Detroit's Social Forum inspires in a city that has suffered

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Three years ago, I followed my heart to Atlanta, Georgia, to attend the first U.S. Social Forum. I had attended several World Social Forums and was convinced that this new way of organizing was building social movements in a more democratic and inclusive way.

I was also part of a failed attempt to organize a social forum in Canada that hit against the shoals of national conflicts. So when I heard there was to be a U.S. Social Forum, I knew I had to go.

Attending the U.S. Social Forum in Atlanta that summer of 2007 was one of the most powerful experiences of my political life. And now it is happening again, this time in Detroit. Unfortunately, USSF2010, taking place from June 22 to June 26, coincides with the G8/G20 in Toronto. Not many Canadians will be able to make it across the border to attend, but if you can I guarantee it will amaze and inspire you.

In Atlanta, the social forum was led by poor and working class people of colour and women. It was radical, it was militant, it was feminist, it was anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist, it was queer, it was loud and lively and it was brimming with love, kindness and a deep sense of solidarity. I wrote a widely circulated report about it at the time.

And the forum in Detroit promises to be even better. Here is how the website describes it: "The U.S. Social Forum (USSF) is a movement building process. It is not a conference but it is a space to come up with the peoples' solutions to the economic and ecological crisis. The USSF is the next most important step in our struggle to build a powerful multi-racial, multi-sectoral, inter-generational, diverse, inclusive, internationalist movement that transforms this country and changes history.

"The USSF provides spaces to learn from each other's experiences and struggles, share our analysis of the problems our communities face, build relationships, and align with our international brothers and sisters to strategize how to reclaim our world."

This year in addition to the forum itself, there will be numerous allied meetings of social movements including an Allied Media Conference, an Assembly of Jews Confronting Racism and Israeli Apartheid and a Disability Rights conference. A March to Fulfill the Dream started in New Orleans on April 4 and will arrive in Detroit documenting stories of poverty and resistance and supporting poor people to attend the USSF. The caravan has visited 17 cities so far highlighting the massive spread of poverty and growing inequality in the wealthiest country in the world.

The symbolism of Atlanta for the first U.S. Social Forum was obvious, building on the shoulders of the civil rights movement, Many veterans of that movement spoke and were honoured during the forum. Why Detroit? "Detroit has the highest unemployment of any major city in the country -- 23.2 per cent (March 2009) -- with nearly one in four Detroiters unable to find work. Thousands of living wage jobs have been permanently lost in the automotive industry and related sectors. What is happening in Detroit and in Michigan is happening all across the United States. Detroit is a harbinger for what we must do in our communities! As grassroots activists and organizers, we work to address the indignities against working families and low-income people, and protect our human right to the basic necessities of life. In Detroit, we can make change happen!"

The first day of the forum will highlight the local struggles and alternatives in the Detroit area, linking them to national and international issues. Like many social forums, the USSF2010 starts with an opening march that will pick up from feeder marches coming from direct actions along the way. I expect some pretty creative actions as Adrienne Maree Brown, the executive director of the Ruckus Society, is the national co-ordinator of the USSF this year. While workshops are self-organized, there are theme days and theme tracks to help people negotiate the hundreds of workshops. My own workshop is placed on June 25 during the Alternatives theme day, a panel discussion with Ruckus, IEN and Grass Roots Global Justice (the group who initiated the USSF) on the topic of Transforming Power. As with most social forums, I just had to register and then submit the workshop. Once the submissions closed, they informed me of when and where my workshop would be held and publish it in the program.

I could go on and on but there are an astonishing number of the cultural events, a children's social forum, a youth social forum and a wonderful spirit of chaotic co-operation and inclusion.

To give you an idea of how interesting and perhaps surprising this process is and will be here is how the organizers describe what they believe in. They are expecting at least 10,000 people and maybe more. Try to get there if you can. It will be a life changing experience.

"We, the organizers of the first United States Social Forum:

• Believe that there is a strategic need to unite the struggles of oppressed communities and peoples within the United States (particularly Black, Latino, Asian/ Pacific-Islander and Indigenous communities) to the struggles of oppressed nations in the Third World.

• Believe the USSF should place the highest priority on groups that are actually doing grassroots organizing with working class people of color, who are training organizers, building long-term structures of resistance, and who can work well with other groups, seeing their participation in USSF as building the whole, not just their part of it.

• Believe the USSF must be a place where the voices of those who are most marginalized and oppressed from Indigenous communities can be heard--a place that will recognize Indigenous peoples, their issues and struggles.

• Believe the USSF must create space for the full and equal participation of undocumented migrants and their communities.

• Believe the USSF should link US-based youth organizers, activists, and cultural workers to the struggles of their brothers and sisters abroad, drawing common connections and exploring the deeper meanings of solidarity.

• Believe the USSF is important because we must have a clear and unified approach at dealing with social justice issues, and meaningful positions on global issues.

• Believe that a USSF sends a message to other people's movements around the world that there is an active movement in the United States opposing U.S. policies at home and abroad.

• Believe that the USSF will help build national networks that will be better able to collaborate with international networks and movements.

• We believe the USSF is more than an event. It is an ongoing process to contribute to strengthening the entire movement, bringing together the various sectors and issues that work for global justice."

Judy Rebick's blog can be found here.



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