Jim Toy Interview

Jim Toy – renowned activist and LGBT champion

by Dave Franklin

Groundcover Contributor

“When the pupil is ready the teacher appears.”   Confucius

“When the people are ready, the leaders appear.”  unknown

Jim Toy is to the Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender-Queer (LGBTQ) community what Martin Luther King was to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. During a time of great civil unrest, in particular, the nationwide anti-Vietnam war protests, Toy came forward in 1970 at an anti-war rally at Kennedy Square in Detroit, and declared his sexual orientation. He became the first openly gay man in Michigan. It was a dangerous time to be so bold, so personally honest yet true to one’s real life human nature.

Toy’s subsequent activism and achievements have earned him grateful recognition from the LGBTQ community and the public and accolades from academia. A prolific author, Toy notably co-authored the first official “Lesbian-Gay Pride Week Proclamation” by the governing body of the Ann Arbor City Council and the Diocesan Human Sexuality Curriculum.

Toy was instrumental in establishing the Ann Arbor Gay Liberation Front, City of Ann Arbor HIV/AIDS Task Force, Ann Arbor Gay Hotline and the Human Sexuality Office at the University of Michigan. He also advocated for the University of Michigan to amend its non-discrimination bylaws to include sexual orientation as a protected category. Toy was appointed as a founding member of the Diocesan Commission on Human Sexuality by the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan, serving as its Secretary since 1971.

We were honored to ask Mr. Toy the following questions as he prepares to address a large audience at the Big Hearts for Seniors screening of Letter to Anita the Michigan Theater on May 26th. This documentary explores how yesterday’s discrimination shaped today’s LGBTQ older adults. What follows is an excerpt from our conversation. You can read the fascinating interview in its entirety on our website, groundcovernews.org.

JT: Jim Toy

RD: Rachel Dewees, Director Turner Senior Resource Center

ZB: Zsuzsa Blom, Groundcover News board member

RD:     What in your early life sent you down this path?

JT:       I grew up in Ohio during the ‘30s and ’40s and we were a bi-colored family. My father was ethnically Chinese – that’s the yellow side – and my mom was white. My mom died when I was born so my dad moved himself and me from Manhattan to this village in Ohio to live with my mom’s parents. There were three families of color only, in a total population of 1200. Racism was rampant, at times open and at times undercover. For example, I was in middle school during the Second World War. Around my neck I wore a sign with black letters on white that said “I am not a Jap.” Because apparently my peers were on my case, either thinking or wanting to believe that I that was Japanese.

RD:     This was your idea to wear the sign?

JT:       No, I think I probably complained to my parents about it so my stepmom probably or my dad made the sign. And in consequence of my experience in that village at that age I still am full of internalized racism. At least I recognize that it’s there. And I am full of all the other isms that were rampant in the village: classicism on the basis of economic status, sexism and of course this country as we know is still full of sexism, religious prejudice. It was a village that contained four Protestant churches, and the village somehow got away with telling Catholics that they could not build a church within the village limits. How they got away with that legally I do not know. And I was further abused for being a “teacher’s pet” and a “brain” so I lived with that experience. And to this day, getting back to the internalized racism, I still feel myself to be, my metaphor is a banana: I may be yellow on the outside but, thank you, I am white inside. And at least I am aware, as I have, said of that particular “ism” and I hope of the others.

We were poor. On another hand we always had enough to eat and we were well clothed because my stepmom made most of our clothes, and the house was warm.

RD:     When you talk about the “isms” you mean that you experienced them being on the other side of them as well as becoming aware that you have them yourself?

JT:       Absolutely. And it was only years later, after I came out of my what should I say, gay closet, that I began to get involved with, or directly involved with what some of us refer to as social action. I moved from Manhattan in 1957, to work in a radical Episcopal church in Detroit because the rector had met me when I was a kid and later invited me to come to the church to take the music program.

He, with the help of some of the members of the congregation, integrated the church racially. It became the first interracial Episcopal Church in Detroit. He moved on and then the next rector further opened up the church, also allowing the church building to serve as a sanctuary for men who were attempting to flee the draft. This was during the Vietnam War. They would take refuge there on their way to Canada.

The FBI was well aware of the church’s position and actions, so the FBI one day called the Bishop and said “There’s a guy named John Sinkovitch going to be taking sanctuary there. Is it ok with you, Bishop, if we break through the door and arrest him?”

“Oh yes,”said the Bishop. We were well aware of the FBI’s tactics and so the church was full that night and the FBI indeed broke through the side door and went up in the main body of the church and said, ‘John Sinkovitch, stand up!’ Well, what happened?

RD:     Everybody stood up?!

JT:       They had his photo so they arrested him. And that same church, under the same Rector, became a sanctuary for people at risk of physical violence during the Detroit riots.

From the church roof we could see smoke way to the west of us, maybe half a mile. And we saw the tanks coming in so the National Guard could attempt to quell the riots, which they did. So this was then an example, for me, of social action, what the church was trying to do. I was a bystander, an onlooker. I took no part in it until in 1970, six months or so after the Stonewall riots in New York City.

I saw a note on the church calendar that said ‘Gay meeting, January something 1970.’ There never had been, at least in Michigan, an openly ‘gay’ meeting. ‘Gay’ referring to, as it so often does now, to lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals. Gender identity, transgender was not in any one’s picture then. There was no internet. So, I went to the priest. Radical years, radical vocabulary and said, “Daddy-oh, (that’s what we called him) what is this gay meeting thing?”

He said “I don’t have a clue. One of the guys in the draft resistance movement asked, ‘Can we have a gay meeting here?’ and I said back to him ‘Well, whatever it is if we can’t have a ‘gay’ meeting here we might as well shut this God-box down.’” Which is how we referred to the church in those radical years.

I, from the depths of my closet said, “Thank you, thank you,” and went back to Ann Arbor where I was living because I was in grad school at the University of Michigan (U of M) at the time. I ran right down to the gay bar and there was my good buddy at the time, John, and I said, “John, there’s something very strange going on at the God-box.” He said, “What’s that?” I said, “A gay meeting.” He said, “What’s that?” I said, “Well I don’t know! Should we go?”

We agonized for a month. We both were totally in the closet, aside from going to the bar, because there was no resource, no gathering place for lesbians, gays, and bisexuals at the time in Ann Arbor. The night before the meeting we went to the bar: “Are we gonna go to this thing?” We looked at each other and simultaneously saying, “Ugh. If we go that means we’re gay, because we were still in the closet.” So the next day we got into John’s car and trekked off to Detroit. That marked our coming out to each other, to ourselves, to the dozen or so women and men who were taking the risk of coming to the meeting. We talked for hours. We decided to start an ongoing group and we decided to call it the Detroit Gay Liberation Movement.

John and I went in there 3-4 times a week for meetings. That got pretty old pretty quickly, so we said, “Why don’t we start a group in Ann Arbor?” We put an ad in The Michigan Daily. About 100 people showed up to the first meeting and we formed the Ann Arbor Gay Liberation Front (AAGLF). We met in the Michigan Union every week.

The secretary there said, “Jim, do you guys know there are people paid here to head up an office for women students at the U of M? And there’s also paid people to head up an office for black students. Do you guys want an office for yourselves?”

The next meeting of the AAGLF I tell them about the two offices with paid staff. “Do we want such a group for us?” They look at me like some kind of fool. “Yes, we want an office, go get it.” I go to the secretary and say, “Yes we want an office. How do we get it?” “Write me a memo,” she said.

About 6-8 months later (a nanosecond in bureaucratic time) they had given us an office in the Michigan Union and hired Cynthia Gair and me to head up the office at salary parity in the fall of 1971. The University took the enormous risk of creating the office; it was the first one in the world let alone in the United States. I worked there for 23 years or so.

            It was the end of the so-called radical years. We had all of this radical energy on campus and we would do guerrilla theater when President Nixon ordered the bombing of Cambodia in 1970. The Gay Liberation Front, women’s liberation and SDS did guerrilla theater on the steps of the Union. A dark-skinned woman crouched on one of the lower front steps and a white guy broke a sack of flour over her head to simulate bombing. The director of the Union came to me and said, ‘Since you have done this I am forbidding you to have any more meetings in the Michigan Union.’ The next Monday his staff overruled his decision and we went right back to having meetings. That was the climate at the time. People were digging bomb craters on the corner of the Diag and so on.

RD:     When you think about people in social activism, are there certain qualities you feel they should possess that would make them more successful?

JT:       I have tried to achieve some kind of balance between listening as sympathetically as I can to the concerns of whoever I’m talking with, and speaking out openly and as persuasively as I can to and on behalf of whoever I’m trying to help. And if I’m not a member of the group I’m trying to help, I try to be an ally. For example, I try to ally with women.

Another principle is to be more open and direct about what I am trying to do when I’m working at a lower level of the bureaucracy in a complex organization like the U of M. I was trying to consult with people who were in the closet at upper levels of the administration. They very clearly and very accurately said, “At my level I can NOT be open. I cannot even come out of the closet. But you guys that are lower down in the bureaucracy, you can.” For me that was simply a practical principle that I tried to keep in mind.

And when serving as an ally, I listened as best I could to what the people who needed or wanted allies wanted us to do. We didn’t go charging out trying to help women, doing what we thought we should do. We consulted as best we could with the women with whom we were working, the Women’s Liberation Group.

 

ZB:      Sounds like mutual respect.

JT:       Well, we hoped. And I learned a hard lesson at the office that the University had given us. We had co-coordinators for 23 years, a woman and a man, and our administrative assistant was also woman. At one of our staff meetings my co-coordinator and our assistant said, “Just a minute!” They looked at me and I said, “What?” and they said, “You are so sexist!” I said, “What?” They said, “You are so sexist!” And I said, “What do you mean?” “Well, for example you interrupt us all the time.” I was not aware of that and said, “I’m so sorry.” Well, a minute later I interrupted them again so it was a hard lesson! Male privilege, right? Male sexism, yeah.

Let me give another example of trying to be an ally. During the black action movement strike in 1970, they basically shut down central campus because they were striving for a 10 percent black student enrollment, and were not getting it. So they were picketing in front of Angell Hall. I went over and said “I’m going to stand with you guys.” And they said, “No, you aren’t!” I said, “No?” They said “You’re going to give us a bad name because you’re gay!” So maybe five years ago, the Daily ran a retrospective on the black action movement strike. They had on the front page of the Daily a picture of a march up State Street. The only banner visible said ‘Gay Liberation Front!’ Well that’s ironic!

ZB:      They are still aiming for 10%.

JT:       That’s incredible! I think it’s 7% now.

RD:     What are your thoughts are on the issues and implications for working for social change for older adults who are gay, lesbian, bisexual?

JT:       Elder people in this country are by and large treated with ignorance, disdain, and sometimes active harassment and discrimination. I’m a member of a group in Detroit, Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE) that is affiliated with the state board of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The ACLU is attempting to work on the concerns of TBLGQ people who are aging. For example, we need training about TBLGQ concerns in our institutions that are set up to address the needs of elder people. SAGE is certainly advocating for that. And slowly across the country, agencies are taking account of that.

RD:     Can you elaborate on training needed in these institutions?

JT:       We hear, for example, that there aren’t any gay people here. Well of course the staff aren’t aware that there are because the environment is so toxic. Never have I seen in an agency that serves the elderly any indication that they are aware that TBLGQ people exist. No magazines, no books, no videos, no photos of same sex couple for example. The education has to start, I believe, with the administration of any particular agency, and then work down administrative levels so that every person who is an employee there or a staff person or a member of the administrative board becomes clearly aware of these concerns.

My stepmom in Ohio was living in assisted living and my sibs and I were down there visiting. It was a Sunday. The staff brought in a guitar trio for entertainment. They played a couple of numbers and then the leader began making anti-gay jokes.

In Arbor Hospice, 10 years ago, my friend and I were invited to do a training on TBLGQ concerns and the staff were really receptive. We thanked them and they asked, “What should we do?” We said our thing and then asked about their pastoral care visitors.

“How aware are you of their beliefs and attitudes towards gender identity and sexual orientation concerns?”

“What do you mean,” they said. “Well, some churches and synagogues are really supportive and some are certainly ‘anti TBLGQ’ concerns.” “Oh, we never thought of that!” So we suggested they vet the people who come here to provide pastoral care. This is Arbor Hospice. If I’m on my deathbed I don’t need someone to tell me to change or I’m going to hell.

RD:     That’s an end of a lifespan issue for all home health agencies. It seems practically criminal and truly tragic for somebody to feel that in order to get good care at the end of their life they need to again deny who they are.

JT:       One of my lesbian activist friends who worked in Detroit for decades had to enter a facility on the west side of the state, very upscale as things go, and sent me a message, “Here I am and I’m totally back in the closet because I have sensed that the atmosphere here is not in my favor.” So there we are.

RD:     These things that we are talking about are the reasons that we wanted this topic and the film Letter for Anita for the Big Hearts event. We see lots of room for improvement in the five agencies that will benefit. We also see an opportunity to educate the community. It seems like a good start. Can you say a little bit about what your thoughts were when we first approached you, and why you wanted to become involved in Big Hearts?

JT:       This event, I hope, will bring concerns about harassment and discrimination against TBLGQ people, racial minorities, people with lower economic status and people living with disabilities – anyone who is deemed and judged negatively to be different in a negative sense – to the minds of the people who come to see this documentary film. Hopefully, this film will make it clear that discrimination and harassment are rampant and must be addressed. In Letter to Anita, Ronnie had to deal with discrimination on a personal level and so she did. Easy for me to say. It was painful and it must have been debilitating to her beyond belief yet it’s uplifting because Ronnie has documented for us her own story, of losing custody of her children to her then husband, and how she went about doing that. That for me, is an example of transforming a harmful situation into as positive of one as she was able at the time to achieve.

RD:     Susan Beckett, from Groundcover wants to know, do you have any formal or informal principles that help guide you which you think are helpful to people who are trying to create change?

JT:       I try to speak in practical terms to some of the principles I use. I can send you a couple of attachments. One attachment is about trying to serve as an ally and the other is my principles of advocacy.

One of the principles that I learned when I was at the School of Social Work is, social workers, when they are talking with clients, whether individual clients or a client group are constantly hearing, “We’ve got a problem.” And they share what the problem is. My task when I’m working with whomever is to help them transform that problem into a statement of a goal, a positive goal that is achievable and that is visible. So, the person who’s got the problem can tell when they’ve achieved that goal.

It’s fine for me to say, and this is a vision statement, “We want justice.” Well, that’s a big statement. Let’s try to narrow that down to something, “We are being mistreated by whomever and here’s our example.” “How would you like to be treated by that group?” And by that we mean “What might you be able to convince the group to do on your behalf that’s positive for you?” They’ll say whatever they say. All right, let’s look at some practical steps to get us where we need to go with this concern, steps that we can take and know that when we have taken them and that have produced at that step of intervention a positive result. That’s one of my principles, thanks to the School of Social Work.

RD:     Sounds so simple. It’s not.

JT:       It’s challenging.

ZB:      From everything that I have read about you, there is that positive spirit of how can we make this work. You have an optimism no matter what the problem and you just gave such an example.

JT:       Thank you! When I began doing this, this was in the radical years, I would simply get in people’s faces with my mouth and say ‘You are something else! Your behavior is beyond anything!’ And I began to learn you don’t get very far with vinegar.

RD:     Plus, what is your goal when you’re doing that? You were saying it needs to be achievable and finite, as opposed to ‘I’m just going to tell you I don’t like the way you are.”

JT:       Exactly. I also learned that depending on the situation, when I’m trying to produce some kind of positive change in any particular agency or group, if I can do it, maybe I should become a part of that group and work from the inside, instead of just… (gesture of banging), which is what I tried with the U of M, through working in what is now called the Spectrum Center, for example. That is what we tried to do in HARC, and still do, though I’m not a part of the board anymore.

RD:     On a smaller scale, I see that as what you’re doing with this group (Big Hearts) in that we asked you to be involved and introduce the speaker, and you have voluntarily been to almost every meeting.

JT:       It’s thanks to you guys really, you’re organizing this.

RD:     We’re happy to have you and it feels like you’re helping from the inside, which is really nice.

ZB:      You seem very comfortable in your skin. Your outlook is so positive. When people come to you with their problems, the negatives, how have you dealt with those emotions? Everything that I’ve read about you says there is a calm, a direction, a passion. You go with appreciation, understanding. How have you dealt with, or have you not had, those negatives like anger and frustration?

JT:       Oh yes, absolutely! What I bring here is the consequence of forty-five years of attempting to respond to my own isms and being constantly aware of them. And then working with the isms of the individuals, groups and agencies that are oppressing us or whoever they are oppressing. It’s the end result of 45 years. Forty-five years ago I was in some sense a different person. Now I deal with frustration and anger in what I hope is a positive way.

RD:     Did that just happen gradually over time?

JT:       It happened gradually over time with the support of more people than I could remember. Let me give an example of one of the isms that I was not aware of until it surfaced at a really embarrassing moment. I’m a therapist and I was working with a client, maybe session 6 or so, and the client was talking and said, “You know this reminds me of when I was doing time in Jackson.” And I went (jaw drop) that did not help (in the jargon) the therapeutic alliance at all. It taught me here’s an ism deep down in your gut, you’d better try and deal with it.

RD:     What was the ism?

JT:       Being ignorant of and prejudiced against people who have done time in jail or in prison. Adjudicated felon I guess is the jargon. That was for me a learning experience and unfortunately for client as well, but we kept on meeting.

RD:     It seems to me that if something like that, your own ism, is uncovered, we’re all human beings, it’s a chance to not have the therapist be the god, so I imagine you probably dealt with it at the time.

JT:       We learn as we go, absolutely.

ZB:      So you changed your program?

JT:       A little bit. Now I’m involved with a local group that works on issues of incarceration. I’m involved with them peripherally, because they have more meetings than I can get to.

One of the people in that group has son in jail and I’m in contact with him by mail every now and again. He’s an artist and his work gets exhibited. In fact, the Prisoner Creative Arts Program has an exhibit on north campus for their spring show. One can buy the works of art. I’ve been able to purchase two or three works by the particular person I’ve just mentioned. He does good work.

RD:     I’m curious, as someone who works with older adults on a regular basis, how are you managing your retirement? You seem very busy.

JT:       Thanks for asking. I didn’t retire. I advanced. I do pretty much what I was doing before I left the university. I do trainings on diversity concerns and so on. At this point mostly for the social work students at Eastern Michigan University. I’m a member of committees at the School of Social Work here. I’m involved with a group called Inclusive Justice Michigan which is a coalition of religious and spiritual groups that’s attempting to address concerns of harassment and discrimination of TBLGQ people across the state.

RD:     Do you find you have to say “No” to a lot of things?

JT:       No. Well, Nancy Reagan gave us the other example, right? Just say “Yes”.

RD:     Thank you so much for giving us your time.

JT:       Thank you for yours too.

From our October issue:

Gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer – complete interview  Mark_Schauer

Groundcover: Do you have any plans to call for restoring the Michigan Child Tax Credit ($600/child) and Earned Income Tax Credit (reduced from 20% to 6% of Federal credit) to their former levels?

Schauer: My jobs plan calls for restoring the child tax credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit. Cutting taxes for the middle class and those struggling to reach the middle class will put more money in families’ pockets to spend on everyday necessities like gas, groceries and clothes for their kids. Ultimately, this will help small businesses create good jobs for Michigan workers.

Some of the people who sell Groundcover News have been arrested with no opportunity to gather or protect their belongings and are released (innocent, guilty or uncharged) with no resources – and sometimes without seasonally appropriate clothing – sometimes far away from where they were arrested. Erroneous arrests are usually due to unprocessed court records that leave as active warrants for charges that were actually dropped or processed.  What can you do to impel better maintenance of the statewide court records?

Michigan has some of the worst indigent defense laws in the nation, leaving some of our most vulnerable residents to navigate the court system on their own or with incompetent legal representation that does more harm than good. As governor, I will fight for reforms that uphold every citizen’s constitutional rights to due process and fair treatment by the courts.

Would you sign a bill such as Senate bill 1026 that would prohibit approval of oil and gas wells in townships with sizable populations or that are within 450 feet of a residential area?

Governor Snyder’s decision to remove local decision making authority over drilling near residential neighborhoods was just the latest giveaway to big oil companies. Let’s not forget that this governor also gave big oil companies tax big breaks earlier this year. As governor, I’ll work to end tax breaks for big oil companies, and I’ll fight to protect local control over decisions related to oil and gas drilling.

What options do you see for cash-strapped school districts like Ann Arbor, Dexter and Saline – high-performing schools who have a history of prioritizing education – who have cut all they can and still are running a deficit?

First, we need to reverse Rick Snyder’s education cuts. I’ll make education our number one budget priority, and ensure our tax dollars are being invested in Michigan classrooms with highly-trained teachers and manageable class sizes.

Second, we need to stop using the School Aid Fund as a “piggy bank” for state government and restrict the use of School Aid dollars for K-12 and preschool purposes only.

Third, I’ll work to make school services more efficient by expanding efforts to consolidate services between school districts and with intermediate school districts, while maintaining local control and protecting our communities and our students from unintended consequences.

How do you propose making post-secondary education affordable for Michigan students?

Rick Snyder cut investments for our colleges and universities by 15 percent during his first year in office. A nerd should know that’s no way to build a strong economy. As governor, I’ll work to make college more affordable for families by reversing Snyder’s cuts to higher education and enhancing state-provided, need-based financial aid. And I’ll also establish a student loan refinancing authority to allow qualified borrowers to refinance their student loans at lower interest rates.

Where do you stand on donor disclosure and campaign finance reform?

Governor Snyder signed bills into law that doubled campaign contribution limits, required less disclosure in political spending, and he formed a secretive political fund that accepted over $2 million from special interests. He has signed laws making it harder for voters to remove unresponsive and corrupt legislators from office and denying us the right to vote – our most sacred right – on issues of great public importance.

Michigan citizens deserve a government that is accountable and transparent. I’ve always been a longtime champion of open government. In the Legislature, I sponsored the Legislative Ethics Act and the Public Financial Disclosure Law. As a member of Congress, I co-sponsored the DISCLOSE Act, which would increase transparency of corporate and special interest money in national political campaigns.

To restore faith in state government, I will work to make government more transparent and accountable to taxpayers.

Where does climate change stand in your priorities and what actions do you plan to take as governor?

The science is in on climate change, and the time to act is now to protect two of Michigan’s biggest industries – agriculture and tourism – while creating good jobs for Michigan workers. As governor, I will make sure Michigan does its part to fight climate change and increase our energy independence by making sure we have a reliable, secure, clean and affordable energy supply throughout this century. I’ll establish a Renewable Energy Standard of 30 percent clean energy by 2035, which will make Michigan a leader in advanced energy and create thousands of good-paying jobs.

We should also double down on energy efficiency. Avoiding a kilowatt of energy use is always cheaper and cleaner than generating an extra kilowatt. As governor, I will double the amount of energy saved through advanced energy efficiency measures, saving money for consumers, making Michigan more competitive, and yielding new opportunities for Michigan businesses and workers.

There are many small farms in Michigan. How would you help them?

Agriculture is the second-largest sector of Michigan’s economy. As governor, I’ll work to grow Michigan’s agriculture economy by refocusing our universities and MSU Extension on food safety science, and assisting small, family farms with global product marketing, while using the most modern, cutting-edge technologies to make them more competitive.

Do you support Governor Snyder’s plan to make immigration easier for those who are in a position to create jobs, either by virtue of their education or financial status?

As governor, I will always respect the rights of immigrants and their families. I understand that immigrants strengthen our communities and our economy. Governor Snyder talks a good game on immigration, but I’ve actually walked the walk. In Congress I voted to pass the DREAM Act. I believe comprehensive immigration reform is vital to attracting entrepreneurs and building a high-wage, high-skill workforce that can compete for good 21st century jobs. As governor, I will actively work with our congressional delegation and the administration to make sure immigration reform gets done. And I will work to ensure immigration reform addresses family reunification.

What initiatives would you push for creating jobs and strengthening the middle class?

The key to a strong economy is a strong middle class, where families can afford a safe home, a reliable car, a kids’ college fund and an occasional family vacation. To promote economic security and create ladders into the middle class, we must grow the economy from the bottom up and the middle out, not from the top down.

As governor, I’ll cut taxes for the middle class by restoring the Child Tax Credit that was repealed by Rick Snyder, increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit, eliminating the Snyder Retirement Tax on seniors’ pensions, and restoring Snyder’s cuts to the Homestead Property Tax Credit. Putting more money in families’ pockets will strengthen the middle class, and result in more dollars spent in Michigan small businesses that hire Michigan workers. I’ll also work to restore unemployment benefits to help workers who’ve lost a job through no fault of their own get back on their feet and find new jobs.

Do you think there is a dangerous wealth gap in Michigan?  If so, how might it be reduced?

Rick Snyder puts big corporations and the wealthy ahead of regular people. He cut over $1 billion from education, raising class sizes, hurting school quality and making it harder for our children to compete for the jobs of the future. And Snyder’s unfair tax on retirement income and property tax hike on seniors are hurting Michigan seniors who have worked hard and played by the rules.

As governor, I’ll work to build an economy that works for everyone – not just the wealthy. I’ll reverse Snyder’s school cuts and make education our top budget priority, because education is the great equalizer. A good job comes from a good education.

What major changes would you like to see in Michigan over the next 20 years?

I want Michigan to be a state where we truly value public education. Education is the great equalizer. It’s how we compete for good jobs and give our kids a chance. I want to be the Education Governor and move Michigan towards universal preschool, ensuring that all students have access to community-based wraparound services before and after school that address barriers to learning. This is one of the best long-term investments we can make in our economy, by building a talented workforce that can compete for high-wage, high-skill jobs.

 

 

From our May Cover Story:

From our April issue:

The unabridged interview with Peggy D.

Groundcover Interview Series: Peggy, March 10th, 2014

By Amelia Brown, Groundcover U-M Student Contributor

A: What is your name, and how long have you been with Groundcover?

P: Peggy, and I have been with Groundcover for a little over a year; since the spring of 2012.

A: Where do you sell, and on what days? How do you decide where to sell?

P: I sell at the People’s Food Co-op. I sell there because under the Groundcover policy, if you sell 800 papers a month and a corner is available, then I can get what’s called a corner card. What that affords me is that if another vendor is selling at the Co-op, and I came there, they would have to leave. So I have top rights to sell there. The reason I did that is because the Food Co-op has supported Groundcover for, I’m thinking maybe almost the four years since Groundcover has been in existence, with a dollar-off coupon. The general public that tends to go there tends to be more aware of the homeless community and people who are low-income, and we get a lot of support at that spot. When I knew the person who had the corner before me was leaving permanently, I made a real effort to sell more papers to get that spot, to allow me to keep doing this.

A: So the corner card is a good incentive to sell more papers, then?

P: Oh yes. And I also sell papers at St. Mary’s Student Parish on Sundays. I’ve been doing that as long as I have been a Groundcover vendor, every Sunday.

A: And where is that?

P: That is on Thompson and Williams, across from Neopapalis. And that is a big part of my income. It’s really cool to me; I was raised Catholic but these people have accepted me as one of their own in the parish. I got asked to Thanksgiving dinner from a couple in the parish, so yeah, I can’t say enough about this parish. They really are supportive, not only financially but emotionally. But they are a big part of my income too, so that Sunday helps me to sell that 800 papers and keep going every month.

A: What does your average day look like when you are selling?

P: I have tried to start my day between 7:00 and 7:30 at the coop, just because I am a morning person and I like being there. I usually get done between 1:00 and 3:00, and that depends on what is going on at the Farmer’s Market. Saturday is a really busy day because that market goes on all year, and that affects the amount of customers coming to the Co-op. Most of the time I work Tuesday through Sunday, Tuesday through Saturday I’m at the Co-op like I said around 7:00 and 7:30. Sometimes I don’t make it that early depending on how I’m feeling, but that’s what I try to maintain as my routine.

A: How long did it take you to figure out that schedule?

P: I’ve always been a morning person, so I knew I wanted to do that. Ever since I started working for Groundcover I knew that in that Kerrytown area the markets were going on. Before I got the corner card on the Co-op I would sell on Wednesday and Saturday in a spot by the Farmers Market, so I did get to know the crowd flow and things like that.

A: How did you find out about Groundcover, and what made you decide to get involved?

P: I think it was the first year they were up and running, I had met a vendor whose spot was at Liberty and Main. Over time I got to know him and talked to him about it, and there came a point where I knew I wanted to do some type of job. I retired from working at the Veteran’s Hospital in 2001. I had worked there for 13 years; so, I knew that on top of that income I needed a little bit more. I would talk to this vendor about it, and it seemed great because you could work whenever you wanted. That’s how I initially got into it.

A: What was something you found challenging when you first started at Groundcover, and how did you overcome that?

P: Because of the population that does do this work there are issues, and I’m including myself; issues like addiction, homelessness, inability to know how to work out problems, whatever they may be, etc. That’s my biggest issue. Selling hasn’t been a challenge; I’ve gotten to know so many people that are customers at the coop. They’ve been so good to me, not only personally and financially but just the interactions I get every day that I’m there. This winter I haven’t been working as much because of the extreme cold, and I have found that it makes a difference in my mood. If I was home more days, my mood was lower because of not being out and talking to people. But my biggest challenge is understanding that certain people have issues, and I know our staff deals with that too.

A: When you first started selling papers, was it hard to figure out how to approach people and sell things?

P: It’s very hard for me, because my tendency or technique is either saying good morning, saying hello, things like that. If you’re going to engage with me beyond that I’ll talk to you, maybe the paper will come into it, maybe it won’t. Sometimes people that I do engage with already know about us and think “Oh, I’ll buy a paper.” But I’m really not comfortable with approaching people who haven’t made eye contact with me. I think about how I feel when somebody approaches me and how would I want somebody to behave if they were selling something or asking for money. There are vendors that are, I don’t want to say aggressive, but their technique is different. I couldn’t do it. And that’s just because that’s me. Fortunately, I’m at two really good positions at the Co-op and St. Mary’s where that works okay. Other areas in town, people have to be more aggressive about what they’re doing, because more people are not going to pay attention to you than what probably would pay attention to you in other areas.

A: So for you, when selling papers, the social interaction comes first?

P: Right. It doesn’t happen every time, but it happens sometimes. I worked a lot in the beginning to not beat myself up because I wasn’t like certain vendors, because that’s just the way I am. It took a lot of self-talk for me to become comfortable with that.

A: Has the whole process taught you anything about yourself?

P: It has in the fact that I think Greg and Susan have seen in me the ability to help other vendors that are new. I feel like I’m in a good comfort zone when I’m dealing with other vendors. I just kind of relay my experience, and my understanding of how to sell. I try to focus on helping them not to get discouraged. It’s pretty easy to get caught up in “Oh, I only made five dollars today,” but I try to tell them, well, that’s five dollars more than you had in your pocket when you got up this morning. I like that. We had gone to EMU to talk to a class of social work students, and I like that too. I like talking to smaller groups of people and letting them know my history with Groundcover, my experience with it. Myself and another vendor went and talked before the Ypsilanti Township Board about us possibly selling in Ypsi Township, and I liked that too. It makes me feel like I’m using a little more of my brain, and makes me feel good about myself just doing it, because I consider myself smart. I feel like I’ve grown in more ways than I even anticipated by being involved in the paper; aside from the money, I think that I have gotten way more that is not tangible. I know that. That’s what makes me feel good about what I do.

A: What have been some of your most significant moments as a vendor?

P: Wow. There’s quite a few. I guess what stands out to me is when somebody speaks positively about me to the Groundcover staff. That stands out because I always think, “Why would you do that?” I understand, but that’s a hard path for me to cross. It has helped push my issues aside, like sometimes if I get a big tip I feel uncomfortable. I’ve even said to people that were kind to me around the holidays, “No, you don’t have to do that.” I think it’s the feeling that I don’t deserve that, so that’s been quite significant for me. It has pinpointed some issues that I was not paying attention to dealing with. I think the significance overall is the kindness of the people in this community, and that has been overwhelming. Overwhelming in a good way. A lady who was a parishioner at the church, who gave me $5 or more every Sunday, she brought me a present this year. I like to draw, and haven’t gotten the chance to do that in a long time, and the parish knows that. She got me a pad of art paper, a really nice pencil set, great wool socks, and disposable foot heaters. That is the thing that has really stood out, is the overall kindness of people. There are a lot of people that go above and beyond “Hi, how are you, let me buy a paper.” They really have a vested interest in you as a vendor. That’s been the most outstanding thing to me.

A: It’s funny, because I have had a fair amount of vendors say that they are genuinely surprised at how kind people are.

P: Yes. That’s something that I know Susan gets a lot of information about, and she’s written about, that we have all talked about the blessings we get. We’ve all talked about that. That’s something that has come out of as an unexpected benefit of selling papers. So regardless of anything we as vendors have to deal with, probably every vendor I know has talked about the kindness of this community.

A: How has your life changed since you became involved in Groundcover? Could you give us a before and after picture?

P: Before, it was really hard to make ends meet on the income that I had. I was renting an efficiency in Ann Arbor, and it probably took all but $100 of my money each month to pay for that. Which was fine, but since then I have gotten into affordable housing which is for low-income people. So I was able to get on a waiting list and move in, but it took a couple years. I am less worried about the bills I have to pay now, and a lot of that has to deal with where I’m living and what I pay for rent. I think it’s changed my life in more ways than I thought it would, like being involved in the community.

A: So you went in looking for a supplement to your income, and now it’s more about the community?

P: Yes. I just thought about this too, but there is a bit of shame in me, in asking for money. That’s probably why I don’t get verbal towards anyone walking by me. Whatever that is and however I work it out, I will, but I still feel that twinge inside of “Sorry, I don’t want to ask you for money.” But that’s just me. I do struggle with that a little bit, my concern of what somebody I don’t even know is going to think about me

A: What do you wish people knew about you?

P: Probably that I am trying to do a job. I have no problem if you tell me no or yes, but I do want to project that I am doing what I feel is an honest job, and most of us are just trying to work out what we need for our lives. And I would like to project that I am really a decent person. People are going to throw you into any kind of assumptions, and I’m not out to prove that I’m not what they think I am. I do get a lot of questions from customers; probably about 25% have asked me, “What do you do if you think these vendors are going out and drinking or doing drugs?” And they think that with pan-handlers too. But we tend to get thrown into that part of our community. Not always, but quite a bit. A lot of customers like the paper for the content though, which helps me to feel good about what I’m doing. I would hope that anyone would give a vendor a fair chance. That’s the way I am with other people in the community. Sometimes I feel a need to give people money, and I figure I’m giving it to you, I have no control over what you do, I’m not going to make any assumptions about what you do, I’m just giving it to you because I want to help you. I think overall I just want people to know we are decent people just trying to do a job.

A: Could you tell me about your involvement in Groundcover other than selling papers?

P: Greg is trying to get a vendor board started. We were elected to the board by the other vendors, and our purpose is leadership for the group. Going out and spreading positive reinforcement about the group, acting as a buffer between vendors and staff for disciplinary issues, things like that. We want to be able to talk to the vendors about things the staff wants to communicate, so that the information we would be relaying to vendors didn’t come off as “the boss” telling them what to do.

A: And in the past you have mentored new vendors?

P: Yes, when they get new vendors they come down and talk to me. I really enjoy doing that. I think to myself that I wish I had somebody like that, so I try to project how I would have wanted to be talked to. My biggest thing is trying to keep them from getting discouraged. It’s like anything else that you might do, establishing a customer base takes time. It doesn’t mean that they won’t make decent money up until that point, but it takes time. As people got to know me, my income increased.

A: And what did you do with the cable show and the Ypsilaniti Board?

P: With the city township, we tried to keep it about how Groundcover affects the community and us. Their concern was that they would have problems with us. The reality was that we could get selling permits from the city, but as a courtesy we came to tell them “look, we are going to come into this part of your community, and this is what we are going to do. Your support would really help us establish ourselves.” People did not want that. They said no. Legally, we could go out and do it anyways, but you know. The other [cable tv], we would tell a little bit about our lives, what brought us to selling papers, and what its like for us now. Then they would usually ask us questions. That’s about it.

A: Great, thank you so much.

Gerrymandering and Corporatists (February and March):

Links to videos and articles

On the road to patrimonial capitalism, and inherited oligarchy http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/04/19/1293206/-Bill-Moyers-w-Paul-Krugman-What-the-1-Don-t-Want-You-to-Know?detail=facebook http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/04/19/1293206/-Bill-Moyers-w-Paul-Krugman-What-the-1-Don-t-Want-You-to-Know?detail=facebook

Mr. McCutcheon was not trying to participate in electing his own leaders, Justice Stevens said. “The opinion is all about a case where the issue was electing somebody else’s representatives.”  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/22/us/politics/justice-stevenss-prescription-for-giant-step-in-wrong-direction.html?smid=fb-share&_r=0

The Facebook page of a local action group:  https://www.facebook.com/ReclaimOurAmericanDemocracyRoad

 

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