Beyond the din of the World Cup in Johannesburg, and just south of the protests of the ill-fated G-20 Summit in Toronto , the U.S. Social Forum was in full swing. So much so, that I didn't get a chance to blog while at the event! Nevertheless, on the 3-day drive back from Detroit to Oakland, CA, I managed to chronicle some of the path-breaking work activists at the forum did on food sovereignty. Here is the first installment:
We are making the road trek back from Detroit to Oakland, pushing steadily through that great green sea called the Midwest. It is staggering to think that Monsanto -- who owns the patent on over 90% of the U.S.'s genetically engineered corn seed -- has its profit-producing patent locked tightly in to pretty much every single corn plant we will see for the next three days.
I'm coming back from the USSF, the 2nd US Social Forum. Held in Detroit (Atlanta hosted the first), it was quite an experience, not just because it brought 15,000 activists together -- but because of Detroit. I'd never spent time here and had only the bombed-out images from Michael Moore's documentaries to rely on for first impressions. The bad news is that Moore's images are real; during the USSF's opening ceremonies, we marched through the city's center, a surreal patchwork of attractive squares and bustling high-rises, checkered with empty buildings, open lots, for-lease signs and homeless people everywhere.
The good news is that Detroit still rocks -- because of the people. Coming from the cooler-than-thou state of California, Detroiters are disarmingly warm and friendly, even when under siege from thousands of activists from across the U.S. They are also turning many of their empty lots into community gardens to provide fresh, healthy food (and a bit of income) to its beleaguered citizens. Behind Detroit's green islands lay not Monsanto's patents, but a growing people's movement for food justice and economic democracy.
Another Detroit is Happening!
On my first morning at the forum, I went to a reception held by D2D--Detroit to Dakar, a coalition looking to link social movements in the US with their African counterparts. Malik Yakini, chairman of the Detroit Black Food Security Network welcomed activists to Detroit by pointing out the historical connections between the city's African-American community and African struggles for national independence and anti-apartheid. Linking the Detroit Black Food Security Network's efforts to build local community food systems in African-American communities to the Social Forum's international struggle to for a better world, he claimed: Another World is Possible; Another U.S. is Necessary; and Another Detroit is Happening!
Actor-activist Danny Glover stopped in between takes to provide encouragement to the gathering. Glover, the head of TransAfrica Forum, reminded participants that social movements in the countries of the Global South are struggling hard against the devastating impacts of U.S. corporations and U.S. foreign policy. There were plenty of international activists at the Forum who'd come to share information about the abuses of U.S. power and to see if their U.S. counterparts could help do something about it.
The U.S. groups have their hands full as well. Our country now has nearly 50 million hungry people. The parallels -- and differences -- between the work of food justice groups in the U.S. and the demands of Food Sovereignty groups of the Global South are striking, and Detroit is an emblematic venue for their meeting. The recent moves by big developers to develop industrial agriculture in Detroit not only threatens to displace the grassroots efforts of African-American communities, they also reflect the global industrial trends seeking to bring the world's food systems under a single corporate roof. The massive land grabs taking place in Africa, the displacement of local seeds with GMOs, and the violent dislocation of peasant communities to make way for industrial plantations in the Global South are not far removed from the urban realities of Detroit.