Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Philosophy, Community and the Human Spirit: Grace Boggs (2005)

on the occasion of her 90th birthday,

The first time I met Grace Boggs, it was at the house of Rich and Janice, back in 1987. She came with James Boggs. Both were keen to speak with someone coming from Europe, Germany, Berlin. What impressed me most back then was the spirited engagement of both to pose very simple, but astute questions.


In particular they wanted to find out more about the GREENS, the movement behind it and what were the chances of making not merely inroads into politics, but an impact for the sake of people’s lives.

It was already an indication then that the difference between American and European approaches to politics was more compact than apart while closely interwoven with intellectual questions on how to become practical.

Grace Boggs showed one particular way. I would call it becoming the memory of the movement.



Guided by thoughts

Through the air

Feathers floating down

Come the thoughts

To remember discussions, faces, movements of feet,

All made possible by a sober listening.


When we went the next day to SOSAD – Save Our Sons and Daughters – I could see Grace sitting at the back and taking notes. Later she would produce those invaluable insights that fleeting moments have in them, moments when discussions and thinking out aloud meet. Without such memory, no movement has its references, cannot work through contradictions, and perceive the dialectics in life and politics. Such precious moments contain glimpses of the future while not forgetting the past. It is all the work on continuity. Her way of writing and thinking makes sure it stays that way.

In her autobiography she reflected upon her childhood and upbringing. Her Chinese father ran a restaurant but he also had to make sure changing name was not a loss of personal identity, but a way to keep the authorities at a safe distance. There was in the restaurant always a place free for someone who had little or nothing to eat. It made her sensitive to the question as to what growing up in America means.

The intellectual quest of anyone can be cumbersome, if it leaves out philosophy. Grace Boggs has schooled herself through countless correspondences, including Cornelia Castoriadis. There she picked up the thread that a movement must be able to reflect itself in what is said in the name of such a movement. The inner reflections are the political forms but outside, still waiting in the streets, are those without jobs and no future. She connected those issues with education and efforts to keep up the spirit of the community even if many had but broken homes.

On the side of James Boggs she learned about the Black Movement. James had come from the South and historically he would retrace the steps of Douglas, the slave that overcame the fear of freedom and learned to live in the North. There are other interesting rubbing points such as the book by James Boggs about ‘The American Revolution’: the story how the American constitution was implemented in contradiction to one of its leading principles – ‘the equality of all human beings’.

If I were to describe their position within the American landscape: then as survivors. Amazing is that their theories remain intact over the years. Others had come, become over radical and lost in more than just one way. Still, Grace Boggs would see their struggle and made sense where recognition is due. She never distorts history and always remains critical of the political spirit working towards humanity. Anguish she would know as she heard many outcries of the human soul, but she never gave one thought to linking the intellect with ‘violence’ as a way to force open the door to bring about change. Rather she convinces in a quiet, peaceful manner but she insists certain things are not forgotten. Her ability is to keep optimism even in the darkest moments alive.

Rich sends me always what Grace Boggs and Shea Howell write on a regular basis. Two of the latest writings by Grace Boggs I would like to mention since they impressed me deeply. The one was revealing her affinity to a man called Malcolm X. Anyone knowing how that man is portrayed by the press and elsewhere, will discover in the article by Grace Boggs the human figure, the intellect struggling with issues of his times. The other one is about family life and hierarchy. It is a remark about something in need to be said over and again: the still unresolved problem for philosophy and therefore reflected in how society organizes itself is ‘hierarchy’. Grace Boggs shows a realistic way out of that problem and it means a human involvement in a movement aiming to give back to society and the community the human spirit. She is an astonishing example of that.

I want to thank her for the intellectual spirit she has, for the conversation we had when I was in Detroit again much later: September 2003. By then James Boggs had died unfortunately and yet there she was in the Boggs Centre, questioning, thinking, remarking and summing up. We were all perturbed by the outcome of September 11th and true to her sharp insights she said with compassion, that the government managed to transform all Americans into ‘victims’, hence they could no longer analyze really the reasons for the attack.

Two years later, with many in despair about political, social and personal changes in the United States, Grace Boggs stands out ever more as a human exception. She does not give in to cynicism nor does she generalize about the prevailing conditions. I call it humane sovereignty. She expresses and practices it by keeping both ears and thoughts to the ground in order to listen to what people are saying. Listening and then writing down the thoughts that come to her when repeating what was said, that is her strength and charm.

If her writing can be characterized then like the philosophical poet using the human stream to observe changes going further. The unusual begins there. By every spirited encounter with someone else, she highlights his or her thoughts. By giving recognition, Grace Boggs gives form to the human spirit, makes it exist. She does so in a sober, analytical manner because her concern is to show what is possible under these circumstances but not to resign. Rather she goes on and takes everyone with her, away from the lethargy of resignation and into a full embrace of life. Yes, she holds dear honest thoughts and gives as a sign of recognition her broad and warm smile as if wishing to thank all for all others for sharing with her those precious moments in life.

That warm smile says it all: thanks that we are alive and spirited enough to probe further with our intellectual integrity. Grace Boggs is the best example of that integrity.

Hatto Fischer


Originally published by heritageradio under the category 'reflexion'




Here are some examples for the work of Grace Boggs:





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