Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Fighting for justice: John Hill on the final day of the US Social Forum


Leftist Lounge, incinerator action, National Peoples' Movement Assembly

Last day. On the ride in my cab driver Sharif says that it’s a serious situation in Detroit. I tell him I’ve heard about how bad it is in some neighborhoods. I ask him if he can give me a tour of these neighborhoods later.

I sat out the Leftist Lounge last night, realizing I was too tired. One of my new friends, probably in his forties, was frightened by the fierce energy radiating from the multiple venues and retreated. Two activists there said it was great. They sat in a courtyard listening to Latin music. They also saw a break dance competition.

According to Jolie and Adam from ACE (Alternatives for Community and Environment ( there were about a thousand people at this mornings’ action, a protest against a local waste incinerator, the largest in the world. Adam said he could smell it. How was the demonstration? "Powerful."

I’m attending the National Peoples Movements Assembly, where a synthesis of the sense, beliefs, and proposals of all the roughly 100 PMAs that have taken place - about 50 in other cities, 50 here - are communicated to the plenary.

Children make their demands

The Bolivian ambassador to the United States addresses the assembly and is warmly received. There is a song and speech from the Children’s Social Forum. One boy keeps getting herded back from the edge of the stage. A girl steps out and gives a speech. It goes something like this:

We need you to help us because we need three things:

First, no bullies, because they hurt people and feelings;

Second, better food, because ours is cold and nasty;

Third, better school supplies, because ours are used and dirty.

I wander in and out of the assembly a couple of times. Once I see and hear an R&B band, four men up front in their matching getups. The music is happening and they have the moves.

Gaza freedom flotilla

I meet former US military officer Ann Wright, who resigned in protest over the invasion of Iraq. She has a pail of money. She is trying to raise $300,000 in three weeks to help finance a US boat to join the next Gaza Freedom Flotilla (

There are hip hop-style poets performing during the closing ceremony. We are dazzled by their verbal pyrotechnics with soul.

Brief tour of parts of West and East sides

I meet two WILPF women from Vermont plus Charlotte Dennet, author of The People v. Bush: One Lawyer's Campaign to Bring the President to Justice and the Nationwide Grassroots Movement She's Encountered Along the Way (

Sharif takes us through parts of the West and East sides. It’s eery how nature has encroached on the neighborhood, with fields where there were lawns three years ago. Block after block of empty boarded-up houses and some deserted but not boarded up. Animals in some of them, and people. No lights at night. No power.

Some houses are burned out hulks. Sometimes there will be a single well-fortified house standing in the middle of a bunch of abandoned ones. Then there’ll be a lonely block of nice homes in an otherwise forbidding area. There are abandoned businesses, gas stations, office buildings. We see a tall ornate building about 20 stories high with vines growing all over it, completely empty. Like something out of 12 Monkeys.

Sharif intones his refrain like a mantra as he gestures to the left and right: “This building: empty. This one: empty, This gas station: empty. This house: empty.”

He refuses to go down one street. In broad daylight. “They kill you,” he says.

Turns out this is coming from someone who has apparently faced death numerous times. His story: Iraqi soldier captured by the Americans in the Gulf War, enlists in the American army afterward and goes to Iraq and Afghanistan as a trainer. Escapes assassination by Iranian spies on three occasions. Comes to Detroit because of family and the Arab community. Has driven a cab for many years. Like my driver yesterday, says Detroit is worse than he’s ever seen it.

We’re taking pictures and sometimes we ask him to stop, which he does, barely attempting to see if anyone’s behind him because no one ever is. He says that three years ago, these neighborhoods had people, homes, and going concerns. I realize I have no clear understanding of what happened here, but I certainly am going to find out.

I see an old man sitting on a beat-up falling-apart stoop without a shirt. He does not look good. I am ashamed.

Defiance and hope

But Detroit is not defeated. Far from it. I’ll bet just about all the activists here are impressed by the energy, commitment, and spirit of local activists and the city that welcomes us warmly. Detroit is fighting. I’ll provide links to Sarah for people who want to join them.

Knowledge Is Born

The Detroit spirit is exemplified by rapper Knowledge Is Born

When I wander out into the lobby during the last PMA, I see him perform. He's tall and thin with dreadlocks, playing an acoustic guitar. A woman stands by him, carrying a baby and sometimes singing. He has another rapper with him who jumps in sometimes. Sitting against the wall is a harmonica player, playing long notes floating over the music as Knowledge quietly raps.

"They say the sun never shines in the ghetto…"

The music is dreamy and quiet. There's no mike. I lean forward to hear it. There is defiance and also faith and above all the unmistakable feeling hope. I am overcome.

I listen to the CD when I get home. Couldn't find any lyrics online and I've run out of time so I transcribe these excerpts. (Apologies to Knowledge Is Born for any goofs.)

In these songs I hear anger…

“They poison us with our cooperation

We stand in line marching blind with our picket signs

For the cash we’re busted like a pimple

Come on we so simple

Only cause we was taught to be

We’re blind cause we really wasn’t taught to see

Caught up in the tv their poison iv”


“The lord has blessed me through it all he has kept me le’s see

Where do I begin shall I start with the end?”


“They say I couldn’t make it

Intensified the pain all my life

And they said I couldn’t take it

My spirit they just laugh

That they couldn’t break it…”

“But I’ve been compared to those in high places

Who say they’re the best and lie with straight faces

And when its time for us to trade places

They’ll see the real deal...”

“Feeling higher and higher like an eagle that’s soarin’

But more like the lions in the jungle that are roarin’"

And hope…

“They say the sun never shines and the flowers never grow

Knowledge is born so the world will know...”

“Keep seeking

You’ll find”

US Social Forum 2010 in a word: ferment

So, met a lot of activists I’ll be working with, learned a lot, found out about a lot of resources, was inspired, ate some really good soul food, heard some amazing music, and find myself still strongly disinclined to ever stop fighting for justice.

John Hill has been an organizer, fundraiser, and activist working on many issues of social justice. Also a singer, songwriter, and musician, he now works to end corporate rule in the United States and to establish a government of the people, by the people, for the people.


Organizations working to establish democratic rule through constitutional amendments and other means: Corporations are not people and should not have the same rights as people.

Move to Amend, a coalition including organizations whose links are below:

other democracy links…

More links...

Statement of USSF Point of Struggle Track

(synthesized from several PMAs)

Endless War/Militarism

We call for a diametrical shift of U.S. tax revenues from war and militarization to meet human needs, here and abroad. This requires recalibrating the moral compass of the nation in ways that prioritize sustainability, justice and equity over power, growth and control of resources.

This shift must also include revitalizing our underfunded educational system, creation of green jobs and technology, ensuring decent housing, providing comprehensive health care for all, and addressing our crumbling infrastructure.

In short, we demand that the people’s needs supersede those who selfishly profit from endless wars, interventions, occupations, support for oppressive regimes, such as Israel, and the assault on governments unwilling to buckle to US power. The overarching misdirection of money in support of a military serving as the enforcer of neo-liberal policies in the world is a direct assault on people of color, workers, resources, and our environment. It is unsustainable, immoral, and serves only the interests of the few.

Therefore, we resolve to build a strong, broad, diverse and inclusive peace movement, one embracing broad constituencies, since all are adversely affected by the US historic and unparalleled spending for war and aggression.

We resolve to promote, participate and build annual united antiwar/peace conferences, such as the United National Antiwar Conference in Albany, NY July 23-25, 2010, where activists will democratically decide upon national and local actions for Fall 2010 and Spring 2011.

We resolve to change US foreign policy by the expanding and building the movement to boycott, divest, and enforce sanctions against the apartheid state of Israel .

We resolve to work tirelessly to break the tentacles of the over 800 US international military and naval bases into peaceful uses so that military budget infrastructure is transformed into self-sustaining, non-polluting economic and cultural purposes.

We support those organizing to educate citizens in both urban and rural areas as to the cost, cause and effect of war, while unwaveringly advocating for a culture of peace and non-violence.

We support local and state planned mobilizations in the coming year, such as the one being organized in Michigan, along with those organizing marches, actions, and workshops between Independence Day and Labor Day 2011.

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