This report-back on the 2nd U.S. Social Forum from Mari Rose, of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, gives an Oaklander’s perspective on Detroit and organizing for environmental justice here and nationally.
“There was a rumbling in Detroit at the 2nd ever US Social Forum—not a raucous riot of rebels, but a deeper stirring of the Movement. A stealthier alignment of issues and forces. Not quite a sound but a feeling in the gut.
Grace Lee Boggs, revered long-time organizer, said of Detroit before the USSF: “We know that something has died here. What is not clear is that something new is being born. We don’t know what it is, but it’s coming.”
Over 15,000 of us converged in Detroit, first taking to her streets for the Opening march, coming in waves of rainbows—black, yellow, red, white, workers, organizers, healers, queers, mamas, babies, West coast, East, Gulf, first nations, internationalists, wearing shirts in many languages, holding banners, flags, puppets, and chanting, singing, drumming. We painted downtown Detroit, and created art for the next 4 days.
Before swimming in a thousand workshops (on any cause), I crossed the river for the Detroit toxic tour. From empty downtown highrises, we descended upon busy towering factories—oil refineries, steel plants, salt mines, asphalt mixers, power plants, you name it, it was there. The 2-hour tour was heartbreaking. Seeing elementary schools located next to massive industries, neighbors counting the cancers of loved ones as dusty rigs blow through their homes, I recall the landscape of Richmond CA where we at APEN organize. If corporations can dominate and poison 2 cities at this incredible scale, how many more have they occupied around the world? My blood boiled imagining it.
During the fishbowl of a dozen community organizers linking ecological and economic struggles from Detroit to Arizona to the Gulf—from global companies devastating cities, to criminalizing migrants from starved countries, to smearing miles and miles of ocean communities with black gooey poison—I felt a revolution turn in my gut. My breath slowed and my voice amplified. I was tasked with facilitating the 300-people-strong Ecological Justice People’s Movement Assembly, and I channeled that ferocity by merging some Asian martial arts (Forward Stance) with how we’d flex our Movement muscle. We embodied the Eco Justice Manifesto with some strikes: Remedies! Rights! Reparations! Representation! And that intensity carried through the regional actions planned ahead, leading to and beyond the global climate conference set for Cancun this year. This is what a Movement feels like!
On our last day, we confronted the largest waste incinerator in the world, right in Detroit. The tone surpassed anger. Local speakers connected the dots: what poisons our water will flow to you, when they pollute our air it will find you, there are no boundaries between our struggle and yours. We are connected, even in victories—the stopped Chevron oil refinery expansion in Richmond CA, to rescinded permits of Appalachian coal companies, to increased pay for Florida tomato farmworkers. Seemingly disparate issues, but put us in the same city in the same room and we’ll find similarities and solidarity and strength to lift each other up. “We are more energized and hopeful, thanks to you our new friends across the country” said a Detroiter. That goes both ways.
And I come back to Oakland with a belly full of inspiration– ready to do my part in the whole. We are connected, we are aligning, we have joint actions! We are building coordinated forces. I can feel the rumbling across the spectrum of movements. We are coming together.”