Over 10,000 grassroots activists are expected in Detroit this June for the second-ever US Social Forum. The theme of the gathering is "Another World Is Possible. Another US Is Necessary!" Detroit will also host the Allied Media Conference from June 18 to 20. We speak to Adrienne Maree Brown, a national coordinator of the US Social Forum and a board member of Allied Media. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: Over 10,000 grassroots activists are expected to be headed to Detroit this June for the second-ever US Social Forum. The theme of the gathering is “Another world is possible. Another US is necessary. Another Detroit is happening.” Well, three years ago the first US Social Forum was held in Atlanta. Attendees included the late South African poet and activist Dennis Brutus.
DENNIS BRUTUS: I’ve been in Brazil, Porto Alegre, and in India, Mumbai, and Nairobi earlier this year. We’ve had World Social Forums in different places. Each one, I think, builds on the movement, and it’s a movement of civil society. It’s people from the grassroots pushing for change. The slogan “Another World Is Possible” means we reject the kind of globalizing process that is today run by the corporations. We’re talking of grassroots globalization.
AMY GOODMAN: The late Dennis Brutus.
Well, this year’s US Social Forum will take place in Detroit from June 22nd to June 26th. Detroit will also host the Allied Media Conference from June 18th to June 20th, and Democracy Now! will be there for the week covering the US Social Forum and what’s happening here in Detroit.
Well, right now I’m joined by Adrienne Maree Brown. She is the executive director of the Ruckus Society and national coordinator of the US Social Forum and a board member of Allied Media.
Welcome to Democracy Now! Explain why you all have chosen Detroit, Adrienne.
ADRIENNE MAREE BROWN: Well, as you heard the poet say, it’s all about the grassroots globalization movement, and one of the things that is in that theme is "Another Detroit is happening." It was very important for us, coming out of Atlanta, to actually identify a city where there was already models of alternative visions for how we can be in the US and solution-oriented, but uplifting people’s democratic processes. And Detroit has been divested from for about thirty years now, and a long time ago, I think, they stopped relying on the government to come through with good solutions for the city. And as you heard from Nate and from Shea, you know, when the government is left in charge of anything, they start making a huge mess of it.
And yet there’s all these communities. You know, Grace Lee Boggs has been here for years, Detroit Summer has been working for years, the Boggs Center, Michigan Welfare Rights. There’s all these organizations who have been practicing new models. There’s 800 community gardens growing up in Detroit in all these spaces that otherwise would be called abandoned lots. There’s peace zones for life, where people are saying we can’t count on the police to take care of this in a nonviolent way, we’re going to come up with a nonviolent way to do it. It’s a new model, I think, for what a city can look like, and it’s a city that is in touch with the earth, that is in touch with its people, and that is really led by community.
I just moved to Detroit in September, because I got so excited about what’s happening here, and I wanted to be a part of it. And when it looked like the US Social Forum was able to come here, we already had a model from the Allied Media Conference. We had a model of what a national conference could look like here that was both about folks coming together and learning from each other, but also learning from the place that they’re in. And the Allied Media Conference has done an amazing job of that for several years.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what the Allied Media Conference is.
ADRIENNE MAREE BROWN: So the Allied Media Conference is a gathering basically of some of the most cutting-edge organizers in the country and communities in the country, and it’s a very hands-on gathering. So folks come to learn how to communicate with each other, so what are the most cutting-edge ways of communicating with each other, but in a hands-on way. So folks will walk out knowing how to build a radio broadcasting station. Folks will walk out knowing how to create a wireless network, a mesh network, throughout the city. And it’s folks who, you know, otherwise don’t have access to this stuff.
The Allied Media Conference locally has started a project called the Digital Justice Coalition, and it’s all about bringing communities into this century and beyond this century, but saying that these are open source tools, and they belong to us. Communication is our fundamental birthright in terms of how we are going to be with each other as human beings. So, I’ve said for years, it’s the best gathering that I’ve ever been to. I’m very, very proud to be a part of it.
And then this year it’s happening right before the Social Forum, and we’re actually going to have several bridge projects that move from the conference straight into the forum. So young people will come and learn how to create, for instance, open source wireless, which will then be broadcast from Hush House and King Solomon Church during the Social Forum. They’re going to do a huge "Another Detroit Is Happening" mural that folks will be able to contribute to all throughout the AMC and through the forum.
So there’s — you know, we understand a little bit about how do you come to a city and actually invest and build that city up, while learning as much as you can about the successful models that are already happening there. And it’s a totally different way to approach conferences. A lot of times people come to a gathering, and their feet never really touch the ground in the place that they’re in. In Detroit, you’re going to have to get your hands all the way up to the elbows in the dirt and garden and help retrofit some of the homes. And it’s going to be really amazing.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about how the US Social Forum began.
ADRIENNE MAREE BROWN: Alright. You know, the World Social Forum was already happening as a response to the World Economic Forums, where basically all the big money folks would get together around the world and say this is what we think the solutions are.
AMY GOODMAN: And that was in Davos, Switzerland.
ADRIENNE MAREE BROWN: That was Davos, Switzerland. And the World Social Forum began sort of as a response to that, to say there’s a grassroots globalization movement happening. There’s ways —
AMY GOODMAN: And this is in Porto Alegre, Brazil.
ADRIENNE MAREE BROWN: In Porto Alegre, yeah. And out of that, you know, happening — it happened for about five or six years, and they were like, you know, the US is actually the source point of a lot of the issues that we’re talking about at these gatherings, and our revolution and our changes will not actually be made possible and won’t work unless the US is involved in this process. And there was a real invitation to the US to join the rest of the world in a people-centered democratic process. And the openness of the forum is — it’s actually a challenge for us to try on in the US.
There’s people’s movement assemblies, and then there’s this gathering where folks come and just about anything you can imagine is happening. There’s a film festival happening. There’s performances happening. And then there’s these assemblies where folks are coming together and saying, “We care about climate justice. What do we actually need to do as a country, all together, to actually advance this? Copenhagen is clearly not making it happen. What are we going to do in order to lift this up from the US? What do our policies need to look like? What do our actions need to look like? And what do our communities needs to look like here?”
And in Atlanta, you know, it was like we were totally on training wheels trying to figure out how to do this process, and I think we did a really good job. But it gets people out of their comfort zone, because you can’t just come to a Social Forum expecting that you’re going to present your two-hour workshop and then leave without having received anything or participated in the process.
So when the first Social Forum came around, we had about 10,000 people say that they were going to come, 12,000 people registered, and about 15,000 people actually show up, and a lot of those were from Atlanta. For this one now, we’re trying to bring — you know, we keep saying 15,000 to keep it low, but, you know, I’m starting to hear 20,000, 30,000, and we want over half of those folks to be from Detroit, because Detroit is the epicenter of so many of the problems and the solutions that are happening right now.
AMY GOODMAN: When I last spoke to you, we were talking about President Obama —
ADRIENNE MAREE BROWN: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: — about the potential of the Obama presidency.
ADRIENNE MAREE BROWN: Mm-hmm.
AMY GOODMAN: Now we’re a year into it. What are your thoughts today?
ADRIENNE MAREE BROWN: I think that President Obama desperately needs us to have the Allied Media Conference and the US Social Forum, because I think in order to deliver — you know, we talked about this back then. He ran on a message of hope, and a lot of it was that "What are the people going to do?" Right? "What are you going to do? If you want to see this stuff change, you’re going to have to do it." And I don’t think people actually believed that. You know, I think they thought, "Oh, he’s going to get into office, and some miracle is going to happen." But those miracles happen in the mundane, everyday work that communities do together.
And the Allied Media Conference and the Social Forum are places where folks can come together and say, "What is working?" Right? Not just let’s lay out — these are all the problems that we have. We know we have, you know, a milieu of problems, and maybe they seem insurmountable if you’re all by yourself, isolated in a community. But when you come together with hundreds of thousands of other people all around the world who are actually trying to come up with these solutions, then I think it can make that hope become something that you can actually depend on. It can make it something real. I think President Obama should come through, you know, and check it out and see what communities in the country doing.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, you’re certainly operating in his tradition, perhaps decades ago, when he was a community organizer.
ADRIENNE MAREE BROWN: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Today is D-Day in Detroit. It’s Demolition Day.
ADRIENNE MAREE BROWN: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you see it as a day of destruction or a day of rebirth?
ADRIENNE MAREE BROWN: You know, I think that the demolition is a complicated matter, because it’s not being led by and it’s not being called for by communities. Right? There are actually ways that the city can be reconfigured and re-imagined, and communities are doing that all the time. There are buildings that folks have been asking, "Can you take this building down so that we can turn it into a garden, so that we can create an urban farm here?" I think that the mayor and the city council are going about this in a way that doesn’t actually acknowledge Detroit and doesn’t show that they actually know the city that they’ve taken the reins of. And so, really, you know, I’m hoping — as much as anyone else in the country sees how remarkable Detroit is this summer, I’m really hoping that the mayor and the city council come out and actually meet the citizens of Detroit and see what is possible here, that you don’t have to go through and just demolish the city. You can actually love this city and invite the city to recreate itself.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Adrienne Maree Brown, we thank you very much for being with us.
ADRIENNE MAREE BROWN: Thanks, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: National coordinator of the US Social Forum, executive director of the Ruckus Society, and a board member of Allied Media. We will be back together in June. Democracy Now! will be broadcasting here for the week of the US Social Forum. And we welcome your ideas and stories to cover here, especially from folks right here in Detroit. You can email us at stories(at)democracynow.org.