Because I wrote this book to help spark a national conversation on the "values crisis" underneath our economic crisis, and to suggest that we will need a moral recovery to accompany an economic one, I have decided to report on how that conversation is going on every day of the book tour.
Day One: Monday, Jan. 4. Against all conventional wisdom, we decided to launch this book in what most publishers would regard as one of the worst "book cities" in America, because many people in this hard-hit city just don't have the money to buy books these days. In light of that my publishers, Simon & Schuster, decided to give away free books in Detroit -- a very cool idea.
But still, an event organized for the first day after the long holiday period and on a very cold day in the Motor City was a bit of a risk, and the organizers were worried about the turnout. But streams of bundled up people began to pour in -- almost 500 all together. I talked about why I wrote the book, and explained that I thought the country was ready for a conversation on values, and that if we just go back to business as usual, all the pain and suffering in places in Detroit will have been in vain. But if we learn from this, and decide to "re-set" some of our values, practices, and policies, this Great Recession could prove to be redemptive.
Then, a large panel of Detroit leaders responded, and the conversation the book is trying to help start began. There were economists, journalists, pastors, theologians, and community organizers. The discussion was rich and provocative, addressing the values crisis on many levels-personal and family, congregational and community, national and political. Wall Street got a serious critique, but Main Street was also challenged. And the "green shoots of hope" in Detroit, which I describe in the book, began to come out. Then the audience got involved and the discussion got even better. As I listened to my hometown crowd, I thought to myself, this is exactly what I had hoped this book would produce: a new conversation on values, morality, and economy. The line at the bottom of the cover of the book says well what we need -- A Moral Compass for the New Economy. And it is a compass we will create together.
I did four radio interviews in Detroit. The first, on the biggest and most conservative station in town -- Frank Beckmann on WJR -- included the host asking me, "Are you a communist?" But it ended with him saying, "This is a man with a good heart." The local NPR talk show with Craig Fahle was a very thoughtful conversation. The leading news station in Detroit, WWJ, did an interview; and finally, Mildred Gaddis of WCBH, the top black audience show in Detroit, caught up with me the next day. I've been on with Mildred before and as always, she went to the deeper issues of this Great Recession and how the burden on all those who were already poor has been so brutal. But as I say in the book, it may be in places like Detroit -- where all you have left is hope -- that the new signs of life will first come.
Day One in Detroit was a good day.
Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street--A Moral Compass for the New Economy, CEO of Sojourners and blogs at www.godspolitics.com.