Looking for the American Left

I’m on the plane, talking with the woman seated next to me as we make our way down the runway. She tells me where’s heading, and asks where I’m going. “I’m going to a new city for me,” I tell her. “Detroit.”

“Detroit?” She asks. “I hope you’re not looking for a job.”

No, I’m not looking for a job. I’m looking for the American Left, which this week is having its unofficial, undoubtedly huge convening in Detroit called the US Social Forum, June 22-26. Over 20,000 progressive activists, artists, students, immigrants, and everyday citizens are gathering in the (mostly motorless) Motor City to strategize and build with the theme that “another world is possible, another U.S. is necessary.”

Born in Brazil in 2001 as part of the anti-corporate globalization movement, the World Social Forum process has spread to all corners of the globe, as social movements have challenged to imagine and articulate not just what we are against, but what we are for. I missed the first US Social Forum when it took place in Atlanta in 2007, and I was originally waffling as to whether I could and should make the trip to Detroit. Was it really worth travelling crossing the continent for just another Lefty conference?

“Yes!” all my comrades answered. When else would I get a chance to be with literally thousands of people, working on every social justice issue important to our country’s and world’s future, and help birth a new world in a city that so desperately needs life? It’s precisely because the USSF is not just another conference that made my final decision to come. As the forum organizers say, it’s a “movement-building process,” explicitly designed to force activists out of our respective silos (issue, ethnic, etc.) and make the connections we need to move beyond talk to building real power.

Detroit was chosen for just this reason. It is the heart of post-industrial America, with the highest unemployment rate in the country, as my flight partner reminded me. But it’s also the heart of post-industrial resistance and community-building, with the largest number of urban gardens in the country. What better place to build a movement then in a place with so much radical history (the labor movement, the Black Panthers, etc) and such a possibility (and need) for a new future?

So I’m here in Detroit. Ready for the workshops, excited for the marches — and overwhelmed by the 100 page, bilingual program booklet that details the myriad of activities going on. I will be here with a daily report for The Progressive, so if you can’t make it the USSF itself, find out what’s happening and spread the word. If the Tea Party can get so much corporate news coverage and influence with rallies of 500 people, we need to be able to do more than when 20,000 of us make it happen in Detroit.

I’m off to the opening night plenary. The excitement is in the air, and I can hear people chanting in the lobby of my hotel. “Ain’t no power like the power of Detroit / cuz the power of Detroit don’t stop.”

No time to stop. Now is the time to get it started.

Josh Healey is the Spoken Word Editor for The Progressive.