DETROIT – “People get ready, there’s a train a comin’,” goes the classic song by the O’Jays. It may not be a train that is going to hit Detroit June 22-26 but it is certainly going to pack the power of one.
From all over the country and beyond, thousands will come by bus, van, car, bike and foot to participate in the U.S. Social Forum here.
Some will have walked all the way from New Orleans.
On the opening day at 5:00 p.m., everyone will get a chance to walk some more. That’s when the opening massive march will take place along Detroit’s main “spoke,” Woodward Avenue, which runs through the heart of the city.
The questions of who and why were answered during a phone press conference by the Social Forum national organizers last week.
“Why” people are coming from around the country is their belief in the World Social Forum slogan “Another World is Possible,” organizers said, and it will become a reality through grassroots community-based organizing.
“We are in the midst of a massive transition and transformation: a new political landscape is being shaped by America’s first post baby boomer and African American president” said Karlos Gauna Schmieder, USSF national communications co-chair.
Americans across the political spectrum are asking “How are we going to govern ourselves and organize our communities? What is the role of government and of corporations in our lives?” Schmieder said.
New political and social movements are emerging in response to those questions, and they will be converging at the Social Forum in Detroit.
They include: domestic workers fresh off a battle for a domestic workers’ bill of rights in New York; immigrant rights activists and trade unionists organizing against the Arizona ant-immigrant profiling law; teachers, students and parents who have been protesting education budget cuts; activists involved in social justice issues, heath care, climate concerns and much more.
Social Forum field organizer B. Loewe added that we live in a globalized world, we need globalized solutions and we need a globalized social movement.
Citing the Tea Party, Loewe warned that while progressive-thinking people have a window of opportunity to make progress, we know “justice-minded agendas aren’t the only agenda on the table.”
The five days of the U.S. Social Forum will feature over 1,000 workshops, many cultural presentations and other opportunities for people to connect and share their experiences.
The event will give an immediate boost to local activists who have been struggling to shut down Detroit’s polluting incinerator. USSF National Coordinator Adrienne Maree Brown said the incinerator is the country’s largest and “its waste is ending up in all of our lungs.” She said that actions demanding it be shut are planned during the forum.
Demonstrations are also being organized in front of local energy company DTE, whose shut-offs of heat and lights have forced residents to find alternate ways to heat their homes. Families and children died from the resulting fires and asphyxiation.
Local USSF organizer Maureen Taylor said, if people across the country don’t organize, “What’s happening in Detroit is coming to your neighborhood.”
Direct actions during the forum will also be aimed at Chase Bank, responsible for many foreclosures in the area.
Also participating in the Social Forum press conference was Jenny Lee from the Allied Media Conference, an annual event which shares common goals with the Social Forum and is partnering with it next month. The Allied Media Conference will run here June 17-20 at Wayne State University’s McGregor Conference Center, ending just as the Social Forum begins.
Lee said this year’s Allied Media Conference will have hands-on workshops on media-based organizing on a variety of social justice issues from education to gender.
She also said that in partnership with local Detroit organizations the media conference will leave behind a community wireless network, a radio station for local organizing and a mural project developed by Detroit’s young people.
Meanwhile, the United Auto Workers is holding its national convention in Detroit the week before the Social Forum. It will all add up to two very exciting and busy weeks for the Motor City.
Social Forum coordinator Brown summed it up: “It will be impossible for anyone to be bored while they are here.”