Richard Florida visits Ann Arbor, advocates for affordable housing, warns “When places get boring, even the rich leave”

Richard Florida, the man credited with popularizing the belief that the “creative class” drives economic development, was in Ann Arbor yesterday to address a regional economic forum hosted by Ann Arbor Spark. As I didn’t take very good notes, and don’t have the time this evening to provide anything even remotely approaching comprehensive coverage, I know I should probably just keep quiet on the subject, but, as I thought it might be of interest to you, and since I haven’t seen anyone else post about it, I wanted to pass along a few brief notes. Here, in no particular order, are a few thoughts.

1. The Ann Arbor stop was just one of many for Florida, who is touring the country in support of his new book, The New Urban Crisis: How Our Cities Are Increasing Inequality, Deepening Segregation, and Failing the Middle Class—and What We Can Do About It. Florida said he’d pretty much finished writing the book this past fall, but rewrote it in the wake of this past November’s election, when it became clear to him that Trump won because of the growing divide between the haves and have-nots, which, according to Florida, is largely geographic in nature, as those with resources are gravitating toward cities, while those without resources are being driven out. Maybe it was just the table I was at, but my sense was that his anti-Trump sentiments weren’t shared by many in the audience. He did, however, get some applause when he told the crowd that his wife is from Birmingham, and that, every Thanksgiving, they come down from Toronto to watch the Lions play in Detroit. It wasn’t clear, but it sounded like Florida chose to move to Toronto, where he’s the head of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto, at least in part due to a desire on his part to pick up the mantle of urban research pioneer Jane Jacobs, the author of 1961’s groundbreaking The Death and Life of Great American Cities, who lived there until her death in 2006. Speaking of Jacobs, he says he asked her once what she thought her greatest contribution was to society. According to Florida, she said it was the idea that economic growth didn’t come from companies, but from people, who become something greater than themselves when they come together in cities. When you bring together large numbers of people with ambition and knowledge, Florida says, you create something powerful, an engine for change. But, he says, they also carve deep divides. And, it was at this point, he started talking about the poplulist backlash that gave us Trump and Brexit.

2. It’s probably worth noting that not everyone loves Florida’s work. He has his critics, many of whom, it would appear, see him as more of a self-promoter than a legitimate heir to Jacobs. But his influence over the urban planning field is unquestionable, as a generation of city planners have made their careers echoing his mantra that our cities, if we’re to see them revitalized, need to be more tolerant of, and welcoming to, creative types. And, for what it’s worth, Florida now acknowledges at least some of the criticism that’s been directed his way. Recently, while in Houston, Florida said the following. “I got wrong that the creative class could magically restore our cities, become a new middle class like my father’s, and we were going to live happily forever after,” he said. “I could not have anticipated among all this urban growth and revival that there was a dark side to the urban creative revolution, a very deep dark side.” And that, it seems, is the narrative that drives the new book, which, by the way, I’ve yet to read. Here’s a clip from the Houston Chronicle.

…Through books and magazine cover stories, pricey speeches and consultations, the TED-talking University of Toronto professor popularized the early-aughts idea that faded cities could revitalize themselves by attracting the talented, intellectual types who made up what he called the “creative class.” Lure some hip coffeeshops, create an “arts district,” play up your gay friendliness, and watch the laptopping masses pour in.

Sixteen years after Florida published his first book, “The Rise of the Creative Class,” that theory has proved half true. For many small, post-industrial cities without assets like big tech companies and universities, no amount of creative-class marketing would turn things around. Elmira, N.Y., for example, saw little return on its investment in the Florida program, as a 2009 story in the American Prospect detailed

But it wasn’t just that the creative class wasn’t a silver bullet. There was also the “dark side” Florida alluded to earlier… “The urban pessimists have a point,” Florida told the Houston Chronicle. “We neglected their point, which is that cities are gentrifying, people are being priced out, displaced from their homes. I think we need a new vision for cities that combines an optimistic viewpoint with an understanding of the challenges that re-urbanization brings.”

So, he preached to the masses that our salvation lay in luring artists and the like back to our cities, but, in doing so, he let the gentrification genie out of the bottle. And this new book, it seems, is his attempt to make amends (and sell more books).

3. I was waiting for Florida to claim some of Michael Shuman’s territory, and start talking about the importance of small, locally owned businesses and cooperatives, but he never quite got there. He did, however, share a few ideas about how we might achieve what he called “inclusive urbanism.” We have to build affordable housing, especially affordable rental housing, in our cities, he said. We have to invest in mass transit, so that the people on the periphery, who have been forced out of cities, are still able to participate. And, we have to “upgrade” service jobs, the same way we did with manufacturing jobs after World War II. We need to make it possible for people working service jobs to actually make a living wage that allows them to exist within in our cities, he said.

4. If we do nothing to address these issues, he said, we risk losing our cities. And it was at this point that Florida made his most profound statement. “When places get boring,” he said, “even the rich leave.”

5. Regardless of what you think about Florida, I think you’ll probably agree that it’s a good message for the people of Ann Arbor to hear. With the prices of homes in the city rising 6.3% in the last year alone, and the median price of a single-family unit reaching $334,800, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that, according to Florida, ours is the 8th most economically segregated community in the United States, with fewer and fewer places for the non-wealthy to live. And it certainly isn’t helped by the fact that no one seems to have the political will to follow through on the findings of the County’s Affordable Housing & Economic Equity Analysis report and build new affordable housing in Ann Arbor… I don’t know to what extent Florida’s speech might have sunk in, but I know I’ll be repeating the phrase, “When places get boring, even the rich leave,” in my head for a while. [Will someone remind me to create a Maynard Boring Index?]

6. Florida said that this rift we’re seeing in America, the one that resulted in Trump being elected, is the biggest one we’ve seen since the Civil War. Not only, he said, do we have to contend with the people who have been left behind, who are susceptible to the populist propaganda, but, he added, we have a “new urban luddism” on the left, with people fighting against growth and change. And he seems to think that things are going to get worse, especially for those of us at universities, who, in his opinion, are going to get the brunt of the anti-intellectualism, anti-creative class, anti-growth attack. “The Backlash to the universities,” he warned, “will be enormous.”

7. For what it’s worth, he added that he knew, when Rob Ford, the crack smoking mayor of Toronto, was elected, that bad things were likely going to start happening elsewhere.

8. We need to stop looking to the federal government for answers, Florida said. Under Trump, he said, the federal government won’t fix anything. And they likely wouldn’t have come to our rescue under Clinton either, he added. He ends by saying that he hopes two mayors, a Democrat and a Republican, run together on a ticket for the Oval Office in 2020 with a message of “inclusive prosperity,” promising to return control to local communities.

[If you were in the audience for Florida’s keynote, and I either missed something significant, or got something wrong, please leave a comment. I’d appreciate it.]

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A rooftop visit from Patrick Elkins, announcing the opening of Totally Awesome season

Every year, in late April, a free, all-ages, multi-venue festival of weirdness called Totally Awesome Fest descends upon the sleepy little midwestern hamlet of Ypsilanti. There’s no escape from it. No one is immune. Like it or not, you will experience beauty and magic. It permeates every element of village life. Walking through town, one might encounter anything, from a magical cart appearing out of nowhere to dispense fee hot dogs, to an inter-species basketball game at a local park. And bands, it seems, are playing in every backyard. Weirdness lurks around every corner.

And, every year, at about this time, like the groundhog who comes out of his hole to see whether or not he can see his own shadow each spring, Patrick Elkins, the director of Ypsilanti’s Totally Awesome Fest, emerges from hibernation with a majestic beard and calls a press conference to announce the coming festivities. And, every year, invariably, I’m the only member of the professional press to show up. This year, however, I couldn’t make it. So apparently Patrick came to me.

It all started with a noise complaint, filed by a tenant at Landline Creative Labs… Here’s the video.

The man playing the urban shofar in the above video is Craig Johnson. According to Elkins, who did all the talking, Johnson calls this one-man project of his, Master Plumber.

Has your curiosity been piqued?

If so, this year’s festivities are scheduled to get underway at 5:00 PM this Friday behind the VG Kids screen printing shop, on the banks of the Huron River, at 884 Railroad Street.

The entire lineup can be found on Facebook, but here’s what to expect this first weekend. [As Elkins explains in the video above, this year’s festival actually stretches from April to August, in an ambitious first.]

Friday: 4/28/17
————————-

@ VG KIDS (884 RAILROAD ST.)
poetry: Amber Fellows
5:00 PM Sweet Demon
5:30 Christian James
6:00 Stephen Mage
6:30 Human Skull
7:00 Yonic Chill
7:30 Stellar Clouds
8:00 PM Little Traps

@ DREAMLAND THEATER (26 N. WASHINGTON)
DJ: Hee Haw
9:30 PM circument
10:15 Dragon Drop
11:00 Paper Rockets
11:45 Platonic Boyfriends
12:30 Milo Scarcetti
1:00 Exhumed Corpse
1:30 AM Witchboi

Saturday: 4/29/17
————————-

@ GROVE STUDIOS (1145 W. MICHIGAN)
poetry: Leah Xue, Devin Leatherman
11:00-12:00 PM Basket Ball at Prospect Park
1:00 Anna Vitale / Rob Halpern
1:30 Antonia
2:00 Peach Lavender
2:30 Legalize Quad
3:00 Heaven
3:45 Craig Johnson
4:30 Flwr.Chld
5:00 PM Wraiths

@ DREAMLAND THEATER (26 N. WASHINGTON ST.)
DJ: Silas Green
7:45 PM RV Mendoza
8:30 CJ Rene
9:15 Honey Monsoon
10:00 Ambit
10:45 TBA
11:30 Duane The Jet Black Eel
12:00 Shells
12:30 Blizzard Babies
1:00 Klayton Dawson
1:30 AM Gruesome Twosome

Sunday 4/30/17
———————

@ HOUSE OF MOLE (310 MAPLE ST.)
11:00 AM TAKE HOME FASHION SHOW
11:30 PANCAKES
12:00 Allye Gaietto
12:30 Jen Whaley
1:00 Best Exes
1:30 Marisa Dluge
2:00 The Krill
2:45 Heidi Haire
3:30 River Spirit
4:00 Nausea Family
4:30 Eliza Godfrey
5:00 Tanager
5:30 Child Sleep
6:00 p.m. Mixed Feelings

@ DREAMLAND THEATER (26 N. WASHINGTON ST.)
8:00 p.m. Electric Blanket
8:30 Fat Angry Hens
9:15 Squirrel University
10:00 Oedipussy
10:45 Rotokiller
11:30 p.m. Battery Acid

For those who are curious to know more about the history of Totally Awesome Fest, I’d encourage you to check out a few of Patrick’s press conferences from previous years… like the one right before Totaly Awesome Fest 10, which took place at the back of an AATA bus, or the one for Totally Awesome Fest 8, which was hosted by Eastern Michigan University, or the one from two years ago, which took place amid a sea of skateboarders on the steps of Ypsilanti’s Thompson Block, or the one last year, which involved a hijacked the karaoke machine at Powell’s Bar.

And, if you’re still not sold, check out these video highlights from last year.

Oh, and it’s just a rumor that Kelley Deal will be playing in every band this year.

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A desperate Trump assembles the Mount Rushmore of know-nothing America

This happened yesterday. In the White House. In the very office where great men like Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt once fought to hold our nation together and protect its people.

The man on the left is Michigan’s own Ted Nugget, who, as you may recall, not too long ago called for both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to be hanged. One would think that our President would want to keep his distance from a draft dodging, child molesting, racist like Nugent, but maybe, after 100 days in office, he’s finally given up on trying to maintain the illusion of being a legitimate president. Maybe, with impeachment looming, and the right wing media in chaos [more on that in just a minute], this is all he’s got left… a desperate appeal to his angry, white, male base… the people who still see it as delightfully refreshing when a man like Nugent calls Hillary Clinton a “toxic cunt,” or Barack Obama a “subhuman mongrel”… to stick with him in spite of everything that’s happening.

The iceberg that Trump is standing on appears to be rapidly melting beneath his fleshy pink feet. Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly are out at Fox News, having been shown the door after the costs associated with their decades of reprehensible behavior toward female subordinates finally became too much to tolerate. Far right agitator Milo Yiannopoulos has not only been forced out at Breitbart, in the wake of making comments defending pedophilia, but he’s also been banned for life from Twitter, after having instigated a campaign of online racist attacks against actress Leslie Jones. And Tomi Lauren, commonly referred to as “White Power Barbie,” has been fired from The Blaze by Glenn Beck, who, by the way, came to the conclusion during the presidential campaign that Trump is “dangerously unhinged”. Oh, and, just a few days ago, the news broke that, in a Texas custody case, the attorney representing Infowars host Alex Jones informed the judge presiding over the hearing that his client was merely a “performance artist”, manipulating his rabid, conspiracy theory-believing fans for fame and profit… While I’m sure all of these influential Trump supporters will resurface in the future, it’s remarkable that, at least right now, their stars all seem to be on the decline. And, what’s more, this is happening at a time when, inside the White House, the talking heads aren’t fairing much better, with Kellyanne Conway having been sidelined and Sean Spicer increasingly being seen as a joke by the American people.

And it’s not just the talking heads on the far right that are flaming out. Everyone in Trump’s orbit seems to be moving rapidly along the “crash and burn” continuum.

Not only are Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Carter Page and Roger Stone all being investigated for the roles they may have played on behalf the Russians to influence the outcome of the last election in Trump’s favor, but news just broke yesterday that Congressman Jason Chafettz, who recently came to Trump’s defense by claiming falsely that evidence existed backing up the President’s claim that he’d been spied on by Obama, wouldn’t be seeking reelection. And, not just that, but he said today that he might not even finish out his current term.

And all of this is having an impact. A Gallop poll release earlier this week showed that Americans – even ones that voted for him – are increasingly seeing Trump as a liar who can’t be trusted. As of right now, according to the Gallop poll, only 45 percent of Americans think that Trump keeps his promises. And that’s down from 62 percent in February. That’s a 17 point drop in less than three months.

So, yeah, I suspect Trump may be shoring up the 20% of Americans that care more about Kid Rock, Sarah Palin and Ted Nugent than they do about the fact that their President apparently doesn’t know who the leader of North Korea is or or in which direction our armada is heading.

The popular theory has been that Trump couldn’t afford to dump his white nationalist strategist Steve Bannon because he held the keys to the so-called alt-right. The thinking was that Trump, as long as he had Bannon (and thus Breitbart) by his side, couldn’t drop below a 35% favorability rating, allowing him to stay in office. Now that the floor is dropping, though, and the base is starting to erode, it looks as though Trump is fighting to find a new way forward. Word is that he’s considering the possibility of firing Bannon, and relying more on his family members to run the government. And it looks as though he may be trying to establish new lines of communication with the so-called alt-right, and form new alliances. [Word is that he just recently had dinner with the Koch brothers.]

Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I just can’t help but think that hosting photo shoots like this in the White House is a sign that the wagons are starting to circle in advance of a final conflict. I mean even Trump’s friend Tom Brady decided to skip a visit to the White House yesterday. That tells me the center is rapidly slipping away… And I think that explains the desperate appeal to the Triumvirate of Stupidity pictured in these photos.

[Trump should have let Nugent take the photo on the lawn of the White House for target practice.]

For what it’s worth, and I don’t think I’ve ever shared this with you before, I think it’s possible that, in the long run, we’ll look back and say we were lucky that Trump won the White House. This, of course, is assuming that we can get him out of office relatively quickly, before too much more damage can be done. Had Clinton won, I think it’s likely that the far right movement would have grown even more aggressive, with the prodding of Bannon and Trump, who would have, without question, accused Clinton of having stolen the election in some way, likely involving undocumented people of color casting millions and millions of illegal ballots. At least, the way it is now, we’ve been given the opportunity to see Trump, and this entire movement, for the hollow monstrosity it truly is. It’s been hell, and I know it will likely get worse before it gets better, but at least the American people are getting to see the extent to which they’ve been lied to. At least, now, people are beginning to understand that Trump didn’t really have a plan to defeat ISIS, or a way to give everyone insurance, or anything else that he promised. Sure, we might not do anything with that knowledge, but at least we know, and have that opportunity. As of right now, there’s no one to blame but ourselves.

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Ypsi/Arbor Exit Interview: Jeff Meyers

What follows is our official exit interview with writer, filmmaker, and professional critic Jeff Meyers, who, earlier this winter, escaped Ann Arbor for Palo Alto, California. While in Michigan, Jeff, among other things, was the managing editor of Concentrate Media, and a film critic for the Detroit Metro Times. He also served as the president of the Detroit Film Critics’ Society from 2011-2014.

MARK: Before we get into your decision to leave town, perhaps we should back up a little… What kind of kid were you?

JEFF: Yikes. That’s always a tough one because I come from a pretty messed up family. I sometimes joke that the stuff that went on in my home would make a decent episode of Jerry Springer (or whoever his equivalent is today). But living with that kind of abuse can really mess with you. So, as a young kid, I spent a lot of time living in my imagination. I wrote a lot. I read a lot. I drew a lot. At school I was a pretty good student but easily bored and often got in trouble for “talking back” to the teacher or “acting out.” There were lots of report cards that talked about my potential. In ninth grade I discovered Dungeons and Dragons, which was a great way to check out of reality. I was always the Dungeon Master and realize now that it was a kind of precursor to writing. I was basically telling stories. I also discovered Super 8 filmmaking and recruited friends to act in some really bad historical recreations. I tried a few HS sports (track, swimming) but kind of sucked. I acted in plays, and wasn’t too terrible. Movies were always a part of the mix. After my parents fell asleep I would sneak watch HBO, and caught stuff like A Clockwork Orange, Straw Dogs and Fellini’s Casanova – stuff I probably wasn’t quite ready to see at 10 and 11 years old. [below right: Meyers in pre-school.]

MARK: And where did this take place? Where did you spend your childhood years?

JEFF: I grew up on Long Island (New York) in a sleepy beach town called Sayville. It was about 40 miles outside New York City and was one of the Ferry Towns to Fire Island… which made for some interesting visitors in the summer as men from the East Village would come out for the weekend via the railroad and have to catch a local cab from the train station to the ferry dock. On Fire Island there was a bar called The Monster, which I guess was quite popular with NYC’s gay weekenders. Because this was the ‘80s, it all seemed very exotic to me – especially the drag queens. While you would see a few pass through during the summer, the annual Miss Fire Island Pageant would bring in big numbers. A good friend of mine lived near the train station, so it was kind of like getting a front row seat to a pretty unique cultural parade. I thought it was weird and cool, but as you can imagine, that was not a popular sentiment among teenage boys of my generation.

MARK: I grew in large part about 40 miles outside of the City in the other direction, in rural New Jersey. The closest we came to drag queens was Lou Reed, who lived nearby for a while, but I think he was out of his androgynous stage by then.

JEFF: Lou Reed? That’s cool. The coolest thing to happen in our sleepy town was a mob hit. Of course, I wouldn’t have had any idea who Lou Reed was while I was living in Sayville. My music tastes were mostly informed by whatever was on the radio. I think maybe I knew the song “Walk On The Wild Side.” In college, of course, I became a huge fan. I think I’ve seen him four times in concert. The New York tour was great. The Edgar Allen Poe tour, not so much.

MARK: What’s your first memory?

JEFF: Period? Geez, I dunno. Actually, I think I do. I was like three, and my parents drove to JFK to pick up my sister (who was adopted). What I mostly remember was the airport and all the lights and planes and runway vehicles. But it’s all kind of surreal, like I was standing hundreds of feet above the airport looking down on everything. I have no idea if that’s a real memory or something I once dreamed and it just became part of my matrix. But it sure feels like a real memory. What about you? What’s your first memory?

MARK: I remember laying in a crib, looking up at a yellow curtain that was blowing in the wind. It must have been in Monticello, Kentucky, where I lived until I was about three or four years old. I just remember the sunlight streaming in, and how warm it felt. And I remember the sounds of summer outside. It’s a good memory. There may have been the sound of a lawnmower in the distance. I also remember watching The Dick Van Dyke Show in that house, and driving with my dad to pick up a big bean bag that we’d put in the basement, just off to the side of a staircase without a guard rail, so you could leap onto it from pretty high up. But I think those two things came later, after the yellow curtain… Do you just have the one sibling?

JEFF: Actually I had two sisters, but one died about twenty years ago. She took her life at twenty three. Like I said, I come from a pretty dark background and while I don’t have a problem talking about it, I try not to burden folks with the details. I will say, however, that since I was adopted, and since my family was violently dysfunctional, I probably make a good case for the nature over nurture argument.

MARK: Sorry to hear about your sister, Jeff… Onto happier things… I want to get to your filmmaking later, but, as you mentioned Dungeons and Dragons, and since I know you have an interest in horror, I’m curious as to what you thought about the Netflix series Stranger Things.

JEFF: I thought it was a great throwback… and exactly in sync with my childhood experiences (sans monsters, of course). Ten hour games of D&D were not uncommon back then. Heck, my game even had a small waiting list of kids who wanted to play. I couldn’t really handle more than seven at a time, so I had to keep some players out until someone’s character died. Eventually, I started running two campaigns. And a game of Traveller. And a game of Vigilantes And Villains (superheros). It was crazy. But I was doing anything I could to check out of reality. The thing about Stranger Things that really appealed to me was how much my kids loved it. It was just the right amount of scary, so we could enjoy it together as a family. That’s not always true with a lot of shows. What did you think? Were you ever a D&D nerd?

MARK: I dabbled, but I never got too deep into it. I spent my adolescence in rural New Jersey, so I kind of missed out a lot of those things that were happening in American neighborhoods at the time. I didn’t have friends next door. I couldn’t ride my bike to anyone’s house. So I think I watched Stranger Things with a bit of sadness. Once I got to high school and started driving, though, things changed a bit. I made friends and started hanging out, having I guess what you’d consider a pretty typical existence, but, by that time, the folks in my circle of friends were growing out of D&D. So it’s something in American culture that just kind of passed me by. [It’s hard to play D&D alone.] For what it’s worth, I also never saw Mork & Mindy, as our television didn’t get that channel. So, yeah, I was deprived in that sense. I just read books, drew pictures, and talked to my dog. [Thankfully no videos exist of me singing to her.] Oh, and I worked on weekends with my dad, who had grown up on a farm. It was kind of understood that I’d chop wood, dig holes, work on cars, and all that kind of stuff.

JEFF: Ah, so you acquired all the skills I wished I had gotten. If the zombie apocalypse ever happens, it’s pretty likely you’ll last quite a bit longer than I will. After all, I’m not confident that my encyclopedic knowledge of film history and comic book lore will prove all that handy. Sadly, my folks, who had few skills and no college education, did little to ready me for the adult world. Well, any world really. So I mostly retreated into my geek fetishes–and writing stories of my own–as a way to tune out the discord at home. The first thing I ever had published was in Junior High, it was a letter in DC Comics’ Swamp Thing. I was pretty bowled over by Alan Moore’s writing. [below right: Meyers in Chicago during the college years.]

MARK: Don’t feel bad, Jeff. I didn’t acquire any real skills to speak of, at least none that would give me a discernible advantage over you when the end times come. I learned stuff while working alongside my dad, but nothing really stuck. I do have a pretty good work ethic, though, which I attribute to my upbringing… Back to you… Given the nature of your early childhood, would I be right to assume that you found the college experience pretty liberating?

JEFF: Yes. But gradually. And it probably wasn’t all that different from any other teen’s experience. Just with a whole lot of financial uncertainty (my folks didn’t contribute). I worked a lot. And at a lot of different jobs. And I had this weird hormonal thing going on where I would fall asleep all the time. Sometimes I’d conk out in one class and wake up in another. I’d try to schedule my classes all in a row to hedge against missing the rest of the day. It rarely worked out. So I was a pretty inconsistent student, getting As one quarter and Cs the next. Eventually, however, I found my divot at school. I worked at the college radio station (which was commercial, believe it or not), had a daily cartoon in the school paper, made a 16mm short film, got into Tae Kwon Do, saw a lot of rock bands and drank (among other things) way way too much.

MARK: And what first brought you to Ann Arbor from the pacific northwest, where, as I recall, you were living just prior?

JEFF: My wife landed a position at University of Michigan after finishing 10 years of training. We had mostly lived in Portland, but spent a few years in Seattle as well.

MARK: And what were you expecting Ann Arbor to be like?

JEFF: Well, I had visited Ann Arbor once before, while in college at U of I in Champaign-Urbana. I went along with a friend because he wanted company on the drive (he was visiting his girlfriend and she was living in a big house, so, you know plenty of couch space). At the time it didn’t seem all that different from U of I’s campus, but a tad more expensive. I mostly remember running out of money and trying to sell plasma to cover my expenses. It wasn’t fun. My wife’s interview process at U-M was the next time I visited. During the housing tour, the woman who drove me around mostly talked about how big the yards were and how the house prices never lost value (this was, of course, before the recession) and pointed out how Ann Arbor Hills didn’t have sidewalks, as if that were a real selling point (no shoveling in the winter!). I immediately disliked the place. Mostly because it seemed like just another suburb to me – albeit, one with a nice downtown. But I had just spent 8 years living in Portland, 3 years in Seattle and 5 years in Chicago (with a 1 year stopover in Minneapolis), so things like walkability, public transit, and bikeability were important to me. And, man, Ann Arbor seemed so white. I mean, Portland is certainly very very white so I guess I can’t be too critical on that score – but the lack of diversity – both racial and economic – was very evident. What struck me most, however, was the stark contrast in cultural offerings. I know some people don’t really give a shit about that kind of thing, but for me, it was pretty important. I grabbed an Observer and a Metro Times (which at that point was still distributed in Ann Arbor) to see what the place had to offer and I was pretty disappointed to see few of the things I liked – unless I wanted to drive an hour into Metro Detroit. I mean, there were a hand full of cool bands playing at the Blind Pig and a few interesting events, but Ann Arbor didn’t have the vibrant creative vibe I was used to (and, frankly, spoiled by). My impression was that people here really seemed to be into Contra dances, because there seemed to be one every weekend. I still don’t know what a Contra dance is. Oh, and we made the mistake of eating at Tio’s, because we saw how it had been rated the “Best Mexican Food” in Ann Arbor by Observer readers. I didn’t realize it was probably the only Mexican food in Ann Arbor at the time.

MARK: And what’s your sense of Ann Arbor now, having spent some 13 years here?

JEFF: Complicated. I really grew to like and even admire some things about the community. I think there is a neighborliness and pride of place that is somewhat unique to the Midwest, but Michigan in particular. And if you can find your tribe, so to speak, it’s very supportive of your efforts, and genuinely cares about who you are and what you are doing. Of course, once I plugged in, I developed friendships that can’t ever be replaced. It’s also a community filled with a lot of smart people. It can be easy to take that for granted. Finally, it’s really changed over the last decade – for good and bad. Culturally, there’s a lot more going on. The restaurant scene is certainly better. The beer scene too. I developed a deep appreciation for Ann Arbor’s public library system – which may be one of the best I have ever encountered. On the other hand, I also developed deep deep frustrations with the region’s inability to meaningfully change… and, more importantly, the way it expresses open hostility to change. I’m glad that density and mass transit and affordable housing and sustainable practices are no longer the dirty words they were when I first arrived, but man they are a long way from being embraced with any vision or impact – and, in fact, because the community keeps having the same dumb fights over whether something should even happen, they’re not having the debates that are needed to develop the best way for those policies and practices to be implemented. That means the process is rife with poison pill agendas, weird compromises and no real benchmarks for success. Instead of learning from other communities around the country and embracing their successful ideas (while avoiding their failures) there’s an attitude here that somehow Michigan is completely unique and must develop its programs on its own. I also think that the state is greatly compromised by truly terrible leadership, as well as some unfortunate aspects of its political and constitutional DNA (Home Rule and the parasitic impacts of the townships being a big part of that). I also think there is a particular mindset here that is hard to break: and that’s the way people, communities, cultural groups, etc are all very silo’ed. It may be the natural evolution of a state that fostered that thinking on a municipal level or maybe it’s always been a part of the Michigan culture, but it seems to me that very few communities (and I mean that in the broadest sense) know how to work and play with each other. You can join someone’s ‘thing’ but it will remain their ‘thing’ until they decide to stop. There isn’t much passing of the torch or sharing of resources or collaboration with others who do similar ‘things’. That seems to extend beyond municipalities and school districts to various subcultures as well. Perhaps the biggest exception to this (that I’ve noticed) is the music community. They seem a bit healthier in that regard. I was once chatting with Tamara Real, who ran the Arts Alliance at the time, and she asked me about my experiences with the Portland and Seattle arts and literary communities and how they compared with Ann Arbor. I answered that it seemed like Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti had lots of artists (visual, theater, film) in the community but no real arts community. Everyone was just kind of their own entity. But mind you, this was a few years ago.There are some recent examples of that changing, at least, a little. The Festifools brings some creative folks together. And, of course, all the stuff you were involved in Ypsilanti. So, things are evolving, I suppose.

MARK: And how did you spend your time here?

JEFF: Hmmm. Let’s see. Well, I spent roughly the first two years unemployed because I was told my resume was simply too odd. I had been a Microbiologist for around a decade before becoming the Creative Director at a video production startup while living out West. When I interviewed for positions here I kept getting asked why I didn’t just take the Creative Director position off my CV and go back into research (which I absolutely did not want to do). This was my introduction to Michigan hiring practices, which seemed very oriented toward HR departments checking certain boxes. I had some promising job leads outside Ann Arbor – namely in advertising – but I didn’t want to commute to Troy or Sterling Heights because… well, who the hell wants to do that? Plus I had a one-year-old and a wife working 70-80 hours a week. Eventually -because I had reviewed theater for The Stranger in Seattle (and film for a weekly called Tonic in Portland)– I was hired by the Metro Times to review the films the main two critics didn’t want to bother with (mostly horror movies, docs and the occasional arthouse flick). Eventually I became their lead, then only, critic and wrote something like 700 reviews over 9 years (or there abouts). I picked up some freelance writing gigs for national magazines, led local film appreciation classes, and around 2006 was hired by IMG – first just to write stories but eventually as the managing editor of Metromode and then Concentrate. I also had my second child, directed a couple of plays for the A2 Civic Theater (All My Sons, A Midsummer Night’s Dream) and started collaborating with Keith Jefferies on short films. We made five shorts before he moved to Los Angeles. [below right: Meyers and Jeffries]

MARK: I know it’s kind of off topic, but how’s Keith doing?

JEFF: He’s doing great, slowly plugging into the industry. He’s an amazingly talented guy, so I have no doubt people out there will catch onto that. Now that I’m only an hour plane ride away we’re planning new projects. The thing that is amazing to me is that Keith and his wife have decided to live in LA without a car. A decade ago that would have been inconceivable. But they moved downtown, use the ever-expanding subway system, take Uber when needed and rent a car when necessary. Keith says that financially they come out ahead (compared with having to own a car in Michigan). That’s quite a statement about how things can change when people are offered the opportunity of change. I mean, no one thinks this stuff will significantly alter the insane car culture that dominates L.A. today. But they are seeding the ground for change later. Which brings me back to my frustrations with Michigan – how little and absurdly long things take to change.

MARK: What can you tell us about the films you and Keith made together?

JEFF: Through our production company, Corrugated Films, we co-directed four shorts (you can watch three of ‘em here, here and here) and then I wrote and directed one where Keith was the editor, gaffer and, of course, co-producer. It was a kind of learn-by-doing film school. And we really developed as creative partners, which is always cool. The most recent short, The Blood Of Love, just finished up a two-year festival run, having played in over 50 festivals and winning about a dozen awards (including the Best of Fest Short at the East Lansing Film Festival). Keith and I hope to tackle another project out here in California.

MARK: What is it that made you gravitate toward horror when you started making your own films? Had it been a favorite genre of yours, or is it just that you saw it as being a less complicated point of entry? And, by less complicated, I don’t necessarily mean easier. I mean that horror doesn’t require the budget of sci fi, or maybe the precision of comedy, right? And, of course, there’s a big, built-in audience that’s shown itself over the past few decades to be both enthusiastic and supportive.

JEFF: Oh, boy, that’s a loaded question. I could write an entire dissertation on why I think horror is uniquely positioned to confront social issues and themes in ways that other genres would struggle to achieve. After all, can you think of a better film than Rosemary’s Baby that dissects the fear and alienation that accompanies a first-time pregnancy? Or how about the insidious and codified behaviors of liberal racism on display in Get Out? But, yeah, I think it’s safe to say that the barrier to entry is a little easier in horror. It isn’t necessarily my favorite film genre, but I think it offers unique and exciting ways to explore characters and stories. It also allows me to move laterally as a filmmaker and writer into other genres like thrillers, dark comedies, sci-fi and even action. Whereas comedy can become a kind of professional dead end. I actually wrote a comedy script with a friend that placed in the Academy’s Nicholl Screenplay Fellowship Competition and it attracted a lot of interest from agents and managers. And they all kept asking us the same thing: “What other comedy scripts do you have?” They wanted to present us as a comedy team in order to get movie and television assignments. And I had to decide if that was what I really wanted. For, like, ever. Because once the industry brands you, that’s pretty much what you are, ad infinitum. Ultimately, I decided that my sensibility and affinity was for darker material, and that I wanted to work in drama and horror and just about every other genre of film. I didn’t want to dedicate 6-8 months writing another comedy and then shackling myself to the laugh train for the rest of my life. Which probably sounds a bit nuts to anyone who loves comedy. But I’ve reached the age where I don’t want to spend time on shit that doesn’t consistently excite me. Of course, it wasn’t like anyone was dangling a huge payday in front of us–everything was speculative at that point. Who knows what kind of choice I would have made if faced with a six-figure check and a major studio credit?

MARK: Did you find your film criticism changing at all after having produced a film of your own?

JEFF: Hmm. Not really. I mean, you certainly see how hard it is to translate what’s in your head onto the screen, and it becomes clearer how easily things go wrong. But my criticism tended to contextualize film within the medium or within the culture and politics at large. I do, however, think that writing screenplays has had an affect on my criticism. Digging into script theory and craft made me very cognizant of how a film could be congenitally flawed at the writing level, and no amount of flashy direction or scene-chewing performance was going to make it work. [below right: The Blood of Love.]

MARK: Would I be right to assume that it’s not terribly easy to make films here in Michigan, given that the infrastructure doesn’t really exist?

JEFF: It’s tough for sure. But mostly because of the shallow depth of talent and crew. Which is not to say that there aren’t talented, professional film folks in Michigan. It’s that there aren’t enough of them. Because why would they stay? The state GOP has made it clear that they’re neither interested nor care about the industry or any of the indirect impacts it may have. It’s sad, really, because you look at a state like Georgia and the incredible successes it’s had with the film and television industry and it’s not hard to imagine that it could have been Michigan. I kind of think this all circles back to Michigan’s underlying pathologies, which is to be suspicious of change no matter how dysfunctional things have become, and never entrust anyone with the freedom to experiment. The first failure often becomes the last failure because there’s always a chorus of high-placed folks shouting, “See, we told you it wouldn’t work.”

MARK: As a screenwriter, I think you might appreciate this next question… If you were to tell the story of your time in Ann Arbor in a two-minute montage, what would it look like? What would you include?

JEFF: Well, as a screenwriter (and former film critic) I tend to hate montages. They always seemed like a cheat when it comes to storytelling. And, man, no one should be subjected to watching me on screen. So, assuming I have some cool actor playing me, geez, I don’t know – mostly me doing stuff with my sons. I think that’s kind of the thing about being a parent; even when you have a life of your own, a lot of your perspective is filtered through your kids’ experiences, opportunities, successes and disappointments. With that in mind, it’d probably make for a pretty good promotional reel for Ann Arbor and Ypsi and the region, since we spent so much time downtown, participating in local events (Art Fair, Shadow Art Fair, Festifools, Owl night at the Leslie Science Center, canoeing on the Huron, visiting the DIA and Henry Ford, painting the ‘rock’ etc). Halloween would be a centerpiece – because our neighborhood and my house was ground zero, drawing between 800 and 1000 trick or treaters. Maybe my unsuccessful run for city council or shooting my short films (which included a lot of awesome local talent). And, of course, long periods of sitting in front of a computer screen and writing. I don’t lead a particularly exciting life, and despite being opinionated as hell, tend to feel uncomfortable when put in the spotlight.

MARK: So what kinds of film-related projects are you working on right now?

JEFF: One cool thing that has come from the last short I directed is that I was hired to write the sequel to Doug Schulze’s Mimesis: Night Of The Living Dead movie. It was, I think, distributed by Anchor Bay. Anyway, it always seems to be playing somewhere on cable. My script is inspired by Nosferatu, which is a fucking classic. Did you know Murnau was the one to invent that vampires are destroyed by the sunlight? That wasn’t part of the lore or Stoker’s Dracula. Doug finished shooting in January and the film should hit the film festival circuit sometime in the fall. It stars Allen Maldonado (Blackish, Straight Outta Compton), Lance Henrikson (Aliens… and a whole lotta other stuff), and some really fine Michigan actors. I also decided to formalize my screenwriting craft by earning an MFA in Creative Writing and Screenwriting. I’d like to teach, and the degree (and the professional connections my program has fostered) will help. I graduate in December.

MARK: Am I remembering correctly that you were on the Public Arts Commission here in Ann Arbor?

JEFF: Yup. And the Cable Commission. Both were interesting experiences. On the Cable Commission I advocated for placing city council and commission meetings online in such a way that they were easily searchable and excerptable (is that a word?). Obviously, things are pretty much like that now, but eight years ago there was a lot of push back. The city just didn’t see the value in such an endeavor and the final transition happened far too slowly in my estimation. Again, it was often an issue of trust. The same could be said of the Public Art Commission. I came on a bit after the hubbub over the Herbert Dreiseitl piece outside City Hall. Was the process handled the way it should have been? No. But it was the first project from a first-time organization that hadn’t found its feet. They were doing the best they could with very little guidance. Building a commission and program from scratch is fucking hard. Unfortunately, the backlash from folks who philosophically opposed the program was absurdly vicious and, again, in line with what I was talking about earlier. Failure of any kind was presented as proof that nothing worthwhile could ever be achieved. And the accusations and attitudes of those who opposed the funding of public art was truly toxic. As a result, city administrators and members of council took a highly defensive approach to everything the commission attempted to do. And the public, which was at first supportive, turned hostile. But, hey, if Trump can convince a significant portion of the public to oppose Meals On Wheels, the EPA and Head Start, it shouldn’t surprise me that allocating money for public murals and sculptures would be an easy target.

MARK: A few years ago, as the editor of Concentrate, you asked me to host a live exit interview at Connor O’Neil’s in front of an audience. Among those on the panel was Newcome Clark, who, at that time, was on his way out of town, headed to Chicago. He talked a quite a bit, as I suspect you’ll recall, about how adverse Ann Arbor is to change. “This City wants to be better,” he said to me in a later discussion, “it just doesn’t always want anybody to do it. Because better means different, and different means change, and change is scary, when the here and now isn’t all that bad.” Given what you’ve said thus far, I’m assuming you’d agree with him on Ann Arbor’s willingness to change…

JEFF: I agree with Newcombe’s sentiment. I used to joke with him that Ann Arbor – Michigan really – prefers familiar but broken over different and fixed. But Ann Arbor has a particular issue in that it is not just a comfortable place to live (if you can afford it) but it is also convinced that it is already far above the grading curve when it comes to progressive issues – even if it is not. I think of it as the ‘good on paper’ syndrome. There are certainly plenty of laudable policy examples to point to. But when you take a wider view and account for the impact on the city as a whole and then the even wider adjacent community, things don’t look quite as rosy. That said, Ann Arbor is very very pleasant place to live… if you can afford it.

MARK: As, like Newcombe Clark, you ran for Ann Arbor City Council and lost, I’d like to pose the same question to you that I posed to him in his exit interview… “As many of my readers know, you waged an unsuccessful independent bid for Ann Arbor City Council not too long ago. I’m curious as to how your view of the city, and its inhabitants, changed as a result of this experience.”

JEFF: I had a good experience actually. You have to remember, unlike Newcombe who grew up in Ann Arbor, I was a transplant from Portland, OR and fairly new to the community.I had no enemies or allies. People seemed to regard me as a curiosity. And even though I lost (by roughly 150 votes), I did well enough that they started to take me seriously. Ultimately, my reason for running had more to do with changing the prevailing narrative. I heard far too many Ann Arborites say this or that policy couldn’t possibly work (in terms of development, density, transportation or sustainability) and yet, I had lived for eight years in a city where similar (or even identical) ideas were the long established norm. People who are uncomfortable with change like to convince themselves that their community is somehow singularly unique, unable to learn from or adopt the successful policies of other cities. “Because what works in Portland or Boulder or Santa Cruz won’t work in Ann Arbor. We have snow! Or too-flat of a landscape. Or too many transient students. Or we’re too far/too close to Detroit. Or any of a dozen lame fill-in-the-blank reasons.” And no matter which comparable city you hold up as an example, they’ll find a way to exclude it, to draw a distinction between it and them. It’s a way of avoiding the conversation, of dismissing the unfamiliar or expressing their discomfort. But when you talk to policy leaders from around the country, you begin to understand just how many other cities have a similarly vocal minority who insist that their community is also singularly unique. There is always a percentage of people who will oppose change, no matter what the form or function.

MARK: And, now, you’ve moved to Palo Alto, as your wife, who had been a professor of surgery at U-M, has taken a new job at Stanford, correct?

JEFF: Yes, she’s still a surgeon, but now she is a vice-chair at Stanford and the director of an outcomes research group. The city is quite pleasant (if you enjoy suburban living) and the weather and natural environment can’t be beat (there are an endless number of fantastic hikes within a ten mile radius). And the public schools are impressive. But I’m quickly learning that Palo Alto has many of the same troubling issues Ann Arbor does (affordable housing, walkability, public transportation)… if Ann Arbor’s economy was on steroids. It’s such a weird place. The racial makeup of the community is less white (61% compared to 73%) …but the economics are truly jaw-dropping, with a seemingly unbridgeable chasm between the haves and have-nots. And the traffic can be nightmarish. Luckily, the bike lane situation is pretty awesome. The bike rack situation less so.

MARK: What are you most proud of have accomplished while you were here?

JEFF: Hmmm. There’s part of me that thinks I didn’t accomplished all that much. I mean, from a creative standpoint, I’m proud of the films I shot. I greatly enjoyed being a film critic. I won three SPJ’s, which was nice. And validating. I sincerely tried to do more than just review films. I embraced the idea of being a critic. But if I let my ego run rampant, I suppose I can claim some credit for influencing the narrative about where Ann Arbor is headed. As editor of Concentrate I was determined to puncture some of the bubble that surrounded the community and address topics it didn’t really want to address.When the city boasted about its stratospheric residential recycling rates, I wanted us to talk about the nearly non-existent commercial recycling rates. When the city touted its bike-friendly credentials, I wanted us to talk about the lack of lane protection and well-planned routes. We wrote about renewable energy, public art, density (and downtown living) and mixed use development and affordable housing and ADU’s and tried to remind Ann Arborites that Ypsilanti was a vibrant community too, and how park spaces need to be thoughtfully planned and resourced (not just plopped down where people ‘feel’ they should be). These weren’t conversations the public was openly having when I started. Heck, the idea of Zip-cars and dog parks was considered radical. Part of that was the actual publication, part of that was our public speaker events, and part of that was personal advocacy. It was perfectly fine that people disagreed with how these things could be achieved, but there was a noticeable shift in the way these topics were discussed – which is to say, the conversation used to get shut down before it began. I wouldn’t say we were always on point with this and there were plenty of stumbles along the way, but there are some things I’m proud we did. And, more importantly, many of those subjects are given serious consideration today. Hopefully, the next stage will be thoughtful innovation and implementation.

MARK: If there were going to be a Jeff Meyers statue erected in Ann Arbor, where would it be, and what would the accompanying plaque say?

JEFF: I would hate that. So, I can’t even begin to imagine it. I don’t deserve or want a statue. I’m fine with fading from history after my death.

MARK: Oh, you can do it. You just need to open your mind up to the idea… How about sitting alone in a dark seat at the back of the Michigan Theater, reading a copy of the Stranger?

JEFF: As long as the statue weren’t covered in pigeon shit. But maybe I’d be taking notes or arguing with a statue of someone like Perry Seibert or Corey Hall or Rob St Mary about a particular film. Of course, none of them were Ann Arborites so it might be weird to include them. And, frankly, Ann Arbor never really embraced me as a film critic the way the rest of Metro Detroit did. But, hey, I’m sure the statue of David looks nothing like the real David. But seriously, no statue, okay?

MARK: Do you remember the website Ann Arbor Is Overrated?

JEFF: Oh yeah. It was a welcome respite from the self-congratulatory don’t-change-anything persona of the city. And tempered by the right amount of ‘nice.’ I wouldn’t say it quite lived up to its name (I tend to like a little more bomb throwing in a blog) but I liked the overall commentary and vibe. The problem with most blogs of this nature, at least from my observation, is that critics who advocate for change tend to burn out quickly. Even if they bring with them a certain amount of snark. Pushing against the status quo is a tough slog (particularly here) and often brings out some very nasty oppositional thinking. Blogs like AAIO tend to be penned by younger -let’s call ‘em pundits- with less disposable time. They’re people who are just starting their careers or building a household or, I think in AAIO’s case, still in grad school. Or don’t have kids… which is like having a second full time job. Meanwhile, the nimbys and preserve Ann Arbor in amber folks and boomer landlords and long time residents who pop a neck vein every time density or mass transit or affordable housing or funding public art or decreasing surface parking lots or giving cyclists room on the road can be relentless. They fill the comments section of AnnArbor.com and dominate public comment time at council meetings, etc. because they have the time. And they’re often fueled by the sense that they’re losing something. That’s not a smack on them exercising their rights. It makes sense. If you’ve got the time, of course you’re going to use it to advocate for what you want. It’s just a bummer that younger voices are dismissed as uninvolved or less committed to an issue simply because they don’t have the time and bandwidth to offer a counter narrative. And the lack of respect for other points of view or expertise on a particular issue can be despairing.

MARK: The reason I asked about Ann Arbor is Overrated is because, like you just mentioned, I don’t know who’s even attempting to tell the counter narrative these days, at least in a public way. Maybe I’m out of the loop, but I don’t see a lot of pushback.

JEFF: I agree. But look at where the power is and how it is challenged (or not challenged, as the case may be). Local media coverage is abysmally inadequate and what little there is is dominated by an older generation who has a completely different view on quality of life issues and faces few of the challenges folks under-40 are contending with.

MARK: I’ve asked you a lot of questions. Is there anything that you would like to ask me?

JEFF: Hmmm. Well, I have always wondered why the Shadow Art Fair (and Krampus Ball) came to an end. It seemed like they were events that both artists and audiences enjoyed. And they seemed to help to define what is special about Ypsilanti. I totally get why you (or anyone else) would burn out on running them, but could it have set up to continue without you?

MARK: The simple answer, in both cases, is that they ran their course. The more complicated answer is that they became less of a priority for everyone involved. When the Shadow Art Fair started, it was something completely different. It was a visceral response to the Ann Arbor Art Fair. It had energy. And it was happening at a time before the explosion of “indie” art fairs we’ve seen over the past decade or so. And it was fun. We weren’t picking participants based on who was producing the most sellable work, or who could pay the most for their table space, but who was doing the most interesting, compelling, and engaging work. And I liked that. I like that people, over the years, started pushing themselves, trying new things at Shadow Art Fair, pushing the boundaries. But it became more difficult over time, and life starting pulling all of us founders in different directions. In the end, we had a choice. We could run it like a business and grow it, or we could move on. We chose to move on. And the Krampus Ball grew out of that. We decided that we’d rather have a big, monster-themed dance party than host an art fair. And that also ran its course. Now, there are a bunch of Krampus events across the country. Better to move on and break new ground, I think… So, on the subject of giving things up, why did you give up microbiology?

JEFF: I kind of reached a point where it just didn’t satisfy me. I considered getting a PhD or MD, and concluded that neither was right for me. I love to write and love the art of storytelling and so when the opportunity was presented to jump ship into another, more creative industry, I did. The weird thing is, I still tend to be very deliberate and evidence-based in my approach to things. As a result, I’m not a particularly sentimental or nostalgic guy (except when it comes to close friends and family). I think it’s a by-product of my training. I hate to make decisions based on emotion and, most especially, on faulty facts, logic or evidence. And I get embarrassed when I do. That has made for some interesting revisions of positions, sometimes putting me at odds with otherwise like-minded folks.

MARK: Shall we talk a bit about the Ann Arbor – Ypsi divide and economic segregation?

JEFF: Oh gosh, people should never stop talking about it, because it is illustrative of the economic violence and virulent disparities that haunt our entire nation. The notion that, in the end, money has no political party is as close to gospel truth as you can get. And being an affluent community, Ann Arbor does more than its part in perpetuating those disparities and injustices, despite its belief that it is a liberal, socially conscious community. You can’t fight tooth and nail to protect the ‘character’ of your neighborhood, undermine affordable housing discussions and then turn around and claim you are a defender of social justice. You can’t boast about your A.P. classes and world class jazz band and dedication to high school excellence if you have minority students struggling to graduate or eat a healthy lunch. Actions are as important as words. Policies are as important as votes. What you prioritize counts. If you choose to dedicate budget to, say, a 3D printer when a free-to-use washer and dryer would prove invaluable to at-risk students, then you are making clear whose interests you favor. There is no shortage of privileged individuals advocating for their preferences and self-interest. Who is advocating for those who are marginalized? I’m not saying I know what the best solutions are. The issues are far too complicated for me to begin to articulate what the best path is. But I do know that every idea should be on the table, and the comfort level of the already comfortable shouldn’t be the priority. Also that table better include a whole lot chairs for those people the system has left behind, excluded or ignored. If you look around the room and mostly see your neighbors, folks that look like you talking about what’s best for others, you aren’t serious about solving the problem. You’re creating theater.

MARK: Please finish the following sentence, “In another ten years, Ann Arbor will be…”

JEFF: Much the same. The interests and opportunities for those at the top of the pyramid will probably grow. The long term townies will enjoy even bigger returns on their once-modest and no longer repeatable real estate investments. Everyone else will probably be struggling with the same issues and lack of resources. Mind you, I am well aware that I would probably be in the demographic of those who benefit most from Ann Arbor’s successes. And, frankly, that’s not fair. We should be building a better community for folks at every economic level, not helping to perpetuate the economic, educational and social disparities.

MARK: Since you left, we, the American people, elected Donald Trump our President, in part based on the vote here in Michigan, where he won by just a little over 11,000 votes. I’m curious as to how, if at all, that fact might affect your view of Michigan.

JEFF: I can’t begin to express the depths of my disappointment. Though, honestly, I wasn’t wholly surprised. Clinton’s tin ear for what was going on in the state, the rabid and petulant anti-Clinton rhetoric that was voiced by Bernie supporters (of which I was one), and Michigan’s inherently conservative leanings made it ripe for Trump to eek out just enough votes to take the votes. What’s so profoundly troubling is that this is not a divide between Conservative and Liberal values. Trump has no true ideology, he is a demagogue devoted only to his own interests. It is, however, a demonstration of how little respect or understanding a large portion of the American public has for democracy, common decency or the rule of law. Trump and the GOP waged a particularly mean-spirited campaign that enshrined personal interest above all other considerations. Scorn and suspicion became the underlying tone of their rhetoric. And people deemed that acceptable. Trump admitted to committing sexual assault on mic. And that was not enough to disqualify him for office. Trump was literally supported by white supremacists and Nazi-sympathizers and that wasn’t enough to raise alarms bells. And it wasn’t enough to worry third-party voters. Liberal purists actually convinced themselves that the possible election of a man who diametrically opposed every single position they supposedly held sacred was preferable to a politician who despite the fact that she wore her ambitions on her sleeve and endlessly triangulated her positions, voted in sync with their principles 80% of the time. It was a selfie-stick election, where how people felt their vote made them look was more important than the ramifications of their vote. Look, I was very unhappy when Bush became president. Twice! And I feared for what my democracy might do under his leadership. But I never once feared whether my democracy would continue to exist. That is no longer the case. We have a allowed a man and a party to begin to dismantle the very foundation of our republic. We are only 90 days into Trump and the GOP’s reign and we have already seen cabinet members lie before Congress without repercussion, Trump flagrantly disregard the Title of Nobility Clause and the Logan Act (of 1799) (impeachable acts btw), the GOP eliminate the 175-year-old Senate filibuster rule,Trump’s arguably illegal appointment of family members to government posts, and meaningful evidence that members of his administration have significant ties to a rival nation’s leadership, and lied about those ties. We are in truly perilous times …and it goes beyond whether one is conservative or liberal. For instance, Evan McMullin’s politics couldn’t be further from my own, but I have deep respect for his call to action against those who currently endanger our democracy. He has put his country before his party and I commend that.Trump and most of the GOP have been unabashed in their attack on what it means to be American. That Michigan helped to create this mess grieves me deeply. California, for all its excesses and issues, actually reflects many of my values. And it (mostly) puts its money where its mouth is. While my wife’s and my vote would have meant more in the Mitten (though not enough), I’m glad I was able to vote alongside citizens and neighbors who were aligned with my world view. Nevertheless, I miss my Michigan friends every day.

[Curious as to why people are leaving this place we call home? Check out the Ypsi/Arbor Exit Interview archive.]

Posted in Ann Arbor, Art and Culture, Michigan, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 29 Comments

DeVos’s choice to run the Department of Education’s Civil Rights Office once claimed discrimination for being white

A few days ago, right before the Easter holiday, when no one was paying attention, Betsy DeVos, our public education hating Secretary of Education, announced that she’d be bringing on a 39-year-old attorney by the name of Candice Jackson to be her deputy assistant secretary in the Office for Civil Rights. Here, if you’re unfamiliar with Jackson, who, for what it’s worth, considers herself to be a victim of discrimination, having been turned away from a tutoring program at Stanford intended for minority students, is a clip from ProPublica.

…Although her limited background in civil rights law makes it difficult to infer her positions on specific issues, Jackson’s writings during and after college suggest she’s likely to steer one of the Education Department’s most important — and controversial — branches in a different direction than her predecessors. A longtime anti-Clinton activist and an outspoken conservative-turned-libertarian, she has denounced feminism and race-based preferences. She’s also written favorably about, and helped edit a book by, an economist who decried both compulsory education and the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Jackson’s inexperience, along with speculation that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos will roll back civil rights enforcement, lead some observers to wonder whether Jackson, like several other Trump administration appointees, lacks sympathy for the traditional mission of the office she’s been chosen to lead…

And I’m sure I don’t need to tell you this once again, but it’s absolutely no coincidence that the administration has chosen an anti public education activist to run the Department of Education, a man who once said he wanted to destroy the Department of Energy to run that agency, and a climate change denier to run the EPA. This is all being done by design. As Steve Bannon told us himself, his agenda is the “deconstruction of the administrative state,” and there’s no faster way to achieve that than by handing agencies over to those who have vowed to destroy them. As Bannon himself said at CPAC this past winter, “If you look at these Cabinet nominees, they were selected for a reason, and that is deconstruction.” And, with that as the objective, putting Candice Jackson, someone who has demonstrated a clear disdain for civil rights in her life, in charge of defending the civil rights of our youngest and most vulnerable citizens, makes perfect sense.

Jackson is to civil rights what Scott Pruitt is to global warming. She’s a civil rights denier. And, like Pruitt, she’s been given this job to do as much damage as possible to her institution.

For what it’s worth, while Jackson will technically be the Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Office for Civil Rights, she’ll actually be serving as Secretary, as DeVos has yet to hire anyone in that role. If I were the suspicious type, I’d say that this was done by design, as the Secretary position requires Senate confirmation, whereas the Deputy Assistant Secretary position does not. In other words, this was an end run around the Senate to place someone absolutely unqualified for the job in the position as Secretary. [As the acting head of the department, Jackson will be in charge of about 550 full-time staff.]

So, if you’re a white student who has a grievance, now’s the chance you’ve been waiting for… Did you lose a school election to a Hispanic classmate? Did someone tell you that you weren’t allowed to wear a “white power” t-shirt to school? Were you made uncomfortable by a discussion in History class about slavery? Well, you might find a sympathetic ear at the new Office of Civil Rights.

Oh, and while Jackson doesn’t have any experience when it comes to civil rights, unless you count ranting about how civil rights protections are unfair to white Americans, she does have some experience running an organization. Apparently, prior to taking this position, Jackson ran an organization dedicated to telling the stories of women “abused” by Hillary Clinton called the “Their Lives Foundation”. She is also the author of the 2005 book, “Their Lives: The Women Targeted by the Clinton Machine.”

And, yes, this is why we fought so hard to keep Betsy DeVos from the Department of Education.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Education | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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