by Rochelle Riley
First of all, “Yay!” that as many as 20,000 people are coming to Detroit.
Second of all, do not dismiss the grassroots activists, idealists, revolutionaries and community organizers (even Tea Party members inquired about space) who will be in the city for the US Social Forum from Tuesday through Friday. Organizers say it will be the largest gathering of its kind to explore, among many things, improving public education and strengthening the working class.
The forum grew out of the 10-year-old World Social Forum, which was a cry against “the world’s elite – a small amount of people, entrepreneurs and government officials – making decisions for the majority of people,” said Adele Nieves, a 36-year-old Detroiter who is the forum’s media spokeswoman.
“If you’re going to make decisions for every majority, then make sure you then do that with poor people’s initiatives in mind,” she said.
Even if you’re not participating, the forum will be hard to miss. It’s expected to take over Detroit’s west riverfront and will have meetings, workshops and discussions at sites from Cobo Hall to Hart Plaza, from Wayne State University to a USSF Village along the water behind Joe Louis Arena.
An Activist’s homecoming
The position of “community organizer” has earned great stature since the election of President Barack Obama.
But back in the day, for Jerome Scott, it meant underpaid activist trying to teach people economic and street smarts.
Scott will be among the throngs gathering in Detroit this week for the US Social Forum and for him, it’s also a homecoming.
He grew up the son of a tailor and a waitress in Detroit’s old Black Bottom neighborhood, worked in Chrysler plants for 10 years and helped found the League of Revolutionary Black Workers before moving to Atlanta, where he became a full-time community organizer.
He founded Project South: Institute for the Elimination of Poverty & Genocide, which helped host the last US Social Forum that brought thousands of people to Atlanta. Scott and thousands of activists like him want to get America to focus on solving the problems of the poor, the working poor and the soon-to-be poor.
“You cannot really get significant social change without a large social movement in this country,” Scott said.
No different in fervor and size than the rallies that sparked civil rights and environmental improvements, the forum is to give grassroots activists a national demonstration of economic concern.
Yes, participants know that some will roll their eyes and others might question everything from their motives to their collective ability to see past the 1960s.
But Scott, who attended the old Wilbur Wright High School, rightly sees thousands of high school students graduating to lives of poverty and says corporate America cannot be trusted to solve problems that aren’t going away.
“I’ve been involved in social-change work all my life,” he said, “and I see the forum as one of those opportunities to talk to literally hundreds or thousands of people that are talking about social change and social justice.”
The ideal setting
And what does social justice — the kind forum attendees hope for — look like?
“It would look like full employment,” Scott said, “people not having to suffer from under- or unemployment, a government that actually serves the needs of the people, that actually looks at how to resolve problems rather than incarcerate such a high percentage of the population.
“We’re talking about resolving real everyday problems. … How do we deal with this whole situation with Detroit?”
There’s a question.
Scott isn’t coming to Detroit because it is Detroit. But he is glad that this year’s forum is being held in a place that speaks to every problem government faces: poor education, high unemployment, the loss of major industry, a place where four out of five eligible voters don’t vote.
“I grew up in a Detroit that was a manufacturing city that people with a high school education could get a job you could raise a family on. Those jobs don’t exist anymore anywhere. How do we deal with that changing situation when we still have this growing population?”
Scott says the forum may be the beginning of a movement that can literally shift government. He said, for instance, that he concentrated on the other side of Obama’s presidential campaign, the one that seems to be forgotten now, the side that said: “I can’t do it without y’all — which meant to me that if we don’t put the kind of people in the street that can pressure him to do what has to be done, there’s no way for him to do it.”
In a country where a community organizer turned junior senator can become president, is it possible for monumental change to begin with revolutionaries gathered in the poorest big city in America? Don’t dismiss the revolutionaries. They arrive Tuesday.