CAGJ blogs from US Social Forum in Detroit!

CAGJ has a large contingent of activists at the US Social Forum in Detroit this week!  The Forum started on Tuesday with an opening march and ceremony. All day workshops and plenaries and music and daily protests and meeting people began in full force Wednesday.

Today we send some reflections from our journey, and notes from an amazing talk given today by Grace Lee Boggs and Immanuel Wallerstein. We will share more as we get the chance to write more! We are also including interesting commentary from Mark Engler – see below!

6/21/10 By Reid Mukai, CAGJ Co-Chair

The Day Before the USSF

While traveling from the airport to downtown Detroit at 7 in the morning, one thing I noticed (besides how incredibly hot and humid the weather felt for so early in the day) was how eerily quiet the city seemed. Very rarely are city streets in Seattle so seemingly devoid of people both in cars and on the sidewalks on a weekday morning. This surreally tranquil atmosphere was exaggerated with numerous deserted high-rises with boarded up windows extending to the upper levels, scattered jay-walkers ambling across wide multi-laned streets, and city blocks seemingly twice as large as Seattle’s (some on the outer edges of the city containing fenced-off empty fields). When I entered the USSF registration offices at about 9am, the frantic activity inside contrasted sharply with the relative peace outside. My original plan for the day was to leave my belongings at the solidarity housing location after checking in and then do volunteer work back at the registration office or Cobo Hall. Due to circumstances, I got involved in the work nearly as soon as I arrived. The office was seemingly in crisis mode with people running around, rapidfire questions and answers shouted back and forth, multiple phones consistently ringing with barely enough personnel to take the calls, more people constantly arriving while various other projects were in progress simultaneously. So I couldn’t expect them to finish my registration process for the solidarity housing immediately, but in addition to being swamped, they were also not able to get in contact with the person with the housing keys. While waiting, I helped load boxes onto vans, printed out signs for security, vendors and staff, and worked with a small group putting USSF stickers onto visors (jokingly called the “visory board”). At around noon, me and two others were finally driven to the solidarity housing at the Hague Building. I suppose I was expecting a dorm of some sort but it was a large and mostly deserted office building with a few closed-off sections shared with an acupuncture and holistic medicine clinic. The parts of the building we inhabited still contained miscellaneous office furniture and supplies, cubicle walls, and random books and files scattered around. It was my first experience with solidarity housing and felt as if I were camping indoors. After setting up my “camp” I left to explore the city. One of the sites I was planning to see was the Motown Museum. Since I did not have a map at the time I asked for directions and caught the right bus, but unfortunately it was the one going in the wrong direction. As the bus went further away from the city I saw more and more empty lots, feral houses, and feral factories. But even among the buildings overgrown with vines and weeds were homes with people hanging out on porches, working on cars, gardening and kids playing on the street. When I decided I had drifted far enough away from the city I got off and caught another bus to return. I spent the rest of the day walking back to the housing, ate dinner at a nearby diner (which despite having bullet-proof shielding between customers and employees was called “Aloha”) then went to sleep early.

6/22/10 By Reid Mukai, CAGJ Co-Chair

Workshop: Food Security in the Black Community

Despite waking up early I spent time talking to people serving breakfast at the Hague building and taking pictures of local landmarks as I made my way towards the Cobo building. It was my first time in the southern part of the city which also seemed to be the main business district. The modern Chase and General Motors buildings didn’t seem to belong in the same city as the numerous buildings with boarded up windows and empty store fronts but then again, perhaps the latter is the end result of the former? Anyway, the bulk of the morning was spent waiting in a very long line for the event registration. After completing the registration process I did a quick walk through of a large exhibition hall partially filled with tablers for non-profits, book publishers and independent artists and crafts people. Shortly after 11pm I joined a workshop in progress titled Food Security in the Black Community. Though the format was an open roundtable discussion, the primary speakers were Lila Campbell, an adjunct faculty member for Cultural Competency at Wayne State University, Patrick Crouch, Program Manager for Capuchin Soup Kitchen, and Dr. Monica White, Sociology Professor at Wayne State University. Among the topics covered were ways to address racism as it relates to problems associated with food access problems, including how it has affected Detroit’s past and present, and how to invite more community participation in projects organized by food justice groups through all the different planning stages. Later that day I attended the USSF opening ceremony at Cobo Hall featuring speeches from labor activist Sandra Williams, Detroit Local Organizing Committee member and spoken word artist Will Copeland, and numerous politically oriented musical performances. After the ceremony I met up with Heather and Travis who had just finished registering, as well as Maria and Yecelica. We all carpooled together to meet Bill and Margo for dinner at a restaurant north of the city. After dinner, Travis dropped all of us off at our respective solidarity housing locations and we (or at least I) got lots of rest in preparation for a busy Wednesday.

6/23/10 By Heather Day, CAGJ Director

Today several of us participated in the Food Justice and Food Sovereignty People’s Movement Assembly (PMA’s). This is an outgrowth of the Social Movement Assemblies developed at World Social Forums to advance social movement proposals for action.  Social Forums do not act as a body as they are meant as an open and diverse space for dialogue and exchange.  However strategies for action have emerged from Social Forums, and assemblies have played an important role in this.  The most famous example of an action that emerged from the European Social Forum was the most massive international protest in history, the anti-war protest on February 15 in the early 2000s.  Many PMA’s have taken place before the Social Forum, there are around 20 taking place on different issues here n Detroit, and there are plans to continue organizing communities through this process after the Social Forum is over.

Today’s Food Justice PMA was exciting as it represented the first time there had been a food justice movement gathering at a US Social Forum.  The fact that it came together here this year is evidence of the strength of this new growing movement, and over 100 people participated. The Assembly opened with a thoughtful overview of the current political moment. Eric Holt-Gimenez stated that it is time to make salt, referring to Ghandi’s march across India to the seas, where he made salt, and gathered diverse movements along the way, who marched with him, and succeeded in overcoming the British Empire.  Today we have several Empires to overcome in our multinational agribusiness giants, and Holt-Gimenez called on us to think in terms of a struggle strong enough to take them down.

The second part of the PMA were 10 smaller groups, organized according to key issues and challenges in the movement, with the goal of formulating possible actions we can take together to build food sovereignty.  Some of the groups were Youth and Agriculture, Labor Rights in the Food System, Access to Land, Undoing oppression through Urban Agriculture, and Building a Big Tent of Urban-Rural Alliances.  Each group made their proposals, and then participants looked for areas of overlap. These proposals will be refined in daily caucuses, and then combined with all of the other PMA’s proposals, to be presented at the National People’s Movement Assembly on Saturday.  We will bring these proposals home to our organizing in Seattle. Some of the suggestions were to take agriculture out of the WTO, to push for food to be grown everywhere and to not depend on farmers in rural areas in urban areas – city-folk should grow food too!,  to not eat any food that we know harms anyone or anything….and more.

Thanks to Grassroots International and Agricultural Missions, we had the privilege of working with partners from the Global South during the People’s Movement Assembly, including a farmer from Ramallah, Palestine, Via Campesina leaders from Honduras and Nicaragua, Haitian partners representing Collective of Wise Women, Popular Democratic Movement, Via Campesina and Papay Peasants’ Movement, farmer activists from the Dominican Republic, including the Movement of Rural Women. One of the Haitian representatives explained that in one week they organized a march of more than 15,000 peasants who rejected Monsanto’s donation of seeds. The march took place on June 4, when CAGJ also marched in solidarity in Seattle, and protested the connections between the Gates Foundation and Monsanto at the Gates Foundation headquarters.  One of the leaders from Honduras recounted what took place June 28th last year, when there was a coup d’etat in Honduras to take out a progressive president who had begun fighting neoliberalism and was calling for a constitutional assembly. The morning of June 28, shooting soldiers entered the Presidential Palace and captured the President, Zelaya, they then landed at the US base (supposedly to re-fuel, but no one believes this was the true reason), and then took him to Costa Rica. Within 2 hours thousands took the streets.  Massive protests have continued, as the dictator has yet to be removed, with the complicity of the US. 100 activists have been killed or disappeared.  In a country of only 7 million people, in one protest 3 million Hondurans mobilized all over the country.  “The blindfold has been removed” stated Sr. Alegria, and the movement is building. June 28th will be marked by a celebration of the popular resistance of the Honduran people.  The Palestinian farmer discussed the extreme conditions suffered by the people of Palestine, and stated “You can’t reach food sovereignty without independence.” He said he was confident that Palestine would achieve its own state.
Immanuel Wallerstein and Grace Lee Boggs
-Heather Day’s notes from 6/24/10 talk (this is a draft, my apologies for mistakes)
Moderator: Scott Kurishige, professor of history, co-author with Grace Lee Boggs
-Boggs the daughter of Chinese immigrants, received Phd in philosophy in 1940, African American movement.  With partner, James Boggs, developed theories of Bloack Power and a new America Revolution.  Boggs is 95, and between the two they have over 100 years of political engagement! Bogg’s new book: The Next American Revolution. Started the Boggs Center.

Today Wallerstein a senior research scholar at Yale, and writes a bi-weekly column (highly recommended).  Wallerstein is most known for his extremely influential modern world system theory – volume one of his groundbreaking study has been translated into 14 languages.

Moderator – Three Key Concepts unite them 1)Ideas matter, 2)We need to understand our place in history – as Boggs would say, what time is it on the clock of the world? Put into context the current crisis! 3)We need to understand the connection between local places and global systems.

They received a standing ovation at the beginning of the talk!

Boggs said she first met Wallerstein on the first page of the New York Times Book Review in 1975. She has turned to Wallerstein’s ideas over and over. His analysis that democracy is a bourgeois

Utopia-ists: Wallerstein wrote a paragraph that Boggs uses all the time: “the world of 2050 will be what we make of it”. We have the power within us to change the world. That is the role that intellectuals can play.  Often when you join a radical organization you think all that matters is practice and action, but ideas are essential.

Wallerstein has admired Boggs a long time bc she incarnates the idea that though the struggle is long it is also immediate – you have to take care of the present if you are going to have any realistic impact on the future.  Worked hard to make life better immediately for people in Detroit, but also trying to transform the world with a longer range prospect.

Moderator: What are core concepts we need to make sense of making change?

Boggs lived through Detroit becoming the national and international symbol of industrialization, then de-industrialization, then post industrialization and laternaitves. Living at the expense of the earth and all people has brought us to the edge of disaster. it is upt to s – it is that time on the clock of the universe where we face evlution to a high humanity or the destruction of all life on earth.  Revolution is also evolution – what I have learned.

Wallerstein states that we all live in historical systems, and these systems do not go on forever. Current system of capitalism that came into existence 500 years ago, and it goes on and has a normal life – i have been trying to do that – but systems don’t go on forever, they move slowly away from equilibrium until they get too far away – that is where the modern system is today.  It is coming to an end and to its destruction, to a structural crisis. Not because so many people are oppressed and don’t want this system to survive – that has been true for a long time – what is new is that the system does not provide the possibilities in its own terms, and does not work. Endless capitalist expansion is impossible, and we are now in extreme disequilibrium.  The powerful will not give up easily – they have money and guns – but that does not mean we can’t win. Another world is possible – it is possible, not certain, and that is up to us.

Boggs – when I became an activist years ago I wanted certainty, so I was attracted to Marxism. We have to live with uncertainty.  We have to make a new revolution – what we are trying to achieve is not to prove that our analysis was correct.  Wallerstein says in uncertainty there is hope – fundamental to understand this.

Wallerstein: People are at the USSF bc they know that there is a deep problem with our current system.  Capitlaism based on idea that there should be an endless accumulation of capital. You accumualte capital in order to accumulate capital in order to accumulate capital – you are on a treadmill.  It depends on growth, people talk about it all the time. Growth per se is not a plus or a minus – cancer is growth too!  In indigenous movements of the Americas, they talk about buen vivir – to live well – it is not to endlessly consume, it is to make ratoinal arrangement with the world – which requires restraints as well as growth. This is the kind of system we want to create – not the system that those in Davos want to create. The capitalist system has the consequence of hierarchy, polarization and ….. The consequences for organizing: people have to live in the present: have to eat, have to sleep – you can’t tell people if they wait for 5, 10, 20 years things will get better. That was the line of historic anti-systemic movements.  You have to combine organizing that means we work for today but you also have to work for tomorrow. People need to have less pain immediately – does not transform the world, but it addresses the present. Then also have to have long-range strategy, 30 – 40 years to new better order.

Boggs – important to think about word ‘system’. When i became a radical i thought of the system as something you could wipe off the blackboard, that was in-tact.  I didn’t realize that it was something that had been created.  As an individual, think about how you think about change, how do you imagine it?  In Detroit in 70s and 80s, all we could see was blight, vacant lots.  Some African-American women saw these lots as places for gardens that would meet a basic need, but also a place to inspire change in young people. The urban agriculture movement developed out of this.  Will Allen, first African-American basketball player at University of Miami. When he retired he thought back to when he was growing up in rural America, when people were poor but they had enough healthy food to eat. So he started farming in Milwaukee with 2 acres.

Wallerstein: A fundamental aspect of capitlism is the commodication of everything – goal of all activities are to make profit. This process has not been easy for capitlaists. Up until 50 years ago, universities, health-care, bodies and water were not commodified.  In attempt to find last bit of growth, everything is being commodified.  One of the things we can do is to resist commodification, de-commodify what ever possible.

Boggs – have you read Blessed Unrest, by Paul Hawkins? Talking about resistance to commodification is a human impulse. All over the world people are resisting commodification. Why we are here. We are creating a new movement for a radical revolution in values.  How many of you have read Martin Luther King’s speech on Vietnam War – he is speaking to the dehumanization of war and capitalism.

Moderator: What is the the current moment we are in: economic crash, recession, quagmire in Iraq and Afghanistan. What is unique about this moment?
Wallerstein – we are not in a recession, we are in a depression – people don’t want to use the word, as if not using the word will wash it away.  I was reading this morning about private profit making universities, which did not exist before, but now there are many all over US.  They make money by getting students to take out loans. Yesterday in the newspaper, the US Congress is discussing the next bubble being the student loans that students can’t pay back. Fluctuations in world market are so radical that it is impossible to predict. Pension funds, for example, are invested, and they have been going up and down so fast, they are not sure what to do with the funds, and mistakes are made. Funds end up getting cut.  Almost everyone is aware that the war is being lost, McChristol was just forced to resign, replaced by Petreus: why would he do such a stupid thing? My analysis is that he was not stupid.  He is setting new rules for military that they don’t like it. Like they should be more careful about bombing, he postponed going into Kandahar. He said to himself that it is not going to work, and he did not want to be blamed for it, so he said, I will get myself fired. I think the US will have to withdraw in same way that Russia had to withdraw from Afghanistan, and US had to withdraw from Vietnam. Unavoidable sitatuons where there are no good choices for US government.  Another example: Spain is in trouble – has too much debt etc. Everyone telling Spain you have to cut your budgets. Spanish voted severest cuts in history of Spain. The next day the ratings of Spain’s bonds were downrated. Their argument: cutting the budget reduces possilibty of growth – damned if you do, damned if you don’t.  There isn’t any good thing to do: no good choices faced by governments today, it is a losing game. Who can be blamed?  Governments get voted out to be replaced by governments with same bad choices.

Moderator: Liberal reforms were enacted to make people believe in the capitalist system. But they can’t work.
Boggs – Why did World Social Forum begin? Began in 1999 in Seattle at WTO protests, inspired the alternative to World Economic Forum that started in Porto Alegre, Brazil.  It is not that Obama is weak, it is that the system is dysfunctional.  What do you do? You look for alternatives amongst ordinary people who seek ways to survive through the food they grown, the water they drink. We think of the movements of the sixties too much as the identities of blacks, latinos, women etc – They were all involved in a search for a new human identity.  We have to know how to think philosophically and intellectually.  Starhawk analyzed witch hunts were inaugurated to expropriate land of peasants and knowledge of women….philosophy is not an abstraction, it is a way of thinking – we can think with our hearts or only with left side of our brains. We are learning from science that our brains are much more complex that we realized.  We need to talk about another education, in the way that Freedom Schools imagined it – not just to learn something to regurgitate on a test, but to use education to serve our community, for each of us to become full-fledged citizens, K-12, and to develop a more participatory democracy.  Our democracy is obviously dysfunctional, we have challenge of changing that, and starting with young kids. The role that labor played is now played by those involved in education – maufacturing is not just about creating things, but also to create people.

Wallerstein: The WSF is very different from all previous attempts to change the world.  Before all major anti-systemic movements were hierarchical organizations that believed they should be only organization, and believed that there would be single movement with sectors led by specific groups, and that stood for the revolution. In 1968 this sense was ended, of the single hierarchical movement. Took 30 or 40 years to develop World Social Forum to bring together whole range of social movements, in terms of scope  (local regional int’l), in terms of focus (labor, women, LGBT, ecology).  What does the WSF say should happen? Movements should talk to each other and not denounce each other, to understand things they might have not understood about other movements, where they can find cooperation.  I am a great believer in the Social Forums – people say they don’t make a difference, but they do, and it is a growth industry, if there is one – there are Social Forums all over the world.  Some people unhappy, and there are responses to criticisms. People ask where is the action?  it is where we make action – it is the consequence of networking made possible by Social Forum.  Hope some of you will make it to World Social Forum in Dakar, Senegal, 2nd WSF in Africa.

Boggs: Melissa Young and Mark Dworkin made a wonderful film about 2nd WSF, 20 minutes long – Moving Images Films

Changing concepts of revolution: not a one-time event, but a protracted process.  Everything we do is about creating new relations:
Boggs – most people still have in their minds the hierarchical model of revolution from 1917, need to see how people became captives of the state.  Have not thought enough about what has happened since 1917. Need to internalize changing concepts of revolution.  How do we create the new ideas, alternatives? How do we get beyond oppositional thinking that boggs us down? Revolution is a new beginning – not in how we make a living, but in how we think, in our concept of what it means to be human.   If we come out of Social Forum with one thing, it is to become more theoretical.

Moderator joked that we would now recite the Communist Manifesto. Boggs responded that Marx wrote a wonderful paragraph about the constant revolution, which ends with these words (which Boggs recited from memory): “all that is solid melts into air, all that is sacred….and its relations with its kind”.

Role of creativity in making new world?: (W)It is the reality of uncertainty that creates the possibility of creativity. Creativity is the center of possibility, and that compensates us for not knowing what is going to happen tomorrow. (B)Einstein talked about imagination being more important than knowledge – imagination allows us to project the future. In 1992, when we were critiqued for rejecting casinos, we created Detroit Summer to involve young people in rebuilding redefining and respiriting Detroit from the ground up – that is an act of creativity and imagination. That kind of organizing allows us to imagine the future differently.

What can we learn from Iroquois Constitution? (missed part of this question) (B)Democracy of US constitution is a democracy of its time…next American revolution has to be very different from previous ones, it has to be giving up (us?) things. Until we acknowledge this, we will face terror. To get ride of terror or fear we have to give up conveniences, we have to understand negativity that comes from consumption and accumulation.

How do you see Venezuelan socialism on 21st century?
(W) Latin America in last 10 years has had remarkable series of elections in which various versions of left of center governments have come to power. How come?  In part bc of what is going on in Latin America, and in part bc US did not have military and ecnominc energy to handle situation in ways they historically did that Gvt was putting such enormous energy to middle east. Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil, El Salvador (added by h) – all very different from each other: Changes geopolitical situation significantly.  Makes alternatives a reality. We also have right-wing coup in Honduras, and in Colombia right wing guy just won elections – Latin America is an autonomous actor on world scene. A very good thing – limits US and Europe in some ways on the world stage. They have instituted various versions of social-democracy. Is this transformative? no. Is it minimizing the pain? yes. (B) I think it is important what is happening in Latin America, but more interested in whether this is socialism – where does this idea come from?  Utopian socialism was replaced by scientific socialism of Marx and Engels, seen as a sequence that leads towards communism. If you don’t believe in this, you are seen as a knave, a fool.  We can’t use the same word with the same kind of naivite that we ted to. Every concept has historical origin, created by creative people of their time. We have to create vision of our present. We do know that the change will not be hierarchicial, patriarchal, focused on industrialization. (W) The way i answer that question is the world that is relatively democratic and egalitarian – a world we have never had.  What are the institutions of this system? We don’t know.  They could not have imagined the structures of capitalism in 1450 as feudalism was ending and capitalism was growing.  We can say that we’ve got to push and set it up on a certain fundamental thrust – we want a system that is relatively democratic and egalitarian – I use relatively bc no structure will ever be perfect.  There is no true democracy or egalitarian government or country in the world.  Is Venezuela establishing 21st century socialism?  I don’t think so, and i don’t think they can. Are they pushing towards a new system? Yes.  Workers in China push for a better deal, in the right direction.

Boggs – I think it is wonderful to be in a room where people talk about 14th and 19th century.  Such a gulf between generations, we don’t realize what we have lost of our humanity. Democracy is not just a bourgeois concept….What is important that democracy is  a concept that is now in contention, that needs to be created.

Are we closer to true transformation now than when you began your activism…with a trend towards right today? I want to put this question into context: Grace Lee Boggs born June 27, 1915.  Vincent Harding also acknowledged – he wrote the first draft of Martin Luther King’s Vietnam speech.  Big 95th birthday party for Grace tonight.  Glover also coming for party.
(W) There is a trend towards right, as well as trend towards left. Today we see Bolivia ruled for first time by first indigenous leader. They are ideas under contestation, and that is a great thing, no one is immune from critique – that is very important.
(B) It is a great thing that there are elders here!  You all are evidence that we are closer than when we joined movement.  When I joined in 1941, the ideas that dominated movement were ideas of 1917.  We argued about other countries, it was not clear to us that an American revolution would be different. I was in Cuba in 1966, and I heard Castro speak, said a wonderful thing – said we are not a socialist country or a communist country, we are a socialist country with a communist dream.  Good that there are workshops her about bringing spirituaity out of the closet. Don’t think you can become a revolutionary unless you have a very rich idea of spirituality.

Anger is very important motivating force. But compassion is key too – how can we use them for social change?
(W) Anger will lead you to strike out to not necessarily the real enemy, but who ever is closer. It has to be tempered with cold analysis, which will lead you to compassion. importance of putting yourself in others’ shoes…
(B)We are each other’s business and harvest. It goes back to an epistemology, a theory of knowledge that is not just the brain, but of the heart, an epistemology of the heart, that recognizes how we are each other’s – to be on the clock of the universe where we can make the change to recognize that ‘others’ are part of ourselves. That is a wonderful place to be alive.

Number of questions about non-profit sector….Non-profits over dependent on money for our movement work and lack of acknowledgement of economic conditions. Do non-profits help us create transformative change?
(W) Progressive Omaha ran workshop yesterday – topic was how you run a movement on no money.  Explained what they can do that cost nothing or very little. That is admirable.  We probably can all do many things on less money than we think but on the other hand, to come from LA to Detroit, someone has to pay for the trip, you have to raise money from somewhere. You can raise it from other poor militants, or a non-profit. Is there a price to pay? There always are, every time you take money from anybody, but you can balance that, work with a difficult situation.  We are having a WSF in Dakar. Getting to Dakar is an expensive proposition!  You have to buy plane ticket, you have to stay there, it is an expensive city. Who will pay?  SHould WSF accept money from Ford Foundation or someone else? Some say that is terrible bc of their ties. Could result in small delegation of people. There are no good answers.  Before independence in Africa people would talk about being bribed – you gave the bribe and then you do what you want!
(B) Young people in college want to be community organizers. Some took grants from non-profits in order to do that.  That seems better than becoming part of rat race.  Non-profits in Detroit right now partner with groups trying to shut down schools, and they have to be fought.  A very complex question….the Boggs Center is making so many contacts, so many opportunities to expand. we will have to decide what to do.

The Next American Revolution, Chapter 6 addresses this question, coming out in 2011, as well as volume 4 of Modern World System by Immanuel Wallerstein.

Your vision of 2050?
(W) we will talk about capitalism of system of past. WHat is my vision? i don’t know!  If enough of us flap our wings repeatedly

How do we dismantle white supremacy distinct from our efforts to dismantle capitalism?
(W) It is not distinct. Capitalism is racist. It is a multi-layered thing, not with good people and bad people, but racism is in the movement. Has to be attached systematically, in all of its manifestations. Can’t have assumption that there are some people that are outside.
(B) Some of Obama’s staff members came to meet with Boggs Center, what we tried to tell them applies here. You need to get the young people talking to their parents. Young people decide their parents are hopeless. But parents are the ones in right-wing movement. They have lost their way of life, they can’t see a good future their kids rant and rave at them, but they are human beings, and our challenge is to weaken opposition, but not be strengthen it by hurling epithets. There is a lot that can be done in this room to weaken right-wing. The US is in a terrible state of the world. Several losing wars, unemployment.  We have to understand clock of the world, and our role now.

Can you reflect on what keeps you going, motivated and still struggling, what sustains you?
(W) What else can we possibly do? (big applause)
(B)I was very fortunate – I was born female (big applause), mother taught me to read and write (there were no schools in our Chinese village), my father believed n education, I was a graduate student and i came across Hegel, and I discovered that progress does not happen like a shop out of a pistol, it takes a labor of suffering. Have to understand how to make negatives a positive – the labor and suffering of the negative enriches the concept of the possible. In these difficult times there are people inventing new ways of cooperating, people coming to detroit and buying rows of houses, and giving them a lift collectively, honest and young people – it is amazing.  To live in the system, you can’t do it yourself, it takes too much of yourself. There are ways to you can build the collective, eat together, bike, there are so many things we can do that makes us more human and at same time help to create the new society.

From the U.S. Social Forum
June 23, 2010, by Mark Engler

I arrived in Detroit on Tuesday for the start of the United States Social Forum, a national-level incarnation of the World Social Forum. The latter was first held in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2001 and was conceived as a people’s alternative to the World Economic Forum—the exclusive annual gathering of economic elites in Davos, Switzerland.

In this tradition, activists from around the country are getting together this week under the slogan “Another World Is Possible. Another U.S. Is Necessary.” Detroit is a symbolically important location for the assembly. As a commentator on Truthout noted:

“Detroit, a city especially ravaged by the decline in American manufacturing and the foreclosure crisis, was called ‘the ultimate reflection of America’s pain’ by ‘Dateline NBC.’ But it was not chosen to host the forum only for its status as poster child of the global economic and environmental crisis—unemployment in Detroit was at 15.5 percent in March—but also for the grassroots social movements which have begun to fill the void left by a lack of social welfare and regenerative funding.”

Some predictions have suggested that as many as 20,000 people will be attending the social forum. During the opening ceremony an organizer offered a more modest estimate from the stage, stating that “over 10,000 people” had registered and that “over 1000 workshops” would take place.

Whatever the final numbers, lack of mainstream news coverage of the event is almost a given—although there’s no good reason that more than 10,000 people calling for a political agenda significantly to the left of the Democratic Party’s should warrant less attention than Tea Party events that have been of similar size (or, in many cases, smaller.)

My own initial survey suggests that youth activists, the anarchist Left, and representatives of community-based organizations in major U.S. cities are well represented here. I suspect that a variety of international solidarity movements, radical environmentalists, and people working on food issues will also make a solid showing.

Missing, however, are two additional constituencies that were major parts of the global justice movement’s “Seattle coalition”: organized labor and mainstream environment groups. The AFL-CIO made favorable mention of the Social Forum on its blog, noting participation by some union leaders such as UAW President Bob King and Metropolitan Detroit AFL-CIO President Saundra Williams, who briefly addressed the opening ceremony. Yet I did not see big blocs of union t-shirts in today’s mass march through downtown Detroit, and labor’s involvement in workshops seems to be limited. Likewise, if the Sierra Club or their brethren intend to make a significant appearance, they have thus far escaped my notice.

This is unfortunate, for while labor and Big Green may have been the most moderate factions of the global justice coalition in the years around 2000, they brought to the movement a suggestion of greater resources, wider reach, and a disciplined political program. In turn, the more unruly community-based constituencies prodded some usually cautious labor and environmental groups into more vigorous stances on issues of trade and development, among others. That global justice moment was, in other words, a period of unusual cross-fertilization and unexpected alliances.

While more modest, what is on display here in Detroit seems to be healthy enough on its own terms. I’ve come because I support opportunities for progressives to meet, talk, learn from one another, and be inspired. Still, given that this is meant to be a major gathering of the U.S. Left, the question I am wrestling with is: do we owe it to ourselves to expect more?

— Mark Engler, a writer based in New York City, is a senior analyst with Foreign Policy In Focus and author of How to Rule the World: The Coming Battle Over the Global Economy (Nation Books, 2008). He can be reached via the Web site

Posted in Agra Watch Blog Posts, Food Justice Blog Posts, News, Trade Justice Blog Posts.

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