Syracusans Attend US Social Forum
Brian Dominick

Three Syracusans in front of the main hall at the US Social Forum. From left: Anthony Salvador, Gary Bonaparte and Maresh Escoffery. Photo: Aggie Lane.

Activists from Central New York were among 15,000 or so who attended the second US Social Forum, held in the economically depressed but politically active city of Detroit. The event opened with an enormous, festively boisterous march downtown on Tuesday, June 22. That demonstration set the tone for an event marked by an impressively diverse range of participants sporting positive, enthusiastic attitudes about the prospects for social change in the United States.

The Forum was as remarkable for its political diversity as for the range of races, ages, ethnicities, and genders engaged in more than 1,000 workshops, assemblies, and plenaries held mostly over three core days of programming. Organizations from all over the country (and beyond) hosted presentations and discussions on topics as specific as reporting a group's local organizing efforts (“Lessons on Building Black & Latino Unity in South Florida”) to issues of broad vision and program (“Left Strategies from the Grassroots”). Presenting organizations ranged from mainstream nonprofits and NGOs, to political parties and unions, to obscure radical collectives and issue-based groups.

Syracusans in attendance were generally thrilled to have participated in this year's follow-up event to the first USSF held in Atlanta three years prior. Traveling to Detroit by car, plane and train, at least ten  Syracuse area residents from three generations were present for the conference.

For SPC Steering Committee member Richard Vallejo, one highlight was the “vibrant feeling that comes from a wide range of people and groups gathered for a common purpose – conversations and inspiration for strategy, analysis, and in general keeping our movements moving forward together.”

In the eyes of some local activists, the USSF was an opportunity to find context and common interests. Aggie Lane, a longtime member of the Partnership for Onondaga Creek, noted that the Forum “underscored that many groups have similar problems that we have here, especially around green job creation and environmental racism.”

Finding commonalities and solidarity was a common theme. “The event helped me see the connections between my immigration rights work and the broader progressive struggle,” said  Senegal-born Aly Wane, a Peace Council organizer. “I met another African immigrant activist, and we were able to talk about our particular perspective as African activists trying to navigate the very complex American cultural and socioeconomic landscape.”

SPC staffperson Carol Baum was energized by attending workshops seeking alternatives to the Left's tired habit of resorting to marches and rallies as the default when the question “What do we do now?” comes up. “Building Power Through Creative Tactics” hit the spot, contributing to her conclusion that “creativity is there to be had, [it] just requires some practice and can be facilitated by how it's framed.”

Disappointments for Syracusans at the USSF included poor and expensive food choices that weren't particularly vegetarian-friendly. Countless events were canceled, moved without effective notice, booked solid, or otherwise inaccessible, symptoms of the massive scope and the overwhelming attendance.

Whether one was catching up with old friends or meeting amazing new people working on far-flung issues in every corner of the country, in the end it was the people and connections that made the week a success.

Detroit was an ideal venue for an event of this kind. Desperate for economic stimulus, the people, businesses, and even police were aggressively accommodating of the massive influx of activists. More importantly, it was an opportunity for Detroit-based organizers to show off the hard work they are doing in one of the country's most economically devastated cities, and to draw attention to their struggles. The chance to learn from Detroit's trials may prove invaluable as capitalism continues to fail Americans everywhere.

Brian is a news analyst based in Syracuse.