Two steps left

May 20, 2009 at 12:00 am

There was a panel of experts, and then there was the venerable Grace Lee Boggs.

The experts had been called to Cobo Center on Saturday to tell those attending the Progress Michigan Policy Summit just how bad things might get with the nation's economy, and what government can do to help get us back on track.

Boggs, who is in her 90s, came to accept a lifetime achievement award.

Together, Boggs and the panel offered a bracketed view of what will be needed to overcome (you guessed it) the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

First the bad news (as if there were any other kind these days). Things are going to get worse before they get better. That's according to lefty economist Dean Baker, the man who, long before most other economists, predicted the housing bubble had to burst and that the popping would have dire consequences.

Baker predicted that unemployment nationwide was going to continue rising — maybe for as long as a year, and he wouldn't be surprised if the unemployment rate, which now hovers around 9 percent, eventually hits 11 percent.

As for the fix, the panel, which included government officials and organized labor, agreed that the massive infusion of federal stimulus money — especially investment in the green economy with things like weatherization and energy efficiency programs, which put people to work, get factories producing things like insulated windows, and help reduce dependence on foreign oil — is the right approach.

And then came Boggs, who sat in a wheelchair but seemed mentally as spry as ever. An icon of the left, she told the ballroom filled with progressive activists that lasting change has to come from the bottom up, not the top down.

The answer can't just be throwing more money at the problem, she said. "We need to embrace the concept of citizenship."

She pointed to the ideas and ideals prevalent in the great social movements of the 1960s as something that should inspire us all, and to the city of Detroit, both as symbol of de-industrialization and a symbol of hope, a place where community gardens and murals continue to spring up next to abandoned factories.

"We are at a turning point," she said, adding that the crisis that besets us offers "tremendous opportunity." At the heart of her vision of a transformed society is grass-roots activity.

When it was over, it seemed to us that the panel and Boggs were both right. There are people in need and programs that will work, and our government needs to keep the money flowing to them. But we can't rely on the politicians and bureaucrats to produce lasting change.

That's going too have to come from us, working together in common effort to pull ourselves out of this mire to reach a place where the common good trumps corporate greed.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]