Like so many activists of generations past I ended up in Detroit to involve myself in important workers struggles. I didn’t consciously do it and it has only been recently that I have realized the footsteps I followed to the place. While there are plenty of locally raised Detroit leftists, many of my comrades were and are folks who had been radicalized somewhere else and came to Detroit to put a little theory into practice. From this generation to mine and from the 60s folks who came to Detroit, a citadel of the black and workers (and black workers) movement and of working class culture, often from college campuses to factories or trades. Those comrades followed a generation, some of whom I knew well, now almost entirely passed who came to Detroit radicalized by the struggles of the 1930s. I had been coming to Detroit since the summer of 1990, but it was the Detroit Newspaper strike that began in July, 1995 that drew me there to live.
I lived in Detroit for years, most of the time on Fourth Street just north of Wayne State and working at one of the last grocery stores in the city where I was a union steward. Rosa Parks was a costumer, or Mother Parks as she was called, and I can say I’ve seen the icon buying cereal. Since leaving Detroit for a slightly quieter life (the city was not, in those days before urban farming, generally conducive to healthy living) I have lived in its orbit, politically, socially and culturally. I’ve developed a pretty conflicted, but deeply respectful relationship with the city. Have I got Detroit stories. Loads of them. And the stories I don’t remember are probably better, even if more embarrassing. One thing is for certain; despite claims to the contrary, Detroit is very much alive and always has been, even if often a tough place to live.
One of the people I met pretty early in my Detroit years was Brad Duncan. We met on the steps of Zoots Coffee on Second (anyone who knew Zoots misses it). If I remember correctly we were talking about the Irish hunger strikes before were even introduced. Brad would later become a guide for much of Detroit’s offerings; music, history, food and more. Brad recently moved to the East Coast and the current issue of Critical Moment, an essential Detroit activist publication, carries a photo essay from him called ‘Love Letter from Detroit’. CM describes Brad as ‘a political activist and freelance journalist who was first politicized by the Detroit Newspaper Strike (1995) as a teenager. His radio commentaries on the crossroads of music and radical social change movements can be heard on KBOO (Portland, OR). He lives in Philadelphia, PA and can be reached at Palestinelives@hotmail.com.’
Brad said “I want these photos of Detroit to be the exact opposite of the ‘ruin porn’ image we always see of Detroit. I don’t think Detroit is pathetic or dead. For starters, I think Detroit is a city with a rich history of fighting for workers rights, fighting against racism, and creating some of the best music of all time. I was moving out of Detroit after many years and wanted to capture some of the city’s classic (to me) images. I wanted to show Detroit to my friends around the world, and to have some images to remind me of the city while I’m away.” Brad sent the Rustbelt a slew of other photos, the slide show below, and promises to answer questions readers might have about them.
We all have sounds we associate with places. One of the sounds I associate with Detroit is Faruq Z. Bey and the Northwoods Improvisers. Readers are requested to listen to the above as an accompaniment to photos. I think they work well together. Whether you know Detroit or not, comrades are sure to enjoy them as much as I have.