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Building Community, Fighting Poverty, Reducing Harm – Mutual Aid in Action, with Jerry Norris and Julia Miller

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Hegemonicon - An Investigation Into the Workings of Power
Hegemonicon - An Investigation Into the Workings of Power
Building Community, Fighting Poverty, Reducing Harm - Mutual Aid in Action, with Jerry Norris and Julia Miller
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There’s a long-running dialogue on the Left, which has resurfaced in a big way since the pandemic, about what direct service work has to do with building political power. Some people argue that it’s just putting a band-aid on a gaping wound. We shouldn’t be doing harm reduction: we should be seeking to stop the harm in the first place, through structural change. But others argue that direct service can be the best way of engaging people. Poor people are on the streets; they’re hungry; they’re struggling; they need help now. And so, perhaps, for those of us interested in building political power among the dispossessed, mutual aid is exactly what we need, in order to meet folks where they’re at, and then march together towards justice.

In this episode, William is joined by two purveyors of mutual aid he is very familiar with, as they work in his hometown of Lansing, Michigan. Jerry Norris is the founder of the Fledge, a truly special and one-of-a-kind community center. Julia Miller is the driving force behind Punks With Lunch, an organization providing food, personal care, warm clothes, and harm reduction resources for people struggling with homelessness and addiction, which operates out of the Fledge.

Their conversation explores the political question around direct mutual aid as a focus, as well as how to center community needs and voices in these efforts and how the guests manage their own emotional needs while engaging in their work.

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[00:00:00] Julia Miller: And sometimes it’s hard to not give up on people. Sometimes you just, you just want to like shake up and, and, and say, screw it, I’m done. But you just gotta keep on loving them and keeping looking out and keep on trying. And, uh, Eventually, hopefully they’ll get through it.

[00:00:17] And even if they never get to like the a hundred percent level where everything’s peachy keen, everything’s fine. And life is fantastic. At least they’re, they’re still around. They’re still alive and there’s still another chance, you [00:00:30] know?

[00:00:34] William Lawrence: Hello and welcome to the hegemonic on a podcast from convergence magazine. This is a show about social movements and politics, strategy and ideology, the immediate present, and the rapidly onrushing future. I’m your host, William Lawrence. I spent my 20s as a member of grassroots social movements, most prominently as a co founder and national leader of Sunrise Movement, the youth organization that put the Green New [00:01:00] Deal on the political map.

[00:01:01] Now I’m in my early 30s, trying to make sense of what we’ve collectively learned in this last decade plus of social movements and heightening social crises. I talk with activists and researchers on the left. Exploring the guiding theme of power, what it is, how it’s exercised, and how it’s distributed.

[00:01:23] Hello folks, and welcome back to the Hedromonicon. I’m your host, William Lawrence, and I’m recording [00:01:30] from my hometown of Lansing, Michigan. Today, I’m glad to be joined by two friends and collaborators here in Lansing, Jerry Norris and Julia Miller, and I’m really looking forward to the conversation. Jerry and Julia, welcome.

[00:01:42] Jerry Norris: Thank you. It’s great to be 

[00:01:44] William Lawrence: here. Jerry is the founder of The Fledge, which is a truly special and honestly one of a kind community center here in Lansing. Julia is the co founder and director of Punks with Lunch, an organization that provides food, personal care, [00:02:00] warm clothes, and harm reduction resources for people struggling with homeless addiction.

[00:02:05] And Punks with Lunch also operates, um, out at the Fledge. Fledge is also where our Rent is Too Damn High Coalition, uh, for Tenants Rights and Housing Justice has our, our, our meetings and many of our events. And it’s a, and that’s, you know, where we, where we’re usually all hanging out. This episode is part of a loose series on what we’re building, which is a look at the most vital and relevant organizational initiatives, um, on the U.

[00:02:29] S. left [00:02:30] today. I got to admit a lot of these topics have been pretty high level, pretty high minded, even sometimes at the risk of abstraction, you know, we’ve been talking about the future of the United States labor movement, the tenant and debtor movement, the prospects of building a national United.

[00:02:46] Workers mass party or something like that, what to do about the two party system, Democrats and Republicans and so forth. These are important questions. This one’s I think a little bit closer to the ground in a lot of the ways. My sense from knowing you, um, Jerry and [00:03:00] Julia is that though you may be interested in those kinds of questions, you’re not primarily concerned with them in your day to day work.

[00:03:07] Uh, you’re more concerned with immediate matters, like how to save lives now among people who are struggling with addiction. Homelessness or poverty, or sometimes all of the three, um, and you’re interested in doing this in a way that offers more dignity, more collaboration, more community spiritedness, really, then is often [00:03:30] found in bureaucratic or institutional service agencies and.

[00:03:34] You know, this is the work that in, uh, conversations about strategy and theory sometimes gets described as harm reduction or mutual aid and initiatives like yours exist in, I think nearly every city around the country, um, including in lots of places who probably don’t have any of the more quote unquote, political organizing taking place.

[00:03:55] Um, this work. Mutual aid and harm reduction tends to be [00:04:00] autonomous, bottom up, um, led by big hearted people like you who are doing the most with what they can. And, uh, usually in my experience are not extensively networked. So you may have some relationships with similar organizations and other places.

[00:04:15] Like there isn’t like a national harm reduction organization, which coordinates all the harm reduction in every city around the country. It’s people who are responding to crises and doing what they can with the resources that They find around them. So as you may be familiar, there’s a [00:04:30] longstanding dialogue on the left, which has really surfaced in a big way since the pandemic about what direct service work has to do with the task of building political power.

[00:04:41] Some people argue that this is just putting a bandaid on a gaping wound that we shouldn’t be doing harm reduction. We should be seeking to stop the harm in the first place through structural change. Others have argued for. Decades centuries, probably that [00:05:00] direct service is the best way of meeting people where they’re at, which every organizer knows is something you need to do.

[00:05:06] Meet people where they’re at. Poor people are on the streets. They’re hungry. They’re struggling. They need help now. That’s where they’re at. And so perhaps for those of us interested in building political dispossessed mutual aid is exactly what we need. In order to meet folks where they’re at and [00:05:30] then march together towards justice.

[00:05:33] So those are some of the themes I’d like to talk about on this show, but let’s start with the work you actually do on the day to day. Um, Jerry, why don’t you start by telling us about yourself and about the fledge, what is the fledge and, uh, briefly, what was your journey of coming to establish it? 

[00:05:50] Jerry Norris: All right.

[00:05:50] Well, if you don’t mind, I’m going to tell the journey and then the fledge will evolve out of that journey, if that’s okay. I think a couple of things that are important is that I was [00:06:00] born in the 60s. Um, the house that I currently live in is a block and a half away from the hospital that I was born at.

[00:06:08] And the place where I work, the Fledge is a block and a half away from the high school that I graduated from. So I, I am Lansing. I was born and raised here. I was raised by the city, not just by, you know, a single mother or what have you. So I think, you know, part of what’s important is how, [00:06:30] how far back I go in Lansing with either the 57 years of.

[00:06:35] Honestly, building social capital with people in our city, but also seven generations of my family have been in Lansing and before that have been in the upper peninsula. So, you know, I, I love this city in a way that, um. I don’t think you can get transplanted in and love it the same way, I guess is what I’m kind of [00:07:00] saying and I think the, you know, in the journey, I think it’s important to say that I was born in poverty.

[00:07:07] I grew up in poverty. Um, I lived in section eight housing. I can’t use coupons today because I still feel the shame of tearing the food stamps out of the packs and, you know, having a friend that might see me. You know, do that. There, you know, this, the poverty and persistent poverty has been in Lansing for a pretty long time.

[00:07:29] [00:07:30] And I grew up in it and I’ve always wanted to do something about it. Uh, my father told me that to get out of poverty, I was going to have to wrestle and get a scholarship and get a. Get a good education. And he wanted me to study, uh, computer science. So I ended up doing that. I wrestled my, um, entire childhood.

[00:07:52] I wrestled through college. Um, I went to the university of Michigan. I have a degree in math with, uh, basically a minor in [00:08:00] computer science. It would be called a data science degree today. I’ve also traveled the world. I’ve been, uh, to about 110 different countries. I have spent, uh, had 35 years of my career analyzing systems and building systems in the Middle East, all over Europe, all over the U S all over Southeast Asia.

[00:08:24] Um, I was lucky enough to basically live how it’s made. [00:08:30] For almost every day of my career. So I’ve seen how systems have worked and all of these different things. And so I really, besides my mathematical kind of education and my computer education, I’ve got a lot of experience with systems and see, seeing why systems work, why they don’t work, uh, how we always try to control them and how we.

[00:08:55] failing, controlling them so often. Um, so I also would [00:09:00] put a systems theorist as part of what I would say my skill set is, you know, another kind of big event that I think is important to say is I did lose my daughter to a fentanyl overdose in 2017. So that was, you know, seven years ago, we’re coming up at least on the seven year anniversary.

[00:09:21] And a few months and you know, once there’s nothing like that, that to invite you into the harm reduction space or to [00:09:30] invite you into, uh, getting involved in a war that’s been on us for so many years and becoming a soldier in that war gets pretty easy at that point. And then. I think that the last thing is I have a very strong and resilient family.

[00:09:48] Um, my wife, uh, is a rock star in my world. Uh, my kids are just fantastic supporters. I’ve got grandkids [00:10:00] from my older daughter who passed away. Um, who are, we’re all very, very tight and we’re very happy, resilient and all of that. But how does it all lead to the fledge? Well, for 35 years, I traveled around the world watching people use systems theory to make a lot of money for themselves and to basically exploit workers, whether it was the, you know, the Indian workers in Dubai or the American [00:10:30] workers in Detroit.

[00:10:31] Um, Just watched a lot of, a lot of the work I was doing was helping them, you know, make things more efficient, more productive. And it was just being able to steal that labor so much faster. And at some point I just kind of snapped in it all. I had built three globally operating, uh, software companies and sold two of them.

[00:10:55] Thought I’d sell the other one and. That happened a little quicker than I want, [00:11:00] wanted to, but when I sold my third software company and started another one the next day and said, what the hell am I doing? And said, I’ve been working on this incubator model for a long time. So in 2014, I said, we’re going to start the fledge.

[00:11:18] And it is a radically inclusive ideation and maker space. incubator and accelerator with a mission to create opportunities to pursue happiness. [00:11:30] And, you know, that’s a, that’s a lot of, you know, kind of jargon or whatever in there. Basically what it was is I saw everybody was born with a dream. And then life beats that dream out of them, whether it’s, you know, some father saying no son of mine is going to ever be an artist or some mother saying you’re going to be a cheerleader, not a software engineer to her daughter, or it’s some, you know, small town that you grow up in [00:12:00] where, you know, we don’t take kindly to your kind around here and you’ve got to take, you know, refugee and a.

[00:12:07] Place like Lansing where, you know, we, we basically have a queer kid refugee development center in Lansing. We are so accepting and diverse and such a wonderful place. And so I saw all of these people not doing what they were born to do and trapped in debt and trapped in poverty and all [00:12:30] these. different things, these obligations and seeing this is not freedom.

[00:12:35] This is not an American dream. This is a lie. This is bullshit. You know, this is racism. This is a war on us. This is, you know, poverty was, it was designed and built to be this way. And looking at the systems and saying. This is so obvious to me what we should be doing right now. [00:13:00] And that’s kind of how the Fledge evolved.

[00:13:03] And then I think you say it best at some point, you know, the, I didn’t build the Fledge. I opened up carte blanche and said, Hey, what do you guys want to do? You want a studio? Okay. Now we got a studio. Bring some more friends in. Oh, they want. an art class. Okay, now we’ve got an art class. You want a coding club?

[00:13:24] Okay, let’s get a coding club. And it was really about scraping together [00:13:30] resources, spending some of that 57 years of social capital and getting people to give us stuff and just really letting the chaos thrive and enjoying the chaos and enjoying, you know, watching, watching you kind of get that aha moment.

[00:13:49] As I’m kind of daydreaming of these butterflies and you’re thinking about, Oh my God, I’m going to change how housing’s done. Rent, you know, seeing that in your [00:14:00] eyes and, you know, you guys do so much. You do everything. Nothing I’ve ever done has been done except for through other people. 

[00:14:09] William Lawrence: So how have you, you know, it really is chaos and it really does.

[00:14:13] Also thrive. I mean, just for the listeners, I can’t stress the extent to which you hear community center. I often think of something that’s run, you know, maybe by a church or by a township or something and nothing against any of that, but sometimes it can be very institutional, very kind of sterile.

[00:14:28] You’ve got to sign up on the [00:14:30] form and this and that way. Or it’s like the library here in Lansing, where if you don’t, uh, if you don’t sign up more than 48 hours in advance, like. You can’t reserve the room and there’s no exceptions and it closes at, you know, 525 and so forth. The fledge is like very much the opposite of all of that.

[00:14:46] It’s like overflowing with stuff and people’s projects, sometimes half abandoned projects, half created projects. It’s all kind of in a state of seemingly like creation and [00:15:00] Decay all at once. I mean, it’s really beautiful and it’s a special place. It’s a lot of honestly, we build power every day, just like sitting at the fledge because people show up and it’s like, Oh, like I’m on the board of the Michigan state housing development authority.

[00:15:11] But like, I’m also just like in the neighborhood and I’m here hanging out the fledge and I’m like, Oh, wow. Like you seem like someone I need to be talking to. So like, you know, really, I’m serious. We build power just like going to the fledge and then seeing who walks through the door and then getting to know them.

[00:15:23] But how have you been able to cultivate that environment? Because like you said, you haven’t created it, but you have. Created the space [00:15:30] where that can exist. How did you relinquish the idea that it should be about you, that you should be in control and instead throw open the doors to all this chaos and generative energy?

[00:15:42] Jerry Norris: Well, I think that it goes back to some of what I was saying earlier that I watched people try to control chaotic systems for my entire career and all they did was fail at it. It was constant failure in manufacturing. Um, I mean, [00:16:00] don’t get me wrong. Manufacturing is amazing and we build things right every single day all over the world, but the processes to get us there and the systems that we build to do these things are all about squeezing the variation out of.

[00:16:19] Everything. And just taking the life and the essence out of your job, out of your soul, out of, Oh man, it just, it became disgusting to [00:16:30] me watching people try to control this, these chaotic systems all the time and watching them fail and spend so much money doing that. And what I was trying to theorize throughout that entire career is how do I create.

[00:16:47] An autonomous system that runs on its own and, uh, will create the complexity that is required to create the chaos because the chaos is the [00:17:00] power and what emerges out of that chaos is. What the product is really. And so, you know, rent is too damn high. I would never take too much credit for that, but it did happen in this building and it was that chaos coming together and that butterfly little.

[00:17:20] Twinkle in your eye, you know, that was the flapping of the wings and now it’s being talked about nationally. And I think that [00:17:30] to relinquish control is the same thing as imagine you’re drowning in a river, you don’t swim upstream. To get safe. You don’t swim directly across. You go with the chaos. And if you let that chaos guide you, it will take you to safety eventually.

[00:17:51] So save your energy. Don’t try to control that chaos. Don’t try to be the one that’s in charge because none of that’s going to matter. [00:18:00] None of it matters. And you’re going to fail constantly. If you do that, you will not get what you want. And. You know, I, 10 years ago, I picked the title Prima Center Paris, and it sounds like cliche and all these people are, I’m the chief fun officer and all that crap, but it’s very important to me.

[00:18:22] It means the first among equals. And I just happened to be the first one that came in the building. The rest of you [00:18:30] came and how many times have you been the leader in the building or how many times have you been responsible for locking up Julia? How many times have I said, I don’t know, it’s their event.

[00:18:41] It’s their rules because I don’t, we have values, we have, we don’t have rules and, um, I don’t know, it’s been super easy to let go because it just felt after getting beat up so many years and all these systems. It just felt so obvious to me [00:19:00] that if we would just quit fighting the system, it would be our friend and it would take us places that would lead to what’s really, I think my mission is the recognition that we’re surrounded by abundance.

[00:19:14] William Lawrence: Someday I’d like to do an episode on, um, Taoism, which I’ve found to have a lot of wisdom. And that kind of rings a bell on what you’re saying about going with the flow, you know, the art of, uh, it’s not about resisting the way of the world, but it is about learning how [00:19:30] to, um, shape it. And to shape it, you first have to sort of comprehend it.

[00:19:35] And then once you comprehend it, you realize you can’t make the river flow back upstream, but you might be able to channelize it or send it in a certain direction. 

[00:19:45] Julia Miller: Okay, well, uh, yeah, I’ll try not to tell my whole life story, but, uh, like, like Jerry said, you know, we’re here, but the last 49 years, but, uh, um, so a lot like Jerry, I was, you know, raised in Lansing and raised on the east [00:20:00] side and coming up, I guess I didn’t really realize how.

[00:20:06] We were, um, I mean, I, both my parents were working, they were separated, but they both were working and I, um, didn’t really understand until, um. Seeing a lot of like what, what other, you know, kids that I, that I was, you know, grew up with and went to school with what they had compared to what we had and seeing my mom’s struggle as far as like, [00:20:30] you know, having to decide between what bill to pay that month and, you know, and having to go to the food bank and, and whatnot to, uh, as far as us getting by and I didn’t realize, you know, how, you know, detrimental things were, uh, at some points in life, you know, just kind of had your.

[00:20:51] Pretty standard, I thought, like, uh, Eastside Lansing, uh, gutter punk, um, growing up, uh, [00:21:00] lifestyle. And, um, when we, when I was, uh, you know, a teenager, like I said, we, I hung out in East Lansing and hung out with all the, the street kids and the, and the, and the gutter punks. I spent about, uh, A year of my life living in a garage, not out of necessity, out of choice, because I didn’t want to be at home.

[00:21:21] And I spent a lot of times just kind of out on the streets and living, living wherever I could be. And I slept up [00:21:30] on a mattress in the garage for, for, for quite a while. And, um, I, you know, got into, you know, drugs and alcohol and substance use and tore up my body with that. And that was, uh. You know, a lifelong thing that, you know, started from about the age of like 15 all the way up until the last few years.

[00:21:50] And, um, never really thought a whole lot about like what I was going to do or what I was going to be, because I, I kinda, You know, I always [00:22:00] had like hopes and aspirations of things that I want to do, but I also kind of felt like I got shot down a lot. Like, you know, well you can’t do this because your, your math grades aren’t good enough or you can’t do this because, you know, you can’t be a ballerina cause you can’t, you cause, cause your legs don’t work well enough to dance.

[00:22:15] And you know, um, you know, there’s things that like, you know, you. You know, it’s like always thinking like, well, you’re going to do this. And then you find out, well, by, by, you know, people telling them, well, you can’t do that for whatever reason, you just being told no whole heck of a lot. And, [00:22:30] um, I had one teacher who, uh, we had this class in high school.

[00:22:34] It’s kind of like a, a, um, basically kind of preparing you to be a grownup kind of class. I don’t remember the exact, what the title was, but this was in the nineties and they were teaching you how to, how to write a checkbook, how to balance your checkbook, how to, how to do things like that. But, um, This teacher said something really important that like stuck with me throughout my whole life.

[00:22:54] With the, she said that, you know, as, as adults, people, people ask you, the first thing that they [00:23:00] ask you is what do you do? You know, people always define you as what do you do? Like, what, what’s, what’s your job? What do you do in your life? And I thought about that. It was like, well, I don’t want to be defined by what my job is.

[00:23:13] I don’t want to be defined by like what, what pays my bills. Cause that’s not who I am. That’s not, that’s not what I am. That’s not what I do. That’s what I do to pay the bills and get food, but that’s not what I do. So I immediately like, kind of was like, well, screw that. I don’t [00:23:30] ever want to be defined by what my, what I, what my job is.

[00:23:33] So I set out to, you know, it took a long time to figure out like, what am I going to do? Like, what am I going to do with myself to like, that’s going to. Be important to me. That’s going to like, you know, make me feel good about what it is I’m doing. And, and to like, you know, be something important in this world, whether I’m important, just make sure that I did something important, I guess.

[00:23:56] Did a lot of, uh, a lot of nothing for a long [00:24:00] time, but a lot of nothing did a lot of, uh, slacking off, did a lot of, uh, um, drinking and drugging and, and listening to music and trying to start. shitty bands and, you know, not, not doing much of a whole lot of anything, but, uh, uh, did a, but then eventually, you know, started working in service work and doing things like passing out, you know, food and working in, in volunteering at food pantries and just trying to help out people here and there where I could, I, I got kind of labeled as like.

[00:24:29] [00:24:30] The, the trap house mom in a way, you know, I was, I was the one who, who was looking out for people and taking care of people like a lot of my friends who were all a bunch of street punks and street kids and, and not doing much. But I was the one that made sure that people got fed and made sure that people got taken care of and had a place to stay.

[00:24:45] You might be sleeping in a pile of laundry in my living room, but you’re, you’re, you got a place to crash at. And so that’s kind of like where my role fit in. And I still kind of thought, well, that’s what I’m doing, but that’s not, you know, But [00:25:00] that’s not, uh, what’s paying my bills. That’s not what, what, uh, what is going to put food on my table.

[00:25:07] But, um, and then we, uh, I was perusing the internet one day and came across this, this, uh, BuzzFeed video on, on Facebook of, uh, West Oakland punks with lunch. And I saw this group of people that seemed like pretty cool folks to me who were out there on the [00:25:30] streets, passing out food and passing out harm reduction supplies and, and to the people who were unhoused in, in West Oakland, California.

[00:25:37] And I thought, well, well, shit, if they can do that, I can do that too. So I looked them up and asked like, Hey, well, how, how do you make that happen? And what do you do? And like, I don’t know, you just do it. You just like, you know, find, find some people who have the things that you need and just make it happen.

[00:25:54] And, and I said, okay, well, I’m going to make that happen. I’m going to do that [00:26:00] here. And by the way, can I steal your, your name and your logo and all that stuff? And they’re like, yeah, sure. Go right ahead. So, um, started reaching out to people and finding people that I knew that, you Has access to Narcan.

[00:26:15] This person has access to harm reduction supplies. I can connect with this person, uh, this, this organization that, that supplies, you know, needles and pipes and Narcan. I, I can connect with this, this restaurant that has food that they can give [00:26:30] away. I can, can connect with this org that, you know, gives menstrual products away.

[00:26:34] So connecting the dots with all the different people who knew people that could help out to build this little thing. And, you know, it started out. It’s still in my mind. It’s still a small thing, but it started out, you know, very, very small. And it’s just kind of grown and grown and in each little bit it’s, it’s growing.

[00:26:56] And it’s, you know, we’re doing more and more and, you know, [00:27:00] making more connections with, with more orgs, more, more food resources, more harm reduction, supply, uh, um, advocacy groups and, and just trying to get as much out there as we possibly can to try to keep people alive. I’m not there to, to, to find people houses.

[00:27:21] I would love to, if I can, you know, but you know, you know, I can, I can connect the dots, I can find resources. I can connect people to, okay, [00:27:30] you should, you know, you could talk to this person and they could probably help you find your housing voucher. This, this place has, you know, doesn’t check your credit for rent.

[00:27:38] Um, you know, I can find resources for recovery options. I can find, you know, Resources for how to get your ID. But mostly what, what, what we’re there for is just to keep people alive. And helping, hopefully to connect the dots for them as far as like where they can go to get the next step and do the next thing and the [00:28:00] next thing.

[00:28:01] And we’re just there to hopefully, you know, keep them fed, keep them alive, keep them safe, keep them motivated, and let them know that somebody’s out there loving on them so that hopefully they can just keep on 

[00:28:12] William Lawrence: going. It sounds like, sort of like Jerry said, this is the sort of thing that really was only possible based on your 40 some years living in Lansing, knowing people, and then when, uh, just building relationships the way you do, doing anything, um, going to [00:28:30] shows, doing drugs, whatever it is.

[00:28:32] But then when it came time that you decided that you, uh, you know, wanted to take up this punks with lunch mission, um, maybe connecting to the, the Narcan resources, to the food resources, to the other donations, to the other institutions. It was the sort of thing that someone like you is exactly the right person to be able to do that.

[00:28:50] Not to mention then being able to connect with the people who actually need them because, you know, you’re approachable to them rather than someone who might be kind of a little bit more like high [00:29:00] and mighty from some fancy title or some fancy agency. Do you feel that that’s been true? That like kind of the life you’ve lived and, and, and your relationships have, um, Have been necessary in some sense for being able to do the work you’ve done.

[00:29:16] Julia Miller: I think it’s, it’s definitely necessary because you know, as far as people are coming from an agency or an organization who have never lived that life and never walk that walk, or maybe they’re so far gone from that life that they don’t remember what it [00:29:30] was like and they have their own agenda. They have their own, you know, mission and their own goals as far as what they think this person should do.

[00:29:38] And with me. It’s very much, well, what do you want to do? You know, I want to, I want, I want to see you walk in this door again, another, another day. That’s, and you know, I want to make sure that you’re safe and, and alive, you know. Throughout the day and the next day and the next day, that’s part of, you know, the whole meeting people where they’re at, and I’m not here to tell you [00:30:00] what to do.

[00:30:00] I’m, I’m here to, you know, what’s, what’s going to help you to get through the day and if that’s, you know, making sure that you have safer supplies so that when you are out using that you’re being as safe as possible. That’s what we’re going to do. If you need some, some help, as far as like what that means, how to be safe, I’m going to educate and get, and get that information.

[00:30:26] If you, you know, need food [00:30:30] resources, we’re going to help with that. If we can help you get connected with, with testing, or if we can help you, you know, for HIV, if we can get you connected with, with, um. You know, housing resources, we can do that. But I’ve, there’s so many times that, you know, any one of these people that come through my door, I could have easily been them.

[00:30:52] The only, the only thing between, really the only difference between me and them is that [00:31:00] I gotta, you know, credit a lot of my family, like I, I still have, you know, my mom and up until recently I still had my dad and, you know, I had like family that like. I can, that looked out for me that, you know, no matter what I was doing, no matter how much of a screw up I was, I was, you know, being, they always had my back and they always looked out for me and, you know, they helped me out and they never gave up on me.

[00:31:22] So, you know, I always had them. And, um, fortunately I was lucky enough that I, you know, got through [00:31:30] my, you know, my craziness and my chaos. I can’t say I’m through it completely yet, but you know, I’m, I’m like doing a lot better now than I was five, 10, 15 years ago. I always had a support structure and system, you know, by my side to look out for me and you know, a lot, a lot of people, they don’t like people, their family, their friends have already given up, given up on them and I get that.

[00:31:55] And sometimes it’s hard to, to not give up [00:32:00] on people. Sometimes you just, you just want to like. shake up and, and, and say, screw it, I’m done. But you, you just got to keep on loving them and keep looking out and keep on trying. And, uh, eventually, hopefully they’ll get through it. And you know, the, you know, they’ll, uh, and even if, uh, 

[00:32:23] William Lawrence: for being there at the bottom.

[00:32:25] Yeah. And 

[00:32:25] Julia Miller: even if they never get to like the a hundred percent [00:32:30] level where everything’s peachy keen, everything’s fine. And life is fantastic. At least they’re There’s still around, they’re still alive and there’s still another chance, you 

[00:32:38] William Lawrence: know? So, um, what can you report from what you’re seeing out there, um, among the people you serve, um, right now in January, 2024, you know, there’s another local agency is reporting that the number of people who are homeless.

[00:32:52] And seeking shelter in Lansing has increased, um, 300 percent this [00:33:00] year, and we know it was already up significantly since the beginning of the pandemic, even before it went up another 300%. So, uh, Julia, what can you report about the conditions you’re seeing? Among people who are struggling, um, this winter, uh, on the streets of Lansing.

[00:33:16] Julia Miller: There’s definitely an increase. I don’t know the exact number, but I know there’s definitely an increase. We’re seeing more and more people and, um, are coming across more encampments, uh, more people wandering the streets, [00:33:30] more people saying that they’re staying at friends or sleeping in the car. They’re, you know, sleeping in bandos.

[00:33:37] Definitely an increase of people who are not living in what one would consider a home, a house, a place where they’re paying rent, they’re paying their bills. They, they are, have a lease or a mortgage or anything like that. So yeah, and that’s, it’s definitely, it’s increased. And it’s sad to say it’s, it’s increased in the last.

[00:33:59] A couple of [00:34:00] years since we started doing this. And like I said, you know, you know, I, I would love to say, you know, that we, we can, we can end homelessness and we can, we can ensure that, you know, everybody has a house and the, honestly, I can’t say that I can do it. I can say it can be done. There are methods, there are ways, there’s, there are things that could be done.

[00:34:19] Um, I like to advocate for those things. I like to push for those things. But, uh, is it, is it, is it, is it going to happen? I’m not sure. 

[00:34:28] William Lawrence: Jerry, one of the things you like to say is [00:34:30] that, um, poverty never takes a day off. It’s with us every damn day. Um, why is that important to remember and how does that guide your work?

[00:34:41] Jerry Norris: Well, I think it’s important to remember because we all deserve leisure. We all deserve to be able to take a break and have downtime and all of that. But. We should never close our eyes to the fact that not everybody gets to experience that [00:35:00] being in poverty, being living on the streets, you know, that is a tough job.

[00:35:05] You are carrying around a lot of weight. You are got a lot of stress. You’re probably, you know, got a bad problem with your foot and you got a problem with your tooth you’ve got. I mean, And to forget about that, to even be able to forget about it for a second, I don’t know, it must be some kind of joy because I can’t, it buzzes in my head constantly that there are [00:35:30] people out there that are suffering.

[00:35:32] There’s, there’s a person out there right now that probably needs to get a dose of Narcan. You know, whatever, however quickly that’s happening. But all of this stuff continues to happen. And there’s a whole lot of people and nobody on this call right here, but there’s a whole lot of people out there that like to shut that away and like to, you know, put it away.

[00:35:57] And they, they get to put their job away and they get to [00:36:00] go home. And some of us don’t get to do that. And whether that’s by choice or it’s by, I don’t know, some weird empathy that I caught as a disease later on in my life. Um, I don’t know what happened to me that tried, that made me so empath. Um, but. You know, I think it’s important.

[00:36:23] It is a constant pressure, and that is what we’re up against. It’s important to [00:36:30] understand the magnitude of these problems and the urgency in which we should be solving them. You know, we can’t You know, well, nobody’s going to die on Christmas Eve because, you know, it’s Christmas Eve. Well, in 2022, two of our community members and one of their dogs died on Christmas Eve.

[00:36:51] And so these days you don’t get a break from the poverty. And to me, I don’t think any of us [00:37:00] should take a break until all of us are off the streets and all of us are out of poverty and all of us have. The basic needs that, you know, are really our basic rights. If we could figure out a way to fight for them properly.

[00:37:15] Um, you know, we shouldn’t be taking a break. Somebody’s child is out there on the street with bare feet right now. Somebody’s mom is OD and in a bathroom while they’re, you know, they’re taking care of their three year old brother. And they’re only [00:37:30] six, you know, this shit is happening constantly and. It’s why is, why is there not more of us?

[00:37:38] Why, you know, why isn’t there 10, 000 people in that capital on September 5th? So that’s why it’s important to me. 

[00:37:51] William Lawrence: This goes to the next question I wanted to ask, which is for both of you. I know, I think I’ve connected with both of you, uh, even without necessarily saying it around [00:38:00] a feeling of anger and really disgust with the way that, um, our system treats people.

[00:38:06] So, um, what makes you angry? 

[00:38:10] Julia Miller: I had said earlier that it makes me angry that this work that we do is even necessary. I mean, I shouldn’t be doing this. I should, I, I should be, you know, working a day job. I should be, you know. Being a veterinarian [00:38:30] or writing poetry or doing something else. I shouldn’t be doing this work.

[00:38:34] This work shouldn’t be necessary, but it is. And because it’s necessary, I guess I’m the one that’s doing it because I don’t see nearly enough other people stepping up and to do it. So I guess I’m going to be the one that does it. 

[00:38:52] Jerry Norris: Um, and from my perspective, I think, I think I have two types of anger. One is a kind of reactive anger [00:39:00] where.

[00:39:00] When I see the waste or the cause or the neglect happening and it’s so obvious to me what we should be doing to fix this and people just ignore that or they don’t want to or they don’t care, I can get angry about that. But there’s also this, you know, I’m going to go back to my wrestling days. Part of it is just getting my adrenaline going so I can get through the day.

[00:39:27] I’m, you know, I can get angry by kind of slapping [00:39:30] my face and my arms and doing my little jumping around. You know, if you see me stretching out on the porch of the fledge, you, I think that there’s going to be something violent happening. I, I mean, these habits come back to me. And so part of it is just, you know, when I want to go sit.

[00:39:48] Talk to city council. I might need that adrenaline rush to get that passion out there, you know, to try to get them motivated to do something. So [00:40:00] I think that, you know, It’s what makes me angry is apathy is closing your eyes to it and knowing that it’s out there. And yeah, 

[00:40:12] William Lawrence: something I’ve been saying lately is that when hope dies, anger remains.

[00:40:19] I’ve experienced that a couple times in my life where like, I, I, I’m in a time of going up, feeling hopeful, feeling inspired. And like things are possible and [00:40:30] then, uh, you know, whatever, catch a bad break or things don’t go your way, make some mistakes. And then now I’m feeling depressed. And, you know, I think in the pandemic years, the depths of the lockdown years, especially 2022 and the.

[00:40:43] When the unemployment ran out and it just sort of like was clear that nobody gave a shit about us. It was just, those were, those are some, some of the toughest years for me and, and, and, and some people around me, but it was like, and I remember feeling really Just [00:41:00] down in, in the second half of 2022. And then it was kind of stupid, but I watched that show, um, and or , it was a Star Wars show.

[00:41:09] I’m not really into the new Star Wars, but the, and or was actually amazing. And they have all these, uh, monologues about, uh, all kinds of things that are, that are very political. But there’s a scene in the last episode where. Though the woman who has died, she’s giving her speech from beyond the grave. And she just says, if I had one more day, basically, [00:41:30] I would, I would get up in the morning and I would fight, fight the empire.

[00:41:37] And then they all go and they, I mean, people should watch it. I mean, uh, I, I didn’t really spoil it. Cause it’s, it’s, it’s all, it’s, it’s very, very worth watching, but I watched that and I was like, That’s right. You know, sometimes it’s like, because I like to, I had been attached to the idea that like, whatever, me being good, my self worth is about the fact that we’re going to win, we’re going to win on the big stuff.

[00:41:58] Like we’re actually going [00:42:00] to house everybody. And we’re actually going to stop the climate from warming like in my lifetime. And, you know, I still want to believe in that. And I still want to, I want to fight for that and strategize. And I think we can accomplish that, but like, I don’t know, I can’t always hold on to the certainty.

[00:42:15] That we are going to do it. And sometimes it seems certain that we’re not going to do it because of how, how stacked things are against us and how deep the hole is. But like, man, the anger can help because it’s just like, if I’m going to do nothing else, I’m going to fight somebody [00:42:30] because this isn’t right.

[00:42:31] So I appreciate that.

[00:42:38] Jerry Norris: Hi, this is Kayden, the publisher of Convergence Magazine. There are a lot of places that you can put your hard earned money in support of our movements, but if you’re enjoying this show, I hope you’ll consider 

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[00:43:18] Jerry Norris: Thank you so much for listening.

[00:43:24] William Lawrence: Let’s go to the other side of it, which is in the midst of it. What is something that, uh, that, that inspires, uh, each of [00:43:30] you? I 

[00:43:30] Jerry Norris: think what inspires me is that, well, you just inspired me, right? That, that kind of, I know you’re acting and we’re reenacting that scene, but. I’ve seen you do that on the Capitol Alarm, that passion, that, uh, uh, that feeling that comes out when we do feel like we’re going to win, that there is a path here, that the, that the hope does exist.

[00:43:57] And. You know, [00:44:00] it’s not just you. I see people in all these different spaces doing that all of the time. And what inspires me is that it’s seeing all the little islands, not the little islands, the different islands. They’re not all little that are happening around here that. You know, some of them, I don’t see how they’re interacting with each other, but most of the little islands don’t understand [00:44:30] how big and powerful they are and how close they are to crossing in with another one that makes them 10 times bigger.

[00:44:38] And it just feels like there’s this coalition of the people forming around all these different interests that are starting to come together as. Hey, this is the same cause. This is the same solution. Let’s do this and all of us are going to benefit. And I see that coming. [00:45:00] And oh, it’s so beautiful when all the armies show up at once.

[00:45:06] It’s going to be awesome. 

[00:45:08] William Lawrence: You got anything to add to that, Julia? 

[00:45:12] Julia Miller: Yeah, I mean, I’d say like other people. And as far as, um, as far as what inspires me is when When somebody that I’m, that I’ve, I’ve been, you know, [00:45:30] a participant or a person who’s, who’s, who’s been coming and, and getting, you know, checking in with me, getting supplies, getting services when, when they’re doing better.

[00:45:42] When they, when I can see that they’ve made some form of progress, you know, that motivates me to keep on going and keep on doing it. And when, when I have people reach out to me and say that, Hey, you know, we don’t have anything like that here in my [00:46:00] area, you know, what can I do to make this happen or to do something similar?

[00:46:06] And so when I see that, you know, I saw something that, that, uh, Was a need that needed to be met in my area. And I reached out and attempted to make it happen. And then when other people are reaching it, now they’re reaching out to me and they’re asking me, how can I do that in my area? So that was like, well, shoot, we actually really [00:46:30] did something here.

[00:46:30] And like, so now, you know, now it’s growing and it’s building and it’s, it’s like festering and happening in other areas and maybe us doing that here helped to. to inspire them. So like that inspires me so that I got to keep on going. I got to keep on doing the thing because you don’t know how many other people are going to like, are going to grow out of this.

[00:46:57] How many other little [00:47:00] grassroots harm reduction orgs or activist movements or whatever are going to grow out of what you’re doing. So I, I, that’s what inspires and motivates me. 

[00:47:09] William Lawrence: So, you know, I agree with what Jerry was saying that, you know, none of us should be feeling really comfortable. I think in the midst of the society we live in, you know, I just took a couple weeks off for, um, for, for Christmas and the new year.

[00:47:21] And the first day I was off, I felt like, man, I gotta be back home. I gotta be. You know, it was, I was feeling bad and [00:47:30] then I, you know, I kind of got used to being on break. But so I, you know, I don’t think any of us should be fully comfortable, but um, you know, we do need to regulate emotionally so that we can survive and we can be our best selves for other people.

[00:47:42] You know, you’ve both dealt with these, um, crises in a very personal way in your own lives. And. You’re immersed in it, um, through the people you serve and work with daily. And I know it can get heavy. So, uh, what can you share about, you know, your approach, um, to keeping yourself level, keeping your, your [00:48:00] emotions regulated, if that’s even the right question to be asking?

[00:48:03] Why don’t Julia, you go first and then back to Jerry. 

[00:48:06] Julia Miller: I will admit I am terrible at that. I’m bad. I, I don’t know how to turn it off. I don’t know how to stop it. And you know, it’s. It’s, it’s, it’s not something that I can say, okay, you know, clocking out at five and we’re done for the day and you’re not going to think about it again until tomorrow morning and you know, and these problems cease to exist for the next, you know, [00:48:30] 16 hours.

[00:48:30] It’s just, it just doesn’t work that way because you know, you, I’m still, I’m still, you know, Even if I’m not physically doing anything, I’m still in my brain. I’m still thinking about like, what do I have to do next? And what, what, like, what, what’s the next thing and what’s the next thing? And, and how can I do this?

[00:48:50] And how can we make this different? And so I, um, I don’t know how to regulate things in as far as how to [00:49:00] shut decompress or, or. Self care. I’m the worst possible person ever for that to ask that question. I, I don’t know. 

[00:49:13] Jerry Norris: And yeah, I don’t think that, uh, listening to me as a life coach is a very healthy either, you know, I, I picked up on that, oh, you had just got back from a trip and all of that.

[00:49:25] And I was saying that I don’t mean to say that that’s, you know, it’s, [00:49:30] uh, it’s not healthy, you know, and I think what Julia, I’m going to echo a lot of what she’s saying is that I don’t think it’s a question that, um, I don’t think it’s a question that You know, probably every time we hear that question, well, how do you take time for yourself?

[00:49:45] How do you make sure that, you know, it’s like, how are we going to do that? You know, we’re, we’re rushing a front right now. We feel, I feel like I am in a war. There has been a war on us. I keep saying that the [00:50:00] war on drugs, the war on poor people, the war on black and Brown people, the war on indigenous people, this war, we are in a war.

[00:50:10] And I know that it’s not at the Gaza level or the Israeli level, but it is a war where people are dying. There are casualties. There are decisions being made that, um, put us in a situation where I do feel like I am in a battle. [00:50:30] And so Within this battle, it’s harm reduction. Again, I’m trying to stay alive through this and I’m trying to keep those around me alive as well.

[00:50:42] And I think it, you know, but, but for my family, they force me, right. They make me do stuff with them. They make me get this out of my head and I have a strong and resilient family and I’m lucky for it. And great friends, [00:51:00] great friends. 

[00:51:02] Julia Miller: And I’ll admit, um, so on this past Friday, I, I did take the day off because I, unfortunately, I, one of, one of our cats died.

[00:51:13] We had three cats. One of them passed away on Friday morning or Friday night. We discovered her Friday morning, but immediately, as soon as we found her, I was just like, I’m, I’m not going to work today. I’m taking the day off. I, cause this sucks and I’m just [00:51:30] not, I’m just not going in and immediately, you know, messaged my, uh, my coworkers and was like, take a day off.

[00:51:38] And they’re like, okay, fine. You know, we got you. And even though I was not. Sitting in my office, the fledge, I still had, I was still answering emails. I was still taking phone calls. I was still, you know, people were sending me messages and asking me questions and I was still responding to them and I was still like, you know, doing stuff until finally I was like, you know what, no.[00:52:00] 

[00:52:00] Put, put your damn phone down and stop answering the messages. And, and, and this can wait. And I took a nap, one of my other cats curled up on me and we, we took a nap together and I, I, I, I slacked off for a while and I didn’t do a whole lot. And after. A day of doing that, I, you know, thought, I was like, you know, that felt really good.

[00:52:24] And dang, I could get used to that, but also like, I don’t want to get used to that because if I, [00:52:30] if I do that too much, I feel like if I stop, I’m never going to start again. If I put it down, I’m never going to pick it back up almost like I’m never, I’m never, I’m never going to, I’m never going to get going again.

[00:52:40] So it’s almost, I feel like I can’t stop. Because I’m afraid if I stop, I won’t ever do it. I won’t ever start again. Yeah, 

[00:52:47] William Lawrence: I think there’s an interesting question here, which is how much of this is a grounded assessment about, um, you know, how to keep going and, and then how much of this is also, um, phone addiction because we know that the, we know that phone companies, uh, [00:53:00] really don’t want us to put the phone down and that’s, that’s their job is to keep us.

[00:53:04] Keep us online. So, um, we’re going to do another episode sometime about, uh, another social movement that some friends of my friends of mine want to start, which is about, um, uh, politicizing the way that, um, technology is shaping our consciousnesses, but a lot of directions we could go with this, but I want to move to a couple of questions about politics, um, as we, uh, wind our way towards the conclusion here, how have the two of you historically thought of the work you [00:53:30] do, um, in relation to politics and.

[00:53:34] You know, so called structural change and maybe the answer is, you know, not at all. I’m just doing whatever I can to do harm reduction or maybe you’ve seen that, you know, explicitly as a alternative to politics. Politics is dirty. What I do is like, you know, um, uh, pure and simple, uh, or maybe something else, or maybe it’s evolved over time.

[00:53:55] Um, I’m, I’m curious how you’ve thought about that in the past. And how [00:54:00] you’re thinking about it now, 

[00:54:01] Jerry Norris: it is important to me, but it, it’s important to me only in the, in regard to the recent, I guess, the recent history before I just considered myself an anarchist and I didn’t. need to vote. I didn’t need to be involved in all of that stuff.

[00:54:21] I was going to build things that I knew would work. I was going to build things, the future that I wanted to see and hope that [00:54:30] everybody would kind of join me in that. And I thought that that would be good enough. But I had always heard this phrase, you know, poverty is a policy decision and I sort of agreed with it without completely understanding what it meant.

[00:54:47] And when the Lansing housing commission decided to sell those scattered houses to SK investments that started all of this, I think, uh, you know, the housing [00:55:00] subcommittees and then rent is too damn high and all of that, when all of that happened, it really sunk in to me. Why poverty is a policy decision and how these policies and what HUD was supposed to be doing, but not doing, was not protecting us and how our senator couldn’t do anything to intervene to at least have an assessment.

[00:55:25] All she could do was bang on pots and pans and [00:55:30] So now it starts to become more certain to me that we need to do something politically. We need to get the right people. And, you know, I used to think that, you know, Andy Schor is just a little guy. You know, he’s just the mayor of Lansing. I’ve spoken with the, the sheikh of Dubai, Andy Shore.

[00:55:51] He’s just the little guy like me. And it’s not, it’s very life kind of, uh, [00:56:00] changing decisions are made at these local levels. And I really started. Focusing on that a couple of years ago when this whole thing with the Lansing housing commission. So it used to not be so now, you know, you gave us a list earlier.

[00:56:15] I’m an anarchist and I’m a socialist. And at the end of the day, I want to direct democracy and I want us to be. Autonomous. I want us to be decentralized and I want us to be organized [00:56:30] because I think the masses will, uh, we want to help each other. We want to love each other. And if we could just do what we’re, we want to do, I think we’d be really good.

[00:56:43] William Lawrence: Thanks, Jerry. How about you, Julia? 

[00:56:46] Julia Miller: And kind of echoing what Jerry said. I mean, there’s a. I feel like almost everything’s political. I mean, food is political, um, and poverty is political. And the war on drugs is political. The, uh, every, every [00:57:00] overdose is a policy failure. I didn’t start out doing this, you know, to, to, you know, go to protest and to, to talk and to, to get into, you know, the laws and everything of it.

[00:57:16] I, I, I got into this because I was. Sick of seeing people that I cared about die. I was sick of seeing people that I cared about, you know, being cold or hungry, or, or, you know, friends of mine who [00:57:30] were, who were overdosing or losing their, their family members to, to, to the war on drugs and, and, but, you know, soon enough, it became a thing of like, you know, we are very, one thing I will say about, about this.

[00:57:50] Particular area in Lansing with, when it comes to harm reduction, we are fortunate that in Ingham County, [00:58:00] we are allowed to have things like a needle exchange, and we’re allowed to have Narcan on the street corner. We’re allowed to have a lot of the things that we, we have here. Um, the rest of the system is completely screwed as far as housing and food and everything like that.

[00:58:19] But that. At the very least, we’re making some steps forward and not every 

[00:58:25] William Lawrence: place in the country where your work would be a legal, I mean, you would, you would be arrested for doing what, [00:58:30] what you 

[00:58:30] Julia Miller: do. Yeah. And initially when we first started doing this, it was illegal. Initially when, when, when punks with lungs first started doing this, we did not have the policies in place that we do now.

[00:58:41] And what I was doing was completely under the table, completely on the DL. And had I gotten caught, I probably would be. a lot of felony charges on me. Um, but that’s not the way it is here. And that’s not the way it should be [00:59:00] anywhere. You know, as far as, you know, And, uh, so that’s where we jump into that, you know, yeah, we do have to advocate for ourselves and advocate for others so that this can be all over the place in every county and every state and every country and where we can advocate for, you know, harm reduction supplies.

[00:59:22] We can advocate for safe use. We can advocate for, uh, you know, over prevention centers and, you [00:59:30] know, that is. Becoming, I’m not going to say normalized yet, but it. In my mind, and, you know, that’s what we’re all fighting as far as people in the harm reduction community, that’s what we’re fighting for. That’s where we’re, we’re fighting to, but you know, ways to keep each other safe.

[00:59:50] And, and now, yeah, we are having to go to, you know, we’re becoming a lobbyist and having to go and talk to our senators and [01:00:00] our legislative and, and, and go to all these. and, and committees and everything and, and discuss like what’s going to happen with the opiate settlement funds and, and, and advocate for, for everybody, not just for ourselves and, and it all has become incredibly.

[01:00:21] politicized. And, you know, that’s, that’s good. Cause that’s how we get things changed. That’s how we make a difference. And we’ve got to fight for ourselves and fight for each other. And [01:00:30] I never really thought as far as like being, yeah, like, uh, being pretty much, you know, anti government most of the time and feeling like, you know, uh, you know, more like a anarchist socialist that.

[01:00:44] I didn’t really want to be that person. I didn’t want to like, I didn’t want to, the fact that I’m, I’m actually like working within the system and working with the system and, and, and talking to politicians and talking [01:01:00] to police officers and like, and, and kind of. Seeing the, the commonalities and, and, and seeing like what we can do to get what we need or get what we want.

[01:01:18] And, and it’s not all just, you know, going in there, guns a blazing with a Molotov cocktail. It’s, you know, we, we gotta, we gotta like work within the system to get what we want. And like, that’s, [01:01:30] and here we are. 

[01:01:33] William Lawrence: And we got to learn how to build more power because we’re not getting everything we want yet on housing or on harm reduction or on any of these issues.

[01:01:40] So I think that’s part of the next step is for our community here in Lansing. How do we, how do we continue to build like a, a, a learning, a learning community so that we can integrate these things we’re learning about how to. Build power effectively or ineffectively, how to advocate effectively or ineffectively, because we still take a lot [01:02:00] of Ls all the time, and so I’m trying to keep that chip on our shoulder, you know, like how do we, how do we get into kind of like a, you know, approve it mentality Because I actually believe that we can like elect a majority of the city council and elect a mayor in Lansing and build like a workers tenants, unhoused people movement that can.

[01:02:20] They can actually turn this city upside down, but, but I don’t think many other people would believe that yet. I don’t think that our enemies believe that we’re capable of that yet. Uh, I think [01:02:30] that’s part of what’s on our agenda for 2024 is to really envision that and then put the chip on the shoulder.

[01:02:37] Learn from the L’s and start to learn how to rack up more wins Speaking to people who are maybe coming at it from more of you know The political power building perspective people who are political first and approach things from that lens some of the people I mentioned in the intro who may be skeptical of mutual aid or harm reduction strategies because they see [01:03:00] it as a distraction or it all you’re doing is Putting a band aid over the gaping wound and the wound is is still just, you know, gushing blood and We’re not dealing with the structural crises that are putting people in poverty Um, what would you say to those folks who kind of have that attitude who would dismiss the work that you do?

[01:03:20] Because they believe it’s contrary To the vision of moving towards political power and maybe what do they need to understand about folks like yourselves who come at it [01:03:30] from this bottom up perspective so that we can all actually be building more power together? Jerry, let’s start with you. 

[01:03:37] Jerry Norris: I would say that the thing that they may be misunderstanding or not.

[01:03:43] I guess grasping about all of this is that if you aren’t in the trenches with the people that are experiencing this, that are living it day by day, that know exactly how they got to where they are. I’m not guessing that, Oh, they started [01:04:00] using drug. Now they’re homeless. The people can tell you exactly what their path was, what their journey was.

[01:04:05] Most of them started using after they were homeless, because it’s a painful thing that you have to go through, but you don’t learn these things by sitting in, you know, some room and studying policy and brainstorming and trying to understand something where the people impacted aren’t in the room. And so when.

[01:04:26] You know, it looks like maybe the FLEDGE, and I’m not [01:04:30] going to speak for Julia, is just out there trying to do harm reduction without the analysis that we’re doing, the root cause analysis that we’re doing, the corrective actions that we’re trying to take, the preventative things that we’re looking at, how this is going to be verified, all types of things.

[01:04:49] You know, We’re doing so much in technology and systems building right now that I can’t, I don’t [01:05:00] even know why I would talk about it with anybody because they’re like, that’s so nebulous. That’s so abstract. You know, I need to get on with you more because it’s not nebulous to me. It’s not abstract to me.

[01:05:12] Some of the things that we might be able to do with the blockchain, for example, in, Being able to vote and being able to have a direct democracy where every major decision isn’t just relegated to some guy that you recognized his name on the ballot, you [01:05:30] know, so voting politics, these changes that we need, that you, that you guys fight for so much, they are right in our alley of what I think we need to do.

[01:05:42] And to me, you know. The best thing that can happen for the fledge is for Julia to get stronger and stronger and stronger every day, or for the housing people to get stronger and stronger and stronger every day, or the food insecurity, because that then [01:06:00] starts to take that burden away from me. And gives me the capacity to work on what I’m, I think I’m really good at, which is the systems theories work, the, how are we going to change a future?

[01:06:14] Because it’s one thing like people are saying to feed a person all day, but we’ve got to teach them to fish and we’ve got to teach them what to do with that fish and we got to teach them which kind of fish and all kinds of things. But. You know, [01:06:30] to get there, we’re going to have to change some systems and, you know, it’s probably not going to be burning them down because it’s, then we’re going to be left with nothing.

[01:06:39] Um, but they might collapse on their own and that’s going to be a huge problem. So to me, it’s what, what are we going to do if they do collapse the current ones, what are we going to do if we do tear them down or what are we going to do as an alternative so that people can start moving [01:07:00] to a new way of looking at.

[01:07:03] Capitalism or housing or socialism or whatever they need to look at differently. 

[01:07:10] William Lawrence: Thanks, Terry. Julia.

[01:07:15] Julia Miller: Oh, I mean, as far as the people who question what, you know, what we’re doing, uh, the, you know, the, the way that things have been done for years, obviously isn’t working. If it was working, we wouldn’t be where we’re at and. [01:07:30] You know, there’s, there’s room for like many different methods, you know, to, to see what, what works and what, what’s not going to work.

[01:07:38] And, you know, as far as with, with, with us, it’s not always just, you know, okay, here’s your safer use supplies, you know, go forth and, you know, get high and be merry. It’s. It’s, you know, building a relationship and building a trust and building a bond with [01:08:00] people and getting to know them, getting to know, you know, where they, where they came from, like what, what, you know, what’s motivating them, like what, where they want to see themselves at, and also, you know, educating people who aren’t, you know, Living this life and aren’t, you know, a person that uses drugs or a person who’s on a house or a person who’s impoverished and like educating people.

[01:08:24] So, you know, you don’t fall into these traps and [01:08:30] also the people who are already, you know, living in this life, as far as like, you know, what can we do to, you know, help you to be safe and like get you and get to know like what’s going on with them and motivating them, building them up. And keeping them going.

[01:08:50] And you know, also like, hey, you know, what can we do to ensure that you’re not just, you know, taking hands out, like, you know, [01:09:00] like getting, getting food from the food pantry. What can, what can we do to keep, keep you, you know, going and, and it’s about like creating. Impact and in creating a space where, you know, they feel like they have a choice and they’re empowered themselves.

[01:09:18] And that’s, if that comes in the form of like a drug users union, if that comes in a form of like talking to people and finding out like what their, what their problems are, what, what their [01:09:30] situation is like, what, what, what’s, what’s created this, you know, space where they’re in and what’s going to help them to, to, adjust, get out of it, um, get through it.

[01:09:43] And what can we do to, you know, help people the most. And it’s, it’s a lot of everything. It’s a lot of, it’s not just, you know, handing out supplies. It’s a lot of like, you know, free therapy. And, um, [01:10:00] and, and, and getting people involved and getting people active and giving them, giving them something to do, giving them something to look forward to, giving them something to, giving them something to live for.

[01:10:09] Um, and, and, you know, hopefully all of that together. And educating the people who, who need to understand that, like, you know, it’s, it’s not just, you know, a problem that’s affect, you know, affecting like a certain demographic or it happened for a certain [01:10:30] reason, like, Oh, this, this happened because this person grew up in this lifestyle.

[01:10:35] It’s, you know, that it, it impacts so many people and that. We just have to like work together and educate everybody and, and help to, uh, keep our people, uh, healthy and motivated and alive. 

[01:10:52] Jerry Norris: I think that one thing that a phrase Julia uses, or it’s used often in harm reduction, is it shouldn’t have to have happened to you [01:11:00] for it to matter to you.

[01:11:01] And I think that, you know, Julia will always be my hero when she’s doing this work because, you know, If Julia existed 15 years ago, maybe Quality Dairy would have had Narcan in their public restroom. And maybe my daughter would have lived long enough to get into that ambulance and you know, all of those things.

[01:11:23] So when it happens to other people, they start to empathize a little bit more, but I would [01:11:30] warn them. There’s a lot of grandmas and grandpas out there dying of overdoses that nobody’s talking about because you just aren’t. Fred’s at the newspaper, ain’t gonna write it in the obituary that way, you know, and This is happening.

[01:11:45] Like Julia said, it’s, uh, if it’s not affecting you, you’re damn lucky or you’re blind. 

[01:11:54] William Lawrence: So let’s bring it home with one last question. Jerry, [01:12:00] I’ve often thought that like if we had eight more places like the Fledge in each neighborhood around Lansing, we would be so much farther along the road towards building power because people meet at the Fledge, they find their agency, uh, they Start to believe that their ideas matter.

[01:12:16] Their visions for themselves matter. And that is such an important part of that move into, you know, having agency and then taking political action and being able to unite with others. So whether it’s here in Lansing or anywhere, um, we’ve got [01:12:30] listeners all over the country. Um, what advice would you give to somebody who wants to build a community center as the first step towards building community power?

[01:12:40] And then we’ll close with a question for Julia as well. Well, 

[01:12:43] Jerry Norris: I think it’s probably, you know, three of our first core values. One is values, not rules. We don’t try to have a lot of rules around here. Rules are kind of, you know, they favor the status quo and the status quo never favors the oppressed. And [01:13:00] so they are just, they constrain people and they keep them from being themselves.

[01:13:04] Then you’ve got to do, um, radical inclusion. And that means saying yes to people before you even see them or hear what their question is and just becoming the yes place. And then third thing would be you have to trust people and it sucks and you get hurt and you get angry and you get. If you start keeping score, you’re going to [01:13:30] definitely be losing, but show people you trust them because they’ll start trusting you.

[01:13:35] And when that trust starts cycling like that, then you don’t have to worry about, you know, anything else because you’ve got a relationship now. And that’s really all any of us really. Julia, 

[01:13:50] William Lawrence: what advice would you give to someone who wants to do harm reduction and mutual aid work? Um, maybe kind of like that advice that the folks in East Oakland gave to you.

[01:13:59] Julia Miller: [01:14:00] I will say that it’s the most rewarding and most heartbreaking work you’ll ever do. So, you know, make sure that you have a, A strong support system and a strong stomach and and make sure that you Have have boundaries. I I had to learn that quick. I’m still learning every day that you know, I And the, and, and, uh, and, uh, understand that, um, you’re not gonna, you’re not going to save [01:14:30] everybody.

[01:14:30] You’re not going to win every, every battle there’s, there’s going to, there’s going to be a lot of hurt, but, but for the, for those that you, um, that you do help and that you, you, you do inspire and, uh, and, and, uh, whatever benefit that, that comes out of it, it’s, you know, celebrate the, the wins, however big or small they are and, um, It’s not always going to come in the way that you.

[01:14:58] Expect it to, or if you [01:15:00] think it’s going to, it’s not going to be, you know, I mean, I like to say that, you know, eventually I’m going to work myself out of a job that, that, that, uh, you know, poverty and food insecurity and, and. Ovariosis is going to cease to exist and, and I’m, I’m just going to have to go, you know, get a job at Taco Bell or something.

[01:15:25] I don’t know. But, uh, but I, uh, [01:15:30] that might happen. It’s probably not going to happen, but you know, um, but that you’re not, you’re. Basically, you’re not going to win them all, but just take, take, take the wins as you can and, uh, celebrate the small victories. 

[01:15:48] William Lawrence: Julia and Jerry, thank you so much. Um, this has been a real, um, honor to get to hear more of your thinking about your own work.

[01:15:55] I appreciate your, your candor and, um, your openness to this [01:16:00] conversation. And, um, let’s keep building and let’s keep, um, serving. Uh, let’s make great things happen here in Lansing. 

[01:16:08] Jerry Norris: Well, thank you. Well, it’s an honor to be on the screen with both of y’all.

[01:16:14] Julia Miller: Thank you. Appreciate it.

[01:16:19] William Lawrence: This podcast is written and hosted by me, William Lawrence. Our producer is Josh Elstro, and it is published by Convergence, a magazine for radical insights. You can help support this [01:16:30] show and others like it by becoming a Patreon subscriber of Convergence for as low as 2 per month at patreon. com slash ConvergenceMag.

[01:16:38] You can find a direct link in the show notes. This has been the Hegemonicon. Let’s talk again soon.

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