US Social Forum–An Inspiring Day

US Social Forum:  Detroit, Michigan

A short blog today as we have a workshop to give at 10 AM.  Some highlights from yesterday:

–Hearing Grace Boggs and Emmanuel Wallerstein, two elders of the movement, in the morning.  Most memorable quotes:

Grace:  We have to use the negative to advance the positive.

Wallerstein:  We want a world that’s relatively democratic and relatively equal.  I say ‘relatively’ because nothing is ever perfect.

–Lisa Fithian’s workshop in the afternoon.  Of course I know Lisa well and work with her all the time but rarely have a chance to just listen to her lay out her approach to organizing, or see slides of some of her union organizing work.   I also want my friends from the Bayview to hear her, because we may need to start a new form of organizing to protect our major garden from being bulldozed by developers.  Lisa starts off by saying she’s tired—but Lisa tired still has twice the energy of any ten ordinary people.  No time to say more about the workshop now—but check out her website for her own notes and lots of resources.  A really incredible resource!

–Meeting up with friends and going out to the food booths to grab some quick dinner.  Connecting with some of the folks I haven’t seen much of from actions long ago.

–Finally meeting my old friend Marta Benevides, who does community organizing in El Salvador.  Reclaiming, my extended spiritual network, has had a long term solidarity project to help support her work, ever since she came to a gathering of ours back in the ‘nineties.

We end up sitting in a circle of chairs near the entrance to Cobo Hall, talking with some of the young people who have been working with Marta.  In El Salvador, she’s started an Ecohouse and a museum.  She works with communities striving to build a culture of peace amidst the growing violence.  In El Salvador, as in Mexico, as in the Bayview, the lethal combination of drugs and violence opens the door to even more lethal police violence and intertwined corruption—and in El Salvador it’s gotten much, much worse in the last few years.

A couple of the young men are from Williamsburg, Pennsylvania, another community plagued by violence, where a Texas company is planning to move sixty thousand workers in to open up a huge natural gas field.  As we sit, one person after another comes by.  There’s an open chair in the circle and it gets filled over and over again with another amazing person doing great work.  My old friend Grove Harris turns up—she has been doing lots of interfaith work and was a major organizer of the World Parliament of Religions.

We go on to Grace Lee Boggs’ ninety-fifth birthday party in the ballroom.  It’s a beautiful tribute to her life and work—and sweet to see how much she is loved and respected.   Marta wants to dance—her style of organizing requires much dancing.  I remember one great day when I visited her in El Salvador.  We were cleaning up and rebuilding a school to be used for technical training.  But before we started work, we had a gathering and some of the organizers were  honored and given certificates.  Then a local band played.  After that we put on some music and danced the Macarena.  Then we worked—and blasted through a lot in a few hours.  Then we had lunch.  Then we went to the beach and swam and played in the waves.  At the end of the day, I led a ritual.  By then we felt we had known each other forever.  “If it’s not fun, why do it?

Listening to Grace Boggs, connecting with the wonderful people she and her late husband James Boggs collected around them, I am struck by how unafraid they are to talk about love.  With all the anger, our own frustrations and the violence we face, they still put love at the heart of their work.  So do the other great organizers I know—Marta, and Lisa, and Lena in the Bayview.  Anger is real and vital but you can’t sustain a life built on anger as its sole foundation.  There’s a sense of love and joy that permeates this gathering.  Very little grumbling—although there are things we could grumble about—and lots of radiant delight.  If we can knit these strands into a whole with a unified sense of purpose, what a power we can be!

Today—two workshops and a ritual.  Here’s the details:  all are here in Detroit, Michigan!

Organizing for the Long Haul—10 AM at Woodward Academy room 1470

Grace Boggs is coming to this one—along with Shea Howell, Margo Adair, Carlos Alicea Negron, and Cathy Sanchez!

Vision-Based and Solution-Based Organizing—1 pm at Woodward Academy 1472

myself, Margo, and others.

Full Moon Ritual 8 pm at the Spiritual Healing Space in the Canopy Village—to find it, from Cobo Hall go down to the river, turn right and walk up along the river about six blocks.

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