Monday, December 10, 2018

Working People Podcast on the GM layoffs

Maximillian Alvarez is an essayist and dual Ph.D. candidate in comp lit and history at U of M. If you don't follow him, you should. He is a great writer and I am excited to see how his ideas shape our future.

Maximillian has recently made a foray into podcasting launching Working People. The podcast features working people, talking about their lives, their work, and their struggles. You can read more about the podcast in Maximillian's article in the most recent Current Affairs. Since GM's layoff announcement in late November, Working People has been focusing on the stories of GM workers at the factories that are being shuttered. The first special episode covered workers from the Lordstown Plant in Ohio. The most recent episode covers workers in Michigan plants including Hamtramck and Pontiac. You should listen to all the podcasts, especially the episodes covering the GM layoffs. I think it is really important to hear these stories, and not to just think of these workers as numbers. So often blue collar workers are portrayed as unintelligent and ill informed--people who can't be trusted to make important decisions for their communities. What these interviews show is the depth of knowledge and understanding within blue collar workers and within the union tradition.

Maximillian graciously agreed to answer some questions for me over the weekend. I asked him what he hopes people take from the podcast, this was his response:

You know, working on this urgent, multi-episode series on the GM layoffs has taken a lot out of me. I’ve been working overtime these past two weeks to put it together, talking to dozens and dozens of people, making contacts, following up on leads, researching and editing late every night, interviewing dozens more folks. But, to be honest, the hardest thing about it has been the emotional drain—I feel so depleted and angry and just … heartbroken. Every day, for two weeks straight, I’ve been talking to other working folks about the situation they’re facing, about the bleak and impossibly heavy reality that their lives are about to be turned completely upside-down … the reality that the very beating hearts of their communities are about to be ripped out. And we’ve been talking about how these layoffs lay bare the dire situation facing the working class writ large.

It’s impossible not to feel drained after all that. And I know I’m asking a lot of people out there when I urge them to sit and listen carefully to these interviews. Because they’re going to stir up a lot of emotions. But that is necessary, for all of us—it reminds us that this is real. These emotions bring to the surface those trembling, vulnerable, human connections we have with our brothers and sisters. The pain and fury of listening, I think, comes from that raw, beating sense of duty we have to one another … to empathize with our fellow workers, to find solidarity in our shared struggle, to help shoulder their burden, because it’s our burden too—to stand with them and fight, together, against the forces that command and destroy and darken our world.

That’s a big part of why I started this podcast in the first place. In however small a way, I hope the podcast can help to build a sense of class consciousness, a sense of common struggle, and a sense of solidarity among workers all around the country—people coming from all walks of life, working all sorts of jobs. And I believe that we cannot do that unless we actually do the tender, loving, patient work of listening to each other—like, really listening—and talking to each other in a way that affirms our shared humanity. Because, in doing that work, we will come to remember (or see for the first time) that life under capitalism is an unlivable, never-ending process of dehumanization, a process that reduces us and our neighbors, and our relations to one another, to the commodity form.

And you can see this in the mainstream coverage of these layoffs, and pretty much any story having to do with the lives and struggles of workers. We are reduced to little soundbites and flat archetypes that can be deployed for the self-serving ends of people who do not have our best interests in mind. Our voices are either silenced or contorted to fit the narratives that buttress the very power structures that are grinding us into human mulch.

And that is the other main reason I started this podcast. If workers are going to claw our way out of this endless cycle of exploitation and despair, then we’re not going to find the answers we need from the people and institutions that serve and benefit from the existing, horribly unequal arrangement of power in our society. We’re going to have to work things out among ourselves. And we can’t do that if we’re not actually talking to each other. If you listen to these episodes, especially those in the series on the GM layoffs, you’ll realize very quickly that these aren’t just sad, infuriating stories. These workers, who come from all over the ideological spectrum—they know the score. They know that little concessions and political band aids aren’t going to keep our communities alive. They have so much to say about the unsustainability of our political economy and what we need to do, collectively, to fight back. These are the conversations we need to be having with our fellow workers. And that’s what Working People is all about.

Please, take a listen to this podcast, it's very good.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Narrow Streets of Ann Arbor

I find that the narrower a street, the more pleasant it probably is. To walk, to play, to live. Strong Towns shows examples of narrow streets around the world and, in calling for new residential streets to be “as narrow as possible” notes:
If two cars going in opposite directions can pass each other at more than 10 mph, on a residential street that doesn't serve any significant through traffic, the street is too wide. I think we should celebrate older neighborhoods that are built this way, and emulate the model going forward. It's cheap, it's effective, and it's simple—very few ingredients required.
So where are the narrow streets of Ann Arbor? I recently biked down Bucholz Court, near West Park.

One block in length, Bucholz Court has a slender sidewalk on one side, a single one-way lane of traffic, and room on one side to squeeze in a parked car. The homes nestle up to the street, with small setbacks:


This is a rare Ann Arbor street where young kids could safely play ball and ride bikes. Contributing factors include:
* This street is a destination, with little plausible through-traffic.
* The narrowness slows down drivers (both by making it “feel” slow and by making it hard to maneuver).
* The one-way lane makes it easier to keep an eye on traffic.

Honorable Mention: Murray Ave
While not quite as skinny, I must take the opportunity to recognize Murray Ave as an iconic Ann Arbor narrow-ish street. It’s a few blocks long, spanning Washington and Liberty on the Old West Side:

Murray has a single one-way traffic lane, plus one parking lane. It’s significantly wider than Bucholz Court, as it has a wider lane, two full sidewalks, and the parking is more prominent. But it’s narrower than most residential blocks. And the lovely old homes have small front and side setbacks that contribute to a cozy feeling and make the street feel narrow. All in all, it might be the most attractive residential street in the city. This street view hardly does it justice:

What other Ann Arbor or Ypsi streets are notably narrow or have that narrow feeling? If you know of other similarly-narrow streets in town, please share in the comments.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Review: The Elves and the Schumachers at Theatre Nova

"It's the holiday season, which means it's that time of year when local theaters cash in by putting on some feel good holiday original.*" --Blue Fairy, The Elves and the Schumachers at Theatre Nova

The Elves and the Schumachers at is an original pantomime by Carla Milarch and R. MacKenzie Lewis. The story is about two lesser known elves, Elmo and Bobby, who help a family of toymakers, the Schumachers, and save Hanukkah. Elmo, played by Sarah Stevens, is a "a non-important brother of Elwë" from Middle Earth. Bobby, played by Elizabeth Jaffe, is the younger brother of Dobby, the house elf from Harry Potter. With the help of the blue fairy, played by Dan Morrison, they help save the Schumachers from evil mayor Antiochus Gawp, played by Dan Morrison. It's a pretty silly show and in the tradition of the pantomime, a lot of it is aimed at being entertaining for younger children. That said there is plenty of fun for the adults in the audience too.

I had never seen a pantomime before and The Elves and the Schumachers was a great introduction to the form. The show has many of the standard conventions of a pantomime including: An older woman played by a man in drag; risqué double entendre, often wringing innuendo out of perfectly innocent phrases that is, in theory, over the heads of the children in the audience; audience participation, including calls of "He's behind you!" or "Look behind you!"; and music made from well-known tunes with re-written lyrics. This all makes for a very fun show. In particular, I think the way The Elves and the Schumachers gradually broke down the fourth wall and ramped up audience participation was a ton of fun for the children in the audience. After the show ended, I overheard an elementary-aged student say "I never want to leave the theater." Indeed, I informally interviewed a few kids after the show and they all said they had a good time and most thought their friends from school would like the show.

The Elves and the Schumachers features scene-chewing performances from Stevens, Jaffe, and Morrison. 20 minutes into the show, EJ's face hurt from laughing so hard. William Powers, a fifth grader at Haisley, plays Judah Schumacher. I think this is a really important element of the show because it gives the children watching it a real proxy for themselves. I think it also makes it so the kids who come up on stage at the end of the show more comfortable. The Elves and the Schumachers is a silly romp that kids and adults will enjoy.

The Elves and the Schumachers runs now through December 30th at the Yellow Barn. Shows are on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

*I don't remember the exact quote from the Blue Fairy, but this is the gist of it. I feel like it's a good framing device.

Monday, November 26, 2018

News in Brief: Ham on the Lam

Two days ago local Redditor, anniemaxine, posted a picture of a pig wandering freely in Gallup Park. If you are missing a pig, it may still be in the park.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

1843 Map of Washtenaw County

Ann Arbor in 1843. Lots of churches. 

I came across surveyor S. Pettibone's awesome 1843 map of Washtenaw County while browsing the Clark Map Library's colleciton. You can see Ann Arbor (above) and Ypsilanti (below) when they were just small towns.

Ypsilanti in 1843, Lots of mills.

Burr oak and Hickory Plains in Sharon Township.

By far, my favorite feature is detailed forest composition and soil characteristics included on the map. It's definitely worth checking out.

Gently ro9lling Black and White Oak above clay loam in Sylvan Township.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Election Party Roundup

Genele reader, the big day is finally here. If you are looking to celebrate, or drown your sorrows, here is a list of local election night parties.

League of Women Voters Watch Party: HopCat, 311 Maynard St. Details.
UM Ford School Watch Party: Frasier's Pub, 2045 Packard. Details.
Voters Not Politicians Watch Party: Pizza House, 618 Church St.Details.
UM Ginsberg Center Watch Party: 1024 Hill St. Details.
Electric Eye Cafe Watch Party: 811 N. Main St. Details.
Jeff Hayner and Elizabeth Nelson Watch Party with Karaoke: Necto Nightclub, 516 E. Liberty. Details .
UM College Democrats Watch Party: Arbor Brewing Company, 114 E. Washington. Details.
Workantile Watch Party: 118 S. Main St.
No on Prop A watch party: Aut Bar, 315 Braun Ct.

Opinion: Election 2018 Endorsements

Most importantly, gentle reader, vote today if you are able. If you are interested, here are my 2018 election endorsements.

Ann Arbor

Ward 1: Vote for Ryan Hughes. I like his stance on affordable housing. Also, Jeff Hayner has made a ton of... problematic tweets. e.g. said a current councilwoman has resting bitch face; is opposed to people choosing their pronouns; seems to hate pedestrians, etc.

Ward 4: Vote for Elizabeth Nelson. First, she is the strongest proponent of backyard goats we have seen in a generation. Also, I think she is going to be a strong advocate for cyclists.

Ann Arbor Proposition A: Vote No. Housing is one of the most important equity issues our generation faces. Prop A prevents construction of housing and money for affordable housing.

Ypsilanti Public Schools

Vote Yes for the Sinking Fund. It will help repair old buildings and free up general fund money.

Ypsilanti Public Library District

Vote Yes for the Ypsilanti District Library Millage.

Washtenaw County

Vote Yes on the parks millage

State Races

Vote for all the democrats. This includes Bagenstos and Cavanagh for the Supreme Court.

State Propositions

Vote Yes on Proposition 1: ending cannabis prohibition keeps people out of the criminal justice system and will bring millions of dollars in for education and roads.

Vote Yes on Proposition 2: ending Gerrymandering is perhaps the most important thing on the ballot this year. It will make our state more democratic.

Vote Yes on Proposition 3: make it easier for everyone to vote.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Opinion: Vote No on Ann Arbor Proposition A

The Library Lot

I am against Ann Arbor City Proposition A. I encourage you, gentle reader, to vote "No" on Proposition A, if you are registered to vote in Ann Arbor. I support the City's effort to sell the development rights above the Library Lot parking structure. And I generally support the Core Spaces proposal to develop the site. In this article, I will briefly outline why I am opposed to City Proposition A, as well as why I support development on that site.

Proposition A would add an amendment to the Ann Arbor City Charter that would designate all city-owned public land on the block with the Downtown Library to "be retained in public ownership, in perpetuity, and developed as an urban park and civic center commons, known as the ‘Center of the City.’”

There are three main reasons I am opposed to Proposition A, and why I support development on the Library Lot. This first is because I support the construction of more housing in Ann Arbor. The second two reasons have to do with decisions we made as a community in the past.

Ann Arbor needs more housing. The rate of new housing construction, both single and multi-family, is lower now than it was in the early 2000s . The job market in Ann Arbor is strong. U of M alone has added 10,000 jobs in the last 10 years. Between 70,000 and 80,000 people commute into Ann Arbor every day for work. There are more students living here too. Enrollment at U of M is up about by about 6,000 students in the last 10 years. There are a lot more people vying for housing in Ann Arbor at a time when the rate of housing construction has decreased. We see the effects of this in dramatically increasing rents, home sale prices, and clogged roads during commutes. More housing in Ann Arbor will help reduce the increases in rent and home prices, and congestion. The Core Spaces building alone will not solve these problems — no single project will — but it will contribute to making these situations better.

There are two decisions we, as a community, made in the past that lead to my support of development on the Library Lot and opposition to Proposition A. First is the Greenbelt. In 2003 we approved the Greenbelt millage. Ann Arbor voters made the decision to buy conservation easements in the townships around the city in an attempt to limit sprawl. Implicit in this decision was that Ann Arbor would increase in density as the city’s ability to increase in area became constrained. If we limit sprawl and stymie density increases, what we achieve is driving up housing costs and making Ann Arbor a less diverse and accessible community.

The second decision we made was to invest our resources in building an underground parking structure that could support a tall building. Between 2009 and 2012 the City built the Library Lane, a 4 story, 738 space, underground parking structure. This cost $55 million, of which $15 million was to build a structure capable of supporting a tall building on top. Approximately $35 million of the total cost came through the sale of Build America Bonds. The plan was always to sell the development rights of the air above the Library Lot to a private company. I know that not everyone agreed with this decision, but nevertheless the decision was made to build an underground parking structure capable of supporting a large (17-18 story) building. If we do not go through with some construction on the site, we are being poor stewards of our resources, both physical and financial. We made the decision to put a lot of cement and steel into the ground in order to support a large building. We are wasting those resources if we don't use them. Also, the Core Spaces project will immediately recoup $10 million of the $15 million we invested in building the Library Lot. It will also generate an estimated $2 million per year in property and $200k per year in hotel taxes.

There are other reasons I do not support Proposition A, and reasons that I support the Core Spaces development. Here are the other reasons I don't support Proposition A:

Here are other reasons I support development on the Library Lot:

  • I support affordable housing. $5 million from the $10 million sale of the development rights to Core Spaces goes to Ann Arbor's Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
  • I support more housing generally (see above). I do not believe building exclusively market rate housing will solve our housing problems. That said, it does have a role to play. Simply put, Ann Arbor needs more housing of all types.
  • The Core Spaces proposal includes a 12,000 sq. ft. plaza, and funds for maintenance and programing. (Also, there is the possibility of a splash pad.) This is smaller than the park that the Proposition A supporters want at the site. However, unlike their proposal, the Core Spaces proposal has a concrete plan, and a funding mechanism. (And, maybe, a splash pad.)

So there you have it, gentle reader. These are the reasons I encourage you to vote "No" on Ann Arbor Proposal A, and why I support development on that site. I think going forward with development on the Library Lot is an important step forward for our community.

H/T: to AKGoodman, STrudeau for helping me trackdown data and CDzombak for editing.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Interview with Skate Witches director Danny Plotnick

Few Super 8 films have captured local hearts and minds like Danny Plotnick's 1986 classic, Skate Witches. The 2 minute short was shot on the Diag in a single day while Danny was a student at U of M. It features a gang of female skateboarders, the Skate Witches, who terrorize male skateboarders. Also the Skate Witches have rats. Despite the films brevity, it really captures the zeitgeist for the mid 80s alt scene. I reached out to Danny, who is now the Director of Film Studies at the University of San Francisco, recently and he agreed to answer a few questions about Skate Witches for me. Below is our email interview.

Damn Arbor: Could you tell me a little about what inspired Skate Witches, or what lead to its filming?

Danny Plotnick: Dana, the witch in the Misfits t-shirt, had talked about wanting to get her old skateboard from her family home and bring it with her back to Ann Arbor. Obviously, Ann Arbor spreads out, and she thought a skateboard would be a great way to get around town a lot quicker. However, she felt she would get hassled by all the boy skateboarders in town. I don’t know if any women were skateboarding in Ann Arbor at that point. If they were, they were few and far between. Dana mentioned this when we were all hanging out. Karen, the queen witch, mentioned she used to skate when she lived in Grand Rapids. I joked that they should form a gang called The Skate Witches. Jenny, the witch that keeps pushing guys off their skateboards, said she didn’t skate, but she’d be happy to join the gang. Dana and Karen never really did get their boards. I liked the notion of them forming a gang in real life, but when it seemed like that wasn’t going to happen, I was convinced that, regardless, we needed to make a movie. So I wrote the movie, they got their skateboards, and the rest is history.

DA: How did you find the actors? Do you still stay in touch with the Witches? Did they really all own rats?

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

YpsiGLOW this Friday

YpsiGLOW is this Friday. Check out the above video from last year. Marchers with luminaries will gather at two places: the Water Tower and Depot Town. Then at 6:30 they will march to Downtown Ypsi and gather on Washington Street. Here's a map of the route:

The party on Washington goes from 7-10 pm. Hopefully we will see you there.