It's the USSF, baby
Along with workshops, organizing and grass roots collaborating, the U.S. Social Forum offers near nonstop cultural haps from Wednesday to Friday. Music, art, film and performance feature on the Forum's schedule, plus a slew of events happening about town, both officially and unofficially USSF-affiliated. Here are just some of the highlights; for a complete schedule visit ussf2010.org/culture.
Another World is Possible Progressive Film Festival
A diverse array of indie films will screen Wednesday through Friday, exploring issues such as poverty, education, environmental justice, workers' rights and militarism. Films include local doc Our School, a chronicle of life in three Detroit public high schools; Promised Land, which explores land reform issues in South Africa; and black./woymn.:conversations; a documentary which focuses on the experiences and views of black lesbians. But no doubt the highlight of the fest is the preview of South of the Border, Oliver Stone's new doc, which rolls at 7 p.m. on Thursday. The film is a bullish examination of the current leftist turn in South American politics and includes interviews with Cuba's Raul Castro and Venezuela's Hugo Chávez. All films play at the AFSCME Building, 600 W. Lafayette Blvd., Detroit.
A fundraiser for the Student/Farmworker Alliance, Hip-Hop Fandango features hip hop with an international flavor from the Brooklyn-based Rebel Diaz Arts Collective and spit-fire lyricist Olmeca. The fandango is supplied by Son Solidario, a group that performs Son Jarocho, a traditional style of music from the Mexican state of Veracruz. The Student/Farmworker Alliance is a national coalition of students that have joined forces with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a Florida-based organization of low-wage farm workers that has led successful campaigns that resulted in a number of fast food chains — most famously, Taco Bell — making changes to improve the wages and working conditions for the workers in the restaurants' food-supply chain. From 8 p.m. to midnight, Thursday, June 24, at Spirit of Hope Church, 1519 Martin Luther King Blvd., Detroit; see sfalliance.org.
The East Michigan Environmental Action Council and the Indigenous Environmental Network have teamed up for a fundraiser to support their Earth-friendly endeavors. EMEAC has been active in Michigan for nearly 50 years, educating the public about environmental issues and working for the passage of environmental laws. IEN is celebrating its 20th anniversary of working toward sustainability and environmental justice for indigenous peoples and communities. Performers include locals such as Blair, jessica Care moore, Cold Men Young and Joe Reilly, as well as renowned Native American performers such as poet, musician, actor, activist John Trudell and singer-songwriter Annie Humphrey. At 9 p.m., Thursday, June 24, at the Magic Stick, 4120 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-9700; all ages.
Hart Plaza's amphitheater and Pyramid stage will play host to a variety of performances throughout the three days of the forum — theater, spoken-word and musicians, both local and far-flung, performing everything from hip-hop to folk, but the grand finale is Friday night's Leftist Lounge. Three venues in Eastern Market will feature DJs spinning soul, hip hop, house, Afrobeat and more, along with live performances by local hip-hop activist Invincible, Brooklyn's Readnex Poetry Squad and global hip-hop trio Rebel Diaz. DJs include Chela, Rimarkable, Sake-1, Graffiti, Waajeed, Sicari and more. The party also raises funds for local organizations involved in planning for the Social Forum. From 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. Friday, June 25, in Eastern Market at Bert's Marketplace (2727 Russell St., Detroit), the Johanson Charles Gallery (1345 Division St., Detroit) and Shed 3 of the Market; leftistlounge.com for tickets.
Fire By Night
A bevy of Detroit's avant-jazz musicians pay tribute to the abolitionist movement, the spiritual forebears to the activists participating in the Social Forum. As today's rabble-rousers agitate for social justice, it's only fitting to remember the radicals of the past who fought for the liberty of enslaved African-Americans. James Cornish, Brad Duncan, Joel Peterson, Hassan Razzaq, Skeeter Shelton and more honor the likes of John Brown and Harriet Tubman with an evening of jazz and improvised music. From 8 to 11 p.m., Saturday, June 26, at 2739 Edwin Gallery, 2738 Edwin St., Hamtramck; admission by donation.
A number of anarchist and anti-authoritarian collectives organized a track of workshops and activities for the USSF under the umbrella title "A New World From Below." They're also hosting a convergence center at the Spirit of Hope Church where like-minded individuals can convene to network, socialize and enjoy art and various performances. It all culminates in this celebratory show that gives attendees the chance to decompress after days of anarchic strategizing. Performers include Blair, Audra Kubat, the Last Internationale, Born in a Cent, David Rovics and Ryan Harvey of the Riot Folk Collective. At 8 p.m., Saturday, June 26, at Spirit of Hope Church, 1519 Martin Luther King Blvd., Detroit.
If you're a fan of Michigan hip hop, you'll know of OneBeLo. The Pontiac native has been a fixture in local music for more than a decade, has been featured in these pages, and is one of underground hip hop's most beloved figures nationwide. Whether it's from his material as a solo artist or his days in Binary Star, OneBeLo makes his living as a thinking man's emcee; his lyrics jump from the spiritual to the street to the boom-bap at any given moment. Lo has never been afraid to reinvent himself, and that takes certain self-belief and confidence.
Since last September, Lo has been playing shows with members of the all-female band Yin and performing under the DoubleLo7 name. Aside from the, um, clever concept with a catchy moniker, Lo says he's really looking to hit audiences from a different angle, with something new. That, and he travels the country with a van full of lovely musician women who play everything from guitar, bass and drums to keys, flute and turntable.
The bulk of songs are OneBeLo classics set to live music, but realistically, it's the visual and aural dynamic of having a crew of righteous women alongside him that makes the group pop.
After a well-received show at this year's South by Southwest, Lo took the band on the road, earning the kind of crowd reactions that he has never experienced.
OneBeLo talks about the group:
"Would I take off on the road with an all-male band if they were tight? ... yes," he says. "But would the perception be the same? Of course not. I've rocked with various bands over the years ... but with an all-female band we're hitting different kinds of nerves. The reactions are different; ain't nobody gotta be all sexy with it, they're just being real musicians, I'm spitting real shit."
What's it's like touring with a van full of women?
"I would have to say it was one of the most rewarding trips I've ever been on," he continues. "It's not about being in the car with women, it's about these women in particular. We driving through the mountains and we're all meditating, and everyone sees it as a spiritual trip. With dudes, we might be banging some music instead. But on this trip, we'll be reading Quran, we're listening to The Art of War on tape, reading hadiths, or [Malcolm Gladwell's] Outliers, and it's completely different than any touring I've ever done. It's a learning experience."
Considering Doublelo7 is now back in Detroit, performing as part of this weekend's Hip-Hop Congress, it's a good time to hit Lo up for his own Motor City 5.
1. Who is the best musician to come out of Pontiac?
OneBeLo: I would have to say Keith "Bubby" Webb. Bubb makes beats, he can play keyboards, he can play drums, he plays in jazz bands, church choirs, the whole nine. I'd say either him or Melanie Rutherford. She's a singer-songwriter, she was on Black Milk and Pharoah Monch's album and she's amazing.
2. Where is your favorite place to eat in the D before or after a show?
OneBeLo: I fuck with Oslos. The sushi is real dope and the Thai food is dope. I'm a snob when it comes to both sushi and Thai food so they really must be doing something right over there for me to give 'em the thumbs up.
3. Who's the most underrated emcee in Detroit hip-hop in your opinion?
OneBeLo: I'd say Miz Korona.
4. What's your favorite local blog in Detroit?
OneBeLo: I don't know nothing about the internet. I don't even know what blogs are in Detroit. I need to start checking 'em out though. I just let people tell me what's going on and then I keep it moving.
5. What's your favorite memory of performing at St. Andrew's?
OneBeLo: I would say freestyling behind St. Andrew's back in the day when [House] Shoes used to spin, back before cats really blew up. You could see Baatin, Elzhi, Cool E, Phat Kat, young dudes like Black Milk was probably still in middle school or something. Paradime was still skinny. Back when everyone had locks. Hardcore Detroit would come out and represent. It was just ill shit. Nothing compares to it.
DoubleLo7 performs with Jay Electronica, Slum Village, 5ELA, and Ro Spit at 8 p.m. Saturday, June 26 as part of the 9th Annual Hip-hop Congress National Conference. St. Andrew's Hall, 431 E Congress St., Detroit; 313-961-8137; $15 advance, $20 at the door.
"It's a bastard child who won't be invited to dinner anywhere," Bill Harris says of his latest work, Birth of a Notion (or The Half Ain't Never Been Told). He does so with a warm laugh, knowing too well there's no correct or clear shelf on which Notion belongs at the bookstore. But this book's madness (in that it lacks conventional genre form) does not detract from the erudite eccentricity Harris employed to present the history and cultural implications of minstrel shows in America.
Should such a subject ever be uncomplicated?
Varied in voice and device, stanzas fall into quotes from Jung, Shakespeare and Jefferson, and then we're presented with what could be script from characters such as the Eye of the Black Voice, minstrels Paddy and Mick, and from Barnum (as in P.T.), a dubious ringleader.
For the past five years, during his summer vacations, author and Wayne State University creative writing professor Harris researched minstrel and its harrowing lineages. He came back to it each year, jumping from whatever fascinating factoid to the next, loose in chronology, but gripped by sentiment. Harris is no traditional scholar here, and so this historical transmission is not presented as one might expect from university faculty. With extended threads that weave through subject and form, Notion might be thought of as lyrical investigation somewhat akin to Spike Lee's Bamboozled, but as a detailed, narrative precursor to that film, if anything.
Notion is a musical read, meant to be read aloud, with Harris's 12-beat lines penned in honor of the 12-bar blues from the American South.
Metro Times: Is the new book poetry, history, criticism or anthropology? I don't know.
Bill Harris: [laughs] Me neither. It's totally different from anything I've done before.
MT: Safe to say it's fairly different from most any piece of writing of yours — or anyone's.
Harris: The basic theme, whatever that is, is pretty much the same. We're basically looking at the world from a slightly different point of view than what the world wants to be looked at. ... Part of what this was all about was taking what I do, which is creative writing, and all the forms that are available in that world, and look at history to try and understand the images, particularly of African-Americans, and how that came to be in the setting in which we find those images in history.
MT: Quite an undertaking!
Harris: Part of the joy of this whole project was just doing the research over a number of years. The book isn't as orderly as it should've have been, according to the rules of the world, of history, of scholarship — it was more an improvisational thing.
MT: Where did you start?
Harris: I'd just finished a novel. It's kind of autobiographical, but it's this kid who's coming of age in the '50s. There's a scene where he goes to the library because he's trying to find stuff out about Booker T. Washington, and he asks the woman who's a librarian for help, and she's never heard of Booker T. Washington. See, at that point, there was no real evidence of the history of African-Americans. Was it marginalized or totally ignored? Culturally, and being a creative writer, I've always had jazz and blues, two things that make my motor turn over. Realizing the great amount of influence the music had on American culture, well, that the music is recognized means that to some degree it was recognized that African-Americans contributed. ... So in my attempt to research and understand cultural contributions from African-Americans, and in looking at African-American history and what was happening during specific points in time, the book became an examination of what was included, what wasn't included, and understand the whys and wherefores of that.
The 1850s and forward was when American was really becoming America — all of this technological innovation was happening, which made it easy for America to be who we are, easier for America to make claims regarding superiority, in terms of culture and technology. This time period was when pop culture was coming into existence, and the first American aspect of pop culture was minstrelsy.
MT: Are there aspects of pop culture in 2010 that you see as direct descendents of minstrelsy?
Harris: I mean, the template was set for what is American pop culture with that form. Almost everything on TV, sitcoms, what we think of as pop culture, goes back directly to that template — the obscuring of a face to portray something as other. The examples are almost too many to focus on one. The model was set on the degradation of these people. You can go back to [poet and playwright] Ben Jonson's use of black masques used in productions for the royal courts [in 17th century England]. What that was in a psychological and symbolical way was that, somehow, actors could purify themselves through this ritual. They could play out the dark parts of themselves and kind of overcome it. In America (250 years later), the white boys that were the minstrels, a large part of what they were doing was really trying to become white. They were Irish and European Jewish immigrants whose asses had been kicked and they'd been run out and come to America, as immigrants — others. Look at Arizona today, where the claim is that crime rates have gone up because all these brown people are coming, but truthfully, there's very little evidence that the crime rate has increased at all. It's a minstrel-based mind-set that drives that bus.
MT: You're talking about the general fear of "the other?"
Harris: Right, but the "other" lives inside the perpetrator too. The idea is that somehow I can kill this other in me by acting this shit out. There's a section in the book that's indicative of Ellis Island. Part of the ritual of Ellis Island is that they teach you to be American: be punctual, give up your name, give up your music, and be ready to fuse yourself into this new society. While America was defining itself, a part of that process was defining everybody else, deciding whether they could be a part of this society or not. African-Americans had no place, they were kicked to the side, but what came out of that was entertainment. By making them coons and buffoons, they had no worth but entertainment value. The whole racist thing is, as my colleagues would say, the scar on the body of America. It's the thing that has never healed because people don't or can't look at it for what it is.
MT: In 2010, how is that wound being treated?
Harris: By ignoring it. That's always been the answer. There's this notion now of, "are we in a post-racial period?" For a lot of people, they've always been able to somehow place themselves in what they thought was a post-racial period. If we took a walk and surveyed the first 30 white people we encountered, most would tend toward saying we are living in a post-racial period. The first 30 black people would give an entirely different answer. There's still not a realization of what the history really is. America could not exist as it does today had it not been for slavery. Nobody wants to admit to that. The stock market, the economy, everything depended on slavery. A couple companies, some insurance companies or whatever, have come out and admitted that they were involved in the slave trade or sold slaves, until we fully understand what the costs of it all were on both sides, I'm not sure that we can get over it. We need a real admission of what America is. You know, there are conservative politicians out there who say they want to "reclaim our country as it was." What does that really mean?
MT: So what is this book?
Harris: I think of it as a kind of performance in the same way that there's a performance in a Baptist church, or a voodoo ceremony or a James Brown concert. It's an attempt to shine a light on an alternate reality. I don't think it's going to change anything, but it was just a joy to write.
MT: Did you want to make the read as multifarious an experience as the subject? Would a simpler presentation have misrepresented the subject?
Harris: There was language and rhythm and specific imagery I wanted to use that I was able to put in this book that I haven't been able to use in other works, so it's kind of a repository of technique and research. If I were going to do it again, maybe I would do it simpler in some way or other, but, as you said, it is a complex subject and anybody who reads it will come at it with a different point of view. There's a lot of writing it, there's a lot of self-indulgence in it probably, but, fuck it — it had to be that way in order to be what it is.
Bill Harris reads from Birth of a Notion at 2 p.m. Sunday, June 27, at The Book Beat; 6010 Greenfield Rd., Oak Park; thebookbeat.com.
Q: My friend is a gay-identified FTM. He's hot, he's cute and, above the waist, you would never guess what he's got down below. We love to kiss and cuddle, and from my end, his blow jobs are great. The problem is that I have no idea how to reciprocate. He isn't into anal (why would he be, without a prostate?), there's no cock for me to suck, and what he does have down below doesn't interest either of us.
Do you have any ideas on how I could turn him on and get him off? It's starting to frustrate me. Getting bottom work done is a long way off with the current finances. —Sent From The Savage Love App For iPhone
A: "Your FTM partner has to become comfortable with his own body before you can attempt to satisfy him sexually," says Buck Angel, transsexual FTM porn star, aka "the man with a pussy."
"Your partner will need to share with you what his needs are," says Buck. "Nobody should be expected to guess at what his partner wants. Communication is important, regardless of gender or sexuality."
I agree 100 percent with Buck, but, rereading your letter, SFTSLAFI, I'm thinking there's a chance your FTM partner is comfortable with his body but he's painfully aware that you are not. Up to a certain point, that's understandable: You're a gay guy, not a bi guy, pussy isn't your thing, etc. But there's a point at which your aversion to pussy — his pussy — becomes unacceptable.
And you know what? If you're accepting regular blow jobs from this guy, SFTSLAFI, then you're well past that point.
Maybe it would help if you didn't think of his pussy as pussy. All fetuses start out as girls — you were a girl once, SFTSLAFI — until the process of sex differentiation kicks in and "masculinizing hormones," if they're present, turn little girl fetuses into little boy fetuses, and little fetal pussies into little fetal cocks. So you know what your FTM boyfriend has down there? Pretty much all the same stuff you do. His clit is analogous to the head of your cock, and his clit has a shaft just like your cock does. He has ovaries for balls and a clitoral hood for a foreskin, and he's got a piss slit down there somewhere too.
Think of his pussy as a cock that's still in the box it came in. It's like a cock you got at Ikea — there's some assembly required, SFTSLAFI, but you can assemble it only in your imagination.
Back to Buck: "Maybe you two should start playing with that part of his body together," says Buck. "Perhaps you can try out some fun sex toys. Or maybe he can masturbate for you, and you will find that hot and want to jump in."
What's really important, though, is convincing your FTM boyfriend that you're not going to freak out when you see him or touch him.
"That fear is why so many FTM guys have a problem dealing with their genitals," says Buck. "They are afraid of what other people will think or how they'll react. Once you make him feel safe, then I would almost bet that your sex life will explode.
"Also, just because he doesn't have a prostate, that isn't the reason he doesn't like anal," continues Buck. "I know lots of FTM guys and women who love anal sex. In fact, many FTMs are into anal and don't even want vaginal sex."
You can check out Buck — you can check out all of Buck — at buckangel.com, where you can also order his porn, which you might find helpful, SFTSLAFI.
"These guys should watch a Buck Angel film while having sex," says Buck. "It'll show him the way some FTMs like to get off and might make him see how hot having sex with an FTM is!"
Q: I'm a straight girl who hates all the slang terms for vagina. Cunt, twat, pussy — first's too vulgar, second's too awful, third's too cute. And vajayjay? Too stupid. All the best sex-organ slang is reserved for men. It makes me sad. —Sent From My iPod
A: Let's just call 'em all cock then, shall we? Your pussy, SFTSLAFI's boyfriend's pussy, Buck's pussy — they're all cocks in the boxes they came in.
Q: I'm a 26-year-old FTM who is interested in seeing what sex with gay men is like. Although I have identified as heterosexual in the past, I do find something appealing in the idea of being appreciated sexually as a man by men who like men. I'm attractive, fit, over average height for a man, and passable — although I am quite slim and look like I'm about 17. I know that gay men find me attractive. I'm often cruised, and men have told me that I am good-looking and have expressed interest in me. In these situations, I'm usually not out as a tranny.
I have a few hesitations, however. I've never had sex with a man. I don't know what would be expected of me with the anatomy I've got. I'm worried that those interested in me would see me as a bottom, which simply isn't the case.
Another worry is appearing so young. I take myself seriously intellectually — presently, I am thriving in medical school — and would like others to do the same. And all these worries presuppose that there are decent men out there who'd even be interested in my body in a respectful way.
Can you, as a gay man, tell me anything about the gay male community? I'd be grateful. —Curious About Gay Encounters, Yep
A: The gay male community in a nutshell: There are some good guys out there, some OK guys, and lots and lots of assholes — pretty much the same as any other community — and there are definitely gay guys out there willing to go there with a cute FTM. (See the first letter in today's column; also, see all the guys who've banged Buck in his movies.) To separate the good gays from the bad gays, CAGEY, you'll have to use your best judgment, the same common sense and bullshit detectors you use with anyone else; to separate the gay guys who would be up for sleeping with a trans man, all you have to do is be up-front about who you are and what you're after with the men who cruise you.
As for your youthful appearance: There will be some "good" guys who'll cruise you and feel terrible about it — meaning, they'll find you attractive and think, "No, no, no. He's way too young." These guys will be hugely relieved when they learn you're actually a 26-year-old med student.
Finally, CAGEY, don't concern yourself with expectations. Just be open and honest about what you've got, equipment-wise, and what you're interested in exploring, gay-wise. Not a bottom? Just say so. It'll scare off the guys who want to top you, of course, but you don't want to sleep with them anyway. I promise you that some of the gay guys who cruise you will be psyched to bottom for you — I'm assuming that you, a hetero-identified man up to now, already own at least one strap-on, right? — because it'll be easier for them to deal with what you've got down there if you're strapping on something they're used to.
Q: My current boyfriend lets me blow him but refuses to go down on me. I miss oral sex! —Missing Oral Undulations That Hornify
A: If he won't eat your pussy, MOUTH, make him suck your cock.
Re: "Tax the brewskis" (June 16), oh, my good golly, was I pissed when I saw Jack Lessenberry's latest mind fart. I slammed the motherfucking paper down on the counter when I saw that headline.
First of all, Jack may be cool with the forced interaction that is taxation, but not everybody else is. There are people in America and Michigan who believe that people should only interact for mutual benefit, and with consent.
Then there are the practical implications. As Jack mentions in his article, Michigan has its economic foundations in industry. Some of the few solid areas left are tourism and entertainment.
Raising the beer tax is going to make Michigan less appealing to visitors from out of state, and even make suburbanites less inclined to spend money in Detroit's venues.
Jack's quest to find new and inventive ways to plunder the product of individuals' labor is not going to help Michigan or its citizens. I wish he would turn his attention to making people stronger rather than making the state strong. —Dan Keizer, Eastpointe
Pour it on
I read Jack Lessenberry's article on beer taxes with interest and must say he has "hit the nail on the head" about raising the tax on beer. Raising the tax by 10 cents isn't going to put anyone in the poor house. As Jack wrote, "Beer is not a necessity." And while beer is being taxed, why not raise the taxes on alcohol and cigarettes. They are not necessities either. And there may be enough money raised to balance the state's budget! —Thomas A. Wilson Jr., Detroit
Fair on Thomas
It was glad to see you not jumping on the bandwagon with your article on Helen Thomas ("Thomas' bombshell," June 9). She said something rude on camera and now it is time for everyone in the country to prove the negative and distance themselves from her as far as possible. Now that she's a media pariah, everyone is rushing to cover up and bury any evidence that they ever gave her the thumbs-up for anything. They're not fooling anyone. This isn't about Helen Thomas being anti-Semitic; this is about people thinking that they are too by association. It's like watching children freak out over cooties.
Even more depressing is that we all know that Murdoch's talking puppets spew thinly veiled hate talk as if their careers depended on making some kind of hate quota (and they probably do). Had anyone on Fox said something along those lines about Mexicans, Afro-Americans or Arabs, no one would bat an eyelash. It's not only expected of them, it's practically in their job descriptions. Do they bash Jews too? Not on camera, but, let's face it: That is just a matter of political convenience, not act of love. To the far right, Israel is just a matter of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" — every "jihadist" Israel puts down first is one less threatening the United States.
So how come what is OK for the right isn't OK for the left? Well, obviously, because the left holds itself to a different moral standard, one that preaches equality, tolerance and understanding instead of shooting, bombing and stabbing. For the left, being associated with hate talk is a far more serious faux pas than for someone on the right. So far so good, but there is another angle that I believe is sadly missing from this Helen Thomas scandal.
Specifically, the First Amendment. The left are supposed to be the big defenders of freedom of speech, no matter what the circumstances. Let me repeat that: No matter what the circumstances. That same First Amendment that let Martin Luther King Jr. do his "I have a dream" speech is the same First Amendment that lets the Ku Klux Klan hold public rallies. You have to take the bad with the good — that's how the First Amendment works. Most of the time the left solemnly acknowledges this, but, apparently, the ghost of Joseph McCarthy has risen again — and his new scheme to destroy the left is apparently to choke it to death on its own sense of political correctness. Watch as they grovel for forgiveness before the camera audience for the crime of having once had tea with Helen Thomas. I mean, what happened, did their balls drop off?
It's nice to see, then, someone actually mentioning the whole story — that she had a long and prestigious career, and that being of Lebanese decent might have helped shape her opinions in a way not congruent with the rest of mainstream America. And most of all, let us not forget that there is something that should be far more important in the hearts of the left than simply being PC and covering their butts by jumping on the anti-Thomas bandwagon — that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, even if we don't like it.
I disagree with what Helen Thomas had to say, but I'll defend to the death her right to say it. —Von Neely, Hamtramck
Erratum: In "Blinded by the arts" (June 16), we credited Christine Bossler with the benches in southwest Detroit. Bossler did work on the benches as an assistant, but Mary Laredo Herbeck was the grant recipient, designer and lead project coordinator.
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With Thousands of marchers headed down Woodward Avenue toward downtown as we went to press, the second United States Social Forum got under way Tuesday at noon. It's the culmination of more than a year of organizing by a number of groups in Detroit — and the next step for the international network that has been meeting and organizing under the umbrella of the World Social Forum since the first gathering was held in 2001. This is only the second time such a gathering has occurred in the United States, following a forum in Atlanta in 2007.
Why make Detroit the focus of leftists, progressives and various likeminded types?
And what might come from a gathering that features an anticipated 20,000 participants and more than 1,000 workshops put on by groups ranging from major unions to churches to the Sierra Club to Planned Parenthood to the ACLU to Oxfam to the Socialist Party USA?
Along with all those workshops, the forum will feature a handful of protests slated against businesses and institutions, and a lengthy program of cultural activities.
How did all of this come together, and what is the hoped-for outcome from all the networking and idea-sharing slated to take place here in Detroit this week? What will it mean for the city, and the broader movement as a whole?
In an attempt to answer those questions and more, we recently sat down with six of the event's key organizers:
• Oyatunde Amakisi is a 39-year-old activist, mentor, artist, businesswoman and the Executive Director of the Detroit Women of Color, Incorporated. Producer of the annual Detroit Women of Color International Film Festival, she is the national chair of culture in the United States Social Forum and the representative of the Detroit Local Organizing Committee. After the social forum she will also lead the Detroit Progressive Library and Community Theater.
• Rich Feldman is a board member of the James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership (boggscenter.org) and the Detroit City of Hope (dcoh.org). Feldman, 61, spent 20 years on the assembly line at the Ford Michigan Truck Plant in Wayne before becoming an elected union official. He has been active with the labor committee of the USSF, the disability justice committee of the USSF and outreach committee.
• Lydia Wylie-Kellermann is part of the Jeanie Wylie Community, an intentional community on the southwest side of Detroit focused on urban agriculture, sustainability and hospitality. Wylie-Kellermann, 24, is working with Word and World, which is putting on a series of workshops, cultural events and actions surrounding the idea of Sabbath Economics. She is also working with the Faith and Spirituality Committee.
• Elena Herrada is a second-generation Detroiter, daughter and granddaughter of autoworkers, and a grassroots activist and local historian of her community's history. She is a former president of a cafeteria worker's local, and spent several years negotiating contracts for labor unions. She has worked with United Farm Workers and was deeply involved in the launching of Centro Obrero (The Worker Center) in southwest Detroit. Herrada is currently an adjunct faculty member at Marygrove College in the Master of Social Justice program.
• Marian Baker was a founding member of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers and the Black Panther Party in Detroit. She is co-chair of the National Welfare Rights Union (NWRU) an organization of, by and for the poor in America, and was president of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization 1982-1989. She has been particularly active in fights to stop water and utility shut-offs to the poor for nonpayment.
• Adrienne Maree Brown is the Executive Director of the Ruckus Society — a nonprofit group involved in, among other activities, organizing protests and training protesters — and is a national coordinator of the U.S. Social Forum. Brown, 31, grew up primarily in Europe — her father was in the military — and has lived in New York and Oakland, Calif., before moving to Detroit in September.
What follows is a condensed transcript of our two-hour conversation with some of the local leaders about the road to Detroit and what may lie ahead in the next several days — and after.
Metro Times: Why Detroit?
Marian Baker: Detroit is like ground zero for us. When you look at the question of unemployment, we have one of the highest rates in the nation. When you look around, it looks like bombed-out Iraq. It is a question of housing, it is a question of jobs. Our economic situation continues to worsen. People need to understand the effects of this economic crisis. And, here in Detroit, we have concrete examples for people to see.
MT: That is the Detroit the outside world is most familiar with — the Detroit that, over the past 30 or 40 years, has been devastated. But there's also a flip side.
Adrienne Maree Brown: When we were going through the selection process, there were a lot of places that are in crisis, but very few of them have a peoples' movement like the one that Detroit has. That was a point that continuously came up. For example, there are all these bombed-out buildings, yet there is also this huge gardening and urban agricultural movement. People need to see things like that, because one of the things that we keep hearing is that what's going on in Detroit is what the rest of the world has to look forward to — not just the destruction, but also the solutions that are coming out of Detroit.
Rich Feldman: Historically, in Detroit, with its legacy of both the labor movement and the black power movement, there is an intergenerational continuity regarding this struggle. What we've seen in Detroit since the early '90s, along with the deindustrialization that has been going on for decades, is this amazing amount of grass-roots organizing taking place. What's been going on here challenges all the vision that the news media puts forward that this is all about the end of the auto industry. This is the end of an epoch in human history. But it is also the beginning of the hope of how people will live for hundreds of years to come.
In the short-term crisis, we can see how people have been able to come together in Detroit to talk about how does work become a human right again, because there aren't any jobs. How do we redefine education? There is an amazing amount of resistance, whether it is struggling against the brutality and viciousness of the kids being killed, struggling against the utility shutoffs and the pickups by ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] in southwest Detroit, struggling against the closing of the schools — with all this going on, Detroit represents a chance to talk about redefining the future.
Oyatunde Amakisi: Detroit is a place of hope. What doesn't get emphasized are the positive things that are happening. Young people, elders, people who have never been involved in movement-building are now becoming a part of this process. Even artists are coming together to make sure that this is beautiful and that it reflects the best of our city. People who would have never worked together are now working together because it is critical to survive.
MT: How did the actual selection process work?
Brown: The national planning committee of the U.S. Social Forum, which at the time was made up of about 52 organizations that were deeply involved in the 2007 forum, in 2008 started looking at different cities. After a process of talking about places and interviewing folks, it got narrowed down to three cities: New Orleans, El Paso and Detroit. A journey was made to each of those three cities, and it was so clear that Detroit was the city that was really ready to have the forum. In New Orleans, people were still rebuilding their homes and didn't have the space and capacity to host something like the forum, although I think we could find ourselves in New Orleans in the future. In El Paso, something this big, 20,000 people, the movement there wasn't ready to take that on right now. But the meetings we had in Detroit, folks were, like, "Oh, yeah, we're ready. Are you guys ready for us? Here's what we want." So the decision-making process was easy.
Baker: There were at first five organizations that selected to work together to be the anchor organizations for this U.S. Social Forum. They were the Eastern Michigan Environmental Action Council, Centro Obrero de Detroit, Michigan Welfare Rights, Southeast Michigan Jobs with Justice, and Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice. We began to work together to try and work out some of the basics. Eventually, Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice decided that, at this particular time, they should back out. The other four organizations stuck together. We're forged a collective that did not exist between the four organizations before.
One more key thing is the role being played now by organized labor. I've been messin' with organized labor for years, this is the first time I've seen organized labor in years trying to step forward and try to become part of this particular social movement, not only endorsing it but getting into the thick of it.
Feldman: The UAW has not been involved in a social movement since the struggle against apartheid. So that's 25 years. With the upcoming election of vice president Bob King as president and with Jimmy Settles and General Holyfield as vice presidents, as well as just a number of folks in the membership, the UAW is putting on workshops. We're excited to be participating in the event in the demonstration around Chase Manhattan Bank around foreclosures and supporting the struggles with farm workers. It's amazing, the energy within the UAW is truly exciting.
MT: So this is from the top down at the UAW?
Feldman: It's all legit and it's coming at a wonderful, coincidental time — a week after the UAW convention.
MT: Can you talk a little bit about what happened in Atlanta, the site of the first Social Forum like this to be held in the United States?
Baker: Just being there, and seeing the outpouring or people who have never been involved in organizing or movement-building was tremendous to me. Being in that poverty tent, and seeing folks be able to connect their day-to-day struggles to the global situation was an insight as well as a joy. On the way up there, we had a ball on that bus, because we were able to educate. On the way back, people were enthusiastic.
MT: Were there any lasting impacts on Atlanta?
Brown: I think that one reason we approached Detroit somewhat differently is that I feel like we came and had this huge event in Atlanta and, even though the intention was there, I don't think we had any experiential knowledge about how you would help build things up locally. So some of the stuff we are doing with this U.S. Social Forum is new, in terms of starting with the question of what does the local community actually really want and need. We're not going to be able to meet all of those things, but I would definitely say that the groups that came out of Atlanta were, like, you know, we worked really hard and what did we get? This T-shirt.
But there were few huge coalitions that came out that process. The National Day Labor Organizing Network was one. There were a lot of folks around the country who were doing that work but who hadn't necessarily crossed paths or come together to formally say, "We're all pushing for the same thing."
Amakisi: Afterward, one of the things we want to do is try and get a building together that the anchors and other organizations that have been a part of this process can have, like a social justice village, because we are going to continue our work, and we are looking to bring other institutions in. In addition to that, we are asking people from all over the country to bring books with them, because we are going to have a progressive library. We are going to have an aquaponic garden and also sell fish, which will allow us to both provide jobs for people as well as safe food. All these different groups and people who are working in the community, we are going to be coming together to continue this work. We're even going to have a progressive theater, because they can't afford the huge rates a lot of these theaters around here charge.
MT: How do issues of immigration and internationalism figure in?
Elena Herrada: Detroit didn't used to be a destination for immigrants, especially Mexican immigrants, until after NAFTA. So we're like a community that had sort of been assimilated for years and years. We come from immigrants from the turn of the century, when Ford was recruiting. We come from the people who came to work in auto, and all these years later we're finding ourselves with people who came to work at auto parts suppliers, illegal, undocumented, in the factories where workers used to make a lot of money. So we are kind of looking at the beginning and the end of auto in a sense. We came from the people who came in the beginning, and we're standing up for the people coming at the end.
We have Border Patrol around here now. We never had Border Patrol until after Patriot Act II in 2003. There is a whole new realm here, and we didn't have a relationship to that struggle before. There is an Arab community here, there is a Mexican community here, there are those of us who have been here forever, there's this international bridge, and there're all these people coming at us.
An important part of the social forum to me was something I've seen where other poor people live. In places like Cuba where poor people live well but they don't travel. Detroit is like that. We wanted for Detroit to have a whole bunch of company, to have thousands of people come and have a big party, have a big discussion, all kinds of things that normally would never happen because people can't travel.
Brown: What is happening right here in our back yard is happening to the majority of the people around the world, which means that we have to have conversations that connect locally, regionally, nationally and globally, because the system is not working for the majority of people.
Feldman: And because of the 30 years of community work — both in theory and practice — that folks have been involved in, a new kind of Detroit is emerging. We don't know what the next 100 years will be like. But this group that has been coming together and the amazing work the anchors have done in keeping folks together and pushing forward have created a space for this conversation to take place about how Detroit becomes an example of the future rather than just an example of the end of the industrial empire and the end of a certain way of life. The jobs aren't coming back. The American middle class is not coming back. So something else has to be created. And we know that in Detroit.
MT: How does all this look to the young people involved?
Lydia Wylie-Kellermann: I do think that Detroit is seeing some pretty amazing work around the intergenerational movement. I think about urban gardens, and I think that is a pretty amazing place where you are seeing intergenerational work. You are getting people out of their houses. Younger people, older folks and everyone in between are coming together and saying, "Who has skills? Who has energy? How do we do this together?" I think that is a real job we have for Detroit, and I think it is our responsibility to make sure we are getting young people from Detroit to the social forum. As much as we talk about hope and community in Detroit, that is not what [Emergency Financial Manager] Robert Bobb is hoping to get into the academics of Detroit Public Schools. That is not what is being taught. So this is an opportunity for a different type of schooling.
Brown: There is going to be a huge youth tent village. Folks are biking in from all over the country. There's also going to be an ongoing youth space that's going to be in the basement of Cobo Hall. Youth have done their own entire process, taking in their own workshop and cultural proposals, and they will be doing nonstop programming down there.
MT: In terms of the youth aspect, is it the older generation trying to recruit young people into it, or are the young people a driving force that's pushing this forward?
Brown: It is both. But the youth movement is moving itself. Anytime we are in a meeting and someone will say to the youth, "You guys are the future," they will turn around and say, "Now, we are now. Right now." They are definitely a driving force.
I think this youth space is going to be one of the groundbreaking components of the forum, and it really speaks to the self-organization of the process.
Feldman: It is an inclusive movement. Two things have occurred that I think are significant. One, it's been an amazing discussion to watch at the DLOC [Detroit Local Organizing Committee] meetings, at the organizing meetings, the discussion and interrelationship between all the movements and folks, whether they are coming from a class analysis, whether they are coming from a sexuality analysis, whether they are coming from a national identity analysis, whatever political views, whether they are queer or disabled, there is a discussion taking place that hasn't taken place at the same table — ever.
MT: Why is the forum putting so much emphasis on culture and arts?
Amakisi: Culture is the tool to bridge all of these movements together. It is a way to really open up people's minds in a way that they are not open to a lecture. They are not necessarily going to come to see you speak at a podium. They may or may not come to a protest, but when you give them a song, through rap and hip hop, young people are like, "We'll listen to that." They're going to listen to Dead Prez, they are going to listen to listen to folks like Sonny Patterson, they are going to listen to the Mango Chili Peppers, which is a collective of LGBTQQI artists from many different backgrounds.
We are going to have cultural tours when we bring the people to our city to say, "This is the Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History — beautiful, this is Tyree Guyton's exhibit — wow."
But everybody can't come here. Because of economics, physical challenges, passports. So we will have Detroit Expanded, which will have streaming video and video on demand, where people can actually go online and see what is happening here and relate and interact. There's going to be people going to churches and mosques and coffeehouses and old people's homes, so that they can get together and watch what is happening but also interact with each other, as well as interact with us here.
We are going to have hubs in Osaka, Japan. We are going to have them in Venezuela and Honduras and Cuba and Brazil. We are going to have them in South Africa and Kenya, and El Paso, Texas, and San Francisco and New York City. It just keeps building and growing.
MT: There was a mention of the faith and spiritual community's participation a bit ago. Could we talk about that some more?
Wylie-Kellermann: The faith communities are organizing for this forum much more than in Atlanta, and I think that is really crucial. There will be a sacred space tent on the river behind the post office where there will be constant interfaith prayer services focused on the issues the social forum is looking at. And they are proposing workshops and cultural events and actions.
So there is a lot of work happening through the faith communities, and I think that is really important for a couple of reasons. Most movements are born in the sanctuary and lead to the streets. That's part our history that we need to be looking at. And they offer sacred texts that are stories of communities working for justice. And that is really important to honor. I think it is important to realize that, in a movement, there needs to be time for silence and community and intentionality, no matter how you name it, whether it is prayer or something else, it has to be intentionally thought through and that is one tool the faith communities can bring.
At the same time, I think that we need to get our faith communities there and then hold them accountable. It is crucial to say, "You know what, churches, you are absolutely part of the empire today. What are the ways in which you are racist and homophobic and patriarchal and a part of the wars that are going on all over the world?"
MT: We recently saw the movie Battle in Seattle, which, although fictional, seemed to provide a fairly realistic look at the dynamic that existed within the left during the huge World Trade Organization protest that took place in 1999. And one of the interesting things that was explored was the tension between those advocating peaceful civil disobedience and the more anarchistic-minded who wanted to be out there smashing windows and things like that. Are you dealing with that kind of thing as well?
Brown: We definitely have had those conversations. There is always the meta-conversation of what is violence, which is a great theoretical conversation to have. But I feel like the conversation that we've been having in Detroit has been very tangible. There has been an action protocol that folks have put forth that says we will be engaging in nonviolent actions, that we have people who are undocumented, and we have people who are poor, we have people who cannot risk arrest being involved in almost every one of these actions. And, so, that's why so much emphasis has been put on the actions coming out of Detroit having a really strong solidarity around what's happening while at the same time having negotiations over where we will have civil disobedience, where do we want to raise the stakes. But even in that, how do we do stuff that is dignified and really brings across the purpose and point of the work? But Detroit is an action city. People here aren't afraid. The Social Forum would not be functional here if there were not a huge action component.
MT: So, where does the line get drawn?
Brown: I think the line is respecting the local community. That's what the request has been over and over and over again. There are local folks here who are going to have to live with the results of these actions that we take. And so the idea is, don't just come and do an action in Detroit, come and do actions with Detroit. Do it with the local community. I think that changes the tenor of it. Now we'll see how mature our movement is. Those who are really mature, no matter where they are coming from, they will be really excited about responding to that invitation. Those who are not yet in that place will not respond to that invitation. Then we'll have community safety and security mechanisms in place so that we can make sure that are folks are taken care of.
MT: What does that mean?
Brown: We have a lot of folks who are volunteering to make sure that if we have undocumented folks, if we have poor folks, if we have other folks, that everyone is safe. We have folks who will be doing conflict resolution on-site.
Everything is designed to make sure everyone comes through this experience in a safe, powerful political way. This isn't Battle in Seattle. We're not here to shut down the World Trade Organization. We're coming together to build a movement with each other. So the entire spirit of this is one of collaboration, growth and movement rather than confrontation.
MT: Has working with the police been part of the process?
Brown: Yes, the police have been involved in community safety meetings. And there's a group that's being hired called Threat Management that does amazing work. The whole idea is we want to reduce the violence. They are not armed. And then we have a bunch of volunteers coming. It is something we've been thinking about. Historically, it's something the forum has been critiqued about — different ways of managing security, different ways of responding to civil disobedience. The group I work with is the Ruckus Society, and there're a lot of groups in the forum process that have tons and tons of experience dealing with on-site conflict, dealing with groups that want to splinter off and do different things. We're feeling fairly prepared to deal with it.
MT: How has it been going dealing with the police?
Baker: I've been sitting in on some of these meetings, and the police have been listening. They've been encouraging us to follow the proper procedures. And we always put on tape anything we didn't like. And we struggle back and forth. And we've come to a conclusion on certain things. But they've been quite respectful at those meetings.
MT: Do you think they are going to be prepared to deal with what's coming?
Baker: That's a question we'll deal with when the situation happens. But at least we've tried to work along with them, and vice versa. But we didn't want to negate any of our principles. And they have their job to do. But at least we have been trying to have a civil kind of way to work with it.
MT: We've talked about the nuts and bolts aspects of this. But what about the psychological importance of having this many lefties all together? How important is an event like this to help people involved in the struggle to keep going?
Feldman: I'm laughing because, for all of us, every day we're getting e-mails and phone calls from people saying, "Hey, I've got 10 folks coming. Where can they stay?" They are coming to Detroit to learn history, and they are coming to Detroit to make history. It is not any specific initiative or specific workshop or discussion; it is the networking, it is the relationships, it's the spirit, it's the murals they'll see, it's the tours they will go on. It's the folks at Hart Plaza, the poetry. I've told UAW folks who've spent so much time in the plants getting their butts kicked, right, I mean, that's all we've experienced, I say, if you come here and all you get is a sense that there is a world out there that is dreaming, that is creating another 21st Century American Dream, and looking forward, that's what it is all about. Because then you can go back home and say, "I'm part of something. I want to create change."
Herrada: Plus, we live for struggle. It doesn't wear us down. It invigorates us. Most of us who are doing this, we were born to it, basically. Our parents, in many cases, were born to this. This is what we do. So it is very exciting to have so many people coming around who are thinking about the same things and trying to figure things out. I haven't seen anybody claiming to really have any answers. Just seeing everybody saying, "Yeah, how about this? And how about this?"
Brown: I moved here in September after coming here to visit eight or nine times a year for three years. I moved for love. And the thing I tell people is that, every time I'd land in Detroit, I'd look around and my jaw would drop at the abandonment that I would see. And then my jaw would drop again at these arrogant, in-your-face organizers who would say, "We got it going on." And I'd be like, "What are you talking about? Everything is falling apart. I don't get it." But the longer I stayed, just hearing people say over and over again, "We have to do love, be love, practice love, practice solution." That deeply shifted my frame of what organizing means to me. That is a transformation that I want many other people to go through. So people can come together, they can come thinking they have solutions, they can come thinking they have something to offer.
For more information about the U.S. Social Forum and full schedule of events at Cobo Hall and other locations, see ussf2010.org.
This year is shaping up to belong to Frontier Ruckus. The band is fresh off a buzz-worthy Bonnaroo performance and its sophomore album, is out soon on Ramseur Records, which took the Avett Brothers from cult faves to heroes. Frontier Ruckus' success is the classic yarn of inherent skill, hard work and luck.
In 2008, they released their debut, ,on the swingin' Ann Arbor label Quite Scientific, then toured — and busked — their asses off.
The members climbed into a 1998 Ford Club Wagon — it once belonged to labelmates Canada — and proceeded to log enough mileage to circumnavigate the globe twice, and then some. The band toured Europe a few times.
Not content to simply perform hundreds of shows a year, FR frequently busks in a town before their club shows — which is a brilliant way to sell CDs, gather up coin and lure fresh faces to the bigger show.
Vocalist Matthew Milia says, "Especially if we're in a town we've never been in, and we're afraid no one is going to be at the show, we'll play in the street, and 10 to 20 people will come to the show from that."
FR's sound comes off like Will Oldham sitting in on Neil Young's On the Beach; it's beautifully loose, bittersweet and acoustic. When you pair singer-guitarist Matthew Milia's haunted vocals and ace songwriting with multi-instrumentalist Zachary Nichols' spooky saw accompaniments and David Jones' old-timey banjo, the results are both antiquated and completely in the moment.
The band's van is lovingly christened Desperauto, a tongue-in-cheek wink to the Eagles album and the frequently less-than-glam aspects of road life.
"We were actively trying to come up with a name for the van, and someone jokingly put on the Eagles," Jones says. "Then someone suggested Desperauto. Now sometimes we call her Dessie, like when she's struggling to make it up a hill."
Frontier Ruckus' new album will hit nationally July 20. Get a free copy of the album if you go see them at their record release on Friday, July 17, at the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor. For more info, see frontierruckus.com.
Code Pink — the anti-war, largely female, peace-pushing group that formed in the run-up the Iraq invasion — knows how to paint the town. Well, a Hummer actually. A scrapped one, salvaged from a local junkyard and converted into a colorful installation that's part garden, part public art and part anti-war monument in the Heidelberg Project.
"Farewell to gas-guzzling, farewell to wars and occupation. We're saying farewell to macho ideas of ruling the world, conquering the word. Farewell to dominance and military bases all over the world," said Rae Abileah, one of Code Pink's national organizers. Dozens of members are in Detroit for the U.S. Social Forum.
About 100 people worked throughout Monday with 40 remaining for the late afternoon "funeral," an impromptu, unscripted memorial ceremony that included personal testimonials; pledges to bike, walk, skate and use public transportation more; and "Good-bye Hummer" to the tune of "Hello Dolly."
More than 19 months after voters approved the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, the battle over the medicinal herb continues to blaze.
Ferndale is one of the state's latest battlegrounds. The City Council there unsuccessfully attempted to close Clinical Relief LLC, a medical marijuana center, two weeks ago over zoning, according to Ryan Richmond, a company partner.
The business, along with helping clients obtain certification and providing consultations on use, also sells pot to state-sanctioned medical marijuana users. The business model is similar to that of clinics the company operates in Colorado and Nevada, says Richmond.
"Call it what you will, we do dispense medication," says Richmond.
He adds, however, "We didn't want to battle City Hall, but unfortunately we became a lightning rod."
Although the Ferndale City Council didn't succeed in having the clinic closed, it did enact, on a 4-1 vote last week, a 90-day moratorium on new medical marijuana centers. The moratorium gives the city more time to decide how to handle the fledgling industry. In Ferndale alone, there are as many as eight entrepreneurs interested in starting medical marijuana centers, says Mayor Craig Covey, who voted against the measure.
"We have plenty of regulations and zoning laws already in place in the city," Covey says.
Councilman Scott Galloway says the city needs the moratorium to confirm that the placement of medical marijuana distributors is "appropriate to the master plan."
"There's probably a place for [medical marijuana] here," Galloway says. "We're just looking at what other communities are doing."
Similar controversies are playing out across the state as municipalities grapple with questions arising from implementation of the law. According to Brandy Zink, a Detroit member of the national group Americans for Safe Access, more than 70 jurisdictions in Michigan have passed or are considering medical marijuana ordinances of some type. In some cases, officials are looking to help medical marijuana-related businesses become established, while others are attempting to either ban such operations entirely or regulate where they may be located.
Royal Oak and Mount Clemens recently passed similar 120-day and 180-day moratoriums, respectively.
Another indication of the gray areas surrounding this law was the arrest earlier this month of a compassion club operator in Williamston Township near Lansing. In that case, the club operator stands accused of illegally being in possession of more than 100 pounds of pot.
The state's medical marijuana law, approved by voters in 2008, allows patients who have received a physician's recommendation and are registered by the state to either grow their own pot or obtain marijuana from state-registered caregivers. The caregivers can legally provide the drug to as many as five patients.
But the law doesn't address how and where people can legally obtain marijuana from commercial businesses, according to Eastpointe Police Chief Michael Lauretti.
These businesses — called compassion centers — are causing confusion for many local governments.
"The law was poorly written to begin with," says Lauretti, the vice president of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police. "And it's in violation of federal law."
There is widespread support among the chiefs' association to alter the state's marijuana law to address commercial providers, Lauretti says. But he concedes that doing so will be an uphill climb.
There have been more than 18,000 patient registrations and 8,000 caregiver registrations issued in the state since April 2009, according to the Department of Community Health. And the push for increased access to marijuana is only getting stronger, according to Jamie Lowell, a partner at the 3rd Coast Compassion Center in Ypsilanti.
"The people who try to put the roadblocks in don't take it seriously," he says.
Four official targets for demonstrations — "actions" in the USSF vocabulary — have been slated through five days of the gathering.
The first, a rally by hundreds of protestors with 17 cardboard coffins symbolizing deaths activists blame on DTE, began Tuesday afternoon at the utility's downtown headquarters; the group then joined the opening march down Woodward. The organizers assert that DTE "continually violates" the limited protections offered to low-income individuals by the Michigan Public Service Commission; although residents can make payment arrangements to avoid having shut offs "if they slip once or miss a payment, then their utilities will be shut off."
Marian Baker, a member of the local organizing committee for the forum told us, "It's not only a question of no more shutoffs, but also the issue of utilities of being run by the government. DTE and these others don't have the right to be making profits off of energy. It is something that should be controlled and owned by the government for the benefit and well-being of the masses of people."
DTE spokesman Lee Singer — who spoke the day before the protest was scheduled to take place — says the company respects the demonstrators' rights to speak their minds but disagrees with the premise of the action.
"There are a lot of people that are coming in from out of town and declaring Detroit ground zero of the nation's problems. We, along with lots of people in the community — the faith-based community, local assistance organizations — have been working for years to meet the challenges of the city and its economy. For those of us who live here and work here, we're really focused on providing realistic programs and services to help," Singer says. "Last year we were able to connect about a quarter-million of our customers with about $120 million of state and federal assistance to help pay their utilities bills."
Singer says those deaths, while "tragic," were not the result of any malfeasance by the utility company. "Our sympathies go out to the families and the community but this wasn't the fault of DTE Energy," Singer says. "There have been a couple of fires that resulted after utility services had been shut off, but investigations that have taken place have made no connection between DTE Energy Services and the deaths or fires at any of these locations."
The other three action targets are:
• Andiamo Restaurant: Earlier this year, members of the group ROC-Michigan — an offshoot of the national Restaurant Organizing Committee — filed suit in federal court against Andiamo, claiming they are owed more than $125,000 in "stolen" wages and also claiming discriminatory practices and illegal retaliation. There have been weekly protests outside the restaurant since January as the case progresses through federal court. It is assigned to Judge Denise Page Hood.
Joe Vicari, president and CEO of Andiamo, which has 11 restaurants in southeast Michigan, says police alerted him that the action was planned.
"It's really unfounded," he says.
With pickets appearing at the Dearborn location for months, Vicari says the company will do what it's been doing. "We ask they don't stop our customers as they come in. Most of the time they don't, but sometimes they do," he says.
The lawsuit, which has eight named plaintiffs, alleges Andiamo failed to pay overtime, denied workers pay for job-related travel, and required them to perform job duties that were outside their job descriptions.
Vicari says the restaurant owners offered to meet with the workers after they sent a letter demanding the $125,000, but never heard back from them. "We're disappointed that no one got our side of the story," he says.
The official USSF program refers to a rally, march and "street theater" on Thursday, and one of the USSF organizers who met with us said there'd be an unspecified Andiamo action as part of the opening march on Tuesday.
• Chase Bank: Said Lydia Wylie-Kellermann of the local organizing committee: "We're calling on JP Morgan/Chase Bank to sever its ties with RJ Reynolds and to work with the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, and also to declare a moratorium on foreclosures in Michigan. There will be a march that begins at Grand Circus Park and travels to the bank's headquarters on Woodward, where there will be a delegation asking for a meeting to talk about this." As phrased in the USSF program's synopsis of the Thursday action: "A selected delegation may go into the bank."
According to the program, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee is attempting to organize tobacco workers in North Carolina and "is focusing on the entire economic chain: from the largely undocumented workers, often in slave labor conditions, through small farmers, Farm Bureau Associations, RJ Reynolds, to the banks, notably JP Morgan Chase, with substantial investments."
Company spokesperson Mary Kay Bean, contacted Tuesday, said JP Morgan Chase "would decline response."
• Detroit Incinerator: The choice is partly symbolic in a city that, as the program puts it, "is home to some of Michigan's worst polluting facilities." The Saturday morning march from the Detroit Public Library to the incinerator is intended to "push the mayor to expand curbside recycling throughout Detroit — bringing new jobs and economic development to the city — and end incineration of Detroit's trash!"
"The idea is to have folks in the streets learning about this stuff as they are taking action, creating art and creating murals," said USSF's Adrienne Maree Brown. After the protest, participants are to march to the forum's finale at Cobo.
Paul Gilman, Covanta's chief sustainability officer, addressed concerns about pollution from the plant and its compatibility with recycling. He says, the Detroit facility has a "world-class air pollution control system" and that burning garbage at the plant to produce steam and electricity is less environmentally harmful than trucking trash to landfills, which emit methane gas.
As for recycling, Gilman says the problem in Detroit, the only major American city without comprehensive curbside recycling, is that city leaders, to this point, have not placed an emphasis on recycling. (The city is, however, looking at the issue and has established two pilot programs.)
As to the protest, Gilman says his company understands that people have "heartfelt concerns" regarding incinerators, and that it can't be dismissive of those concerns. Dialogue, he says, is important.
THURSDAY JULY 1
The Summer Pledge
One of the trio of bands now signed to Woodbridge Records, the Summer Pledge creates an atmospheric din with throbbing drums, swirling guitars and vocals that never quite take center stage. The prog rock-meets-indie sound frequently shifts between opposing tempos, moods and dynamics, creating a tension that somehow works with the music's overall spacey dreaminess. The tireless Detroit quintet kicks off a nationwide summer tour and celebrates the vinyl release of its debut LP, You Are You, at 8 p.m. at the Shack, 1520 Merrick St., Detroit; with Prussia, Computer Perfection and Dada Trash Collage.
THURSDAY-FRIDAY JULY 1-2
MEN IN TIGHTS
Hilberry Theatre's annual summer children's show takes a trip to the Sherwood Forest this year with a kiddie-friendly production of Robin Hood. Robin and his Merry Men battle the rich, give to the poor and pursue their lady loves in 12th century style. All is fine and dandy until the wicked Prince John comes to power, and Robin Hood, assisted by Little John, Friar Tuck and Maid Marian, must overthrow him and restore the throne to kindly King Richard, proving once again that good always triumphs over evil — at least in fairy tales. At 10:30 a.m. at Hilberry Theatre, 4743 Cass Ave., Detroit; 313-577-2972; $8, $5 children 13 and under. Further performances July 7-10.
THURSDAY-FRIDAY JULY 1-2
ODDBALL INDIE ROCK
Founded by Isaac Brock, Jeremiah Green and Eric Judy in mid-'90s Seattle, Modest Mouse may be one primary reason indie thrives as it does. The group's sound, characterized by its ambience and Brock's bizarre lyrics, has roots in '80s alt-rock, with even some blues and electronica sidling up. Ever since the guys' fourth, 2004's Good News for People Who Love Bad News, went platinum, they have enjoyed huge success without losing the tripped-outness that makes them great, nor their inexplicable love of the nautical motifs that pervade their songs and vids. At 7 p.m. both nights at the Royal Oak Music Theatre, 318 W. Fourth St., Royal Oak; 248-399-2980; $35; with Avi Buffalo.
THURSDAY-SUNDAY JULY 1-4
Salute to America
The annual Salute to America joins the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Greenfield Village for one humdinger of a patriotic celebration. Before the DSO takes the stage, kids will dig the 19th century lawn games and visit with members of the village's historic baseball teams. The First Michigan Colonial Fife and Drum Corps and the River Raisin Ragtime Revue will supply the pre-concert music. The DSO will then perform an evening of rousing American melodies that culminates with a jaw-dropping fireworks display set to Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. God bless the USA! Gates open at 6 p.m. at Greenfield Village at the Henry Ford, 20900 Oakwood Blvd., Dearborn; 313-982-6001 and thehenryford.org for tickets.
FRIDAY JULY 2
Times New Viking
This noisy, low-fi trio from Columbus, Ohio, eschews the polish of modern production despite its major label and modest success, opting instead for the murky din of fuzzy guitars, muffled vocals and blown-out speakers. The determined lo-finess of it all comes complete with melodic hooks and a sloppy enthusiasm that makes this group's blurry racket a refreshing departure from so many of today's sanitized offerings. And sure, they may have cleaned things up just a tad for their fourth disc, Born Again Revisited, but that's only brought the band's sweet songwriting skills into slightly sharper focus. At 8 p.m. at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, 4454 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-832-6622; $7; all ages; with Child Bite.
FRIDAY-MONDAY JULY 2-5
Stars and Stripes Festival
LAST FEST STANDING
Stars and Stripes is now one of the few (if not the only) full-fledged festivals happening this Fourth of July weekend — and it makes the most of its singular status with four jam-packed days. The fest includes carnival rides, art vendors, kids' activities, an offshore boat show, fireworks Friday night and four stages of music featuring the newly re-united Rockets (Friday), Mötley Crüe frontman Vince Neil (Saturday), Warrant (Sunday) and Jason Derulo (Monday). Local acts on the bill include the Muggs, Critical Bill, Class Three Overbite, Black Irish, Hush and more. Throughout downtown Mount Clemens; call 586-493-4644 or visit funfestinc.com for info.
FRIDAY-MONDAY JULY 2-5
New Center Park Kickoff
MUSIC IN THE HOOD
If you're mourning the loss of Cityfest, one of the best of Detroit's now-dwindling ranks of summer fests, take consolation in the rebirth of New Center Park. The "unique green space" will play host to a variety of weekly events throughout the summer: movie nights, live music, kids' activities and harvest markets. A Labor Day block party, Octoberfest celebration and holiday sing-alongs are also in the works. It all starts over Fourth of July weekend at the celebratory kickoff, which features free live music courtesy of local talent daily (beginning at 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday, noon on Sunday and Monday), as well as fun for tykes from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. The lineup includes the Wrong Numbers, the Dennis Coffey Quartet and the Danny Kroha Band on Friday; Woodman, Spitting Nickels, Macrame Tiger and the Beggars on Saturday; Old Empire, Silverghost and Alberta Adams & RJ's Rhythm Rockers on Sunday; and Thornetta Davis, Duende! and Modernlull on Monday. The full bar and concession stand will also be open. New Center Park is located at West Grand Boulevard and Second Avenue in Detroit; visit newcenterpark.com for a complete lineup.
SATURDAY JULY 3
Computer geek Joel Zimmerman's transformation into superstar DJ Deadmau5 may not have happened overnight, but it may as well have. The electro producer, who performs in a signature mouse mask, has released a string of club hits, scoring some of digital music store Beatport's best-sellers. These days, he headlines international bigwig music fests on a regular basis. The Toronto wunderkind also serves up one of the most eye-popping live shows in dance music. Rumor has it that his visuals even give perennial mind-blowers Daft Punk a run for its money. Check out the eye-boggling sights and the body-shaking sounds at 9 p.m. at the Fillmore, 2115 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-961-5451; livenation.com for tickets.
TUESDAY JULY 6
ARE WE NOT MEN?
New wave legends, art-pop whackos and fashion pioneers, Devo became part of the collective consciousness with 1980's classic ode to beating off, "Whip It." And while that track guaranteed the band a fate resigned to I Love the '80s status, Devo's off-kilter din was truly groundbreaking and has forever earned them a hallowed place in music geeks' hearts. The group performs in support of its first disc in 20 years — the shockingly great Something for Everybody — at 8 p.m. at the Power Center, 121 Fletcher St., Ann Arbor; 734-764-2538; annarborsummerfestival.org.
TUESDAY JULY 6
The lonely widows of drowned sailors, a bride who dies on her wedding day, coal mine workers lamenting their backbreaking labor — these are the figures who populate the haunting songs of the Unthanks. In crafting these melancholy tunes, Becky and Rachel Unthank rely on the folk music tradition of their birthplace, Northumberland County in northeast England — but they are far from folk purists. The sisters instead reshape traditional tunes to create a mystical melding of ancient and modern, thanks to modern instrumentation, unusual arrangements and their eerily beautiful harmonizing. Formerly Rachel Unthank & the Winteset, the sisters and their band perform in support of their third disc, Here's the Tender Coming, at 8 p.m. at The Ark, 316 S. Main St., Ann Arbor; 734-761-1451; $15.
The Detroit Artists Market explores the left brain-right brain mind meld with its summer exhibit, Wordage, which features works that combine text and images in thought-provoking and unusual ways. The display includes wordy paintings, sculptures, photographs and mixed-media pieces by 25 metro Detroit artists, including Dick Goody, Barbara Brown, Vagner M. Whitehead, Stephen Schudlich, Christine Monhollen and Michelle A. Hegyi. The literate exhibit displays through July 24, at the Detroit Artists Market, 4719 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-832-8540.
The place was a dump. It had been the office of a used car lot that was left to the weeds years ago, fodder for a bulldozer if anything were ever to replace it.
So a fellow named Bird came by one day with a few brushes and some cans of paint and put two paintings here; one on this ugly shack and another on the empty building next to it, both of which he had to look at every day as he walked past.
One is a portrait of Barack Obama, looking skyward. The other is an image of Michael Jackson, dancing under a spotlight. Both are figures revered out here for different reasons, captured in fine art portrayals on unexpected canvases.
The artist carefully chose this spot. "If the building has potential and I think maybe in the future they might open it up or someone might rent it, I don't bother," says Lee Walker, the 52-year-old known around town simply as Bird the painter. "It has to be dilapidated — roof gone, no doors, basically abandoned."
Walker lives and works near that weathered shack, at Gratiot near Burns, in one of the city's most battered areas — far outside of downtown, deep inside the inner city, a maze of beaten-up old homes on crisscrossing side streets in what has become Detroit's hinterlands.
Like other artists who used the city's empty buildings to create art, Walker has done paintings like this before, but the buildings were either torn down or fell in on themselves, and with them went his art. It hasn't stopped him from doing others.
"If I don't see no future for the structure I'll try to put some artwork up there that beautifies it. It's like when you see an old abandoned building, you think about the decay of the city, how many people left; you know, the sad part of it. But if there's some art on it that catches your eye and it's a nice piece it kind of lifts your spirits."
Walker's art studio sits in an unlit, discount mattress shop on Van Dyke called the Mattress Station, which he runs with a dozen friends and cousins who let him use it as his gallery. In good weather his paintings lean against the front of the building, sharing space with used mattresses. When it starts raining the whole crew scrambles to get them and the mattresses inside before they get too wet.
"The ones I try to sell up here I try to make them as cheap as possible," he notes, 'cause cheap people come up here, so I'm not going to invest $250 doing a portrait that I can't get but $75 for it."
By cheap he means broke. Their store sells used box springs and mattresses to people so poor they have little choice but to sleep on someone else's discarded bed. "It's basically 'cause people in the neighborhood can't afford Gardner-White," Walker says.
When business is slow, he sits out front, painting in the sunshine. When things pick up, "like the first part of the month, when everybody gets government checks or whatever," he pitches in, putting mattresses in the back of someone's truck or else delivering them if the buyer has no vehicle.
His makeshift studio provides not only space, but art supplies too. Most of his paintings are done on bed sheets or on the cloth of a mattress, with part of the wood frame left in place to keep the material taut after the springs have been removed. "I've cornered the market on canvases," he jokes. "I've learned to make my own canvases cheap." Out here, you have to use what you can get.
Sometimes people driving by see his work and stop to purchase something. Framed paintings of cartoon characters are the most popular out here, though he strives to balance those with more serious pieces, like the one near the front door showing a little kid staring at a pile of guns.
"He's trying to pick the right one for a drive-by," Walker says. It's similar to another one he's working on that shows a toddler on a Big Wheel, riding with a pistol.
Guns have found their way into his work a lot lately. "A few people in my family got killed by guns," he explains. "I'd like to start some kind of nonprofit organization to do artwork on these abandoned buildings and promote nonviolence. I want to try to save some of the black kids — well, white kids too — but in my neighborhood they're killing each other with these guns every day."
Walker learned the art from his grandfather, a house and sign painter who taught him as a young child. "He used to make us paint," he says. "We'd get our ass whooped if we didn't paint, 'cause he knew that along further in life that we would need what he knew. And he was right."
Walker passed the skill onto his own kids, who showed an inclination to paint early on, like the time they painted everything in their new house — carpets, cabinets, fish tank — with flat white latex as their parents slept after a housewarming party. "I couldn't even get mad at them," he says, smiling, "'cause I seen what they were trying to do. It's in their blood."
He hopes his work will appear in a real gallery someday, as it did a few times many years back, though most of his old pieces were lost when his Detroit house burned to the ground long ago. Until then, his paintings are on display at the makeshift studio on Van Dyke, sharing space with the mattresses leaning against the plaster walls.
"My gallery is basically out here on the streets," he says, sitting on a bucket as he brushes paint onto a stretched bedsheet. "Everybody can see you working, compared to sitting in a building, waiting for people to come in. There's a lot of opportunity here on the streets."
Asian carp arrived in Detroit.
No, it didn't invade through the Great Lakes into our local waterways, as some scientists fear it will in the next 10 years. Instead, it landed via shipping truck on my front porch, cleaned, smoked, wrapped and ready to be plucked from its bones and spread onto crackers at a backyard barbecue.
And we ate it, though that itself is not a story. My dinner group was not the first to consume the carp that's better known for its invasion of the Mississippi River and its tributaries — and the disaster it could create in the Great Lakes — than for its culinary value as a main course.
No, for years now in central Illinois, enterprising cooks have breaded it, deep-fried it and ground it into "fishburger." A few Chicago chefs have created signature dishes using it, and the fish, actually, is a rare but sought-after delicacy in Asia, having been overfished from its native waters.
It's also in demand in Eastern Europe, specifically among Jewish communities, because of its suitability for gefilte fish, the poached patties that are a traditional part of that culture's cuisine. An Illinois fish merchant sold 20 million pounds of it last year, but we'll get to him in a minute.
The real news here is that the carp is, well, really good.
Yes, that big-headed, bulgy-eyed fish that leaps out of the water and injures boaters is fit for human consumption. Not only that, but as it's caught in the wild, many diners believe it's better for you than farm-raised fish. And if you can get by the bones and the big bloody vein? Well, it's pretty good, if a bit bland.
Slather on some hot sauce, spread it on a salty cracker, mix it up with some mayo, seasoning and lemon, and you won't believe it's the same fish you've read about as a scourge or seen in YouTube videos leaping out of the rivers.
"All that's wrong with this fish is its name and the association that has," said Andy Groh, who hosted our carp feast in his Grosse Pointe Park backyard.
True. The "invasive species" label doesn't work well at enticing diners, and the carp's appearance — bulging eyes, bloody flesh and bull heads — doesn't exactly promote its presentation on your plate.
But few fish outside of contrived aquariums are exactly pretty, and, as a Chicago Tribune food critic pointed out, no market existed for "slimehead" until it was renamed "orange roughy" nor did "Patagonian toothfish" take off until it was called "Chilean sea bass."
As we picked appetizer bites off the smoked body at our party, one of our guests wrinkled his nose.
"I don't eat bottom feeders," he said. But he did try it. "I still don't like it. I don't like where it came from. I don't eat bottom feeders."
Turns out his assumptions were wrong. The Asian carp actually feed on microscopic plants and animals — not other fish — moving freely in the water instead of on the muck and debris on the river bottoms like common carp or even the popular catfish.
That makes carp meat better-tasting and relatively low in contaminants compared to catfish and common carp from the same waters, studies have shown.
True, the fish's anatomy works against its acceptance in American markets, where bony fish are not embraced. The spine and thick bloodline make prepping the carp a chore and reduce the relative yield of edible meat. In simple terms: They're high-maintenance to prep. When we pulled the five pounds of smoked fish out of the bag, we also pulled a thick skeleton and some dark meat that, well, went to the neighborhood alley cats.
Our relative affection for the fish was predicted by Kevin Irons. He's an ecologist with the Illinois Natural History Survey at the Illinois River Biological Station, and he sent me the fish after I asked where we could get some.
"You'll like it," he promised me before it got here. "It really is quite good."
Irons has been studying and working to prevent the spread of the carp for more than a decade. He's eaten Asian carp at least a dozen times. "I wonder sometimes why I don't eat it more," he says.
Irons served it to the chamber of commerce in the central Illinois town of Havana years ago. Although the diners were accustomed to eating such river fish as buffalo and big-mouth bass, "The consensus was they preferred the carp to the stuff they were familiar with eating," Irons says.
He admits the Illinois crowds have had to overcome the fish's appearance too. "They kind of gag and say, 'I'm not eating that.' But then they taste it and I don't hear any complaints at all," he says.
Irons isn't saying that the fish's possible entrance into the Great Lakes will be anything less than the disaster Michigan thinks it is. But as a person familiar with central Illinois, where the fish have replaced most other species, he thinks finding a market to recoup costs of harvesting the carp is a small silver lining.
"Because they're here, the solution is to reduce their numbers. I don't see a silver bullet to reduce them except for large-scale commercial fishing," Irons says. "I don't want to see a sustained population, but if we reduce their numbers, they affect other species less. That would also help the Great Lakes issue. Fewer fish on the Illinois River would mean it would be less of concern that they'd get into Lake Michigan. It can't be the only solution, but it would be a release valve."
Of course, for any such product, there needs to be a market and demand. And while Schafer Fisheries, located in northwest Illinois on the Mississippi River, is exporting much of that 20 million pounds to six countries, owner Mike Schafer says the American demand isn't there yet.
He's talking to some fast food chains about using Asian carp for fish tacos, and he keeps his wholesale prices of the fish relatively low. "It's very reasonable because we're trying to promote it," he says.
He's also made the fish into jerky and processed it into a stick like a Slim Jim. National media have started picking up on the story, and Schafer has served carp to news crews from the networks. "They're really impressed with how it tastes," he says.
So the big question is, can we get Asian carp in Detroit? I asked my favorite fishmonger, Diane Finken, owner of Blue Bay Fish in Grosse Pointe Woods. "I haven't had anyone ask for it," she told me. "But if people do, I'll get it."
My inquiry was overheard by another customer who raised his eyebrows and asked, "What are you talking about?" When I explained I'd eaten the carp and was going to write about the novelty of it, he laughed.
Having lived in Europe, he said he had all sorts of "delicacies" there — such as sea urchin — that wouldn't fly, swim or land on an American table.
Maybe the carp will, we decided.
25 years ago in Metro Times: In an aptly named article "More ramblings about cats," Garaud MacTaggart writes almost anything anybody could ever want to know about owning a cat. The article has an almost eerie predictive quality, since it contains photos of cats accompanied by cute captions. Although "Why is somebody always sticking a camera in our faces?" doesn't have the same ring as "I CAN HAS CHEEZBURGER?" this article may be the first published instance of LOLcatz. What was happening: Robert Plant at Joe Louis Arena, Eric Clapton and the Beach Boys at Pine Knob.
14 years ago in Metro Times: Metro Times provides a look back, and a look forward, regarding the year-long (and counting) Detroit newspaper strike. Starting in July of 1995, strikers have made very little headway in getting the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press to acquiesce to their demands for better working conditions. Instead, the companies hired replacement workers, and things are looking worse for both the union and the papers, as sales and wages both plummet. The strike would not result in new labor contracts until 2000. Thanks to the Internet, things have only gotten harder for Detroit's daily papers, as they have for papers nationwide. What was happening: Meat Loaf and Def Leppard at Pine Knob, Lutefisk at the Majestic.
10 years ago in Metro Times: Renee Emery Wolf gives her opinions on legalizing medical marijuana. Wolf uses marijuana routinely to help alleviate the symptoms of her multiple sclerosis, and is an active supporter of legalization, and was once arrested for lighting up in a state legislator's office. Marijuana was legal for medical purposes in Michigan between 1979 to 1987, thanks to the state's Public Act 125, and would not be legalized again here until 2008. Federal law enforcement still retains the power to arrest users, medical or otherwise, in any state, so use of medical marijuana still remains a risky business. What was happening: The Doobie Brothers at Pine Knob, Ricky Martin at the Palace of Auburn Hills and the Black Eyed Peas at St. Andrew's Hall.
Special thanks to editorial intern Noah Heinrich for his assistance with this column.
Q: I am a married white guy in my 50s. My wife and I do some role-playing where I am "Ted," her real-life father. In her script, I yell at my "bad daughter" (my wife) over some infraction and send her to her room. Later on, I sneak in and tell her that she could "make Daddy very happy" if we were to do some "secret, special things" together. I usually end up fingering her still-virginal butt while "forcing" her to suck my dick. Then I roll her over and rape the hell out of her.
I'm being GGG, and she absolutely gets off on it. We've done this scene a few times, with increasing frequency, following her script every time. I do have some concerns, Dan: 1) It's creepy, and 2) I'm worried that this might all be "based on a true story."
What to do? Keep a good thing going or confront her about her father? I'm going to feel like an idiot if it's all just a harmless fantasy. —Concerned "Father"
A: What if it is based on a true story?
Let's suppose your wife was raped by her actual father and — after years of processing the abuse and the trauma — she emerged happy and healthy and stable, but ... saddled with an all-consuming, high-creep-quotient incest-role-play fetish. Your wife isn't alone: A small handful of rape victims develop fantasies about rape role-play scenarios, an even smaller number of Holocaust survivors developed Nazi role-play fantasies.
Sometimes our erotic imaginations are as inexplicable as they are powerful.
Now let's suppose that your wife is healthy enough emotionally and sexually to safely explore these deeply creepy fantasies — because now she's in complete control, because now she's with someone she loves and trusts — and that she isn't traumatized by re-enacting these deeply creepy scenes from her childhood. Shouldn't she have just as much a right to enjoy and explore her sexuality as any other person, CF, regardless of the forces that shaped it?
I'd say the answer to that question is yes.
All that said, CF, you have a right to ask pointed questions — particularly if "Ted" is still alive and you have to sit next to him at Thanksgiving — and she has a responsibility to come through with detailed, honest answers. You're not some casual up-for-anything stranger your wife recruited online. You're her husband, and you have a right to know just what sort of land mines you're stomping on or around, even if your wife considers them defused and harmless. Because there are huge potential consequences for you — emotional and sexual — if your wife is being traumatized by the role-play games she's asked you to participate in.
And, finally, here's hoping it's all just a fantasy and that your wife wasn't raped by her father, CF, although that isn't going to make her fantasies any less creepy or Thanksgiving dinner with Ted any less awkward.
Q: I'm a 23-year-old, single gay man. One of my siblings (with whom I was close) passed away about a month ago. I want to start dating again, but I'm not sure how to tell if I am or when I will be ready. I don't want to be unloading my issues on potential first dates (that's why I'm starting to see a therapist), but during the getting-to-know-you small talk, siblings always seem to come up. How do I handle this without seeming unmoved by my sibling's death and without scaring off the other guy? —Trying To Move Forward
A: While you don't want to burden a potential new boyfriend (PNB) with the full weight of your grief, TTMF, the only PNBs you'll scare off by mentioning your grief are PNBs with empty lube bottles where their hearts should be — that is, PNBs with no potential, PNBs you should be anxious to be rid of.
So when the sibling talk comes up, TTMF, mention your recently deceased sibling, accept your PNB's condolences, and then change the subject. What that communicates about you, PNB-wise, is this: You've been touched by grief recently, but you're not paralyzed by it, and you're ready to date.
And I'm so sorry for your loss, TTMF.
Q: Please help me. I can no longer stand the thought of having sex with my fiance. He's a great guy — very kind and good. The problem is the sounds he makes during sex. Little whiny girl sounds. Like, not even woman sounds — which, being attracted to men, would be a big enough problem for me. No, he makes noises like a tiny, little, baby kitten girl. It has gotten really bad. I avoid sex (we usually don't even sleep in the same bed, although we live together). When we do have sex, I spend the first half dreading the moment the girlie sighs start and the second half trying to ignore them. So, basically, I'm checked out for both halves — which he notices and obviously doesn't like.
I know this sounds trivial, and it wasn't such a big problem for the first year of our relationship. But it has grown from small annoyance to giant, grating, huge turnoff. I don't know how to tell him to stop. I have brought it up before, but it sounds so stupid, and then he gets self-conscious and I feel bad. I can't marry him under these circumstances, though. What do I do? —Ears Plugged
A: Your great and good fiance deserves the truth. And come on, EP, what do you think is going to make him feel worse: you leveling with him about the damage his tiny, little, baby kitten girl sounds (TLBKGS) are doing — to his sex life, to his relationship — or you calling off the marriage because you just can't fuck him anymore?
Here's what you need to do: Tell the fiance again, calmly but firmly, that the TLBKGS are a huge turnoff. It'll hurt to hear, for sure, but he'll hurt worse if you let the TLBKGS destroy your marriage before it starts. Then the next time you're fucking him and he starts to make TLBKGS, stop everything. Don't pull away from him physically, don't push him off you, don't scowl or grimace or roll your eyes. Just stop whatever it is you're doing and say in a flat, nonsexy, nonaccusatory tone, "That sound you're making is a huge turnoff. It kills sex for me." Wait for an appropriate response — "Oh, I'm sorry, I'll stop" — and then immediately pick up where you left off.
Repeat as necessary until the TLBKGS are an unpleasant memory. I've seen this approach work — call it the "full stop" — on biters, screamers, scratchers and gratuitous-mid-fuck-ass-spankers. It'll work on tiny, little, baby kitten girl sounds too.
Hey, readers: Do you have the new iPhone? Get the Savage Love iPhone app, available now on the iTunes store! And you can always find the Savage Lovecast (my weekly podcast) at thestranger.com/savage.
One day, a 4-year-old Dave Menzo tripped over an old Beatles tape lying on the carpet of his brother's bedroom.
"That's where it all started for me," he says. "I was one of eight kids, most of whom were older than me, so, at 4 years old, I had seen my brothers put a tape in a tape player and press play."
You can imagine this young kid, staring curiously up at a towering hulk of plastic and wood, waiting to hear what would jump from its speakers.
"All of a sudden, I'm hooked for life. It was that easy."
That crinkled old Beatles tape instilled in the Lansing-based multi-instrumentalist an intense drive to make music, and Menzo has since been pouring out songs and ideas almost nonstop. He's a bit of a figure in the Lansing rock scene, having been in dozens of bands, and he has produced and promoted scores more.
His latest collaborative project, Cloud Magic, is heading into its second fruitful year, and is celebrating the release of their debut album, Puff, which landed late last year. The album is also available for free download on Cloud Magic's website.
Interestingly enough, even as they give the album away for free, there's a healthy demand for the physical product. "I've been impressed," Menzo says. "You think if you put your album up for free, people will only download it and you'll never get anybody to buy it."
That's a sign of something, right?
Cloud Magic — rounded out by the jaw-droppingly gorgeous and classically trained vocalist-percussionist Sarah Price, bassist Chad Golda and drummer Jerod Brocklehurst — grew from remnants of previous versions and various obscure bands — and here Menzo is on lead guitar, sharing vocals with Price. The band's musical cohesiveness is deceptive; you'd never guess that this young band, basically hailing originally from Rochester Hills, is but two years old. And so far the group has been tagged mostly a "jam band," but that tag is a disservice, as it suggests images of sometimes tediously drawn-out songs, plastic jazz fusion and instrumental wankery. Cloud Magic manages to steer clear of such pretentious pitfalls and actually has well-crafted songs.
"That's one thing we've come across," Menzo says. "A lot of people will hear that we're a jam band because of the bands we're playing with, and they'll show up to our shows and be surprised that we actually have songs and that we actually have more progression than just jamming for two hours."
In fact, Cloud Magic's sound is predicated on a love of '70s prog, free jazz and even a shade of James Brown funk. Spacey songs, such as "Transmission Mode," bring to mind electronic rock pioneers Silver Apples or the deep, repetitive grooves of some early, lost '70s krautrock act.
Now, there are hordes of bands that can pull off a Pink Floyd-like sound — tired, grandiose and full of sociopolitical lyrical imagery —but not many rock 'n' roll bands can successfully weave jazz (especially avant-garde) into a rock context. But, where Cloud Magic does that, they mostly succeed; songs like "Seven" flow with jerky 7/4 rhythms and Menzo's sax-like guitar lines tease the song under Price's lovely soprano.
When listening to Puff, there's a kind of movement, fluidity; each song slips into the next, like scenes of a movie. There's beauty, and, because of Price, grace.
"My favorite albums are like that," Menzo says. "It's a full-on production. From beginning to end, you get every little sound as part of the story. By the end of album you realize you've been on a journey of sound. That was just how a lot of the music that I grew up on was, and the other members too."
So he and the band set out to make one of those old-fashioned albums that you sit and listen to from start to finish?
"Yeah. We held it to the standards that we've held albums like Dark Side of the Moon to."
Even when you can spot the band's influences back to the '60s or '70s, they're not just aping the mojo of their heroes. They understand that it's not about copying the product, as Jimmy Page once said, but understanding the methods that made it happen.
Puff was initially nurtured at Menzo's home studio in Lansing. When it came time to mix and master, the band enlisted veteran producer Glenn Brown, whose résumé affiliations run the gamut from Bill Laswell to Iggy Pop.
"He's worked with a lot of big names out of Detroit, out of Michigan, out of L.A.," Menzo says. "He's a guy we were lucky to work with so that we could really do an album 100 percent on our own, take it to Brown and mix it with his vintage compressors and EQs."
And for an album so steeped in a '70s sonic milieu, the warm analog sound is a must. "He's just got the perfect combination of gear, so if you want to make a classic album, you can have all your electronic effects but you're doing that on analog gear. And it dates it a bit. It kinda ends up sounding like a crazy album from the '60s or '70s."
Having worked their asses off on the record, the members have been hauling around the Mitten, and have shows lined up through the summer, all done DYI-style.
"We've played Detroit and Royal Oak and Lansing, Mount Pleasant and Grand Rapids," he says. "We've been trying to hit a lot of cities in Michigan. We've played in Ohio as well as Denver and Omaha. We're kinda booking a mini-tour right now. It would be easier if we had management, but it'll be more rewarding showing and realizing we've done it all ourselves. We're getting to a point where all the hard work's starting to pay off."
For a band so rooted in rock, jazz, jam and prog, their lyrics are a bit light in the way of political ideologies and social awareness. Yet, Menzo regrets not putting a bit more of his and the band's own spiritual and philosophical ideas in the music. "The reason I was so moved by the Beatles was because I could hear that message in their vocals. When they had these passionate and unique vocal harmonies, I could hear the love they were pouring out into the world. As I started getting older and becoming more knowledgeable about the environment and about American capitalism, about what we're doing to the rest of the world, about what we're doing to ourselves, about the Earth itself and its ecosystem — you know, even just the morality of everything — I realized that I finally have a tool to where now I could help change the world."
Menzo says that the band has even coined their own term for their message:
"The vision has always been there to change the world with this message of hope and open-mindedness, and I don't want to sound cliché but, ... you know, there's that term, the 'cloud of unknowing.' It's a Chinese term talking about frustration of ignorance or not knowing something. We came up with this phrase, thinking just the opposite: the 'cloud of knowing.'"
For more information on Cloud Magic show dates and music, see cloudmagicmusic.com.
Lord knows that Detroit has its share of struggles. But a resurgence of activism, hometown pride and some DIY 'tude sees this place getting unified in many ways. And if the recent Allied Music Conference and U.S. Social Forum were any indication, you can feel it in the streets.
Enter Monica Blaire and Roland "Ro Spit" Coit.
Songwriter-emcee (and 2010 Kresge fellow, see her on this issue's cover) Blaire is absolutely a top performer, and her fan base is swelling from coast to coast. Spit balances a rap career with Royal Oak's Burn Rubber, a sneaker boutique he co-owns. The duo's song "Renaissance State of Mind" reworked a Jay-Z and Alicia Keys single into a buzzworthy radio and YouTube anthem that celebrates Detroit's odd individuality and never-say-die relevance. After a year of unexpected success, the pair will perform the song together for the last time Friday at a concert and barbecue in Detroit.
Below, Blaire and Coit talk of the city, and its new musical milieu.
Metro Times: Many see Detroit as down on itself. When do you think people began to do more?
Monica Blaire: I think Detroit has realized that we really can't depend on another city or entity; we have to make that happen ourselves. Detroit has always been the underdog media-wise, so for an outsider looking in, I think it's hard to fathom how much Detroiters are actually coming together to make businesses to keep money in the city. If we create revenue streams that can stay here, things would be a lot different. And a lot of people are doing that, and artists are trying to work for that. ... The difference in this area and this environment is that people know how to do everything.
Ro Spit: If you never had nothing, you have to find a way to make something out of that nothing. If you go out to L.A. or New York, most of the budgets for a party are in the thousands. Here, it's like, "I've got work this week, so I have $200 extra, and this is what I want to do. People are catching on to my music, and I have to find a way to get fliers printed, to get someone to help me promote, and to get an opener to attract more people I don't even know. I've got to find a way to do that with $200, so let's do it." It's no way you're going to fail at that, and that's a mind-set that we have.
Blaire: [Companies are] paying people to come up with new ideas, and Google is here [in Ann Arbor] now. People in music need to set up that infrastructure so people won't feel like they can't be successful at home. ... If we can create a think tank that's going to circulate that talent, where they can go away and do shows and get the recognition at home, that would be absolutely freaking amazing. The possibility's there, but everyone has to be willing to work on one accord.
MT: Suppose the city collectively said, "We're ready for change." Where would you direct everyone from there?
Blaire: We need to create a self-sustaining economy ... that makes use of our resources. I don't think we've ever sufficiently done that, especially from the entertainment aspect. We export so much music to all these other places, but we really need to look at how we can self-sustain on a grassroots level.
Spit: And have people not copy, but learn and build from it. A lot of people try to do the exact same thing that such-and-such did. You're your own person. ...
Blaire: ... I think the real goal for people should be to create teams, and have these teams be interconnected and be able to communicate together and push an agenda forward. ... It's about the collective coming together and making decisions. [Like the U.S. Social Forum,] I'm glad that there is social need and uprising that has people speaking out on what they think their lives need to be like, and creating infrastructure socially.
MT: From what you've seen, how excited are people?
MB: I think that Detroiters are excited for change. Whether your government is running in tip-top shape like a well-oiled machine, the people need to be the motivation for change. They need to be excited to be working hand-in-hand with government to make change, so that everyone can live the best quality of life they can. Detroiters are long overdue for some newness, excitement and serious potential for possibility and growth. And once you let somebody know that, you can do whatever you want to do. You have everything you need, so do it — that's an exciting, brilliant idea. How could you not be excited about that?
MT: In the past year or so, the city has been getting more positive attention. How do you feel when this happens?
Spit: Positive. It's just been so much negativity that you put your hands in the air and say, "Finally. Now they see what we're seeing."
Blaire: It feels like reparations [laughs]. ... The next step is to take ownership of it. I plead for Detroiters to take ownership of their city in a very physical way, especially now. And then we market it to the world, as opposed to other people coming in and marketing it and making money off of it. It's not about making money, it's about self-sustaining. You have to take ownership of what you have, and then recycle. If we do that, we can flourish.
Spit: The potential and greatness are there, so it's just a matter of time. It's been far too long, but it's going to happen. If it's not supposed to happen, then there's nobody here that can do it. If it's supposed to happen, there's nobody that can take it away.
Friday, July 2, at St. Andrew's Hall, 431 E. Congress St., Detroit; 313-961-6358
Here's what's wrong with journalism in the Age of the Internet: Last week, reports surfaced that a 54-year-old masseuse claimed that Al Gore tried to rape her in a hotel room in Portland, Ore., nearly four years ago. Not last week, four years ago.
What is this woman's name? Well, she doesn't want that made public ... unless someone gives her a million bucks in cash. But she does want to say all sorts of slimy unattributed things about the former vice president, who has never before been linked to scandal.
And we let her do it.
How much credibility does she have? By conventional tests, zero. Did she run to the cops and the prosecutors immediately after the incident happened? Well, no. Apparently a few months later, she made a couple appointments to talk to them and never showed up.
Two and a half years later, she went back with a long statement that she admits her lawyer mostly wrote for her. You can easily find the whole 73-page epic on the Internet, if you look.
Among other things, it alleges that Al, who was on a tour to promote his Oscar-winning movie, An Inconvenient Truth, was lounging around drinking beer, swigging Grand Marnier and eating various kinds of chocolate. ("He's rotund, you know," she says.)
Suddenly, he lures her into his bedroom and puts on a song:
"'Dear Mr. President' by Pink. ... as soon as he had it playing, he immediately flipped me flat on my back and threw his whole body face down over atop me, pinning me down and outweighing me by quite a bit. 'Get off me, you big lummox!' I loudly protested to him ...
"We lay on our sides a couple feet apart, looking at each other as he played the song, him singing along as if he were revealing deep feelings like some bizarre karaoke and me stuck there."
Allegedly, they rolled around for the next few hours until she finally left, after telling him, "You're being a crazed sex poodle."
Well, if I were going to write imitation 1930s pulp fiction dialogue, I couldn't possibly do better. "Big lummox?" Not even Archie, Veronica and Jughead talked that way.
The police and the prosecutor's office correctly decided there was insufficient evidence to do anything. In fact, they didn't even feel the need to interview Al Gore. The local newspaper, the Portland Tribune, which apparently still has journalistic integrity, declined to run a story based on her anonymous allegations. There is a notation in the police files that the woman intended to pursue "civil remedies," which is often code for trying to get paid off not to go public.
Possibly, she felt that nobody would believe her. However, in the last month, Al and Tipper Gore announced they were separating, ending what had seemed to the world to be a storybook marriage. Suddenly, the media took off for a feeding frenzy on the man who previously had been thought to be the biggest straight-arrow bore on the planet. First the rumor was that he was having an affair with activist and blogger Laurie David, which all parties have said wasn't true.
Now he is supposed to have tried forcing an aging hotel masseuse to have sex with him. Here are a number of reasons every editor in the country should have been very dubious about this story:
Whether rotund or not, any man of Al Gore's folk hero and celebrity status should have no problem finding a willing partner. I've seen pretty girls all starry-eyed over him.
If Al Gore had wanted to pay for sex in an upscale hotel, he would have had no problem finding a discreet service that would provide a willing partner — possibly for less than the $540 fee he allegedly paid the masseuse.
The woman in question came to his hotel room at 10:30 at night. Are we to believe that she was really shocked that a client paying that fee at that hour wanted a "happy ending?" Do we believe that's the first time that happened to her?
If she was shocked, shocked, that he wanted sex, why didn't she leave immediately? Why didn't she go to hotel management immediately? Why is she suddenly now saying for the first time she has sweat pants with his DNA on them?
Now, I am not saying that nothing occurred between the anonymous woman and the former vice president. The point is, we don't know what, if anything happened, and to allow someone who has clearly mercenary motives to publish defamatory and detailed anonymous, fishy charges is not what professional journalism is all about.
This column is being written three days before you read it, and it is conceivable that evidence may surface that sheds new light on all this. But as I am writing this, it remains equally or even more possible that she could be in the pay of right-wing operatives or special interests seeking to discredit theories about climate change.
When I was being taught how to be a journalist, in the years immediately after Vietnam and Watergate, the rule was always "when in doubt, leave it out."
Now, the rule seems to be that if it makes you titter, put it in. So, with journalistic standards in the toilet, I have made a decision: If you allow me to stay anonymous and give me $1 million, I will tell you all about how Lindsay Lohan tried to force me to kiss her lovely breasts in 2006.
Or, if you like, I'll confess to having had sex with Tinky-Winky, the little purple Teletubby who Jerry Falwell said was gay. Hell, tell you what. For $2 million, you can even use my name.
Tea Party follies: Three weeks ago, I was walking around downtown Royal Oak and ran into petitioners trying to get signatures to put a "Tea Party" on the November ballot.
That intrigued me, since it has long been established that the "Tea Party" is something the Republicans cooked up and funded to get the ignorant riled up against the president and his programs.
The last thing the GOP wants is another party on the ballot to split the right-wing vote. Wendy Day, a homeschooler from Howell who is the non-movement's non-leader, made appropriately indignant noises about someone hijacking the franchise.
A conservative blogger named Chetly Zarko soon discovered evidence that it was a covert Democratic Party operation. The name "Tea Party, LLC," was registered in the name of a man named Mark Steffek, who seems to be a blue-collar worker from the Saginaw area.
An outfit called Progressive Campaigns, Inc., which often works for Democratic and liberal causes, is paying canvassers a buck a signature to collect names. Last week, I saw one signature collector outside the Southfield Library who recognized me; I believe I met him once when I spoke to a Green Party meeting years ago.
The Michigan Secretary of State's office tells me that if 38,013 valid signatures can be collected by July 15, they can get the Tea Party on the November ballot. Then, they can hold a convention, maybe in Mark Steffek's garage, and nominate candidates for office.
Naturally, the same Republicans who helped create the Tea Party movement are howling foul. And I thought, as I cheerfully signed one of the petitions ... ain't democracy grand?
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