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Hey, Detroit, help's on the way.
On April 4, a group of progressive activists started out from Mississippi's Gulf Coast, headed for the Motor City — on foot. They expect to arrive here in time for the June 22-26 United States Social Forum 2010. There's a group pedaling here from Washington state on bicycles. Motor caravans headed in from San Antonio, New Orleans, Atlanta and Albuquerque, N.M., will meet along the way to make a grand entrance into the city. Organizers expect the motorcade to be 2,000 people strong when they arrive in time to march down Woodward Avenue with what some predict will be as many as 25,000 folks from all over the world.
It'll be the opening of the United States Social Forum 2010, an event the likes of which the city has never before seen.
This is going to be a lot bigger, and have a bigger local impact, than those Michigan tea parties a few weeks ago. USSF2010 is "a space for movement convergence and strategy exchange," says Lottie Spady, an associate director of the East Michigan Environmental Action Council, one of four official anchors along with Centro Obrero, Jobs with Justice and Michigan Welfare Rights Organization.
So what's this "space for movement convergence" stuff? The point is that USSF2010 is not a convention. Some 1,200 progressive organizations and 5,000 individuals from around the world have registered so far. They're coming together to discuss strategy, share ideas, network and engage in actions. Pretty much the entire spectrum of progressive causes and concerns will be represented — environment, labor, gender and sexuality, poverty, youth, education, race and culture, peace, technology, hunger and more. You name it, USSF has it.
"People are coming to Detroit to learn from and build with Detroit," says Adele Nieves, national communications coordinator for USSF2010. "Detroit has a rich history of alternative strategies and alternative economies. We hear about economic collapse, foreclosures and the lack of education here. People will come here and really see what's going on. This will be a national conversation and out of that conversation will come other actions."
There will be plenty of action, with some 900 organized events at Cobo Center, Hart Plaza and other places around the city. Leftist Lounge fundraiser parties will take place the evenings of June 22-25, at the Johanson Charles Gallery, Bert's Marketplace and Eastern Market Shed No. 3. Any registered organization could submit up to two workshops or cultural events. Detailed information is available at ussf2010.org.
The USSF has already had an impact on Detroit. The organizing process did that.
"There's been a tremendous amount of work that has helped to galvanize and unite organizations across the city," says Spady. "The Detroit organizing committee has really grown through its outreach and communications. Seeing it weave its way out into the community showing folks, ‘This is relevant to me.' Issues of jobs, poverty, there's something for everyone. We hold listening sessions. This is really about a people's movement, really at the grassroots level."
Groups that have come here for planning sessions have also done community work at places such as the Hope District on the east side and the Hush House near the New Center area. There have been demonstrations against police brutality and for workers' rights. There will be more of that during the social forum. A People's Movement Assembly is scheduled each day — such as an anti-incinerator demonstration and food justice activity. Participants will come into the community and work, doing things like expanding urban agriculture projects and dismantling empty houses to recover materials for reuse.
In May, a group plans to create a fish farm at the Nsoroma Institute Public School Academy. Some of the people arriving on bicycle intend to leave their vehicles here for community use. And the Media Center assembled at Cobo will donate some 100 computers to local organizations after the forum. Murals will be painted at some locations. When participants leave, there will have been an impact on the city beyond the dollars spent while they were here. And, hopefully, local organizations will be energized with ideas and strategies to move forward, as well as the sense that they are part of a larger movement.
"I think, given the nature of what's going on in the city right now, it's especially timely," Spady says. "The mere fact that it's taking place here is historic in and of itself. The tone of the city, with right-sizing and the public schools and commercial agribusiness proposal, it's a really a good time to see some alternatives. The social forum is about to show alternative ways of doing and thinking in all these areas."
Some of that will be highlighting good things already going on here — contrary to the Detroit shown in a recent NBC Dateline special. One of the people involved in the USSF and already making a difference here is Yusef Shakur, owner of the Urban Network Bookstore on Grand River Avenue. Shakur has written a book, The Window 2 My Soul, which chronicles his personal journey from incarcerated criminal to community activist. He's worked to create peace zones in the city, done gang mediation, donated school supplies to children, and worked on urban civility through his Bringing the Neighbor Back Into the Hood initiative.
"It's just about taking time to listen to neighbors and ask how they're doing," he says. "It's something we've gotten away from. Neighbors don't even know each other anymore."
Next month Shakur will host the 9 In-9 Out Celebration: 2nd Chance Day, which marks his nine years of freedom and activism after nine years in prison. The event highlights ex-cons making a successful transition back into society. The model of Malcolm X going through a transition while imprisoned is similar to his own experience. While Shakur was incarcerated, his father, also an inmate, helped him change his worldview so he could successfully change his life. Call 313-459-6008 for more information on 9 In-9 Out.
"People don't see themselves as social activists, as part of a larger community," he says. "If I had experienced this early in my life, I'd probably have become a social justice activist sooner. During my time in incarceration, my father put those values in me."
The USSF is an outgrowth of the World Social Forum that first convened in 2001 in Brazil in reaction to the G8 Summit where capitalists were pushing their worldview in planning the economic and social direction of the world. The WSF is a way to push back and create an alternative voice. In its 10 years the WSF has sprouted various regional social forums such as the USSF.
The USSF motto is "Another world is possible," and the eyes of the world will be on Detroit. USSF2010 will feed live streaming video of its events worldwide, and there will be live feeds of forum activities taking place in other countries.
Another Detroit is possible too — one with direct input from the people on its direction is the one I want. Maybe we could have a cup of tea, sit down and discuss it.
Larry Gabriel is a writer, musician and former editor of Metro Times. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.