Excerpts from my journal while in Detroit, moving backwards (not always), last to first.
About deindustrialization, depopulation, residential and commercial vacancy, corruption of capitalism—and the rise of urban gardens, local resistance and activist organizations—ending with news about the US Social Forum, Allied Media Conference, and the first public national gathering of anti-Zionist Jews in the United States.
In several parts, with periodic photos and videos.
The uncompromising attempt to live one’s highest ideals openly and consistently is… the most effective social action one can take.
— Jim Corbett, Goatwalking
June 26, 2010, Saturday, Detroit, home of KD
A batch of dreams last night, perhaps because I slept on the floor rather than the bed—due to Rick’s loud snoring.
Among them: renting or loaning my home to a group of men. They might have expected me to cook for them, I didn’t cook, when I returned I saw they’d cooked and left dishes unwashed. They also left chicken that I ate. As they packed up, they said nothing to me, obviously aggrieved at my lack of services.
In the second I was biking along a narrow road, passing in the opposite direction a group of lovely young women. A loud motorcycle passed me and I considered how attractive the driver might be to the women compared to my attractiveness. I rode an old bike, the seat not adjusted high enough. I tottered a bit trying to start.
Ah, there were so many others, contemplated as I lay awake, and now vanished into some space that I cannot access.
My main event yesterday was the workshop I led at the Social Forum, Photography as a Tool for Political Transformation. [Syllabus and information] It drew some 30 people, surprising me. I expected between 5 and 15. Mostly young, some with much experience in the topic, a somewhat tired group—late afternoon session, hot and muggy in the room, little ventilation, tight quarters—requiring me to shift pedagogy to attune to their condition. Which meant small groups, large group reports and participating in designing a timeline, watching examples of the photography, listening to stories, asking questions.
The relative success of this session prompts me to consider expanding it to a full 8-week or so series at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education or elsewhere. I used about 1/10 the material I had accumulated, expecting this. I always stuff my cannon with more fodder than I can possibly shoot.
One young man, Spike, especially engaging, suggested after the session ended that next time I offer an agenda. He wasn’t sure how long each section would last, and he grew tired, as I’m sure some others did, creating the timeline. He also had advice about how to approach Jewish venues by being careful with who cosponsors my offering. He is Jewish as I’m sure several others were. I spoke frequently about my work and displayed photos from my current Gaza series. This, by the way, and my other workshop, Hydropolitics of Palestine/Israel, were the only times I displayed the photos, even tho scheduled to present at the Palestine tent. The tent was finally dismantled, individual tables moved to the main Cobo Hall display area.
Now that I’ve completed my main assignments at the Forum I feel relaxed and celebratory. The celebration came in 2 phases, attending a full moon ceremony led by Starhawk along the river, and making use of my relatively private sleeping space to imagine what if. Starhawk, matronly, plump, with a soft graceful voice, led us thru the ceremony. We formed a circle, relaxing and meditating (led first by Grove then guided by Starhawk), standing and relating to the 4 earth elements, fire, water, earth, air, by stepping forward when Starhawk called one, moving slightly in a dance-like manner, calling into the circle something related to our element that moves us or that we like, each element in turn. I stepped forward for water and earth, photography and garden.
Starhawk, photo courtesy of the internet
Next to me was one of the most attractive older women I’ve met in months, if not years, a radiant, long haired, blond woman, wearing a long, brightly colored dress, barefoot for this ceremony, wearing no jewelry or makeup. When we introduced each other, me mentioning my Israel-Palestine work, she said we have something in common. I’ve been to Gaza 4 times this year. I work with Codepink, bringing in delegations. My name is [I’ll call her KK.] I first noticed her at the earlier dinner in the Eastern Market, at the Ethiopian restaurant, as Codepinkers and friends all sat outside galloping down our buffet. There is something very special about her; I probably will never meet her again.
At the ceremony we next formed a spiral dance line, holding hands with Karen on my left and KK on my right, weaving and chanting what we’d learned earlier: we take the dream and make it real. I swayed and reveled, remembering our summer solstice celebrations along the Charles River, organized by JVB, Minga, and me.
This was the perfect culmination of the Social Forum—and of my 3 back-to-back conferences: river, moon, circle, dance, chant, meditate, meet people, stand on grass, little head work, much heart work. Later in my floor fantasy I continued the experience in ecstasy and abandon, not with KK, nor with K, but with a young dark-skinned beauty at the ceremony with the most ideally formed limbs, long black hair, flowing white dress. She and I somehow linked and agreed to coitus along the river—blessed by the full moon, our private full moon ceremony. This also is in line with a key ingredient of my former solstice design: orgy.
Another hit of the day was staffing the Itisapartheid table for Rick. This was an opportunity to sit on the back side of the table. Rather than asking, I was asked; rather than submit to solicitation, I solicited. And met, since we were back to back with the American Friends Service Committee table, someone from that agency. Alice Rothschild stopped by to greet. I met a young woman disenchanted with Quakers because she found at her Brooklyn meeting little political activism. We commiserated and agreed on many points. She mentioned hearing about racial incidents at some Quaker meetings, and was aware of the newly published book that pinpoints the historic—and continuing—gap between Quaker word and act, Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship. We agreed, that despite our best efforts to end racism among Friends, problems remain. As with Sandwich meeting on Cape Cod declaring that they are not racist, some, maybe many in New England Yearly Meeting, reject the accusation of being by definition white racist.
Such spontaneous encounters are the lifeblood of these gatherings.
In trying to understand the logic of the Forum organizers, why they chose such disparately located venues, Grove and I thought maybe it was for political reasons. Cobo Hall was large enough to hold all events, but perhaps to spread the wealth and prestige organizers distributed the sites. Which doesn’t explain why the tent cluster site was so inaccessible, or why the residential tents weren’t put along the river, a much more accessible and earth-connected place than where the sleeping tents were located.
Click image for enlargement
While riding the radial train, called the People Mover [see video placed above], while videoing much of the route, I met a friendly plump woman who told me the local media has extensively covered the Forum, usually with a positive tone. She asked me, you’re not a political group are you, like the Tea Partyers? Well, we are very political but not in the direction of the Tea Party. I was then tempted to mention communists, socialists, anarchists, gay rights advocates and the like attending our Forum, but held back, no, we are not the mainstream political parties, you might call us progressive or the radical left.
Trying to locate the site of my afternoon workshop, Woodward Academy, I ran aground in the labyrinth of downtown Detroit. With its origin in French urban planning, the center is radial, called Cadillac Square (or a newer name), near Comerica Park. Which creates much confusion about direction. I asked 3 local people how to reach Woodward Academy, intersection of I-75 and Lafayette. All were perplexed; one suggested looking at a Google map. He found someone with a compatible phone, looked up directions, and then asked an assistant in his café to write them down. She tried, then, exasperated, said, just go down Monroe, thru Greektown, across I-75 and you’ll be there. It worked, but I learned that even resident Detroiters are confused by some sections of the city.
Grove toured Detroit’s southwest region, near the Detroit River, heavily polluted by plants that process the discharge of sand tar oil mining [my earlier blog] in Canada. She related health facts, the disastrous connection between pollution and health. I hope to visit this area in my free time, an example of the desperation of Detroit. I’d also like to visit Arab Detroit, near Dearborn, and the sites of the auto industry.
Reading Amy’s interview on Democracy Now with one of the Social Forum organizers I realize I’m not precisely cross sectioning the Forum experience. One element missing from my knowledge is the People’s Movement Assemblies, when organizers can coalesce around their issues. This is one of the main purposes of the US Social Forum and I’ve missed it. Mainly because I am not an organizer.
TO BE CONTINUED
Exercises to learn photojournalism by Skip Schiel
“Thousands Converge in People’s Movement Assemblies to Launch National Action Agenda:”
People’s Movement Assemblies at the US Social Forum, Detroit and Octavia Butler, interview on Democracy Now
One of Starhawk’s blogs about the Social Forum: “US Social Forum: Resilience“