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Stories and Reflections from the Road to Detroit

Various Authors
Date Published: 
June 1, 2010

Across the spectrum, people have been planning, organizing and mobilizing for the USSF. From Chicago to San Antonio to Gary, Indiana and St. Louis and many points in between, we asked individuals and organizations to share some reflections on what their road to Detroit has looked like and what being at the USSF means to them.

Welcome to Detroit!

Detroit, Michigan has a rich and great history. When this great city was selected as the site for the second US Social Forum, we were so happy and so humbled that we could hardly contain our joy. The thought that people around the world wanted to come to see what happened to Detroit, and that we would have the chance to explore questions of social justice and of solidarity that knows no borders excites us, and so we look forward to the moments that will bring our colleagues from all time zones to meet, talk, and make plans for the next part of our collective lives. ‘You get what you organize to take.’ We stand energized—anti-poverty organizers, labor, progressive clergy, students, environmentalists, professionals, unskilled workers, homeless, disabled, and others—waiting for the world to arrive!

Maureen Taylor, Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, Detroit


Make Yourself at Home!

One thing that I think about when I travel abroad is that there is this undercover corruption going on, along with a faint hope that somebody is going to do the right thing. When I go to Mexico City I find that so many people are fending for themselves, that they have to take matters into their own hands. The USSF will be like a big family reunion for many of us immigrants who have come here to live. There is a large African, Arab, and Latino immigrant community here. For me personally, this will especially be true with regards to our brothers and sisters who come from Latin America. So people are going to feel right at home in Detroit, partly because of the fact that it’s a border town, but especially because it’s a place where people can no longer rely on governments to help us out. We have to come up with our own solutions.

—Rocio Valerio, East Michigan Environmental Council, Detroit


Campaigners from Around the Globe are Also on the Road to Detroit

The solidarity economy is a growing global movement that is engaged in the concrete construction of ‘another world.’ As a framework grounded in principles of solidarity, democracy, equity and sustainability, it connects and strengthens practices such as worker cooperatives, participatory budgeting, community land trusts, the commons movement, social finance, social currency and fair trade. Representatives from the global solidarity economy movement who will be with us in Detroit include activists and practitioners from the Philippines, S. Korea, Japan, Brazil, Canada, Mexico and Italy.”

—Emily Kawano, US Solidarity Economy Network


North to South, South to Nroth

In Detroit, the South will be come to be with us within the North. Our brothers and sisters will be able to speak from within the monster, to directly criticize neoliberalism emanating from the United States. They are here to judge in our presence what the United States is doing to the Global South. This will happen at a moment of greatly heightened contradictions, when displacement and forced migrations of people north coupled with the forced deportation of people from the United States point to the root contradiction in neoliberalism and to the free trade agreements of the past twenty years.”

—Rubén Solís, Southwest Workers Union, San Antonio, Texas


A Groundswell in Gary, IN

By Kim M., Central District Organizing Project

Despite Gary’s vibrant history as a bustling steel town and cultural center, we now suffer from a steadily declining population. Right now Gary has about 102,746 residents, 84 percent of whom are Black and mired in double-digit unemployment (14.9 percent). Like many cities across the US, Gary is facing a huge budget crisis. We are in a constant struggle against City government and other entrenched forces to preserve important services and prevent the perpetuation of policies that inspire a great sense of powerlessness in many residents.

Central District Organizing Project has long worked to fight that sense of powerlessness through our organizing efforts: waging campaigns uniting residents to address blight, fight the privatization of trash pickup, and counter job outsourcing. Together we have challenged our City Council’s undemocratic practice of censoring residents who speak out.

Organizing for the USSF has bolstered our work by reminding us that Gary is part of an even bigger movement involving NW Indiana or what locals refer to as “The Region.” Through this organizing local collectives are “building the road from The Region to Detroit,” organizing local workers and students to come to the USSF. Although organizations here tend to be fragmented, excitement for the USSF is building, and CDOP has expanded our communication with groups and individuals who are working on immigration reform, environmental justice, and prison reform. We plan to further explore those campaigns through a local Peoples Movement Assembly. The USSF has provided us what we call “yet another excuse to organize,” helping the work to expand.

To enable us to host an inclusive delegation of youth and low-income residents to USSF, we have also engaged in grassroots fundraising actions—from candy sales to cultural events to house parties. The urgency of the USSF has compelled us to reach out and put our heads together to become better organized.

Although it seems that many have given up on Gary, there are still more of us who remain steadfast in the belief that we can rebuild our city. The USSF process is crucial to the grassroots movements of Gary because it serves as a reminder that our city and the Region are not alone. Gary residents combat the same systematic attacks (governmental neglect, privatization, mass unemployment) as folks in other de-industrialized cities like Detroit.  Fighting these attacks daily often leads to feeling isolated and discouraged. But we’re not alone, and we are looking forward to the synergy the USSF will produce between activists from Gary and other cities, building the kind of solidarity it takes to inspire real change in Gary and in the US.

We plan to return from the USSF renewed and refreshed, ready to take our struggles to the next level. 


Chicago: Taking the City that Works and Making it the City that Works for Everyone

By B. Loewe

Chicago is at a key moment in its history. As the city that exported the Chicago Boys to Chile and Arnie Duncan to Washington, the city of big shoulders has long been a testing ground for neoliberal ways. But it’s also the city of the eight-hour work day, Fred Hampton, and the birth of the 2006 immigrant rights movement.


There are at least two Chicagos. One is Mayor Daley and State Street’s, marked by the shining condos that sit empty, high-priced parking meters and police cameras blinking on every corner. The other, being nurtured from below, works on the daily and struggles to keep open our clinics, schools, and libraries, to keep families in their homes, and to demand recognition for the city’s residents no matter what country they’re from. 


Which direction our city goes will be determined by the strength of the social movements we build and our ability to make them appealing and sustaining. However, the current shape of daily grind has most of our change-makers in narrow silos or campaigns towards mild reforms that function as band-aids to bigger problems. There are plenty of us doing the shovel work, but with conditions worsening it often feels like we’re just digging ourselves into a deeper hole. How do we get bigger, better, and badder than we’ve ever been? How do we hold the relationship of our piece in the context of the whole?


Enter the Social Forum. Locating the Forum in Detroit presented an enormous movement-building opportunity for Chicago to organize and step up as regional hosts and a sister city in support of Detroit.


For the past year, Chicago’s been on the Road to Detroit. Local youth have been preparing to be part of a delegation that that will help to draft a National Student Bill of Rights, hold a street worker assembly, address school closings, and more.  Immigrant Workers, who recently passed historic labor law reform, look to bring their example to the Excluded Worker Congress. They will also connect with others working within the grassroots immigrant rights movement through the Immigrant Rights from Below Movement Assembly.  Disability justice organizers have used the road to Detroit as an opportunity to school the movement on ableism. Housing groups riding the mounting successes of the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign plan to connect with Take Back the Land nationally to assert that Housing is a Human Right. A delegation of healers are gathering to support the convergence, define the political framework of practicing healing arts, and challenge all of us to live lives worth fighting for while fighting for our lives.


For all those traveling from the West, you can join Chicago’s Social Forum Send Off day of action on June 21. See for more.



See you in Detroit, in struggle St. Louis!

By Justine Stein

The Justice Institute, the Organization for Black Struggle, and St. Louis Area Jobs with Justice has taken the lead here in the middle of the rust belt to organize a local delegation to the US Social Forum.  We have been meeting, strategizing, and doing outreach since January. This work is not only to get people from the St. Louis area to Detroit but also to strengthen our local alliances. In traveling to the USSF we hope to ultimately connect to national left-based movement building efforts to build alliances beyond St. Louis.  Over the course of our organizing efforts we have held several community events to educate and inspire progressive and left forces in our city about the importance and strategic value of the USSF.  We have been supporting one another’s grassroots struggles here in St. Louis because we recognize the need to move past single-issue campaigns and begin thinking in terms of what it will take to build a movement to fundamentally alter the relations of power in this country and this world.  We see the USSF not just as an opportunity to connect with activists and organizers from around the country, but as a significant building block for our movement efforts here in St. Louis.

We are dedicated to resisting oppression in all its forms.  This means rooting our work in the principles of anti-racism, anti-capitalism, feminism, and queer liberation.  Through our efforts to build a delegation for the USSF, we have been prioritizing the involvement and struggles of those most impacted by the system we are up against: people of color, women, low-income people, queer people, and youth.  We also recognize that the beauty of the USSF is that it is not just a reactionary process against the injustices people face every day.  It is also a process that seeks to facilitate the creation of a world without oppression, a world in which the humanity and dignity of all people can be affirmed and valued. 

Through our organizing efforts for the USSF, we hope to continue the momentum after June with the culmination of a local People’s Movement Assembly—bringing home to St. Louis all that we have learned and experienced at the USSF. The USSF is a process we hope will only prove to make our local organizing efforts and alliances stronger as we continue to build a left-based movement in St. Louis that can effectively end police brutality, abolish the death penalty, put a halt to the assault on working-class people, halt violence against women, and stop racist legislation targeting immigrants and people of color.  We will see you in Detroit!


Can You Hear It? The Youth of New England are on their Way to Detroit
Rafael Feliciano

My first training ever on how to barricade without props during a protest went something like this:

“Everyone sit down in a circle facing your neighbor’s back. Put your hands around your neighbor’s stomach as to hug them. Fold your hands and grip tightly.”

My first thought? In all my time connected to different nonprofits, this is unlike any training I’ve been too.

 “Now everyone should put their heads down. When the police come to unravel you, they will use their batons and you don’t want to get hit in the head.”

“Hit in the head?” I asked myself. I could not believe that the police would hurt protesters. After all, the organization I worked for was in the middle of “youth dialogues” with local police officers.

Before my training with the Ruckus Society at the first United States Social Forum in Atlanta, I had never experienced a practical training in directly opposing government officials.

Participating in the first USSF gave me an opportunity to view that other world that is possible; the people I connected with convinced me I was a part of transforming the United States. Through my experiences in Atlanta my spirit for change intensified. Many others reflect my feelings about the first USSF through their stories of resistance growing in their communities, lives, and consciousness and, of course, tactics.

When asked to participate in organizing youth to participate in the USSF in Detroit, I held no doubt that not only did I want to involve myself, but that a strong youth presence from Boston and the Northeast United States is crucial for the USSF and youth liberation movement.

Our youth rides planning group meets weekly. We began by creating a vision, budget, and work-plan for our bus caravan and our stay in Detroit—both equally important for the transformation youth will experience. We held a launch event to announce the trips and USSF to the youth in the New England region. The launch and planning were led and run by young people who went to the USSF in high school and who organized during their high school years. Participants filled the atmosphere with enthusiasm, anticipation, love, support and chants.

One chant in particular was “Back up, back up! We want freedom, freedom! All them dirty ass cops, we don’t need ‘em, need ‘em!” This same chant that was absorbed by young people while marching in Atlanta will stay in the minds of the new youth riders on our trip to Detroit. The chant represents our goal for this USSF: to create a new United States, perhaps even abolishing it, in a long quest to rid the world of all systems of oppression (including dirty ass cops) and replace them with just alternatives.