The Common Good
July 2010

What's Good for Detroit

by Lydia Wylie-Kellermann | July 2010

The U.S. Social Forum's alternative vision for our country and the world.

Detroit is abuzz as it awaits the gathering of some 20,000 people for the second U.S. Social Forum (USSF)—an unpredictable event that combines festival, conference, school, celebration, movement, and community.

From June 22 to 26, the USSF—including everyone from Chicago-based Interfaith Worker Justice to Vermont’s Bread and Puppet Theater to the local anti-home-foreclosure group Moratorium Now!—will gather in Detroit for five days of workshops, actions, cultural events, and movement-building.
The event is an offshoot of the World Social Forum, which began in 2001 as a populist counter to the yearly World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. In 2007, the first USSF, with a vocation to address the ways the U.S. affects global problems, drew 15,000 people to Atlanta. More than 900 actions and workshops were attended by activists from grassroots groups representing labor, women, youth, civil rights, and more.
Why is the 2010 USSF being held in Detroit?
The city is no stranger to the reality of violence, poverty, and brutal injustice. For decades, Detroiters have known the economic collapse that the whole U.S. has begun to feel in the last two years. However, Detroit is also 20 years ahead in exploring how to create new communities in the wake of deindustrialization. Detroit is a place where hope feels contagious; the very acts of survival are transformed into creative community and resistance.
For example, Detroit is a food desert with no remaining chain grocery stores; people look to gas stations, liquor stores, and fast food for nutrition. It is a clear portrait of how even access to food is distributed along economic borders—yet we see gardens breaking through the concrete. With nearly a third of Detroit consisting of vacant land, last year there were 557 registered family gardens, 263 community gardens, and 55 school gardens. Control of food is being wrested away from corporations; people are feeding one another, space is made beautiful, and local economies are created.
The USSF tagline is: “Another world is possible. Another U.S. is necessary. Another Detroit is happening.” Why is this important for people and communities of faith?
We offer many gifts to the forum, including sacred texts filled with stories of communities struggling toward justice. In recent decades, we have the traditions of the civil rights and anti-war movements, birthed in the sanctuary and poured out into the streets. The Hebrew scriptures offer Sabbath economics—an understanding of economy built on gift and grace, where everyone has enough and no one has too much. I am working with the popular-theology school Word and World to host Sabbath economics-based workshops and actions at the USSF.
However, the forum is also an important time to listen and be held accountable. We must acknowledge and ask forgiveness for the ways that our religious institutions are tied up with the empires of this world. Churches today are drenched with patriarchy, racism, sexism, capitalism, and homophobia. Faith communities participate in the USSF in hopes of listening, understanding, and moving ourselves forward in justice.
Why this moment?
We stand at a turning point in history. Will Detroit be a city where schools, hospitals, and urban farms are privatized, neighborhoods are displaced, and power is stripped from the people? Or will we choose another way?
In the U.S., the time is filled with perpetual war, environmental destruction, and an economic collapse starkly impacting the poor. Is this our future? Or do we choose another way?
I believe that the U.S. Social Forum stands at a pivotal, defining moment for the future. Let it become an opportunity to learn from one another, build movement, and walk into the future filled with hope and commitment toward the beloved community.
Lydia Wylie-Kellermann is a writer and activist born and raised in Detroit.
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