THE CANCER IS SPREADING LIKE FIRE!
WE NEED A COMMUNITY CENTER!
OPEN STATEMENT TO CITY COUNCIL
Back in 1969 the relationship between the city officials and the then just emerging young rainbow culture was extremely antagonistic. There were street riots in Ann Arbor that summer that none of us were here have forgotten. There wasn’t anything to do for all the thousands of young people beginning to realize our uniqueness, our visions of the future, and our collective capabilities to put a lot of our new ideas into action. And it seemed at the time that hardly anyone in city government was even remotely interested in addressing themselves to the problems that to us were steadily growing every day – problems with families, drugs, alienation and separation on all sides.
After the street riots, which broke out spontaneously on South University when the police tried to herd people away from the one place they could get together and see each other, the then existing White Panther Party submitted a 10-Point Program for Serving the Needs of the Youth Culture in Ann Arbor to City Council and the community. It was a pretty extensive report and was submitted with full knowledge of two other reports about the same subject: one a City Council ad hoc committee on youth problems that included Councilman Faber and ex-councilman Kazarinoff which called for the creation of a “Community Interaction Project” attempting to find adequate facilities for Ann Arbor’s youth to “entertain themselves,” and the other a minority report submitted by ex-Councilman Edwards of the Ann Arbor Bank and Balzhiser, which blames the whole problem of the youth on the so-called “revolutionary element” in Ann Arbor. People felt at the time that the Community Interaction Project idea was a serious attempt and a step forward for City Council.
Both the White Panther Party and the Council’s “Community Interaction Project” reports called for a youth community center where young people could get together and learn themselves how to deal collectively with common problems and ideas. No immediate response was ever made to those reports.
In the meantime, the amount of hard drugs on the streets and in the schools of Ann Arbor grew to such incredible proportions so fast, people were hardly aware of it, let alone urgent about the necessity to deal with it. People’s lives became intolerable, especially to young people and black people, when it seemed so clear that no one cared about their everyday problems. Hard drugs were so easy to get, and because of their property that deadens the mind, it seems all that much easier to take drugs and forget about it all and not deal with the problems. But hard drugs are illegal and sometimes expensive as well as addicting, and the resulting crime rate from rip-offs and muggings is beyond comprehension. And the whole drug/crime scene continues to grow and be a cancer on the community – drugs like Quaaludes, and heroin and amphetamines and barbiturates.
In the meantime a group of young people from the Hard Drugs Committee of the Tribal Council wrote a grant request to the Dept. of Health, Education, and Welfare in Washington to try and get some money to do something about it all. It was granted with one of its major projects being to develop a Community Center Project that included a Ballroom and Artists Workshop area so young people and anyone else who wished could get together and talk and work with each other about what was happening and begin actually collectively to deal with the situation and get people off the streets and learning something of future value.
The Community Center on Washington St. was finally negotiated through City Council as the site, and we all saw the development of the Community Center over these last two years. The second year the grant was in the name of the Community Center Project which now is made up of six paid staff members. Tribal Council involvement was minimal for a period of time as it floundered for existence and other organizations grew with the Community Center Project in the building, including Drug Help, Ozone House, and the Free People’s Clinic. Tribal Council’s involvement in the Community Center grew again though with the construction of the People’s Ballroom, the growth of the Tribal Network as a communication central, and plans for the Ann Arbor SUN to stop being published by the Rainbow People’s Party and move to the Community Center to be published by the People’s Communications Committee. During Ballroom events, the Psychedelic Rangers from the Defense Committee worked to deal with drug problems, and the People’s Education Committee provided free child care at a Children’s Community Center. Ballroom plays, movies and meetings were held there, and the itemized Food Co-op used the Ballroom as a distribution point every Saturday.
The fire at the Community Center was tragic. It has necessitated a split in the organizations housed there because there simply isn’t another place the city can find that could house them all together. But the organizations are already talking about the hardships of working crisis operations out of offices in the same building with the People’s Ballroom especially because of so many people and the noise and just extra added problems. The crisis organizations were not organized as a community center for people to hang out, and they in fact had come to Tribal Council to ask us for help in dealing with the ever-growing amount of young people who needed a place for organized getting together, specifically the Rangers were asked to help with that.
The crisis organizations are providing extremely important services in this community. But we think not enough people who can really help understand the importance of the People’s Ballroom and Tribal Council People’s Committees – particularly in terms of drugs and crime and the importance of people getting together and talking and working it out together. The Ballroom as it was could only serve up to 500 people at a time and the workshop area was never completed. We feel very strongly that the city ought to take a much more active role in helping deal with this section of the community and the problems involved. The question of the Revenue Sharing money is coming up soon. These problems within the rainbow community should be dealt with in a serious manner in the most progressive way possible. We feel that the city should provide us with not only the remaining Ballroom and workshop area, but also the large building next door (east) that would make it possible to construct a People’s Ballroom that could serve a thousand people. The City is landlord to the buildings and ideally should spend the money to bring it all up to a usable state at least. If the city isn’t willing to do that, then we would suggest the city give the buildings to us and we’ll raise the money and do it ourselves. . . labor costs would be minimal with so many people anxious to work on it.
We know the original plan was for the buildings to be demolished in favor of building parking lots after a couple years. But there are other parking lots which may be making money but are never full. If the city has no more concern for its young people than to take the one place we can get together in an organized manner and make it into parking lots than we can see the trouble ahead of all of us.
Is there any response to this?
If this proves to be beyond the realm of thought then we would hope for the same with at least the two remaining usable buildings – the Ballroom and front portion of the building – either the city as the landlord should spend the money to fix them up again, or give us the buildings and we’ll fix them up. We know we can do it all and that it wouldn’t cost but between $1200 to $2000 to do the initial work that would include around $250-350 for the plumbing (including more bathrooms than before), around $100-125 for the gas lines, around $250-350 for the electricity, which doesn’t take into account the generous offer from the JayCees to do the wiring in the Ballroom. The money we can get if its necessary for us to do it – there is a marathon planned for January 22 by WNRZ in cooperation with Tribal Council and the Community Center Coordinating Council that deals with the crisis organizations. There could be some benefits planned – we feel confident that the actual construction is a minor problem. Again, though, if the city doesn’t have any more concern for its young people than to take its community center and make it into a parking lot then we all are in for some heavy problems. To us it’s all reminiscent of the U. of California making People’s Park into a parking lot - and we know how expensive that was – It’s all part of the same history.
V. THE COMMUNITY INTERACTION PROJECT. . . AND BEYOND
We are aware that the City Council’s ad hoc committee on youth problems has submitted a “majority report” to the Council calling for the creation of a “Community Interaction Project” which will attempt to provide adequate facilities for Ann Arbor’s youth to “entertain themselves” next summer. We are also aware that a “minority report” has been submitted to the Council by 3rd Ward Councilman Joseph Edwards, of the Ann Arbor Bank, and former Councilman and unsuccessful mayoral candidate Richard Balzhiser, which blames the whole problem of the youth culture and its many manifestations on the “revolutionary element” in Ann Arbor. We recognize that Councilmen Robert Faber and Nicholas Kazarinoff have worked hard and have taken their assignment seriously, and their recommendations represent a great leap forward.
The White Panther Party, as an arm of the “revolutionary element” in Ann Arbor, has drawn up a 10-point program of recommendations for the City Council to use in its planning sessions for next summer and the years beyond. These are not “demands” – we would be foolish to make demands of the city at this point in history – but they are sincere, concrete proposals that, if implemented, will go a long way toward solving the “youth problem” in Ann Arbor and at the same time will help the youth of this community develop and grow into their full human potential. We know full well that the problems of the people will not be solved by the simple implementation of this modest program, but we are concerned here with dealing with a specific problem and effecting a specific solution to that problem.
White Panther Party 10-Point Program for Serving the Needs of the Youth Culture in Ann Arbor
(1) South University from Washtenaw to State Street, and State Street from South University to Huron, should be closed to all motor traffic, and South U between South Forest and East University should be made into a people’s mall. Citizens in this area should be encouraged to walk rather than ride. This action will also serve the people of the University of Michigan campus as well as the youth and the general consumer trade. A permanent bandstand should be erected on South U and East U, and another one at South State and Liberty Streets, for open-air concerts and speeches when desired by the merchants and residents of the area. People’s art exhibitions could be mounted in the mail areas and the spirit and color of the annual art fair could be extended all year around.
(2) The city should set aside a large plot of land, preferably in the campus area or close by, on which could be built suitable facilities for youth and community needs, as Councilmen Faber and Kazarinoff have suggested. This area could be designated as the youth center area and used all year round by the youth community and anyone else who desired to use it. The facilities should include a spacious people’s park, with a playground area for small children and an outdoor bandshell for concerts and rallies; a large enclosed auditorium for dances, concerts, meetings, and general gatherings; smaller buildings for restaurants, coffeehouses and more intimate gatherings; a book and record store, general store and open newsstand; and a building which could be used for community meetings, classrooms, art exhibitions, and other functions. As much as possible youth should be involved in planning the buildings, helping build them, decorate, design and staff them, organizing and managing the various activities there, etc., because only in that manner will they learn to provide for their own needs and determine their own destinies, and they will rightly feel a closer union with the whole facility, and derive much more use from it, because they were involved in its creation and continue to be involved in its functioning. The City, perhaps in cooperation with local industry and merchants, should provide an initial amount of equipment for the center, including a rugged public address system, a set of musical equipment including amplifiers, a mimeograph machine and electronic stencil-cutting machine, silk-screen equipment, a small offset press, a larger offset press for posters and tabloid newspapers, a photographic laboratory, tape recorders and recording equipment, closed-circuit television and 16-mm film facilities including an editing room, and other technology so the youth can learn to operate the equipment and create their own newspapers, posters, films, photographs, paintings, musical compositions, records, books, movies, television programs, and other means of human expression in this age. By making these tools available to them the established culture can demonstrate to the youth that they are concerned with the youth’s development, and the youth can learn skills and develop talents that will be of value to them and to the whole community for years to come.
(3) A youth-oriented and largely youth -operated liberated school should be located in the youth center area where young people could help educate each other to learn what they need to know in order to survive and grow in the new age of cybernation and electronic technology. The school would use the equipment listed in point (2), above, and could also develop a library through cooperation with university students and the local bookstores, and guidance could be solicited from regular school-teachers, college students, people from the general community with special and general skills and knowledge to offer, and from the youth culture itself. The function of the school would be to teach young people and to help them learn what they want and need to know. Each youth would naturally develop his or her own course of study and would be supplied as much as possible with the technology and the materials they needed for their particular discipline. During the “school years” students and non -students alike could pursue their wider studies at the people’s community school and be given a chance to develop whatever it is they want to develop. Musicians, poets, editors, designers, and all kinds of artists and visionaries could be called upon to work with the community and share their knowledge and skills with the people. Of course, this would not apply only to the youth, but to all the citizens of the area once the school were established.
(4) The city should permit and encourage the establishment of youth kiosks for newspapers, magazines and books of special interest to the youth culture, and for disseminating free information about community events and community services. These kiosks and newsstands should be operated by youth groups whenever possible.
(5) The city should endorse the creation of a youth newspaper within the Ann Arbor News and should encourage the News to devote more space to news that is relevant to the youth of Ann Arbor. This program should include writers from the youth culture and would go a long way toward beginning a real dialogue between the youth culture and the established culture. The local radio stations should also be encouraged to initiate youth-training programs whereby young people could learn to operate radio and television equipment, produce programs, and communicate with their own people through the mass media. This would also increase the possibility of real communication between the youth culture and the established culture. (6) Youth hostels should be established and operated by the city’s youth, with positive governmental and health organizational supervision, for young visitors to Ann Arbor and other people passing through the area who wanted to investigate the city’s youth program. Buildings could be bought by the city or donated by landowners and could be repaired and renovated by youth work crews who would then be responsible for maintaining and operating the hostels. Paint and other materials could be donated by local merchants who are interested in involving themselves in the community service program.
(7) A free health clinic should be established in the youth center area which could be staffed by hospital and university medical and psychiatric personnel and administrated by the youth themselves. The clinic would serve not only the youth but all the people of the community.
(8) In line with this, the police and other law enforcement agencies should be instructed to start dealing with the city’s drug problems as health problems rather than criminal matters, and the city should initiate, in cooperation with the police and the medical authorities, a comprehensive new program for dealing with the hard-drug problem, including mass education, information, and treatment which could be implemented largely by the youth themselves. This would include printing pamphlets and other information media and distributing them, working at the clinic, etc. Other health problems such as venereal disease, common illnesses, and other ailments could come under this program, and birth control information could be disseminated as well as information about other health needs.
(9) To expand further on the drug problem, we propose a whole new approach to the situation which would include the passage of a new city ordinance removing marijuana from the list of narcotics and making possession for use a low misdemeanor if it must be a crime at all; the renovation of the police department’s program for dealing with drugs by concentrating their efforts on prevention rather than arrest and imprisonment; a community-wide drive to eliminate the availability and use of amphetamines and heroin and other addictive drugs from the community , particularly the youth community; and a real effort to educate youth and demonstrate to them why certain drugs are absolutely harmful while others are or can be beneficial to them. The main point here is that the police must concern themselves with eliminating the drugs themselves and not the users, which would mean that they could then realistically enlist the aid of people in the youth culture who are presently opposed to the use of harmful narcotics and dangerous drugs but would not lift a finger to help the police and the courts throw their brothers and sisters in jail for getting high or for using harmful drugs. This would mean the destruction of the whole drug syndrome and the end of the major source of hostility in the community.
(10) The police should be removed from the South University and South State Street areas and from the youth center area altogether, and the city should allow for the establishment and training of a youth peace force which would police the area and work with the authorities in controlling any trouble that may be forthcoming. It should be noted that most “trouble” occurs when youth gatherings are invaded by police, and when the police stay out of youth areas no trouble occurs. The police department and all authorities should be urged to enter into a real dialogue with youth and other subcultures and learn how to deal with the people peacefully rather than brutalizing and harassing them. The whole subject of police-youth coexistence is central to this report and to any discussion of community problems, and the program offered above, or any program offered by any concerned group, can only be doomed to failure unless a drastic change is made in the attitudes and practices of the police forces and other authorities. We submit that it is in the best interests of the entire community that the police-youth relationship be completely re-evaluated, and re-aligned in conformity with contemporary reality.
With the establishment of such a youth center area as we have outlined above, the youth of Ann Arbor could begin to educate themselves and involve themselves actively in the life of the community. They could develop their own economy and start making money to support their center by marketing their crafts, and productions to the people of the established culture. This would help them maintain their equipment and keep themselves stocked with the materials they need to keep functioning. As much as possible, however, the services and products developed by the youth should be offered freely within the youth community. The businessmen and merchants of the establishment could involve themselves in this comprehensive community service program by making donations of machinery, equipment and materials to the youth center school and by working with the youth to develop their skills and expertise in various areas. The hospitals and the university could be involved through work in the free clinic, the information and education programs, and the free school. Musicians and other artists could involve themselves by offering their time and skills to the youth and teaching them how to use the technology available to them. Indeed, all segments of the community could eventually become involved in this project and could receive a thorough indoctrination and education in the youth culture.
In closing, we submit that this program, if implemented, will help reduce tensions between youth and police so that further “disorders” can be avoided; it will help the youth learn to govern themselves and manage their own affairs; it will teach them skills, arts and crafts that will be of immediate and long-range value not only to the youth but to the community as a whole; it will help establish a real youth community with its own thriving culture that will work with the established culture to create an atmosphere of total cooperation and total communication which will benefit every member of the whole community; and it will make Ann Arbor the most progressive, most forward-looking city in the entire country. We don’t expect to see our program implemented tomorrow, or even next summer, but we do offer it in a spirit of good-will in the hope that the City Council will see fit to study our proposals and act u upon them to solve the problems of the city’s youth culture.
We are now, and we always have been, most concerned with the future of this city and the future of the country as a whole, and we look forward to a new era of community cooperation in Ann Arbor, provided that the established culture is truly sincere in its concern with the needs of the city’s youth. The problem can certainly be solved, but it will not be solved by applying the same tired logic and “reasoning” that has been applied in the past, and it will not be solved without a drastic re-examination of the whole approach to the problem the authorities have traditionally taken. We are living in a new age, although many members of the established order aren’t really aware of it – but the young people know exactly what is happening, and we need new approaches to our problems. The City Council has been delegated the power to deal with this situation, and we are hopeful that it will further delegate some of its power to the people in a spirit of true cooperation, so the people can have what they need. All power to the people!
The White Panther Party
by John Sinclair, Chairman
Political Prisoner (serial No. 123507)
November 17, 1969
from “THE WHITE PANTHER REPORT”
NOVEMBER 17, 1969
Freeing John Sinclair
Ann Arbor Bank
White Panther Party
Ann Arbor City Council
Ann Arbor Tribal Council
Rainbow People's Party
People's Education Committee
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor News
Ann Arbor Sun