Post-USSF: In the Streets at the USSF

Posted July 2, 2010

As someone who worked on aspects of organizing the US Social Forum in Detroit, I found the actual event innovative and inspiring. It’s difficult for any one person to provide an overview of the USSF 2010 because one could have no more than sampled the more than 1,000 workshops, half a dozen demonstrations, three plenaries, nearly 20 Detroit tours and about two dozen 4-hour People’s Movement Assemblies that took place over the five days.

What impressed me the most was the creative, cooperative and generous spirit of the attendees. The majority were young and many were African Americans, Mexican Americans and folks whose ancestors came from Asia. At the Opening March several thousand marched with signs, puppets, music and chants, and the action flowed along. I found that same spirit in the two subsequent demonstrations I attended.

* The Labor and Spirituality USSF Committees organized a rally and march Friday morning targeting JP Morgan Chase Bank for two reasons. First, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee asked if we would pressure the bank, which is a prime lender to RJ Reynolds. The company has refused to conduct serious negotiations with FLOC over the working conditions of tobacco cutters in North Carolina (see Second, while Chase is the state of Michigan’s contractor to provide debit cards to the unemployed so they can collect their benefits, it is also the mortgage holder for thousands at risk of losing their homes. We called for a moratorium on their foreclosures of homes within the state.

About 400 people gathered at Grand Circus Park  and marched down Woodward Avenue to the Chase bank. We held a rally in front of the bank and about 20 people were prepared to go inside and talk with officials. The Chase officials were prepared to talk with two. We sent in a larger delegation, including FLOC president Baldemar Velasquez and UAW president Bob King while we waited, chanted and sang on the steps of the building. In the end the bank agreed to specific deadlines and we declared a victory for the day.

I’d agreed to be a marshal at this event, and found most of the marchers cooperative. There were some tense moment with the police–so knowing that we could count on each other made the situation much easier.

* The final day of the USSF a march through the east side of Detroit to the incinerator started off with about 400 but grew to 1,000. We made three stops along the way for short rallies, with speakers mostly from the community, and then marched onward. There were wonderful sunflowers and bold signs to carry as well as a marching band from New York City to spice up our chants.

Out-of-towners even got a whiff of what being in the direct path of the incinerator smelled like, and it wasn’t pleasant! That whiff became the source of the next chant!

At this demonstration I marched with the Revolutionary Work In Our Times (RWIOT) banner–until all the Detroiters were asked to move up to the front of the march.

Detroit still burns our garbage, and imports garbage from other cities too! We have one of the highest rates of asthma. So having these actions at the USSF was a shot in the arm for Detroiters, as was the labor march in support of city workers held earlier in the week.