to Pedagogy & Theater of the Oppressed, Inc. President S. Leigh Thompson, “is possibility, it is resistance, it is pathway to revolutionary love and liberation. Coming together in a time where we are urged to be apart, to reflect when there is so much to react to, to dialogue when we are wrapped up in slogans and sound bites—these are revolutionary actions.”

I had the joy and honor to serve as lead organizer and chair of the Detroit host committee for the 22nd International Pedagogy and Theater of the Oppressed Conference in Detroit.  It was an undertaking that began nearly three years ago over a glass of scotch (very good scotch) with Julian Boal. We dreamed of what the power of experience to have this event in a city that has become the emblem of self-transformation and resiliency—a city that is in and of itself a powerful generative object leading many to conscientization.

I was overjoyed to have popular education and cultural activism taking a place in the heart of Detroit’s social justice community at Cass Commons and it was simply a thrill that my cherished colleagues in the Motor City were able to spend a few days immersed in beautiful, inspiring, effective and consciousness-raising work. It was equally satisfying that nearly three hundred attendees from around the world were able to make the acquaintance of Detroit, perhaps for the first time.

I’m extremely grateful to the PTO board, the local planning team, the many friends, institutions, community leaders and all of whom dedicated time and resources to attend this event at such and historic moment. I’m grateful to those who came before us, paving our way. I am grateful to our ancestors, especially those who took their place among them only recently—Grace Lee Boggs Vincent Harding, Ron Scott and Charity Hicks. I hope that the event honored them and allowed those participating to honor each other by being the best student-teachers, teacher-students, actors and spectactors imaginable for the three days of the conference and together into a future of waging love!


Keep Alt Space Operating for Winter 2016

I am filled with trepidation over what winter will be like in the 100 year-old under renovation house that is home to the ever emerging Alt Space project. It is imperative that the house hold up to the cold. I’m certainly concerned about freezing to death or catch pneumonia (no exaggeration), but I also want to keep the space open and available for community use through the winter months as well. I’ve been working with my friend, apprentice and fellow theater artist, Ethan, who’s been a consistent support since July. With labor in place we still need material resources and other support. To this aim, I’m running a GoFundMe campaign in order to raise $4200 which will allow the house to be winterized, mitigate flooding, cover a portion of utilities and taxes.

The $4200 will help cover costs to make it through the Detroit winter, including a) weatherization of the entire house so it can efficiently and sustainably be used through the winter for community gatherings and as solidarity housing; b) flood mitigation to address Detroit’s failing sewer infrastructure; c) the utility bills to keep the house warm and run system when the house is being put to community use and finally; d) cover a portion of the property taxes for the vineyard project GrapeSeedDetroit that is hosted by Alt Space at no charge.

The goal is to raise these funds by Halloween (October 31, 2016). It’s already starting to get cold, so time is of the essence. I’ll be administering the funds personally and will include updates on how funds are being spent as the work proceeds.

Funds will be used as follows (figures are rounded):

Weatherization: $ 600
Flood Mitigation: $1200
Taxes: $600
Utilities: $1500
GoFundMe Fees & Misc.: $300
TOTAL: $4200

Visit the Winter is Coming to Alt Space GoFundMe!

You’ve Made Your Bed Now

My first Detroit year started on July 2, 2016. I spent a day driving armed with a sack of bananas, walnuts. dates, carrots and celery. I also officially kicked off a raw summer in which I’ll be eating livings foods, while avoiding anything cooked passed 114 degrees. Leaving New York marked a departure from one way of living, piloting a documentary of my journey into sustainability. I’m a bit intimidated by my new Detroit life. I’m planning to be forgiving of myself, but I know myself and failure is a drag, even if it teaches a lesson.

Chris drove the rental truck with our belongings. I drove the Element with a few delicate items (my camera and tripod, my lighting kit, and stemmed glasses included). Jack did not get to come along on this one. One of my viewers was baiting me–asking me to denounce another YouTuber. I was writing the script to my next video which would talk about it. I made a video homage to Just Glowing Me. I ended up getting lost around Akron, which is not even en route. It was evening when I finally got to the house and Chris, driving a small apartment, had beaten me by nearly an hour.

There was water but no electricity. That was unexpected, so I started making calls to Kurt and Doc while Chris unloaded. (Ugh!) Turned out the power company had shut me off which was suspicious, so I called DTE while Chris unloaded more stuff. (Double Ugh!) Seemed pretty bleak and I was pretty impatient with customer service, even though she was very salty with me considering this would end up being a failure on their end. Long story short, a technical error in which their online payment system, which is superb at collecting funds, does not communicate payment received to the billing department. Lights were restored in less than an hour. We finished unloading and headed for dinner. Detroit Vegan Soul was closed so we went to the place that is not vegan, but managed decent meals. Right after dinner we returned to Alt Space to prepare for bed.

In the attic, where I’d stored my personal things, we discovered a dismal by-product of the roof repairs. 100 years of dust plus soot from the fire, and sawdust from the roofers, coated every container. The worst was that my bed was under a tarp, which I didn’t want to risk moving to avoid getting dust in the mattress.  We cleaned to uncover one smaller mattress and a clean set of sheets. We also had a slim rolling futon that I’d brought from Brooklyn.

We melted to bed.

In the week since leaving Brooklyn, I’ve barely been at Alt Space. We went to the lake to spend time with relatives. I did have volunteers for three days before leaving for Buffalo for a conference. I spent the last day cleaning one item at a time. The attic is becoming something. Certainly a great sleeping area when there’s a fan going. I think my photographer friends will love using it for shoots and such.  I’m loving the unfinished floor. A few days of scrubbing and the majesty of the wood is revealed.

The bed is still in the attic.

But, Really…What is Alt Space?

Alt Space is a culture project in just and sustainable living by Lead Artist Reg Flowers, following his purchase of a stone house built in 1897.  The project brings together neighbors, grassroots organizations and allies in the social justice community, providing an incubator space to develop sustainable independent community-controlled resources. The project promotes re-imagining how these resources can be shared to achieve fair access to power and the ways power is produced and reproduced.

Reg purchased the house for $800. It was badly fire-damaged and most people advised me to do a gut renovation, tear everything out and start from scratch. Every stick, every stone, every hand plastered wall to Reg told a story worth preserving. He spent 3 years with tsp-soaked rags, scrappers, environmentally safe paint remover, hand-mixed plaster, vinegar and newspaper.

Alt Space is a hub for social justice seeking to re-imagine how resources can be shared and how to achieve fair access to power and the ways power is produced and reproduced. The project centers around three areas.

  • how we can take ownership of our food systems
  • how we interact with the environment
  • how we develop as a community

Some guiding principles of the space are solidarity (which is the basis for the gifting model employed in our interactions with the public),  non-violence,  acknowledgement of historical and present day systems of violence and oppression that are our dominant cultural mode, and good stewardship which accepts the idea that we don’t own the world, we are temporary and while we are here we owe to those who come after us to care deeply.

Veganism has become a crucial part of the Alt Space model because it is likely the single most effective way humans have to positively impact their own health, protect the environment and protect the lives of other species (ones we eat and ones we don’t). Check out this simple infographic about the impact of animal agriculture on the environment.

As a vegan space the use of all animal products are discouraged. The preparation and storage of animal food products are not allowed inside of the main facility, nor should food service items (plates, cups, utensils, etc.) be used for animal products. In special cases and for community gatherings and potlucks, individuals may bring their own food products that do not adhere to these principles provided they bring their own  cooking and serving supplies.

Vegan Soul Makes Cruelty-Free An East-Side Option

Support our GoFundMe Campaign

It was serendipity that the nearest restaurant to Alt Space would be vegan. Detroit Vegan Soul is at 8029 Agnes St. in Detroit, MI. You can find your favorite comfort foods and enjoy them with the confidence that the ingredients are fresh, mostly organic, and completely plant-based. They have several soy free and gluten-free options and the entire menu is prepared without GMOs, additives, preservatives, refined flours, sugars, dairy, eggs or animal by products.

detroit Vegan Soul is the creation of Detroit native Erika Boyd and North Carolina transplant Kirsten Ussery. They decided to adopt a vegan diet after losing Erika’s father to cancer. Erika began experimenting with “veganizing” family recipes to bring that wholesome familiarity to her new found cuisine. The food became a hit with family and friends and she began planning menus for what would become Detroit Vegan Soul meal delivery and catering.

Detroit Vegan Soul was born out of our desire to make good, healthy food accessible to everyone, and to break the cycle of diet related diseases in families and communities. Their journey began in February 2012 with a meal delivery and catering company which served the greater Downtown Detroit area. The response was overwhelming!

Detroit Vegan Soul has a mission to help people live healthier lives by providing great-tasting, high-quality, nutritious vegan food that appeals to everyone, while at the same time supporting a sustainable earth. They partner with local food providers such as Sweet Magnolia’s, The Brinery, Earthworks, Keep Growing Detroit and D Town farms – who provide seasonal organic produce. These partners also take back food waste for composting.

Detroit Vegan Soul is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11:00 am to 9:00 pm. They are open Sundays for brunch from 11:00 am until 3:00 pm. No trip to Islandview would be complete for us without a trip. We look forward to partnering with Detroit Vegan Souls as yet another local business doing their part to uplift the community.

Why Veganism Ⓥ = Sustainability at Alt Space


Support the Alt Space GoFundMe campaign.

In September of 2014 close to 400,000 people from all over the world and from all walks of life gathered in New York City for the People’s Climate March to call attention to the urgent need for immediate action on the climate crisis. It was the largest climate change march in history. I was one of the organizers joining 50 of my immediate neighbors forming part of the “Frontlines of Crisis, Forefront of Change” groups, representing communities most impacted by climate change. When we look at the evidence of the so-called natural disasters that can be traced to climate change, we see clearly that those most impacted are the poor and otherwise marginalized.

Having been activated by participation in the People’s Climate March and having lived through Hurricane Sandy in 2012, I have been extremely sensitive to continuing development in my community that fails to consider the impact of cramming even more people into a flood-prone area. I am more aware of all of the choices I make and their impact on the environment, although I don’t readily have solutions for everything. Certainly the philosophy behind Alt Space has been greatly inspired by the harsh concrete reality of living on a planet whose systems are collapsing.

My tendency toward veganism was initially motivated by health concerns—my doctor was ready to put me on high blood-pressure medication. More recently I have begun to see eating meat and the use of animal derived products as acts of cruelty. This is something I am continuing to come to terms with in regard to my relationship with others who continue to eat the flesh of animals. It was another film, Cowspiracy, which connected for me the use of animals as commodities and my already keen awareness of the need for immediate and large-scale cultural change to save the planet, if indeed such a thing is still possible.

The most jarring fact that Cowspiracy presents relates to greenhouse gas emissions with animal agriculture responsible for 18% of these emission while all of transportation combined is responsible for 13%. These numbers came from a report sponsored by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. I struggle to conserve water and so the water use information I found especially disturbing. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 80% of our water usage is for agriculture with 56% of that water going to livestock feed. That amounts to about 2500 gallons of water per pound of meat product making a single hamburger more water-costly than a month of long showers.

Animal agriculture can be tied to deforestation, land use, water scarcity, the destabilization of communities and, ironically, world hunger. Those who doubt the validity of the film can read the United Nation’s sponsored report or view any of the source materials. The Cowspiracy web site (http://www.cowspiracy.com/facts/) provides links to the information provided in the movie. Regardless of whether you believe everything the film presents, it is clear that animal agriculture is destructive to animals, to human health and to the environment. As a project in sustainability and armed with that over-standing of the issue, I’m taking a stance against the use of animal products and plan to use Alt Space as a way to spread the message.

Support the Alt Space GoFundMe Campaign

I’m thrilled to be launching a GoFundMe campaign for the final phase of development for Alt Space Detroit, a community incubator space seeking to develop sustainable independent, grassroots and community-driven projects that bring social and economic viability to Detroit’s lower east-side.

Already Alt Space Detroit has become host to several community development projects including GrapeSeedDetroit a multi-stakeholder cooperative built on Detroit’s history of grape-growing. Collaborative partners in this and other projects have included Feedom Freedom Growers, The Boggs Center for Nurturing Community Leadership, The Field Street New Work Collective and a number of neighborhood block associations.

In full operation Alt Space Detroit will support community organizations and individuals in the social justice movement providing safe and affordable lodging, work space and community gathering space in a progressive setting built on principles of sustainability and non-violence.

What’s this Campaign About?
After 3 years the project is moving into it’s final phase: The roof.  The houses size, age, unique Châteauesque design, complicated roof assembly and the steep pitch (angle) all contribute to the amount of work and risk involved bringing the cost of this project to $20,000.

Why now?
This spring the house has been selected to host participants for the North American Social Solidarity Economy Forum and later in the summer will host students from several State University of New York schools who will collaborate with Alt Space and the Ghana Think Tank on a community-driven construction project.