The second United States Social Forum (USSF) this past week brought around 20,000 activists into Detroit, each with his, her, or hir own unfiltered voice. Each one was amplified in the nature of convergence. The forum’s advocates are priding the event on finding the peoples’ solution to the peoples’ problems in a unique, grassroots, movement-building way. Ideas and radical visions flowed generously throughout the hundreds of workshops. The USSF was quite inclusive of all social issues with workshops on sustainable living and the environment to economic issues to LGBTQ issues and just about everything in between.
People of all ages, from all socio-economic classes, racial backgrounds, of every kind of gender choice and orientation brought an array of lenses through which issues needed to be seen. As a 16 year-old (who can pass for even younger), as a minor, as a girl, I know firsthand that having a voice and being heard are two very different things. But at the USSF, my youth was a virtue. People recognized and valued my ideas and unique perspective. Not only were my 16 year-old comments accepted right next those that came from decades of experience, but I helped draft resolutions about the reform that needs to happen in the juvenile justice system and about what gender justice really means. My voice fused with thousands others in painting an unfinished vision of social change. While a lot of things I’ve read and people I’ve talked to criticized the forum for being too much about ideas and for not accomplishing anything concrete, I see the forum as an accomplishment itself. It created a space to share, think, and organize among the most diverse gathering of people.
The USSF brought tens of thousands into a city that needed exactly the kind of hope, strength and energy that the meeting was able to radiate. Detroit has the highest unemployment rate of any major U.S. city. One in four people are jobless. The current population is half what it was at its peak of about 2 million people in the 1950s. And despite the abundance of foreclosed and government-owned homes that have essentially been abandoned, 10% of the Detroit population remains homeless. It’s safe to say that Detroit has taken a few of the economy’s hardest hits. Mayor David Bing, whose plan for the public school system is to “replace and not reform,” seems to be sending this same message about the city as a whole. Despite all of this, people in Detroit have not been passive. Community gardens and housing struggles are just examples of the spirit retained in the people of the city and the push for a Detroit comeback. The USSF was just one spark for Detroit and its potential.