Detroit Forum Rekindles Progressive Momentum

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[National: Reporter's Notebook]

Fifteen thousand peace activists, socialists, grassroots community organizers, and representatives of various progressive social movements -- ranging from advocates for environmentalism, indigenous people’s rights and feminism to advocates for rights for the homeless, the disabled, and the LGBT community -- gathered in Detroit from June 22nd thru 26th to align and strengthen their movements at the United States Social Forum (USSF). 

Taking its cue from the people’s liberation politics of both the World Social Forum held in Porto Allegre, Brazil in 2001 and the first USSF held in Atlanta in 2007, the theme of this second USSF was “Another World Is Possible, Another US is Necessary” – that is, a world free of poverty, oppression and warfare and a US which is not the purveyor of global capitalism and imperialist domination.

More than 1,000 two hour-long workshops and 50 four hour-long “peoples movement assemblies” (PMAs) offered visions and strategies for global and US social transformation.

The panelists at one such PMA, the Black Liberation People’s Movement Assembly, organized by the Black Left Unity Network (BLU Network), addressed issues of worker’s rights, black feminist concerns, political prisoners, organizing the youth, and public education, the role of culture in the black liberation struggle and the creation of a Black Activist Journal.  A united front of several Black activist organizations, the BLU Network was the outgrowth of first USSF in Atlanta in 2007 and a testimony to the USSF’s stated purpose of “aligning and strengthening” movements and increasing their “collective power and resistance.” 

Black activists who attended the Atlanta conference recognized the necessity to coordinate their efforts and resources around issues facing “the Black nation” especially Gulf Coast Reconstruction and the displacement of a million African Americans in the wake of the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster.

Saladin Muhammad, the convener of the BLU Network, head of Black Workers for Social Justice one of its constituent organizations, and a former leader and theoretician of the African People’s Party,  has called Hurricane Katrina “the Black nation’s 9/11.”

The purpose of the BLU Network was to “unify the Black left in order to re-group the Black Liberation Movement under working class leadership,” Muhammad said, in his keynote address at the Black Liberation PMA at this year’s Detroit USSF.

The BLU Network also sponsored two additional USSF events: a Sister’s Breakfast for African American women activists and Cuba Solidarity Workshop debunking recent highly publicized statement by a group of African Americans alleging an upsurge in racism in Cuba.

With so many interesting and relevant workshops and PMAs being sponsored in a tight five day span, inevitable scheduling conflicts were perhaps the only downside to the USSF— since many participants wanted to be at two or more workshops or PMAs at the same time.

To counter one such scheduling conflict, Rosa Clemente, the well-known Latina Hip Hop generation activist and 2008 running mate of Cynthia McKinney on the Green Party ticket, successfully urged five of the People’s Movement Assemblies – those themed on Black Liberation, the Puerto Rican Anti-Colonial Struggle, Justice in Palestine, Filipino Struggle, and a PMA monitoring the surveillance, infiltration and agent provocateur activities of Cointelpro --  which were meeting simultaneously on Thursday afternoon, to hold a united people of color assembly immediately after their individual PMAs were over.

Enthusiastically, the five groups met for an hour in a huge hall met and jointly crafted a solidarity statement and a second statement which was sent to the USSF organizing committee  asserting the need to emphasize the centrality of oppressed people of color in the organizing of future Social Forums.

The following day, a Human Rights PMA convened by Ajamu Baraka and Ramona Ortega of the National Alliance for Racial Justice and Human Rights, was also largely attended by people of color, including a representative of the native peoples of Alaska who articulated issues and struggles —especially those revolving around a culturally relevant school curriculum -- strikingly similar to those faced by Black people.

The USSF workshops and PMAs were spread throughout downtown Detroit with the COBO Convention Hall as the main headquarters. Participants were shuttled to and from the various locations --for a modest fifty cents fare-- via the People Mover, Detroit’s name for its elevated rapid transit system. The People Mover only travels around a small loop of downtown office skyscrapers and hotels, one had to travel outside the loop to witness the devastation and urban blight which characterized the rest of the city, a city which is ninety percent African American.

Many of Detroit’s grassroots organizers held workshops at the USSF focusing on their efforts towards community empowerment -- including a workshop on food security; that is, alternative collective methods of securing food, including large-scale urban gardening and operating of free food kitchens.

The main floor of COBO Convention Hall included a venue the size of a professional basketball court, filled with tables manned by both distributors of free literature advocating hundreds of causes and vendors of leftwing paraphernalia including books, t-shirts, bumper stickers and buttons. Participants at the USSF ranged in age from veteran activist in their 60s and 70s to young college and high school students. The latter, especially, were coiffed with Mohawks and other creatively expressive hairstyles, and amply decorated with body piercings and tattoos. Dreadlocks and kinte cloth were quite evident among the veteran activists. The individual expressivity, the multitude of events, the plenary sessions held in the cavernous hall and parties-- including a “Leftist Lounge“ and a 95th birthday salute to Detroit-based activist Grace Lee Boggs-- that followed in the evenings gave the gathering a festival atmosphere and reminded one of a “political Woodstock.” 

Indeed the evening entertainment ranged from rock to hip hop to R’n’B, including a Motown Review advertised widely at the USSF and held at Bert’s Entertainment Complex in the Black community. An enormous complex composed of three adjoining buildings, Bert’s includes a soul food restaurant and separate staging areas for both jazz musicians and R ’n’ B artists. Those who attended the Review discovered that Detroit is laden with musical talent. Far from being amateur performers many of the local soul singers were highly developed professionals who had honed their skills for many years in order to vie for an elusive Motown recording contract.

From radical politics to cultural entertainment the USSF was a treasure trove for activists and a unique opportunity to exchange information, join organizations and to network and bond with like-minded individuals from across the nation in order to forge new political alliances, friendships, and no doubt, romances.

A popular poster on sale at the USSF -- “From Detroit To Dakar” -- announced the opportunity to forge such bonds on an international level –  in an West African setting, as Senegal will be the host of the upcoming World Social Forum in 2011. 
If you can be there, don’t miss it.

"Speaking Truth To Empower."

To attend free guerrilla journalism classes taught by Milton Allimadi, The Black Star News publisher, please show up every Monday from 6PM-8PM at True South Bookstore, 492 Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn, NY, or call (347) 425-7330. Bring a notebook and a critical mind.


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