(This is the fourth 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.)
Riding into Detroit means making some concessions to the Motor City. First of all, you can’t ride a bike across the bridge from Windsor to Detroit so we had to load the bikes into a big trailer and cram into borrowed vans and cars to get into the city. In some ways Detroit is a good place to bike — it is flat; on the other hand the roads are rutted with potholes and filled with broken glass, but the roads are wide, radiating out logically like spokes on a wheel from the hub at city center and filled with cars; then on the other other hand the drivers have been surprisingly friendly and nice letting us squeeze through lines of traffic lined up to see the annual fireworks show.
As soon as I arrived in Detroit, I headed out to Heidelberg Street where CODEPINK was working with neighbors to bury the shell of a dead Hummer and welcome the birth of a new green economy. Check out CODEPINK’s webpage for a pink picture of the creativity of another possible world.
As I watched the CODEPINKers and volunteers plant fruit trees and pink petunias in the carcass of the old car, I spoke to a neighbor about about Detroit. He mentioned that this is the first year that the population will fall below 900,000 from a high of two million at the height of the car manufacturing bubble. Again you can see blocks with only 3 or 4 occupied homes; the rest of the lots and houses have been mined for the bits and pieces of usable materials leaving behind peeling paint and fire traps. There isn’t a tax base to support social services and my new friend says the police will only come if there is evidence that a gun has been pulled.
“So we have to take it into our hands,” John, my fellow shade-seeker says, “Detroit has a long tradition of victory gardens and community gardens and now the artists and musicians are starting to come back to take advantage of the space and cheap housing. It will turn around, but it will be different.”
Detroit has some interesting assets to deal with the massive problems it has faced. On the way back to the Forum I pass the United Autoworkers building. They have a new director, Bob King who is supporting the US Social Forum and says that for the union to survive, they have to be involved in social programs and community affairs and not just contract negotiations. In front of their building, the flags that fly are the Stars and Stripes, the UAW banner, a POW/MIA flag and the Ford Motor company. They are all sagging on their poles, not quite half-mast but heading in that direction.
On Hart Plaza where the outdoor portions of the Forum take place is a beautiful arched sculpture called “Transcending” a gift from the labor movement to the City of Detroit. On a raised platform under a 63 foot stainless steel arch are quotes from labor and civil rights leaders and tiles letting you know what the labor movement has brought to you — including the eight hour day, free public education and the the grievance procedure.
The labor host tells me how he has lived in Detroit his whole life and he says he has hope for the future of Detroit precisely because the auto plants are empty. The city retains the skills and the commitment to labor that can be transformed into manufacturing the vehicles we need for a new green economy — electric buses, trains, and fuel efficient vehicles.
Detroit is the right place to put the Forum that wants to explore the new possibilities! As the slogan goes: Another U.S. is necessary, Another Detroit is Happening!