THINKING FOR OURSELVES
Change Gonna Come
By Shea Howell
Michigan Citizen, July 4, 2010
Marching down Woodward Avenue in 90-degree heat on the opening day of the United States Social Forum, I felt we were all stepping into a better future. It is a future we are creating, filled with possibilities for new ways of living and being together. Throughout the next five days, this feeling was deepened by the workshops, cultural events, discussions and casual encounters that made up the Forum.
More than 15,000 people converged on Detroit to participate in the second USSF. Inspired by the World Social Forum, begun a decade ago in Brazil, the USSF is “an open meeting place for reflective thinking, democratic debate of ideas, formulation of proposals, free exchange of experiences.”
Among the 1,062 workshops, one of the most widely attended was a conversation between Detroit philosopher-activist Grace Lee Boggs and Immanuel Wallerstein of Yale University. Nearly 800 people crowded into a room to hear these two elders discuss their views on this moment in history. In a lively interchange with each other and with the audience, the two activist intellectuals explored the role of ideas in creating change, in understanding our moment in history and in connecting local actions to global systems.
In a moving and often humorous introduction, Scott Kurashige, a Detroit activist and professor of U.S. history and ethic studies at the University of Michigan, commented that their collective work helps us understand that while “Capitalism presents itself as the natural order—one that reflects the essence of human nature— Every system is a product of history. Every empire has a beginning and an end.
“The work of Boggs and Wallerstein helps us put the current crises we face—the wars, economic meltdown, climate change, and the failure of government—into context. They open our eyes to how we have been shaped by history and how we are capable of reshaping the future.
“This also means appreciating that all movements are a product of history. No matter how much we treasure the revolutionary movements and icons of the past, we cannot be wedded to the truths that they discovered in their time. We cannot be fixed to a rigid ideology; we must instead remain open to new possibilities. As Wallerstein declares, ‘uncertainty makes possible creativity.’”
The central ideas of this conversation echoed throughout the Forum. Ideas matter. We are in a time of unique possibility. Imagination is critical. Learning to love and laugh is essential.
Detroit had a tremendous impact on the Forum. In part, the national planning committee chose Detroit as the site of the Forum because of our past. Appreciation of our legacy of fierce resistance to devastation and dehumanization was evident. But as important as recognizing our past was also recognition of the work presently being done to create another Detroit. Urban gardens, social enterprises, cultural activists, peace zones and new ideas about education and media making excited the imagination of delegates from around the country.
Over and over again I heard people say, “Detroit isn’t anything like I thought it would be. It’s not at all like what I hear in the media.” Usually the people saying these things had been walking or biking all over the city, visiting gardens, public art and local cafes. They were astonished not only by the activities but by the warmth of people who took the time to talk about the city, comment on politics and offer directions and advice.
Delegates felt, saw and tasted the new Detroit that is emerging. The life of our city gave depth to the belief that another world is possible. In Detroit and in many places across the country, it is already emerging. As the old song says, “Change gonna come.”