Deep Routes:The Midwest in All Directions

We have a new book!

Deep Routes: The Midwest in All Directions collects essays from the Compass Collaborators and our extended networks of colleagues and conspirators. We are excited about this book!

Deep Routes: the Midwest in All Directions is a collection of stories about learning where we are – by inhabiting, traversing, and exchanging narratives in the expansive region that some people call the Midwest Radical Culture Corridor. Emerging from a geologic territory shaped by retreating Pleistocene ice sheets and further carved by generations of plant, animal and human habitation, these essays contemplate another planetary shift that has transformed our very existence: global neoliberal capitalism. The authors critically reflect on the nature of territory, citizenship, mobility and the possibilities for a more just and egalitarian society. Drawing from sites within the the Midwest (such as parts of Minneapolis, Detroit, Rockford, Madison, Southern Illinois) and excursions far beyond it (locales as distant as Togo, China and Argentina) the twenty-seven contributors explore the wealth of associations these many journeys have nurtured.


The Monsanto Hearings: Iowa City

Flier for Iowa City Monsanto HearingsOn Saturday, April 21, farmers, environmental advocates, veterans, artists, and community members will come together to share testimony and review the record concerning Monsanto’s impacts on eastern Iowa and the world. The event, which will take place from 11 AM – 2 PM in the Boyd Law Building on the University of Iowa campus, is the second in a growing series of hearings intended to raise awareness of the local impacts of the agribusiness giant while asking broader questions about the capacity of existing law to promote social and environmental justice.

As the nation’s top producer of both corn and soy, the state of Iowa is shaped by the practices of Monsanto in countless ways. Iowa produced 20% of US corn crop for 2011, and, with more than 85% of that genetically modified, almost no place in the state is left untouched. While opinion is sharply divided about GMO crops, many of their promised benefits–reduced pesticide use and greater profits for farmers–have failed to materialize, and a mounting body of evidence suggests dangers to human health, damage to our soils, and the development of resistant pests and superweeds. The rapid adoption of GMO crops constitutes the biggest uncontrolled experiment in human history. Some in our communities continue to cope with the toxic legacy of historic Monsanto products such as PCBs, and local veterans, farmers, and farmworkers experience chemical sensitivities due to exposure to pesticides. The evolution of Monsanto from a chemical to a biotech company has entailed a massive consolidation of agricultural infrastructure, and the company grants millions for academic research each year. At every level–from our soils to our universities–Iowa is clearly impacted by Monsanto in countless ways.

The Monsanto Hearings provide a public forum for a community to speak to the harmful effects of these impacts. A trial is a familiar form, a vehicle for evaluating harms, assigning responsibility, and making restitution. At the same time, existing law often limits who has ‘standing’– the right to make claims and be heard — and insists that damages be measurable in dollar value. The Iowa City hearing takes a different approach by considering all living beings as potential plaintiffs. What, for example, what might bacteria in our soil have to say about the pesticide Round Up? Is there a connection between Monsanto and the collapse of bee colonies? The hearing therefore presents creative or artistic testimonies alongside more traditional forms of witness.

The April 21st Iowa City event is the second in an ongoing series of hearings organized in cities across the country. The first took place in Carbondale, IL in January; others are planned later this year in Chicago, IL and Santa Cruz, CA. The Iowa City hearing is sponsored, in part, by the art fair documenta13, the AndAndAnd artist-run initiative, Iowa City SOUP, and the University of Iowa ECGPS.

Download Iowa City Monsanto Hearings Flyer

Testimony of Moe Parr

The Chickadee testifies at the first Monsanto hearing


listening to zea maize

We are a group of writers, teachers, artists, researchers, and farmers. In this hearing, we will use the court as a theater to build public understanding. All people and living beings are potential plaintiffs.

What is the awareness of their technologies in an average community? Is it possible to live for one day without the products of this company? Are there any areas of life not touched by their brand?

Evidence and testimony will be presented highlighting the impact that the Monsanto corporation has on our food, farms, communities, and ecosystems.

YOU are invited to review the research on Monsanto through shared testimonies and argument.

Please join us in this liberating exchange!

WHEN: January 28, 2012, from 11 a.m. until 3:30 p.m.
First session 11-12:30: Second session 2-3:30

WHERE: Lesar Law Bldg Courtroom, SIU, Carbondale, IL

WHY: To raise awareness of the research on Monsanto’s existing public record, and to accumulate evidence on the impact of their products and policies on life- within our community, nation, and biosphere.

Monsanto operates within the letter of the law of our land and often in coordination with the State. We ask then, should there be a higher law or moral order?

Free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served.

Sponsored by the SIUC Fine Arts Activity Fee and the Student Activity Fee administered by the Graduate and Professional Student Council and supported by AndAndAnd (documenta(13).

China Drift report back @ Mess Hall, Chicago

In May and June of 2011 four Compass stalwarts, Brian, Sarah, Claire, and Dan, made the journey to China together along with a host of others, collaborators from the US, Europe, and China. Moving from Beijing to Wuhan to Lashihai Valley of Yunnan province, the drift brought the MRCC into view from a great distance. The connections between points in the midwest and places in China are many, without a doubt economically and environmentally significant, complicated and highly variable, but also in some ways insistently non-existent. We will relate the narrative of our travels, the links we did and did not make, and the questions we are left with.

At Mess Hall on Thursday, August 11, 2011, 7-9 PM Sarah Lewison and Dan Wang will be sharing what they saw, did, and thought while in China. Hint: each of the four brought along something to use, read, or share with those we’d meet, from or about Detroit, curiously. Maybe not so curiously.

mrcc on display at the Desiree/Womenjia Youth Autonomy Lab, Wuhan, China

Womenjia courtyard

Detroit and the 2010 US Social Forum

Compass contributors and friends attended the US Social Forum in Detroit. This visit followed on the heels of several visits and extended conversations with some Detroit-based individuals and organizations over the last year.

Compass proposed and held a workshop (Cartography With Your Feet) at the Social Forum. The workshop presented an outline of our working methodology—a form of embodied, place-based research—that is being developed through our ongoing series of collective and individual “drifts.” This brief presentation was followed up with a participatory mapping activity, prompting ourselves and guests to map (on paper) the geography between our points of origin and the USSF in Detroit. We asked questions about both the literal and political roads taken.

We also held a BBQ across from the historic King Solomon Baptist Church, located around the corner from Hush House. We hung out under the Car Pool tent, created by Adrian Blackwell, and had a wonderful evening of conversations with folks from Chicago, California, and neighbors. Hush House members showed us the meditation garden recently installed by USSF volunteers, and the Hush House museum.

Compass contributors Dan S Wang, Brian Holmes, and Sarah Ross (download a PDF of the Public I newspaper containing the article) have written great reports on our activities there and their own impressions and experiences.

Chicago PMA: report-back

A People’s Movement Assembly was convened by the Compass in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago at a free, self-organized cultural space called Mess Hall. The walls there are covered by an exhibition of proposals for the first participatory budgeting process to be carried out in the USA, a direct result of the alderman’s visit to the first US Social Forum in Atlanta!

The purpose of this meeting was to bring together Chicago people who are interested in going to the Forum to exchange plans and ideas, and to take resolutions about actions “on the road to Detroit” – literally as well as figuratively. We are hoping that the Forum provides a catalyst to strengthen networks and support structures within our city and beyond.

1. Introduction to the Compass, with a brief recap of some of our activities to date. We formed two years ago as a traveling seminar to explore together our region and its global context and to meet some of the activists and visionaries forming “The Midwest Radical Cultural Corridor.” Now we’re using our journeys to Detroit as a chance to connect with more local groups and struggles. The Compass invites others to take up The Midwest Radical Cultural Corridor as a sign, a vision, a call to meet people in cities, towns and rural areas on the roads to Detroit, to learn about local situations and find common solutions.

2. A report-back from the People’s Movement Assembly that members of our group attended in Detroit on March 12, including a short video made by organizers at that event. Details on four actions being planned during the USSF gathering. We then heard about the activities being coordinated by the Road to Detroit committee in Chicago and about an organization of cooperatives working on an alternative economies project for the forum.

3. Taking our cue from the PMA organizing kit, we set out to describe the basic problem and identify the underlying causes.

We see the same thing everywhere, in the bailouts, the foreclosures, the cuts in social services and the collapse of public education: the economic crisis is being used as an excuse for a redesign of our everyday lives from the top down, for the privilege of the wealthy and the profit of the corporations. An example is Detroit itself, where Mayor Bing is teaming up with big-money foundations like Ford, Kellogg, Knight and Kresge to draft a new plan for what they call “right-sizing the city” (see also this). They want to demolish homes and neighborhoods, relocate people, sell the land cheap for “creative corridors” and “safe neighborhoods.” Green belts and urban farms set up by millionaire patronage are among the ideas. But who will make these decisions?

As Shea Howell from the Boggs Center writes: “The redevelopment of Detroit cannot happen from the top down. It has to begin from the bottom up. Detroit is not vacant. Across the city for more than three decades, people have been reimagining and redeveloping their neighborhoods. Hundreds of urban gardens are flourishing, parks are maintained by block clubs and informal neighborhood groups, small businesses and artist enclaves are emerging, community projects are being run out of garages and reclaimed houses.”

An extreme makeover of our cities, infrastructures and public services is underway, but which direction will it go? Some kind of downsizing is inevitable, because the old systems of production and consumption are killing us, and because corruption and abandonment have left a void that calls out for change. But the call is being answered by corporate elites whose plans will leave out huge numbers of people. Change conducted from the top will always serve the top. Our task is to create our own solutions.

4. Discussion. We heard about various interests, plans and lingering questions about the forum. Below are several of the issues addressed: How we can participate in ongoing social and economic justice efforts in Detroit and how we can tie these activities to organizing in Chicago? What is the value of the social forum process: what kind of power is generated during the process and at the forum convergence? Participants also mentioned important sites of struggle and contestation in Chicago and elsewhere that reflected our key thematic: the marketization of the education system; the food system; land use and redevelopment schemes in Chicago. Participants expressed a strong desires to connect with various campaigns and struggles around Chicago. Proposals were made to visit a series of community gardens and to connect with anti-eviction campaigns, as an example of how connections between different locals, themes and approaches could be explored.

5. Resolutions.

Because of the invitation extended to visiting work brigades by the design teams planning to create spaces for outdoor classrooms in Detroit; because we understand that standard classrooms have long been sites of narrow social normalization and class stratification; because the need for spaces of community education exists not only in Detroit, but everywhere the forces of capital deem residential populations worthy of sacrifice; and because we seek to learn from and contribute to a concrete effort to remake our world in another part of the midwest, and bring to that effort our experience, in a gesture of solidarity and mutual recognition; we resolve to participate in the construction of the new outdoor classrooms led by the Nsoroma Institute and Barbara Jordan School by offering our physical labor, building and design skills, and spirited good cheer.

In addition, we also formed working groups to develop the following next steps:

a. Organize another a PMA in another part of town, possibly drawing on the themes of USSF tracks;

b. Organize a weekend journey across the city, exploring activist projects and local struggles;

c. Contribute to a reading list for participants interested in the forum process;

d. Ask USSF communications if they can post registrants on their website according to geographic location so we can find more people in Chicago who are going to Detroit;

e. Work with the Chicago Road to Detroit coalition to develop a web platform for further organizing.

Invitation to a People’s Movement Assembly

Sunday, March 28, 2010
1-4 PM
Mess Hall
6932 North Glenwood

The US Social Forum will take place in Detroit from June 22-26, 2010. It is a multiethnic gathering, an organizers’ conference, an activists’ exchange, and above all, a movement building process. The economic, ecological, and justice urgencies driving the forum process are encapsulated in the belief that Another World Is Possible and the sense that Another US Is Necessary. To that we can only add Another America Is Inevitable, one way or another. We want to do our part in shaping that future, and to connect and cooperate with others who are doing, thinking, and feeling similarly.

The groundwork for a productive USSF is being laid in advance by the many People’s Movement Assemblies taking place around the country. The Assemblies are a malleable form, designed to bring people together for acquaintance, sharing of ideas, and constructive planning. The Assemblies take slightly different shape depending on where they happen, who organizes them, if there is a theme, etc. In Chicago there may be several different PMAs hosted by different groups, all of different nature and emphasis. We see the PMA as an organizing tool and also as a call to put our own efforts in relation to something larger than ourselves.

To that end, the Compass Working Group invite you to participate in a People’s Movement Assembly. We will offer a report-back from several trips to Detroit, outlining what we have learned about existing, long-term social struggles in the city as well as USSF organizing. We will then briefly explain our own ongoing work and invite others to exchange information on their own projects, to engage in some mutual advisement and analysis. We hope to arrive at resolutions for action, which can refer to ongoing projects inside or outside of Detroit. Then we will be on our way, thinking about next steps in moving ideas to realization. The process will be in motion!

Cartography with Your Feet

Screenprint poster for Cartography with Your Feet at the US Social ForumHow can the scattered communities of the Rust Belt and the Corn Belt recognize each other, connect, share resources and build cultures of transformation? The Midwest Radical Cultural Corridor is a sign, a vision, an invitation to meet people in cities, towns and rural areas on the roads to Detroit, to learn about local situations and find common issues. Our group of artists and writers, The Compass, is dedicated to exploring the radical roots of better futures for the region. This workshop offers a convergence for caravanistas, bicyclists and walkers to say how they are linking their home environments, projects and struggles to other localities and initiatives. Participants can tell stories of their travels, show images with a projector and trace out routes on a large map of North America, locating the places they found most meaningful. Key themes are environmental and social justice campaigns, alternative food production, cultures of resistance and grassroots institutions. Follow-ups during the Forum will include a walking tour in Detroit in collaboration with local inhabitants. We will also carry out video interviews with participants about the life path that has led them to Detroit, to create a lasting document distributed for free. Everyone paying special attention to the territory they cross on their road to the Forum is invited to share. This workshop can be merged with any similar proposal: the point is to meet people and make the dream of the Midwest Radical Cultural Corridor into a reality. Map it with your feet!