U.S. Social Forum in Detroit

Against the Current, No. 146, May/June 2010

Dianne Feeley

2010 IS A year of one, two, many Social Forums around the world, including the second U.S. Social Forum. The first USSF, attended by more than 12,000, was held three years ago in Atlanta. It featured an opening march that wove through the city streets, stopping for rallies at important sites of social struggle, including Grady Hospital, where activists from AFSCME Local 1644, explained their opposition to the privatization of the city’s largest public hospital. The Forum, the result of two years of planning by a National Planning Committee, included plenaries each evening and 800 workshops.

The World Social Forum begun a decade ago in opposition to the World Economic Forum, which is held annually in Davos, Switzerland, attended by governmental officials and the business class. First organized in Porto Alegre, Brazil, the World Social Forum was conceived as an event delegitimizing neoliberalism, positing another model for humanity and strengthening international networks of social activists. After several successful World Social Forums in Brazil and India, the International Council decided there was the capacity to build regional Forums.

Grassroots Global Justice, an alliance of people of color-led U.S. grassroots organizations, initiated a process of preparing the ground for U.S. social forums by building a National Planning Committee. Today the NPC encompasses non-profits, left think tanks and social movement organizations. Following the successful Atlanta USSF, the NPC discussed sites for a second forum.

Why Detroit?

Detroit seemed like a logical site: a city with militant working-class and Black power traditions but where capitalism has devastated its manufacturing base. Once a city of 2.2 million, Detroit now has a population of less than a million; official unemployment stands as 28.8% but it seems closer to 50%. The school system is being destroyed through charterization. Detroit is ground zero of a decaying system.

Yet the city’s resources are still found in its people, their music and art, their community gardens, and the idea that the closed plants should be reconverted to 21st century manufacturing needs. Planning for the USSF in Detroit has been anchored by Centro Obero, East Michigan Environmental Action Council, Michigan Welfare Rights Organization and Southeast Michigan Jobs with Justice.

On June 22 the USSF2010 will open with a march, led by the indigenous community, and highlighting ongoing struggles in Detroit. These include shutting down the city’s incinerator (unlike many urban areas, most Detroit neighborhoods do not have curbside recycling); opposing police brutality and forcing DTE, the utility that provides the region with gas and electricity, to end the shutoffs that result every winter in deaths. This year marked 14 more deaths: Vaughn, Markesha, Demonte and DeMarco Reed, Trovion, Fantasia and Selena Young, Booker T. James Sr., Jeffrey B. Garrett, Lynn Greer, Tyrone Allen, Marvin Allen Sr., Welton Crawford and Davion Grant.

The first day of the USSF will focus on Detroit and the Region, the following day on International issues and the final full day on Alternative Visions. Saturday will conclude with the People’s Movement Assembly. Since the Forum itself is a coming together of the social movements rather than a decision-making space, the PMA provides participants with an opportunity to develop future plans. For further information, and conference registration, go to http://ussf2010.org/.

Several organizations plan to have their meetings in Detroit, before or after the USSF2010 — including Allied Media Conference, Hip Hop Congress, Green Party and Labor Heritage Foundation.

Another World Is Possible
Another U.S. Is Necessary,
Another Detroit Is Happening.

ATC 146, May-June 2010

1 comment

  1. The peak population recorded by the US Census in 1950 for the City of Detroit was about 1,850,000. Is the figure of 2.2 million in the article a mistake or some sort of extrapolation? Many on the left in particular criticize census figures for missing people in its various counts.

    I grew up in the City of Detroit, attended Detroit Public Schools, including Cass Tech, have eclectic left wing political views and wonder where this figure comes from. I note that the editorial roster of Against the Current includes people whom I doubt are from Detroit, but I know that Solidarity is definitely based in Detroit (I recall an earlier address on Michigan Ave I think, but see no address now).

    Detroit (city and larger urban area) was the site of vicious racial and social struggles. At its peak it was probably the best organized union town in the world and had high wages and very good social benefits for most of its workers. The UAW contributed books on labor history to the libraries of the Detroit Public Schools (I read a lot of them), it also gave founding money grants to WDET and SDS.

    Our nation now sees the old time industrial heartland (roughly the Northeastern 1/4 of the country) greatly reduced in importance. All of the old line industrial cities lie in ruins, not just Detroit. The Southeast is now the most prosperous part of the country with its crackpot rightwing militarism fueling a government funded boom based mostly on police state and militarist institutions funded by the drastically socially regressive tax and socio-political system of late US capitalism. The Southwest and much of the West was built into its current form largely by Federal monies that subsidized the dams, irrigation systems, and highways that tied together the region. It would not exist as a modern society without those investments. Both regions were greatly subsidized in their rise by tax money from the Northeastern 1/4 of the country. The Southwest is vulnerable to serious disruptions from water shortages, it is a desert after all. The Southeast has a heritage of low wages and very poor quality public institutions. The indigenous population has not benefited very much from the ongoing boom there and has, in fact, suffered from the greatly increased real estate prices and other changes in the area. Most of the good jobs and other benefits have gone to migrants from the North and foreign countries.

    The corporations and the rich avoid paying anything remotely resembling their share of the taxes to support our society. They have the power to do this, but even they cannot supply sufficient soldiers for their imperialist wars. The expensive “all volunteer” military is the response to the social unrest of the Vietnam Era, standards have been lowered, recruiters troll the working class high schools and video arcades, foreigners are offered citizenship for military service. Even then large numbers of mercenaries are necessary.

    Clearly some sort of people-centric, environmentally sound society is necessary. Capitalism will never provide it. Unfortunately the US left basically committed suicide during the 1970s and 1980s. Here I might be against the political beliefs at Solidarity, but in my opinion the divides in our society are, in order of greatly descending importance,
    Class-Race-Gender. To the extent that Race and to a much lesser extent Gender affects Class these are important categories, however if you have money you are generally immune to the unfavorable effects of these categories. The US left mostly advocated an order of importance of Race-Gender-Class. This helped make the US Left more vulnerable to the vigorous attacks of the ruling class from the 1980s through to the present. Working class whites were coopted by the right wing forces and the consequences of this were dire to say the least.


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