Outside the Circle

Cindy Milstein

Whatever Way the Wind Blows


This Sunday morning, a sulfury smell filled my nostrils when I walked outside — a stench hanging heavy over SW Detroit, where I live. Usually, such foul air stays further to the south, where it’s emitted by the Marathon refineries, an industrial wasteland-graveyard of a “neighborhood” that’s chemically killing off its own neighbors. At night, Marathon is allowed to spew out higher levels of toxic fumes, eerily at odds with the millions of merrily twinkling little “cityscape” lights on its many towers. Here in my neighborhood, but at the foot of the Ambassador Bridge, which also has many twinkling lights adorning its arches after nightfall, offering a glittery path from SW Detroit to Windsor, Ontario, residents who’ve lived here for 20 years or more are starting to get lukemia. Just over 20 years ago, NAFTA unleashed a wave of cross-border trade — in this case, trucks between Michigan and Canada, along with their slow but steady deadly fumes as they idle while waiting for border guards to send them on their market’s logic way.

This afternoon, sulfury smell as backdrop, some of my neighbor-friends and I set up folding tables, aluminum-foil trays of homemade food and big store-bought soda bottles, plastic cups and utensils, and a few pop-up canopies against the off-on-again rain on a side lot near houses where a bunch of us live. We zip-tied a big “Free the Water” banner to the front chain-link fence-gate, as welcome, and the yard filled with people for a midwestern social that was also a fund-raiser. Besides being friends and neighbors, a bunch of us are part of the “defense committee” supporting Antonio and Lucka. They’re fighting felonies charges for allegedly painting “Free the Water” on a long-unused water tower, as act of visible support with those tens of thousands people in Flint and Detroit going without clean or any water at all, due to systemic poisoning and equally systemic shutoffs. The court case is political theater — part of the crackdown by police and city-state on the art of resistance (even as fancy events, such as the recent “Murals in the Market,” bring famous “street artists” to Detroit to mostly paint pretty pictures in the service of gentrification and thus displacement). So funds need to be raised to pay a lawyer to defend those who’ve long lived, organized, and made art here in SW — including art about the gentrification and thus displacement that’s slowly but steadily inching toward SW Detroit.

This evening, the sulfury smell seemed to have dissipated. We’d raised some $1,200 from what likely amounted to no more than a few dozen folks stopping by for friendly conversation and good food — and some silly fun. There’s a generosity here, not merely financial but of the heart. And people are good at coming together in Detroit when it matters, when the winds bring things our way we hadn’t expected, or that might further damage or even kill us or others.

In a world that feels toxic, that is deadening and deadly, on so many levels, I keep returning to one of my basic beliefs these brutal days: that “solidarity is our best weapon.” Solidarity, and caring communities that can defy all the heaviness hanging in the air, and yet also aspire to breath life into spaces and social relations of our own making.

#WaterIsLife #AirIsLife #ResistanceIsLife #CommunityIsLife

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(Photo by Cindy Milstein, SW Detroit, October 16, 2016.)

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This entry was posted on October 17, 2016 by in Dispatches from Rebellious Spaces, Dispatches from Vanishing Detroit.
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