Getting youth-enized: Organizers exude energey as the 2010 U.S. Social Forum draws nearer
By Larry Gabriel
November 4, 2009, Metro Times
The 2010 United States Social Forum is planned to be really big. Organizers expect 20,000 to 30,000 grassroots progressive activists to converge in Detroit June 22-26 for meetings, demonstrations and get-your-hands-dirty work around town. Members of hundreds of progressive groups around the world are to participate in nearly 1,000 events.
It’s hard to get your arms around the USSF because it’s driven by the myriad people and organizations taking part. And this convening of progressives, following up on a 2007 event in Atlanta, is more about process than the event itself. The process of organizing for the event is also the community organizing process for addressing issues in your neighborhood.
It’s easier to get your arms around specific organizations and events, such as the youth gathering that took place in Detroit last weekend. About 10 young people from Atlanta, San Antonio and Milwaukee-Madison came in to meet and work with local activists at the Boggs Center, the Hope District and the Hush House, three progressive gathering spots. I mean work literally: They cleaned up vacant lots and sank posts that will support murals.
The activities made an impression on 19-year-old Bryant Samples, who works with Project South out of Atlanta. He talked about his image of a violent Detroit based on what he’d seen from Atlanta.
“The perspective I had on Detroit, it was really different when I came up here,” he says. “There’s so much hoopla and talk and exploitation through the media. I look forward to hearing what it really is like through the people themselves.”
More personally, during Saturday’s discussion at the Hush House on Detroit’s near-west side, Samples talked about sitting at a bus stop near his home one day and breathing toxic fumes from trucks exiting from the freeway. The experience inspired the musician to write a song with lyrics that include: “One by one they come off the highway. Two by two they pollute where I stay.”
Talking with others helped him realize that what he wrote and sang is a form of protest. That gives a bearing to what he does.
“I’m a musician,” he says. “It wasn’t until rather recently that I became very aware of issues. I guess I don’t want to just be playing my violin while there are people dying from police violence right down the street. I basically sustain my presence in the movement by creating what I call movement music; where it heals, it uplifts, it tells our story and it gets other youth involved in the whole process. It’s hypocritical for me to be aware of the nonsense that exists and not use my gift to change it for the better.”
The Hush House session focused on defining community organizing, using technology and how activism can impact your love life. It didn’t take long to see that the participants were all struggling with many of the same issues. Diana J. Nucera, 28, a Detroiter who works with the Allied Media Project, helped facilitate the technology conversation.
“There’s a connection between what’s happening in other cities that are related to what you are doing,” she says. “Conversations like that are important to see that you are not alone.”
After Samples talked about his musical activism, Detroiter Sterling Toles sought him out during a break in the proceedings to pursue the musical thread. At 33, Toles is a little older than most of the other participants, but his work as a visual artist and hip-hop producer keeps him connected. Toles has been involved in hip-hop projects since the early 1990s. One of his most significant works draws on both his own father’s drug use and Detroit’s history. It brought a focus to his activism.
“I was working on a project about the ’67 rebellion and on my father’s personal story. The project documents what happened in ’67 through WKNR-AM radio reports and NBC news. Around the same time, my father entered back into the drug trade, using the money he was making to put himself through a methadone program. I began realizing there was this connection with fire, Detroit rising from the ashes in 1805, 1943 and 1967. I felt like his experience was a personification of the city itself. His addiction and attempt to get clean is like Detroit. The city is like a middle-aged man, past its prime and stuck in the addiction of post-industrialism.”
Wow! That’s powerful stuff. But it seems like a fiery cleansing, a catharsis, is what we need to move progressive agendas forward in a big way. Ultimately that’s what the USSF is about. The youth who came in last weekend will be back. Project South in Atlanta and the Southwest Workers’ Union in San Antonio will lead automobile caravans of participants to Detroit in June. The Wisconsin group intends to bicycle in for the conference. Now that’s putting your legs into the movement. In fact, conference organizers plan to have a massive bicycle ride around Detroit as part of the proceedings in addition to the events at Cobo Center and Hart Plaza.
The USSF agenda is just coming together but environmental concerns, social justice, poverty, workers’ struggles and, of course, youth issues will all be addressed.
“I’ve been involved in a lot of struggles, and this one has a real good feel to it,” says Reggie McGhee, a member of Michigan Jobs with Justice. “There’s a lot of democracy. People are taking ownership.”
You can learn more about the USSF at ussf2010.org.