Looking Back on the US Social Forum: Three Weeks Later

In some ways, the best way to for me to explain the magnitude of the social forum is to say that it took three weeks to sit down and write something. More than any conference or event I’ve been to, the Social Forum (www.ussf2010.org) was by far the most intense and engaging, inspiring yet overwhelming. I was expecting to be able to continue to check email while in Detroit. That only happened a couple of times at midnight and 6 AM, but not once during the day.

We left for Detroit Monday morning, deciding to drive to save on money and greenhouse gas emissions. In the six days of the trip – Monday through Saturday – there were not many moments that I wasn’t engrossed in conversation or listening to an amazing presentation. 15,000 activists and organizers from around the country overwhelmed downtown Detroit to the point that, driving around the city, you always knew someone—and it wasn’t hard to find a good discussion.

REC planned two workshops in Detroit. In one, we did an overview of our work and of the possibilities for universities in changing their endowment investments. Out of that great group, we met some new allies including the Mary Knoll Office for Global Concerns and the Food Project along with representatives from schools around the country.

The other workshop REC worked with the United States Student Association and North American Students of Cooperation (links), the largest student-run student group in the country and the leader in cooperative housing and cooperatives at colleges and universities, to talk about the democratization of colleges and universities and the higher education system as a whole.

While REC focuses on changing the way endowments are invested, we believe that is important to engage with other groups working on issues like financial aid, community engagement, and housing in order to build a stronger, more diverse, and more comprehensive movement for making universities more accountable to their numerous stakeholders. In the workshop we discussed free higher education, more community engagement and student control, and how to make these things happen—with groups coming to work together.

Other workshops were also inspirational. Grace Lee Boggs, who at 95 years old is truly a mother of many of the movements today, spoke about her experiences as a community organizer for more than seven decades in Detroit and where she thinks the movement should go.

Just having so many people doing important work together in one place was incredible. It gives so much hope, knowing that if there are 15,000 people willing to come all the way to Detroit for five days, there must be many times that number working in their communities every day for a more just and sustainable US.

Finally I especially want to thank our hosts, the Fialka-Feldman family, truly a family of organizers, particularly Micah, a disability justice pioneer (http://www.throughthesamedoor.com/), to the organizers of the US Social Forum, and to the entire City of Detroit for welcoming all of us.

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