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Dispatches from the USSF

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The city of Detroit is the sight of the second US Social Forum, which began on June 22 with a lively 2 mile march down Woodward Avenue to Cobo Hall where many of the USSF workshops take place. Detroit’s still auto-based economy was devastated by the economic crisis, but its redesigned and rebuilt downtown of modern new buildings and impressive public art – like the magnificent statue of Joe Lewis in the lobby of the Cobo Hall­ may come as a surprise to out of town attendees at the Social Forum.

The march through downtown Detroit also past through some empty areas full of weeds, vacant lots blighted by the city’s economic losses. The march includes every type of person – black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, every race, age, style of dress and political persuasion seems represented. There are environmentalists carrying sunflowers and a contingent of domestic workers in magic T-shirts. There are anarchists with black flags and Revolutionary workers selling newspapers and big puppets of Martin Luther King with recordings of his speeches playing. A brass band plays and four young people in pink T-shirts dance. Two clowns walk by on stilts, and drummers play a samba beat. Disabilty activists are there too. The march is a beautiful vision of what a real social movement in the USA could be.

This second 2010 Social Forum is expected to attract eleven thousand social activists to its workshops. With literally 1085 workshops scheduled over the five days, most seem to draw a crowd of 30 to 70. The first one I attended was put on by an organization called The Confluence Network. Youth-led, mainly teenagers and young folks in their early twenties, the members are mostly people of colour. The Network is 5 years old with groups scattered across the Northeast. A lot of the members are students. They engage in a multiplicity of issues arising in their communities including testing toxic soil, building community gardens, fighting to free political prisoners, standing in solidarity with the Palestinian cause against the occupation. They run a summer camp which appears to be key to their popularity among young people. Some are performance artists or create digital media. The workshop was mainly interactive with clever techniques to spark participation among the 40 odd people attracted to it.

A second workshop I attended today was entitled the Capitalist Roots of the Ecological Crisis with Joel Kovel, CD collective member Terisa Turner and Chris Williams. Each delivered 20 minute talks after which many of the 70 individuals in attendance asked questions or made short comments of their own. It was a very lively exchange.

More later.

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