Autonomous Learning, Sustenance, and Culture in the US Midwest: Invert the Logic of The Zombies

The cultural hegemony here in the midwest is full of rigid and stifling assumptions. Even in the supposedly “progressive” places (like Madison, Ann Arbor, and even Chicago).

“Education” for most is primarily about working on grinding you down as an individual until you finally forget about your unique local originality, history, diversity, and freedom. People in the US Midwest cities and countryside who accept, and even enthusiastically reinforce onto others the culture of resignation will thrive in the commercial, government and traditional University education sectors.

It’s commonly known around here that it is better to just accept your fate as the guy or girl that drives the lawnmower, sits in a cubicle, toils on a factory floor, delivers pizzas, or increasingly, collects unemployment checks, begs for money, breaks into business and residences to steal goods, etc. The vacuum of culture that was filled for decades by big corporations and their collaborators, is now being filled by decay and crumbling collapse of those same former industrial culture machines.

Sure, mass culture is depressing. And, yes, the collapse of mass culture is accurately more depressing if you allowed yourself to be worn down into thinking you were happy with mass culture. So, what will we fill the vacuum of the collapsing vacuum fillers with, then? What’s left if you were already supposed to be next to nothing in the first place? Well, we could start by working with the idea that we as individuals out here so-called “flyover country” are actually pretty kick ass all on our own. It is time to tell our stories with our own voices, create culture in our own spaces, learn and do without asking permission. Either that, or you can continue to be one of those people who slouches around smugly telling people  “that’ll never happen” every time they tell you about a new or interesting idea about how to do something right here, right now. If you are one of the mindless midwestern zombies that regularly repeats that mantra, congratulations: you’re at the very forefront and cutting edge in the effort of making nothing happen around here! Look around you, and you can see the fruits of your labour.

There are many people heading to the US Social Forum in Detroit who are thinking along the lines of inverting the logic of the zombies.

One example is “Cartography with your feet“:

Driven by the pressures of corporate competition, Midwestern capital elites envision a network of highspeed trains linking the scattered cities of flyover land into a dense urban grid. Oblivious to territories, histories and peoples you whisk your way from center to center like a roulette ball spinning through the global casino. What gets lost in the dreams of power are the connections between the city and the country, the earth and the sky, the past and the future.

What kinds of worlds are installed on the ground by the neoliberal planning processes developed in the technocratic universities? How to start building a cultural and intellectual commons that can seep into the fabric of everyday life?

The Midwest Radical Cultural Corridor is a call for longer, slower, deeper connections between the territories where we live. It’s a cartography of shared experience, built up by those who nourish lasting ties between critical groups, political projects, radical communities and experiments in alternative existence. Why not help build the commons by overflowing your usual daily routines? Why not make the journey to the US Social Forum into a chance to discover the worlds we can create right here in our own region?

This workshop draws from the inspiration of Grace Lee Boggs and the travels of the Compass Group on the “Continental Drift through the Midwest Radical Cultural Corridor.” The idea is to propose an act of collective discovery and creation, carried out this summer by anyone who’s heading to the Social Forum. Multiple caravans each chart their particular pathways and organize their own activist campaigns, artistic exchanges, skill-sharing sessions, solidarity dinners or whatever else they desire on the roads to Detroit, then converge at the Allied Media conference and the US Social Forum to share stories, images and artifacts from their detours through the Midwestern labyrinth. Meanwhile, those with different priorities can invent their own forms of travel and exchange, explore diverging temporalities, set up “stationary drifts” in the neighborhoods they inhabit and continue the projects they’re pursuing, while the moving worlds pass through them.

By taking the time for a conscious experience of the territories we are continually traversing we can build up what Stephen Shukaitis calls an “imaginal machine”: a many-headed hydra telling tales of solidarity and struggle, daily life and outlandish dreams in the places that power forgets, leaving their inhabitants free to remember living histories and work toward better tomorrows. The Compass Group will present images, narratives and documents from their Continental Drift in 2008, then open up the concept to input and debate. With the help of anyone who’s interested, we hope to lay the basis for a collaborative process of self-organization and convergence at the USSF in Detroit and to sow the seeds of future meetings and projects.

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