(This is the fifth (and last) in a series of posts by Executive Director, Kirsten Moller as she pedals her way to the US Social Forum. Read on as she shares her journey from Upstate NY to Detroit and the lessons learned along the way.)
Downtown Detroit doesn’t look much like the rest of Detroit. Some people say that the city is revitalizing itself from the center outward. Its high rise buildings glisten in the morning sun, the neon signs from the Casino across the river shine with promise of instant wealth and the river walk is a pleasant stroll from the hotel to the Cobo Center where 10,000 people are meeting to talk about a different kind of revitalization.
Nolan Finley, an editor for the Detroit News welcomed the Forum with an editorial entitled: “Detroit hosts leftist cavalcade” calling the gathering a “hootenanny of pinkos, environuts, peace-niks, Luddites, old hippies, Robin Hoods and Urban hunters and gatherers. In other words, a microcosm of the Obama administration.” When we read the piece out loud the only thing we disagreed with was the last microcosm part. We are not here to endorse the current policies which escalate the war in Afghanistan under new leadership, which allow the oil disaster in the Gulf to continue and, without a doubt to replicate itself in the future, and which is creating cities and rural communities hanging on to fewer and fewer social services.
The idea of the forum is to put people first, to confront neo-liberal policies where ever we find them (and sometimes they are well-hidden) and to link our struggles in a web that can begin to transform our world as we confront the power of the corporations and the state.
Since the beginning in 2001, unions, community based organizations, youth groups, NGOs and artists have attempted to build a sense of community and dialogue that can augment and amplify each other’s work. The official newspaper of the forum reminds us that “this path puts people over profits and values action over pontification.”
But for leftists who struggle daily to have a voice in their communities, the temptation to pontificate is sometimes just too great! When faced with a list of over a thousand workshops to attend, it is impossible to figure out which one is going to cut through an analysis of where we are, to a vision of where we want to be, and how we are going to get there together. The result for many of us is that we flit from partial workshop to partial workshop, hoping to find the one truly inspiring meeting that will make it all worthwhile. Its kind of like being at an all-you-can eat buffet and trying to taste a little bit of everything with the end result that you feel stuffed and unsatisfied.
So the challenge for today is to pick a topic, stick to it — enjoy the energy and diversity in the hallways and streets but stay put for the harder work of committing to change that we can make together.
The US Social Forum is part of an international set of fora happening with social movements around the world, in Turkey, Paraguay, Québec, Mexico, Iraq and Palestine all leading up to a World Social Forum in Dakar, Senegal next year. When we learn to link our movements, listen to each others stories, respect each other’s struggles and reach out past our own struggles, maybe we will be able to generate new strategies and vision for the other world we are all working for — a world of justice, sustainability and dignity. I urge you all to listen to Amy Goodman’s reports on DemocracyNow! who has the remarkable ability to capture an overview that eludes those of us still rushing from workshop to workshop.