15,000 Attend Detroit Social Forum:
High-Energy Gathering Fires Up
A New Generation of Activists in
U.S. Left and Social Movements
By Carl Davidson
When 15,000 vibrant and politically engaged people gather in one spot for five days and organize themselves into more than 1000 workshops, dozens of major plenaries and late night parties across five major cultural hot spots, no one article can claim to give a full account and get away with it.
But an event on that scale livened up Detroit, Michigan during the week of June 22-26 at the US Social Forum, when Cobo Hall and several nearby universities were buzzing with thousands of people trying to shape a new world.
I won’t even try to capture it all. I’ll just affirm the common conviction that it was a major happening on the left and a huge success, an inspiration and an affirmation of hope that progress is being made towards a better future. Then I’ll humbly offer my take on it. We’ll start with some highlights and, for those who aren’t familiar with the Social Forum movement, offer a few explanations.
The Forum started on June 22 with a massive march of thousands through the streets of a devastated and de-industrialized Detroit. “I’ve never seen anything like this, in Detroit or anywhere,” said Forum participant and Detroit resident Charnika Jett. “The sense of joy, support, and determination on the part of the people here, both Detroiters and visitors, is just incredible.”
“What an amazing day!” said Allison Flether Acosta of Jobs with Justice. “We held an orientation session for local coalition folks early in the day, then joined the march with the other members of the Inter-Alliance Dialogue and more than 10,000 people for a lively march through downtown! We ended at Cobo Hall, and then convened for the opening ceremonies.”
New entry of the Trade Unions
One important new addition to the young crowd in the streets was the participation of organized labor. According to the AFL-CIO News Blog, “Newly elected UAW President Bob King joined Metropolitan Detroit AFL-CIO President Saundra Williams; Al Garrett, president of AFSCME District Council 25; and Armando Robles, UE Local 1110 president, in leading a march and rally through the streets of Detroit. Chanting ‘Full and Fair Employment Now!’ and ‘Money for Jobs, Not for Banks!’ Participants demanded Congress address the pressing jobs emergency.”
The opening events, unfortunately, were either ignored or strangely spun by the mass media. “This ain’t no Tea Party,’ said Noel Finley, in a scarce account in the Detroit News, somewhat awed by the sight of it all. “The forum is a hootenanny of pinkos, environuts, peaceniks, Luddites, old hippies, Robin Hoods and urban hunters and gatherers.” Indeed it was, with even more variety. And the diverse crowds and meetings grew stronger as the week unfolded. To make sense of it all, some history and background is in order:Read more!