I spent a week in Detroit attending workshops and plenaries, meeting lots of new people, and discussing ideas. This may sound like a typical conference, but the US Social Forum (USSF) is more than sessions and networking. The USSF is a movement-building process where activists and advocates from across the country gather. They share ideas, cultivate relationships for effective action, engage in dialogue on how to create "another world" - a world that is free from racism, homophobia, sexism, and other forms of unequality and unfair treatment. Throughout the week, my activist spirit was rejuvenated and inspired – and the energy continues.
The USSF stems from the World Social Forum, which was born as a grassroots counter to the World Economic Forum, a gathering of business and government leaders and others. World Social Forums have been held around the world – Brazil, India and Africa, to name a few locations. The first USSF was held in 2007 in Atlanta, because the city has such a rich history of struggle by African Americans against inequality. The second USSF was held this June 22-June 26 in Detroit. The Motor City was once an exemplar of wealth and production, but now it is an example of economic disinvestment. Detroit also was the final destination for the Underground Railroad, and the thirst for justice and freedom lives on in the spirit of Detroiters. From around the country, the USSF brought together over 10,000 activists who now feel deeply connected to the struggle of Detroiters.
It was important for the ACLU-WA to participate in the USSF and to be involved in its participants' fight for justice that continues in the Northwest. Some of these organizations include Legacy of Equality, Leadership and Organizing, Community 2 Community, and Seattle Young People’s Project. While every organization involved in the USSF has its own priorities, the ACLU-WA’s mission is interconnected with the work of many others. One cannot end the war on drugs without combating racial inequalities in the criminal justice system. And one cannot address racial disproportionality in jails and prisons without confronting the school-to-prison pipeline.
I attended workshops hosted by the Drug Policy Alliance – “The Drug War: A War on Women and Families,” the Freedom Archives – “COINTELPRO then & now,” and the Youth Justice Coalition – “Ending the War on Gangs.” The issues the organizers presented are not unique to their region nor are they unique to Washington. Across the country, families are torn apart when women are incarcerated and criminalized while battling an addiction. The surveillance of COINTELPRO that targeted political activists in the '60s is echoed in the government surveillance we see today in Washington. And ineffective gang suppression laws born in Los Angeles are sprouting up in our own cities.
The USSF creates a space for dialogue about how to collectively address these issues, and ultimately, create a better community, city, state, and US. It’s necessary.