I think one of the most significant and moving experiences many of us Torontonians had while in Detroit was the generosity and incredible friendliness and kindness of people in Detroit. I spoke to many people about how nice and refreshing it was to have people be so generous with their knowledge, skills, kindness and hearts. I think many of us came to the conclusion that this wasn’t something we experienced in Toronto.
Arti and I sat on one of the black couches on the purple rug in the middle of the conference building and talked about how we were floored by the kindness in Detroit. We both agreed that the generosity and care is likely a way to survive in the shitty economic and social times that is Detroit. In order to survive the devastating economic collapse and the haunting remnants of the 1967 Detriot riots, it seems kindness was the key to vibrancy and resiliency.
I’m not talking about those people who give out free hugs and are super-duper-chipper-happy-alalala about it all because that’s weird and uncomfortable for me. I’m talking about care and recognition at the level of a “good morning” or a “hello” to someone you pass by in the early morning in your neighbourhood. These are not outlandish acts that happen in isolated and planned moments (eg. “free hugs!”) but a way of sharing space with others. I’m talking about, both literally and metaphorically, widening our field of vision/perception so that we actually see others, to see more.
Arti and I discussed what it would be like if we were nicer to one another and how that would transform the way disabled people, trans folks, queers and women would perceive their relationship with public spaces. This might mean we wouldn’t have to put on our armors every day when we step out of our homes. We might not always have to be in our heightened, alert modes, which can be exhausting and sucks energy away from the things we really want to be engaging in.
I wonder what our social circles, our streets and the city of Toronto would be like if we were more aware of each others’ presence. Those simple “hello”s and “good morning”s are ways to tell someone “hey, I’m here sharing this space with you and I acknowledge and respect your presence.” And that’s so fucking nice! Those moment where “proper” liberal boundaries of self/other and private/public are broken with a simple nod are so energizing.
I think of Janet Jones, the beautiful and vibrant elderly black woman with a head full of white hair, who owns Sources Booksellers and gave everyone who came into her store an inspirational card to take home. I think of Sharon, who let Sarah and I in to the North Cass Community Garden so I could do one of my favourite things in the world – just being amongst vegetables growing in soil. I think of Art, the man who drove the bus for one of the AMC tours, who just had a really kind vibe to his quiet, exterior self. I think of the many, many strangers I passed, who would make eye contact and say “hi” or nod. It’s contagious! I found myself doing the same! With a bit of practice over the three days or so, that “hi” and that nod came easier for me.
What many of us had the privilege of witnessing over this past weekend is a part of the basis for movement-building, transformative justice, community accountability and all the exciting ideas that were thrown around the Wayne State University campus. These movements must make sure those people that they serve feel good . A lot of this is about feeling good, feeling recognized, feeling noticed and feeling respected. And I think those “hi”s and “how you doing?”s are a crucial part of getting there. I definitely felt it in Detroit.
To close: “Nice isn’t everything!…but nice can sure count for a lot.” – Sarah C. Creagen, aka my very good friend and travel buddy to Detroit