Dispatches from the Detriot USSF #2

I am back in Toronto now for the G20 Protest. Here are a few general comments about the US Social Forum which ended on June 26. There were plenty of old timers there, veterans of the sixties and some from the fifties, but this is mainly a youth movement. I mean teen-agers and young folks under thirty. And multi-racial, not surprising since Detroit has the most dense black population in the USA. They came from all over the country; and a handful from Canada ­ including CD collective members Terisa Turner, Clayton Thomas Muller and myself.

Unlike the World Social Forum and Social Forums in other countries, there were no NGOs here and no celebrity stars. These were mostly people from local groups of grassroot activists.

Besides its grassroots character, youthfulness and energy another feature of this Social Forum was its diversity of issues. Twelve hundred odd workshops were divided into 12 tracks. Here they are:

  • Capitalism in Crisis:Tearing down Poverty, Building Economic Alternatives and Solidarity.
  • Climate Justice, Sustainability, Resources and Land.
  • Democracy and Governance.
  • Detroit and the Rust Belt.
  • Displacement, Migration and Immigration.
  • Endless War, Militarization, Criminalization and Human Rights.
  • Indigenous Sovereignty.
  • International Solidarity and Responsibility.
  • Media Justice, Communications and Culture.
  • Organizing a Labor Movement For the 21st Century.
  • Strategies for Building Power & Ensuring Community Needs.
  • To the Left: Building a Movement for Social Justice.

Many of the workshops were very specific like Ending Drug Wars, Organizing on a Shoestring, Civil Rights for Paratransit Riders, Arresting the Boss, ­ Wage Theft & Organizing for Power, Hip Hop in the Middle East, Building Prison Justice,. Some were how-to workshops‹like Meetings Shouldn’t Suck, Using New Media to Change the World, Blogging for Non-Violent Social Justice, Unemployment Organizing, How to Start a Raging Grannies Group.

The ones I attended were mostly related to the environment (CD media delegate, Shannon Bell, attended one on Body Politics. I had the distinct impression that of all the issues, it was the environment that attracted the most attention from the young, while issues of the economy, labour, war and peace, etc garnered more of the attention of the older crowd.

An interesting exchange at a workshop on The Democratic Charter, a project promoted by a variety of labour and peace revealed some of the divide at the USSF. Several of the presenters and other participants lamented the fragmentation of the movement and the absence of any kind of coordination and direction, pointing out how this contrasted with South Africa’s Freedom Charter where leadership was provided by the SA Communist Party. Bill Fletcher Jr., a black left union activist asked who would take the initiative in bringing groups together and charting some national campaigns. Alone among the presenters, well known radical sociologist Francis Fox Piven responded by questioning why it was necessary to bring groups together, arguing that this was an organizational strategy from the past that will never work in today’s youth movement culture. Unfortunately, this interesting line of questioning was not pursued.

Most heartening to me was the distinctly and explicitly ant-capitalist underpinning of the environmental discussions at the USSF. There were very few signs of green capitalism and several workshops taking aim at market ecology responses to climate change. The new buzz word here was convergence ­ convergent crises of Energy, Food, Climate Change, Environment and Capitalism.

The Building Ecosocialism workshop I attended was organized by Joel Kovel, co-author of the Ecosocialist Manifesto. Joel is very concerned to establish a distinctly ecosocialist presence in North America. He was one of a handful that organized the ecosocialist international network at a meeting in Paris in 2007, that also met at the World Social Forum in Belem two years later. The EIN and its second ecosocialist manifesto has barely caused a stir, nothing like the stir raised by the Cochabamba Declaration coming out of Bolivia a few months ago.

Joel emphasized the need for ecosocialism to be inclusive, a theme taken up by Leigh Brownhill and Terisa Turner in their presentations of ecofeminism-ecosocialism. As in other workshops, this one stressed that the question of the horrendous environmental damage caused by Soviet-style socialism needed to be addressed. Chris Williams, author of a new book, Ecology and Socialism, took up this question. Lisa Lubow of Converging Storms noted that EIN is a network, not a movement and that its strength lies in offering a non-sectarian space for all the various groups with their distinct approaches that shared its ecosocialist philosophy.

As publisher of Canadian Dimension, I support this approach, noting that EIN’s role as communication network needs to be strengthened by developing closer connections with on-the-ground ecojustice groups, linking up with the movement coming out of Cochabamba, promoting new ideas and supporting national and international campaigns like those related to the tar sands and those sponsored by the likes of the Indigenous Environmental Network.

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