Thousands of people from across the country marched through Detroit Tuesday afternoon to kick off the opening ceremony of the US Social Forum. The colorful, joyous, and sometimes raucous procession down Detroit’s Woodward Avenue included social movements and community organizations struggling for justice on everything from healthcare, the environment, fair trade, labor solidarity, immigrant rights, and racial profiling to Palestine solidarity, ending the wars, police brutality, and the devastating impact of the recession on people’s lives and sense of security. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We’re on the road in Detroit, where more than 10,000 people from across the country and the world marched here yesterday to kick off the opening ceremony of the US Social Forum. The colorful, joyous, sometimes raucous procession down Detroit’s Woodward Avenue included social movements and community organizations struggling for justice on everything from healthcare, the environment, fair trade, labor solidarity, immigrant rights and racial profiling to Palestine solidarity, ending the wars, police brutality, and the devastating impact of the recession on people’s lives and sense of security. After nearly two hours of walking, chanting and dancing in the blazing summer heat, an estimated crowd of over 10,000 arrived at Cobo Hall, the headquarters of the Social Forum activities this week.
Voices from the opening march at the US Social Forum here in Detroit.
FRANCISCO ROMERO: My name is Francisco Romero from Oxnard, California. I’m here with the Unión del Barrio contingent, alongside with a lot of other organizations that have come from California to join in this year’s US Social Forum. It’s a space where everybody could get to know each other, network, and build the movement to a stronger level and a stronger capacity. So, right here, what you have today is the opening day. And we expect more, thousands more, to come. As you can see, everybody’s flowing in right now from across the globe to the US Social Forum here in Detroit.
ABAYOMI AZIKYWE: My name is Abayomi Azikywe. I’m with the Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shutoffs. We’re based here in the city of Detroit. Detroit is the epicenter of the current economic crisis. It’s also ground zero for the emerging fightback movement. We have to build broad coalitions. We have to fight against this terrible economic crisis that we’re facing right now. It’s manifesting itself in so many different ways here in the city of Detroit and in the state of Michigan. We have schools that are closing. We have the highest unemployment rate in the country. We have escalating police repression. We have efforts to downsize and right-size the city.
So it’s very important that all these social movements and organizations are coming here to Detroit. They can learn a lot from the people here in this city, the struggles that have been waged over the last several decades, and also to regroup, to move forward, and to fight for a just world, to end the exploitation and the oppression. We have to move forward in this country, and I think this is a good starting point. There are thousands of people who are out here representing many different social movements and political organizations, environmental groups, groups struggling to release political prisoners, who are fighting against the prison-industrial complex, immigrant rights. All of these issues are very, very important. So I think this is a great sight. It paints a picture of what we want to see in America in the future.
AHMINA MAXEY: My name’s Ahmina Maxey. I’m a member of the Zero Waste Detroit Coalition. We are planning, next Saturday, the Clean Air, Good Jobs, Justice march to the incinerator to demand that the city of Detroit clean up its air. In Southwest Detroit, that area has over five of the worst zip codes for air pollution in the whole state. The communities that live, especially in 48217, in Southwest Detroit, they are largely African American communities, communities of color. These issues are environmental justice issues, because they are continually burdened with more and more environmental hazard, after the fact that they’re out of attainment for a lot of air quality issues. So a lot of this is an environmental justice issue. And not only that, it’s a human rights issue.
What the Social Forum has done for Detroit is highlight all the awesome work that’s already happening in the city, all the awesome activism that’s going on. In addition to that, it’s brought us connections with people across the nation that we can share our knowledge with, and they can share their knowledge with us.
KIM FORD: My name is Kim Ford. I’m here in Detroit with the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New Orleans, Louisiana. When I came to Detroit, I was kind of surprised, because Detroit looks a lot like New Orleans, in such a state of disrepair, with so many abandoned buildings. And I was shocked by that. You know, I didn’t realize it. I know that there were some financial difficulties, but it’s such a similarity. And it’s sad that across our country we still have the same sort of disproportionate disparities, you know, and it’s a little frightening. It’s a little frightening. And then, it’s like, in our country, the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer, because restaurant workers across the country are still paid $2.13 an hour. You know, and it’s time for that to — the minimum wage for restaurant workers to be lifted. So we have people from all over the country, from ROC United in New York, ROC-New York, ROC-Miami, ROC — we have a ROC here in Michigan also. So it’s been an enlightening experience. The whole convening has just been very great and very motivating, so that when we go back to our communities, we want to be able to help organize restaurant workers.
MIKE BOLTON: I’m Mike Bolton. I’m the director for District 2, which covers Wisconsin and Michigan. I’m with the steelworkers. And my issue and one of our issues, many issues, is fair trade. And we’ve got to do something about trade, or we’re not going to have any more jobs. So that’s really why I’m here. I’m going to be talking tomorrow about a community of 6,000 that lost a paper mill that has been there over a hundred years. Seventy percent of those people — the paper mill shut down two years ago because of trade. Seventy percent of those 600 people are still not working today. Small businesses have been closed down, small mom-and-pop restaurants, gas stations. The community is decimated because of it. And if we would have had fair trade, that paper mill would have still been working.
MARIBEL HERMOSILLO: My name is Maribel Hermosillo, and I’m from San Antonio, Texas. And I’m here with the People’s Freedom Caravan, coming from San Antonio, Texas, all the way here to Detroit. The importance of the US Social Forum is to bring everybody together, because we need to change the United States. And it’s — you know, there was the World Social Forum, and then everybody was like, “Well, your country needs your own social forum.” You know, like the United States is mostly the reason for a lot of the things that are going on around the world. So we need to change the United States, first and foremost.
LOREAN DARBY-HENRY: My name is Lorean Darby-Henry from Miami, Florida. I’m with the Miami Workers Center, the organization LIFT. We’re here fighting for equal housing. They’re trying to tear down Miami and build these high-end rental places that the people can’t afford. Same thing is happening here in Detroit. They know that Detroit is basically starving because of the car industry. Housing is an equal right for us, for here and in Detroit.
GREY: My name is Grey. I’m with the Florida Immigrant Coalition, Students Working for Equal Rights. And I’m here because obviously 20,000 of us knew that we needed to fight for justice. I definitely expect for my mind to be blown over the next five days. I really want to learn more. I want to grow with the community of folks that are here, and I definitely want to — you know, I have a lot of expectations, so I can bring back to my organization.
HELENA WONG: My name is Helena Wong. I’m with CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities. Being a part of the Social Forum has been really great for us in Atlanta 2007, and really looking forward to this one, because it’s really an opportunity for us to interact with other social movements. As an Asian organization, there aren’t a lot of other Asian organizations, especially in New York, so we’re here with our allies from around the country, and we’re really excited to be here.
KATE KANELSTEIN: My name Kate Kanelstein, and I’m with the Vermont Workers’ Center. And we’re here with our members of the Workers’ Center and the Healthcare Is a Human Right campaign building a movement with our brothers and sisters from across the country. We just had a huge victory on our Healthcare Is a Human Right campaign in Vermont. Folks are probably hearing about it. We just passed one of the first state legislation to design a universal healthcare, single-payer system that meets human rights standards, and it’s happening right now. It was the work of our Healthcare Is a Human Right campaign. And we’re here because we want to lead the way for the country in creating another world in terms of healthcare, in the way we treat it in the United States as a commodity rather than the human right that it really is.
SOPHIA BRYANT: My name is Sophia Bryant. I’m with Picture the Homeless. It’s an organization led and founded by homeless and previous — formerly homeless people. Right now I’m in between. I lost my housing. I’m here today with my organization to fight the injustices that are going on in this country and around the world, for people in general, but especially for people who need housing, people in shelters and on the street. They don’t look at us, you know? It’s like we’re invisible. And then when they do see homeless people, they judge them. They’re still people, whether they’re laying on the sidewalk, in the subway, or if they’re in shelters, OK? We all need decent, affordable housing, permanent housing, not shelters. We want housing, not shelters. We the people just need to take back our power, and we could do it. We need the numbers. That’s all we need to wake people up and make them realize. Where are we going to be in five or ten years, if we don’t start, you know, coming together and demanding our rights? That’s what it’s all about today.
ALLISON JULIEN: My name is Allison Julien. I’m with Domestic Workers United in New York. And for us, being at the Social Forum this year is huge, because we just had our bill passed in the Senate. And this is exciting for us to let the world know that domestic workers are here, and we need real protection for the jobs that we do. Being a part of the Detroit 2010 Social Forum is amazing. The energy is high. The excitement is here. The adrenaline is here. And knowing that we’re in Detroit giving back to this community and rebuilding as workers and as a movement is really fantastic. Words can’t express the adrenaline that’s here and the energy that I’m feeling right now.
AMY GOODMAN: Voices from the opening march at the US Social Forum here in Detroit. Special thanks to Democracy Now!’s Anjali Kamat and Jacquie Soohen for that report.