US Social Forum: Resilience

Community gardens: Resilience in Detroit

US Social Forum—Resilience

I’m home now—and how I love my own bed!  But it was worth foregoing it for a week to go to the US Social Forum—even though by the last day I saw very little of the meetings or formal process.  The best part of these things is always what happens in the hallways—and I was never able to get through the lobby of the Forum without having half a dozen intense and fascinating conversations.  But if I sum up what it all meant to me, the theme that emerges is around diversity and resilience.

In nature, diversity of the right degree confers resilience, and I saw that in Detroit.  The Forum itself was tremendously diverse, offering us a precious chance both to learn from others’ experiences and to recognize that others from all different races and cultures and situations are dealing with the same damn things as we are.  And that they might have some new and illuminating approaches that can enrich what we’re doing—or even have made some mistakes we can learn from and avoid.

Over the many, many decades I’ve been a political activist, I’ve seen many movements overcome huge divides.  I remember earnest debates in the ‘seventies about whether gay women and straight women could ever really work together in the same organization with any sense of trust.  Now, in the days of LGBTQ alphabet soup (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer—I suggest we add fluid, uncertain, confused and kookie—check our that acronym!) that’s no longer much of an issue.

But the race thing has continued, often, to keep us divided.  Too many times I’ve sat in meetings having the same conversation, over and over again—where are the people of color?  The answer is not to go comb the streets, dragging in random people to make our group look more diverse.  Nor is it to stop doing what we’re doing, if it’s the work we’re called to. An effective answer  involves drawing a bigger circle, like this Forum has done, that includes all of our multiple movements and issues within it as allies, and if we have resources or skills or connections, saying to our brothers and sisters, “We’re on the same mission—how can I be of service to you?”

The Forum has allowed me and Lena and Jasmine to hang out a bit in one another’s worlds in a way that is actually harder to do at home in San Francisco, where we’re entrenched in our responsibilities.  We’ve gotten to meet each others’ friends and have time for relaxed conversations.  I know that Lena likes her coffee strong and she knows I’m addicted to English Breakfast Tea.  Jasmine has confessed that she likes Sex in the City—they know of my inability to tolerate the volume at which hip-hop is performed, and they are willing to sit through at least ten minutes of a Bob Dylan-style folksinger at the Anarchist Convergence.  Ultimately, these experiences will put our work together on a stronger foundation.

Resilience—on Saturday Shea Howell from the Boggs Center takes us on a tour of some of the gardens.  Detroit is a living example of that old anarchist slogan “Building the new world in the vacant lots of the old.”  Detroit itself contains a huge expanse of vacant lots, and many of them have been turned into gardens.  We see small plots and large expanses, fruit swelling on the trees, tomatoes not yet ripe on the vines, food growing out of the waste.

Shea Howell pointing at the wind generator on the barn.

Shea Howell pointing at the wind generator on the barn.

We visit the Catherine Ferguson High School for pregnant teens and teen mothers–with a garden, a farm, a barn and a horse.  The girls there learn parenting skills, bring the babies to class, and learn their lessons through gardening and growing food.  97% of them go on to college.  The city had the school on the top of its list to close–but the community rallied around and saved it.

Shea takes us to the Heidelberg Project, where artist Tyree Guiton has turned a whole block of devastated houses and lots into a living and ever-changing exhibit of found art: sculptures of scrap metal, houses painted with faces and polka dots, stuffed bunnies hanging crucified on telephone poles, abstract pyramids of old doors, and more.  Trash becomes art: resilience!

The Heidelberg Project

In one vacant lot, the Code Pink women have buried a hummer, and painted it pink.  I meet Rae and Medea and Tighe, and hear about their harrowing experiences when they tried to cross the border into Windsor, Canada for lunch.  They were stopped—Medea Benjamin has been turned back from Canada before on the grounds of her lengthy arrest record for various acts of civil disobedience—but instead of simply being turned away they were detained for hours, as were two groups who came to support them.  Everyone eventually got back, except for Tighe who was held for two nights.  When they asked on what grounds he was being held, they were told, “Your government does this all the time.  Except instead of holding people for forty-eight hours, you hold them for years.”

Rae, Medea, Tighe and me.

Rae, Medea, Tighe and me.

Another chilling moment—Shea gets a call that someone has disappeared–one of the Latino members of an organization from my own Mission District back in San Francisco.  We don’t know if he’s been picked up by the police or by the immigration police or what—and I still don’t know if he’s been found.

In Toronto, protestors against the G20 have been rounded up and arrested by the hundreds, beaten and the women threatened with sexual assault.  The police violence begins long before a single window is broken—but many windows do get broken and six cop cars are burned.  Of course, the hundreds of people arrested are not the ones who broke the windows.  I have a lot more to say about this topic—but that will have to wait for a later time—at the very least, until the arrestees are out of jail.  Then, maybe, we can discuss whether or not window breaking is strategic.   Now, I’m home and the day has begun and I have work to do.  So this will be my last post about the Forum.

Jasmine Marshall and Lena Miller of Hunters Point Family

As joyful as the Forum has been, it takes place in the midst of a world daily growing more grim, more controlled and vicious.  Uniting across our differences, building this movement is no longer optional—it’s necessary if we are to survive.  And as we do, the great powers of creativity and resilience become our allies.

6 comments to US Social Forum: Resilience

  • […] forum and what truly makes it both possible and successful, is the diversity of the participants.  Starhawk made this eloquently observation about this crucial […]

  • As a MI native currently living in a rural area of the Sonoran Desert I am pleased and amazed to hear these stories about Detroit. When I was living in SE MI as a child and young adult Detroit was the place NOT to be. I am happy to hear all that is beginning to change.

    Thank you for these reports,


  • Sara: in northern rural Alabama

    Hey Star, Give us an update on the process for getting The Fifth Sacred Thing from book to movie screen. As you are well aware … the time is now. Sara

    • I hope to have some news about that this Fall. But if you’ve become a personal friend of James Cameron or someone like him, let me know!

      • Sara: in northern rural Alabama

        this is from wikkipedia. you sure you want him?

        Perceptions by colleagues

        Cameron has been labeled by one collaborator, author Orson Scott Card, as selfish and cruel. When asked about working with Cameron on the novelization of The Abyss, Card said the experience was
        hell on wheels. He was very nice to me, because I could afford to walk away. But he made everyone around him miserable, and his unkindness did nothing to improve the film in any way. Nor did it motivate people to work faster or better. And unless he changes his way of working with people, I hope he never directs anything of mine.[67]
        After working with Cameron on the set of Titanic, Kate Winslet decided she would not work with Cameron again unless she earned “a lot of money.” She admitted Cameron was a nice man, but felt he had too much of a temper.[68] In an editorial, the British newspaper The Independent said that Cameron “is a nightmare to work with. Studios have come to fear his habit of straying way over schedule and over budget. He is notorious on set for his uncompromising and dictatorial manner, as well as his flaming temper.”[68]
        Sam Worthington, the latest lead actor to work with Cameron, stated on the Jay Leno Show that Cameron had very high expectations from everyone, and would often use a nail gun to nail the film crew’s cell phones to a wall above an exit door in retaliation to unwanted ringing during production.[69] During the promotion for Avatar, Cameron stated on Jimmy Kimmel Live! that although he doubts anyone would describe him as a mellow person, he is at least mellower than he was before.[70]
        Other actors, such as Bill Paxton and Sigourney Weaver, have praised Cameron’s perfectionist work ethic. Weaver said of Cameron: “He really does want us to risk our lives and limbs for the shot, but he doesn’t mind risking his own.”[71]

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