“Stop acting like this is a zero sum game”

Adriel works in marketing for MOGO, a bike sharing company in Detroit. He had some incredible thoughts on how Detroit can improve, how we are still looking to live up to the ideas laid out at our founding, and how we can stop treating our country like a zero sum game.

Why he’s a good citizen:

I think I’m a good citizen. For years, I’ve been active on a social activism level. But also, I’m a participant. I’m interested in local politics, but downtown has also been my playground since I was sixteen. I’m one of those people who wants to go to shows at the DIA, and wants to go local bars and support them. I want to do things in my city.

From a social justice standpoint, I’ve worked with organizations that have tried to better life in the city for people. I’ve worked with Allied Media Projects, which is about using media as a tool for social justice. I also work with Equality Michigan, which deals with LGBTQ rights and issues in the city and state.

But his neighbors are better citizens:

Are they as active as I am? Is that the barometer? No. But they’re good citizens in a whole different way. When my dog gets out of the yard, they call me. We all call each other, look out for each other and each other’s homes. We give each other a call, say hi to each other, and tell each other the neighborhood news. I actually think that maybe is more symbolic of being a good citizen than the stuff I do.

I really think being a good citizen is on the micro level. It doesn’t mean you need to volunteer for 100 hours. It means you have a rapport with the other citizens around you. In a macro sense, that shows you have a concern about bigger issues, such as safety and a general concern for your fellow human beings. If one of my neighbors says, “Hey, how’s it going? How are you?” when I’m going to the car, that isn’t just being a good neighbor, it shows a concern for me and other people. Those types of things are what makes a neighborhood, a “neighbor” “hood.” And cutting the grass and keeping your home matter, too. You’re contributing to the health of a neighborhood, the happiness of a place. They’re those types of things that don’t require a lot of resources or know how or energy. It’s a bunch of small stuff that builds up to a bigger picture.

How organizations can be good citizens:

There are two ways.

First, you can do something. You can reach out and touch. You can figure out at what’s going on in that community. Depending on the type of organization you’re in, you can see whether you can add something to people’s lives in the community you’re in. You can figure out if there are shared resources you can use together. Basically, you can go to people in the community and figure out what they need.

Or, you can actually be good to your area by not doing something. For example, in the early days of the urban farming wave, quite a few organizations and people were like, “Oh, I’m going to buy these different plots of land, go into this community, and create an urban farm. Because Detroit is a food desert and needs fresh food.” Meanwhile, they haven’t talked to anyone in the neighborhood, asked anyone if they want a farm next to their house. No matter what kind of farm, there’s probably fertilizer and that smell. Maybe, people don’t want people not from their neighborhood and coming in and doing something that disrupts the community life.

At the very least, organizations need to notify and involving people who are around. With MOGO, we had to alert people and get input from them. And then even after we were in communities, we were still going in and telling people, “We know these were two long-term parking spots, but here’s our system, here’s how it works, here’s why we’re doing it. Maybe, now, you don’t need the car anymore. We’re taking away two auto spots, but providing ten bike spots. Now ten people have transportation.” But organizations have to talk to and connect with people in the neighborhood. People need to be heard.

On how Detroit’s citizens can improve:

I really do feel like a lot of citizens of the city like to complain about things, but have no interest in doing anything that can changing anything. It’s sitting back and complaining, but low and behold, people ask you to go out and volunteer on city cleanup day, it’s hard to get everyday citizens out. You should be able to move. Citizens won’t come out for that, but they’ll sure complain about the trash on the street.

Also people can stop throwing trash out the windows. There’s trash everywhere, and it’s not necessarily because the city doesn’t clean. I live on a corner house, and every other day, I go outside to my car, and there’s a trash bag (from a fast food restaurant) by my car. When people roll their windows down and throw stuff out the window, that’s being a terrible citizen. There’s nothing you have to do to be a good citizen in this case. It actually takes more energy to throw that bag out the window than to not. Those, to me, are the worst citizens. No one wants to live in a pig sty. It just creates the idea that this isn’t as nice of a place as it can be. People drive out to the suburbs and marvel at how nice they are. But people out there don’t throw stuff in the same neighborhood, although the people from the suburbs will throw their trash out here.

On gentrification:

We’ve also got this whole conversation about gentrification right now. A lot of people will say, “They’re building the downtown for them,” meaning white folks and people from the suburbs. But no, this is still a predominant black city, and there would still be black people (in those spaces) if (the people talking about gentrification) went. There’s nothing that anyone can open in this city, that I’m not going to go to. There can’t be a “they’re building it for them” mentality. I guarantee you, business is business. So, maybe the first time black people go, and it’s an all white staff, which is odd to me that it happens here. But if more black people go, that will change. Similarly, the majority of businesses in this city are owned by African-American people.  It’s so spread out that it’s hard to see that. People need to stop going out to the suburbs for everything and look to their neighborhoods, their own restaurants. A lot of people would rather run to Somerset than go to a store down the street, where they can buy the exact same thing. That would keep money in the city.

On Detroit’s urban-suburban and white-black divide and how to mend it:

I think the best way for the urban/suburban relationships and black-white relationships to improve is for people to get outside the bubble and live elsewhere for a period of time. Detroit is the most segregated big city in the United States. There are a lot of reasons that the city is so segregated, mainly State and Federal policies of outward moving policies. There was a racist tone to it when it was happening in the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s. By the 40’s, white flight was happening, because the government instituted policies such as redlining (which prevented people of color from moving). The Michigan government also made it really easy to create infrastructure outside the city (this still happens; we can’t maintain the roads we have). This stuff didn’t happen by accident.

But we have to deal with that legacy. The amount of distrust on both sides is of mythic proportions. It’s legendary, but people don’t even understand why it is the way it is. Go to other places. Every city has some of this happening, but it’s hard to go somewhere like Philadelphia or New York, and not see a city work well. The appeal of a big city to me is that you see all kinds of crazy ass different kind of people than you. At the very least, seeing people (so different) around each other, you realize most people just don’t care about each other. People co-exist all the time. Here, we act like it can’t happen.

Everyone has lived for too long in monochromatic areas. Schools are all white or all black. And people just feel like that’s how it is and should be.

On the growing divide between Democrats and Republicans:

I think in the past fifteen years, there’s this growing use of the minor differences. Politicians use those minor differences to get elected. I remember when I was in high school, this idea of Republicans as being “evil” and not the same kind of American wasn’t so prevalent or divisive.

Why the American Founding isn’t taught right:

They need to know this country was founded on some b*******. What I mean by that, is that the idea of America this country was founded on never really happened. It’s not that we have to get back to a time when we lived up to those ideals. It’s that we are still building that country. America has never lived up to the idea of America. I would love for all of us to live up to that idea and work together to get there.

We all go back to the founding fathers. And they had problems. But they had this great idea for a country: liberty for all, all men are created equal – except the ones we count as three-fifth’s of a man. When I say it’s never been that, I mean teach students in a way that allows them to empathize people, that allows them to understand why Colin Kaepernick is protesting.

Why he stopped saying the the Pledge of Allegiance in sixth grade:

I stopped saying the pledge of allegiance in sixth grade. Nobody cared! They barely noticed. Once, when we said it, I had recently learned that black slaves were counted as three-fifth’s of a person, and I said, “I can’t pledge allegiance to this.” And my teachers said, “Okay.”

Why he thinks “Make America Great Again” doesn’t make sense as a slogan:

(We need) to teach people that the idea hasn’t been met yet, and to stop using phrases like “Make America Great Again,” because for a whole lot of people, it’s never been great. There’s a lot of people who fought in and died wars for this country, who have never been given credit, and who had to face discrimination that was far above and beyond the discrimination in the places they just fought in.

On the American melting pot:

Our country is the melting pot. There are all different types of people who have been Americans that they’re really Americans. All of these different types of Americans helped build this country. They all participated in it, sometimes as slave labor, sometimes as indentured servants, usually as underpaid and overworked people. The Chinese, the Mexicans, the Native Americans, the African-Americans, the Irish-Americans – all of these people put in work here. They put blood, sweat, and tears into this country. Rockefeller didn’t go out there and lay tracks himself. Real people built this country. These were the people on the sky scrapers, in the tunnels building tunnels. These were the people laying down railroad tracks, building these towns. I think the idea needs to be impressed that those people are Americans, that those people have as much value as Americans.

What he thinks being an American means today:

Today, it means to be divisive, hateful, completely ignorant, and one-sided.

What he wants it to mean:

We all look out for each other. And that the diversity of us could be the shared value. That appreciation of each other, and that recognition that no matter who you are, we drive down these same streets. For example, my dad and his generation had Westerns. So all those kids, white, black, poor, rich, they were all out there playing cowboys and Indians. And was that not cool for Indians? Yea. But these kids had shared experiences. As metro-Detroiters, we have these shared experiences of watching the fireworks and taking the bridge to Canada by accident. To focus on those things, and even within the diversity, there’s space we can come together on and really, really build, (that’d be great). You don’t have to be a Trump supporter or a Hilary supporter to recognize we need some better roads, or that our schools should be good so that the next generation has a lick of sense. What being an American should be is just understanding that there are shared values we can all grab onto.

A metaphor for how people of different political parties should treat each other:

Being an American should feel like we’re having a family argument, instead of fighting a multi-national war, which is what it feels like. I feel like we’re on the verge of Civil War, which is sad. We should be having a family spat at the backyard spat. You say what you have to say, I say what I have to say, and even if we can’t agree, we agree to disagree. Either way, someone still has to go turnover the steak.

Why this country isn’t and can’t be a zero-sum game:

We can all step back and look at how we express our own values. Stop acting like everything is zero sum game. Just because you win, doesn’t mean I lose. That just because someone else had a gain, you had a loss. Both Trump’s base and the left have been told for so long, that if there’s any gain on the other side, that it’s a lot for us. For example, just because you can get married and now (gay people) can get married, doesn’t mean your marriage doesn’t matter anymore.

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