Jun 30, 2010
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
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.
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