Mass March Opens the US Social Forum

Day one of the US Social Forum began with a thunderous demonstration through the streets of Detroit. Around 35,000 people representing social movements from throughout the country marched through the Downtown area. There was no united demand from the crowd other than the general sentiment that the system is failing them and grassroots organizing offers a way out.

A smaller feeder march started at the headquarters of Detroit Energy (DTE), the provider of gas and electric to the city of Detroit. DTE has a policy of shutting off gas and electric for those unable to pay their bills, even in the dead of winter. This has resulted in many deaths and particularly puts children, the elderly and the disabled at risk.

The demonstration was organized by welfare rights groups from around the country. The 750 demonstrators were made up of a mix of locals and activists attending the USSF. The crowed chanted “Gas and Lights are Human Rights” as they picketed the building, a large glass and steel structure with a manicured lawn and fountain that stands out among the empty buildings and open space that litters downtown Detroit. The speakers spoke passionately of the dangers of utilities shut-off and made connections with the larger problems facing residents of the city: poverty, unemployment and urban decay.

After a painfully long wait penned in on the sidewalk by Detroit police, the feeder march linked up with a massive march organized to open the USSF. A line of children chanting slogans against poverty led the group into the march and spirits soared as participants looked back and viewed a sea of humanity. A spirited march up to the site of the forum, Cobo Hall, led the crowd into opening ceremonies.

Detroit seems an ideal place to cultivate the energy expressed during the opening demonstration. We marched through Downtown past the smashed windows of businesses long departed and over roads littered with potholes. One stop along the route was the Leland Hotel, a 50s style palace now reduced to a decaying hulk of concrete whose outer appearance is as depressing at the hard-luck patrons who inhabit it. At night, the Downtown that demonstrators had transformed into a festival of resistance turns into something akin to a scene from a zombie movie as hundreds of junkies move onto the streets oblivious to the oncoming traffic.

Clearly, capitalism has done its dirty deed in Detroit. After decades of corporate paternalism and union-management collaboration, the capital is gone, leaving behind excess people, predominantly African-American, with no prospect for work or a future. The actions of privatized utilities such as DTE are merely the latest indignity imposed by the market system. The Forum’s message that “Another US is Necessary, Another Detroit is Happening!” could find fertile ground here.

Tomorrow begins three days stacked with panels dealing with nearly every political topic imaginable. In truth, the panelists at the USSF represent a strange mishmash of strategies and organizations. Orthodox Maoists share program space with the Ford Foundation and an unusual group of communalists from Southeast Asia are located next to the Progressive Democrats of America. Just another illustration that there is no singular strategy out of the mess that capitalism has left humanity in. Perhaps a week of dialogue can at least develop some common ground for action.

Billy Wharton is a writer, activist and co-chair of the Socialist Party USA. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Billy, or visit Billy's website.

3 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. mary said on June 25th, 2010 at 1:37am #

    The meanest and nastiest action taken by the new Tory/LibDem coalition (the ConDems as they are referred to) so far is to cancel the Labour Party’s plan to extend the free school meal service at a cost of a few £million. In their savagery with much more to come we are told, we hear no mention of the bailout of the banks and the whereabouts of the £1.4 trillion of taxpayers’ money that was used.

    One couple have said that their two children will have to take turns to have a school dinner as they just can’t afford two meals a day.

    This is going to be such a reactionary unpleasant government whose acts Thatcher (aka the milk snatcher) could not have aspired to. I think a massive slump is on the cards.

    These are some of the members of the Cabinet in an earlier stage of their gestation. They have only known privilege and wealth.

  2. Don Hawkins said on June 25th, 2010 at 6:20am #

    Just another illustration that there is no singular strategy out of the mess that capitalism has left humanity in. Perhaps a week of dialogue can at least develop some common ground for action. Billy Wharton

  3. mary said on June 25th, 2010 at 2:11pm #

    I have just watched a programme called Unreported World on Channel 4 here in the UK . The subject was homelessness in the US and I was both shocked and saddened at the plight of the Americans who were going through such hard times. It seemed almost unbelievable that families were dependent on handouts because even though some were employed they didn’t earn enough to buy food. The reporter visited some tent cities under motorway bridges and a hell named Skid Row where the living conditions were extremely harsh. There seemed to be little or no welfare provision just a lot of hassle from the police whose helicopters were flying overhead.

    I am not saying that we handle things any better in the UK or that the problem is as large but at least we have temporary housing and financial assistance for those in need but for how much longer under our new masters, who knows.

    It was stated that 3 million more people are likely to become homeless this year.

    This is in horrible contrast to the expenditure on the G20 nonsense that we have been discussing elsewhere and the human and financial cost of the ongoing and endless war in Afghanistan following on from Iraq. What a mad harsh and cruel world.

    The reporter showed great empathy and was obviously heart broken by what she saw and heard. I was thinking of the call – bring me your huddled masses and your poor. Some irony.

    (If you click the Watch Now button on the bar above the reporter’s notes, the programme plays on a pop out player.)