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Conference Envisions New Work Paradigm

Creating ways for Detroiters to thrive despite the crumbling economy

During their 50 years of political activism in Detroit, James and Grace Lee Boggs wrote extensively on the need to expand traditional views on the job-based society. From October 28 through October 30, local and international activists will convene at Focus: HOPE in Detroit to explore the question: How do we make a living? The ReImagining Work Conference will provide a forum for participants to share their efforts to build a more humane economy at the local level.

Rising unemployment and mass home evictions has evoked a wave of protests across the nation intended to occupy designated city spaces. But in many urban centers, the realization that industrial jobs will never return has inspired new kinds of work. Instead of waiting for someone else to bring jobs back, neighborhoods are addressing the current economic crisis by creating their own solutions.

Bakeries, bike shops, art galleries, schools, laundries and gardens are emerging to forge new relationships and contest an economy that marginalizes people with lower levels of income.

"This is an extraordinary time on the clock of the world," according to Grace Lee Boggs, renowned activist and author of "The Next American Revolution." "All over the planet, people are pursuing alternatives to the economics of greed, over-consumption and destruction of the eco-system."

The Boggs Center for Nurturing Community Leadership is one of the lead organizers of the conference. From Detroit's near east side, the Boggs Center has continued the community building that is central to the work of activists Grace Lee Boggs and Jimmy Boggs, who died in 1993.

More than 25 Detroit-area grassroots organizations launched the ReImagining Work Conference. They include the Allied Media Project, East Michigan Environmental Action Council, Urban Networks, Peace Zones 4 Life, Detroit Black Community Food Security Network and many others.

Guest speakers at the ReImagining Work Conference will include Grace Lee Boggs, Gar Alperovitz, Frank Joyce, Jenny Lee, Ron Scott, Gloria Lowe, Judith Snow and more. They will shine a spotlight on community-driven efforts to address the profound opportunities offered by the accelerating decline of the job-based economy. The weekend will include workshops, music and spoken word performances, food and open discussions on the economy of the future.

"It's no accident that this meeting is being held in Detroit," says Gloria Lowe, east side Detroit activist and founder of We Want Green Too, an organization that trains returning citizens to retrofit homes into sustainable and eco-friendly structures.  "We have been among the first to see both the collapse of an unsustainable economic system and the birth of new ways of thinking and doing the work of being human."

The Detroit area has seen a drastic increase in street-level economic initiatives as the job-based economy continues its steady decline. The urban gardening movement is the most visible example.

In many cases, community gardens provide much-needed nutritious food for families. Large garden projects, like the Feed 'Em Freedom Growers and the D-Town Farm in Rouge Park, provide instruction for people looking to create their own gardens.

"Detroit was once the national and international symbol of the miracles of industrialization," Grace Lee Boggs said in the June 2010 edition of YES! magazine, which featured Detroit's hosting of the second U.S. Social Forum that summer. "And then became the national and international symbol of devastation of deindustrialization. Now it is becoming the national and international symbol of a new way of living—of great transformation."

The ReImagining Work Conference will be held at Focus: HOPE, 1400 Oakman Blvd., Oct. 28-30. For more information, or to pre-register, visit www.reimaginingwork.org.

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