The December 15 fire that destroyed the Community Center and People's Ballroom on Washington St. marked a turning point in the history of Ann Arbor. You would think that such a crisis would bond all the organizations and people involved into a tighter unity through the struggle to survive and get back in working order again. Instead, the fire served to illuminate the contradictions between two basic working forces in the community: the Tribal Council and the Community Center Coordinating Council (C4) organizations. These contradictions have developed to a point of mutual agreement that the two organizations cannot work in the same building, that the different approaches of the organizations make it necessary for two community centers to rebuild from the ashes. This situation has developed over a period of years and points to a series of events that make up a picture of a part of Ann Arbor's history never told before in total.
A lot of us were in Ann Arbor in 1969 when things were so bad there were street riots from lack of anything better to do- street fighting began spontaneously because there was little of the holy weed around, thanks to "Operation Intercept" at the border, the bogus dope scene was just beginning to grow in the rainbow community, and there was no place but the streets to get together with anyone. The City tried to sweep the people off the streets with their clubs and tear gas and the people came back for three nights until the disproportionate disorganization forced the people to stop entirely to figure out what to do.
That fall, 1969, the White Panther Party published a 10-Point Program for Serving the Needs of the Youth Culture in Ann Arbor. The City never responded to the report, but a group of people got together and wrote a grant request to HEW in Washington, D.C. based on the understanding gained from the report. One of the basic ideas put forth was the importance of a people's community center where young people could get together and begin to deal collectively with the problems shared commonly among us all. (See the SUN, Issue No. 46, Jan. 12-26, for a reprint of the Report). At the same time the Ann Arbor Tribal Council was organizing itself to deal with common problems of every day existence. The people who requested and were given the grant from Washington were then the Hard Drugs Committee of the Tribal Council-the main purpose of the grant was to form the Community Center Project.
Negotiations with the city produced the old Washington St. Fisher Cadillac garage and for two years the Community Center grew before our eyes until the fire December 15, 1972. At that point the Community Center housed the Free People's Clinic, Ozone House (to deal with runaways and other related family problems and crashing people). Drug Help, and the Community Center Project which included within it the People's Ballroom, the Tribal Network Communications central, the to-be-built Artists' Workshop, and the Ann Arbor SUN which was scheduled to move into the basement the very week of the fire.
The afternoon before the fire there had been a C4 meeting, very heated and angry, around the subject of smoking marijuana in the building. Smoking the weed had been prohibited, along with fighting, sleeping, weapons, and drugs of all kinds. The Ann Arbor SUN was getting ready to move in, insisting on the right to smoke good weed while working. C4 would absolutely not hear of it because of the jeopardy with the city, people's parents, and the grant money. The SUN workers were baffled, having worked so hard to get the marijuana laws changed so we could all smoke it.
Long before then, the same people who had originally gotten the grant had stopped working with Tribal Council, changed the name of the grant to the Community Center Project, and were accusing Tribal Council of being no more than members of.the Rainbow People's Party, and therefore a threat to their grant money and good position with City officials. The Rainbow People's Party had grown out of the White Panther Party, Tribal Council worked with both as they developed, and the City did its best to ignore publicly and conspire privately to eliminate what they saw as problems posed by these organizations. There was a period of time when Tribal Council floundered for existence-- it had no grant money, indeed no money at all except what came from benefits, or the sale of t-shirts- and people from Tribal Council didn't participate in the activity of the Community Center during that time of its own beginning. The people who were originally the Hard Drugs Committee quietly changed the name of the grant without even telling anyone in Tribal Council.
Tribal Council grew stronger, and worked closely with members of the Rainbow People's Party without feeling bad at all about it. there carne a point when Tribal Council was capable of working with the Community Center in an effective way again and it was instrumental in getting the People's Ballroom together and organizing the Tribal Network and the Ann Arbor SUN. Refreshments at the Ballroom were sold by the People's Food Committee, the security was done by the Psychedelic Rangers from the People's Defense Committee, kids were taken care of by the People's Education Committee, and the over all coordination was done by the People's Music and Ballroom Committee, all of the Tribal Council. This work brought the Tribal Council and C4 organizations closer together again, or so it seemed.
During this period of development of the Community Center and the Tribal Council, the Rainbow People's Party was also developing. John Sinclair, Chairman of the Party, did 2 and 1/2 years in prison in order to fight the marijuana laws and was successful in bringing about changes n the laws in Michigan, ultimately freeing some 150 Michigan prisoners. The Program mentioned above came out of Marquette Prison, and served as a foundation for the growth of a coherent rainbow community in Ann Arbor. The struggle for free concerts in the parks has brought thousands of people together during the summer months beginning in 1966, and since then is a basic part of Ann Arbor life now. The Human Rights Party, was born, and with the requested help of the Rainbow People's Party, grew to a substantial third party in a very short time. The establishment of the Ann Arbor SUN as a biweekly rainbow community news service was one of the most integral parts of building the amount of organization and consciousness in Ann Arbor now.
The night of the fire, as the building was burning, some people from the C4 organizations were standing around crying at the loss of all the incredible work that had gone into the building. Many people, including some from Tribal Council, were running around yelling at the firemen to put out the fire, frantically thinking that the firemen must have been letting it burn on purpose, which would have been in keeping with the City's amount of cooperation in the project. The next morning after the fire, meetings were called to figure out how best to deal with the situation. The C4 organizations wanted to spend the meetings righteously figuring out the emergency steps to be taken to keep their crisis services operating. But when it came down to talking about the fire itself, how it was handled, and the questions that were raised about the Ann Arbor Fire Dept., they didn't want to hear it. Also, many of them didn't particularly think that getting immediate space for the People's Ballroom was very important. There were many hours of heated arguments trying to bring out as many of the contradictions as possible.
At an especially historical meeting of about 100 people from both C4 and Tribal Council, held at the Human Rights Party office, a lot of things were made clear that hadn't been before, and Tribal Council members at least carne away with a good feeling about the whole thing. We all mutually agreed that the Tribal Council and C4 organizations couldn't be in the same building, if only because in counseling irate and/or dangerous parents and runaways it isn't the most neutralizing thing to do to smoke dope. And the C4 organizations get their money mainly from government grants and donations from organizations like Kiwanis, the Jaycees, and individuals with a lot of money. The C4 organizations also don't want to be in the same building with the People's Ballroom because they don't want to be a community center where people can come and hang out, they don't want to deal with large numbers of people at one time because they mainly deal with crisis situations like drug problems, runaways, and medical care- they in fact had come to Tribal Council weeks before and asked that the Tribal Council help more in figuring out a way to deal with all the hundreds of people that still don't have much to do since rejecting their parents' way of life.
Tribal Council does on the other hand want a People's Community Center where we can figure out together with Rainbow people a way for us to live in cooperation and peace. We want to smoke marijuana while we work and bring people together to dance and talk to them about how bogue the downers are, like the quaaludes that people are taking because their lives are so intolerable. We want to come together with our people to make beautiful lives out of the ruins. Tribal Council people came away from that meeting with a better understanding of the different roles the two groups play in the community and the fact that they can complement each other in their different areas. We looked upon the need for two community centers as an expansion rather than a split.
But the contradictions were brought to a peak again around the issue of the Fire Dept. The People's Defense Committee of the Tribal Council was calling for an investigation into the many charges made all during and after the fire that the Dept. hadn't dealt with the fire efficiently. The C4 organizations didn't want to raise the question at all before the people. They seemed to feel overwhelmingly that the firemen did everything they could have done to put it out, and C4 representatives spoke of their fear of "alienating" the Fire Dept. and the City with an investigation.. When the People's Defense Committee decided to go ahead and cali for the investigation, the C4 organizations spent a long time convincing them of the necessity for the media to be clear on the fact that charges had come from the community that had not yet been proven in any way, and that we were merely calling for people to give up their information to help in determining the validity of the charges.
But the information the media put out after a press conference was totally boggled to the point of it being reported that the Rainbow People's Party house had burned down and charges were of gross negligence against the Fire Dept. The boggle came partly from an erroneous leaflet prepared by a Tribal Council member, and partly from not enough follow-up on the media to make sure they got the story straight. That was enough to warrant charges to this day from C4 people against Tribal Council that we are deceptive and don't abide by collective decisions made at mass meetings. We've criticized ourselves publicly for not being on top of the situation and have since then tried to make the investigation as clear as possible. The information gathered so far points to sincere firemen trying to do a good job, with a literally dangerous Dept. to work within- there's more on that in this issue and in ones to come.
Getting back to the grant and the Community Center Project, the situation now is that there are six paid staff members of the Project: three are from C4 and three are from Tribal Council. Before hardly any discussion about the remaining money from the grant, people from C4 went to Washington, explained the whole situation and agreed to split up the Community Center Project between the two groups. They came back and told us that if there was any stink raised about smoking dope, we could jeopardize the rest of the grant money for both organizations, when they had been the ones who raised the question of reefer in Washington in the first place. One of the major people involved in that has since then agreed he should have at least talked to someone from Tribal Council about it first.
The grant money runs up to June 30 of this year. Part of the money is earmarked for rent and renovation, part for salaries, part for operating expenses. A third grant has been applied for by C4 members of the Community Project already, which does not include any Tribal Council functions or anything about the People's Ballroom, done again without talking to anyone from Tribal Council.
Right after the fire members of the People's Skilled Trades Committee looked over the buildings, and we found that the People's Ballroom and the area to be built into the Artists' Workshop were structurally sound except for one place in the roof of the Ballroom which could be fixed. There were meetings between C4, Tribal Council, and Jim Hudak from the city administrator's office. Tribal Council made it clear at that time that we thought those buildings were usable and that we'd like to renegotiate the lease with the city, making a specific request to C4 not to terminate the lease until it was clear that the lease would be renegotiated with the Tribal Council. Shortly after that a letter was sent to the city terminating the lease stating that it was with the understanding that the lease would be renegotiated with Tribal Council. People from Tribal Council knew a letter was being sent, but misunderstood its intent and thought it was only to inform the City formally of the desire to change the name of the lease to Tribal Council. When everyone realized the lease had been terminated, C4 said they thought that's what Tribal Council had wanted them to do, adding later that termination was the only step available to them, since some of C4's associated organizations had decided not to sub-lease to Tribal Council in any event.
The circumstances surrounding the letter of termination have resulted in a further C4- Tribal Council contradiction, which the two groups are trying to resolve by means of discussion. At any rate, the City got back in control of the building and the people's hard work and high energy dedication in cleaning up the area after the fire was wasted.
At the next City Council meeting January 8th, an open statement was presented with the intentions of impressing on City Council members the importance and need for the People's Ballroom and Community Center to continue to function in Ann Arbor, especially in light of the ever increasing bogus-drug-rip-off scene. (Seen SUN Issue No. 46, Jan. 12-26 for the full text of the statement.) The thrust of the statement was to get the City to begin to feel more of a sense of their responsibility for its kids, and to recognize the need for a peoples' community center which it should have built a long time ago, as first put forth in 1969 in the White Panther Report to City Council. Later on that evening they voted to go ahead and tear down all the buildings and build parking lots as had been planned for the buildings when the lease terminated October 31 , 1973 as per a dubious agreement with the Ann Arbor Bankers to whom the buildings had belonged.
When the City was approached in a meeting soon after the City Council decision to destroy all the buildings, Tribal Council members were advised that we would have to start all over again with an educational campaign about the importance of the People's Ballroom and such a People's Community Center. We were told to come to the City with a proposal for a specific building, that we have to find with enough education well in advance for Council members to be "convinced" of the importance of such a center. Even then we would have to get eight votes to appropriate money from the City and it's usually quite a struggle to make up six votes, which can only get certain things done. When we asked about the tens of thousands of dollars appropriated every year for the Recreation Dept. to keep up the Little League Baseball diamonds in the city we were told that the City just had different priorities than we do.
In a recent meeting with Community Center Project people, we learned that some C4 people were angry at the statement we had presented to City Council- they had given a short support statement before with what they said was an understanding that we were only going to ask for a renegotiation of the lease, and not for that as well as an understanding on the part of the city that we need much more than that. They criticized us for not having a more detailed proposal for the City that night and we explained that it was our feeling, and we proved it to be right, that they weren't going to have very much interest in what we had to say and it was more important to try and impress the enormity of the situation on them as well as a price estimate on what it would cost to get the People's Ballroom and People's Community Center going in those buildings we thought we already had. We had even said we would come up with the money ourselves if the City would just negotiate the lease with us.
At this point we are looking for a building to house the People's Ballroom and People's Community Center. The C4 organizations have located temporary offices together in the old Canterbury House above Mark's Coffee House and are looking also for a building they can use together. The left over money from the Washington HEW grant, as well as the $750 a month rent money the City had allocated for the Community Center on Washington St., has not yet been finally settled among the Community Center Project, C4, and Tribal Council.
Throughout this whole period Tribal Council has been trying to come to agreement that the need for two centers should be viewed as an expansion in the community and not a split. Tribal Council proposed that the Community Center Project be a joint project between C4 and Tribal Council and that we do joint fund raising for both community centers and split it 50/50, retaining total autonomy for the different organizations to decide on what to do with their portions of the money. A tentative agreement was reached that the left-over money will be split pretty much 50/50, and plans were made for the Community Marathon proposed by WNRZ which splits the money 50/50 between C4 and Tribal Council. But the new grant request doesn't include anything about Tribal Council or the People's Ballroom and no more has been concretely planned to maximize unity. Many times it has been said that affiliation with Tribal Council has hurt the C4 organizations in terms of money and support from the monied sectors of the city.
Tribal Council feels strongly that the C4 organizations are providing badly needed services to the Ann Arbor community. But we also feel strongly the need for a People's Community Center and Ballroom, and for a Tribal Council with its People's Committees to develop working programs on a much broader scale that will help people to organize on the principles of self-determination and cooperation to meet the every day needs of all our lives. At this time in particular we cali upon the Ann Arbor community for support in helping us find a location for the People's Community Center and People's Ballroom. We see many struggles and a bright future ahead-and the more we work together, the faster we'II come together.
JOIN THE TRIBAL COUNCIL! LET IT GROW!
for the Ann Arbor Tribal Council