Jackie Victor—co-owner of Avalon Breads on Willis St.—wrote this op-ed piece in The Detroit News following the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit:
Detroit is a dangerous city. It is filled with vacant lots, abandoned houses, derelict factories and empty warehouses. We are helpless “victims” of the economy, of racism, of poverty. Or so the story is told again and again.
But the 15,000 people who came to Detroit for the U.S. Social Forum at Cobo Hall came searching for a different Detroit. The conference of progressive activists and thinkers from a variety of social movements gathered under the banner “Another World Is Possible. Another U.S. Is Necessary.” To which Detroit organizers added, “Another Detroit is happening.”
And Social Forum visitors saw it.
Thousands biked and walked around the city, lighting Cass all the way downtown like a group of self-organized fireflies. They rode with confidence and excitement, curiosity and optimism. They were looking for good news, for signs of transformation, and they found it. As one conference participant said to me on Saturday, the last day of the conference, “Are there any mean Detroiters? Everyone has been so nice here!”
People were thrilled with the urban agriculture movement. With over 47,000 acres of vacant land, Detroit is the perfect laboratory for creating a new kind of city, where families are harvesting organically grown food and a sense of community from 1,200 working gardens and farms within the city limits.
Then there’s the nightlife. The Old Miami, Motor City Brewery, Cass Cafe and Traffic Jam were overflowing. More than 5,000 people, young and old, packed the exquisitely renovated Shed 3 in the Eastern Market on Saturday night, dancing and celebrating the possibility of a city that has been abandoned by the powerful but has never given up the power of creating itself anew.
They supported locally owned businesses. True to their ethics of grass-roots economic transformation, they patronized the businesses on Willis and Canfield in North Cass Corridor, which sponsored a free shuttle to Cobo Center. My rough estimate is that forum participants spent $100,000 in Cass Corridor/Midtown over five days.
Of course, there are those who responded to the influx of activists with cynicism. Yes, Detroit is filled with conflict and contradictions, despair and doubt, but that is decidedly not the whole story.
The Social Forum was a fabulous boon to Detroit and Michigan for the money it generated, for the positive vision that it reinforced, for the energy and vitality it brought. But mostly, it mirrored back to us the fantastic things and miraculous risks that those of us who choose to live and work in Detroit conquer every day and the beautiful city that we are creating.