Reflections from the US Social Forum

UH SDS and Friends leaving Houston for Detroit

A dozen UH students collectively raised funds to attend the US Social Forum in Detroit. We organize around a number of issues with Students for a Democratic Society, Fair Labor Action Committee, Students for a Sensible Drug Policy and Amnesty International at UH.

We would like to thanks our supporters, including (but not limited to) Houston Peace and Justice Center, Juan Hernandez, David Block, Sally Robinson, Art Browning, Mo Roberts, Catholic Worker Detroit/ Dorothy Day House, WheelerR House, and everyone who contributed to and supported our fundraisers. Check out the little report back pamphlet we made (PDF) for the report back from USSF participants here in Houston.

At the opening march in Detroit


   As a young activist, I feel that USSF benefited my organizing skills and expanded my knowledge of domestic and international social issues. I was also able to build my knowledge on issues I am working on and learn about other organizations doing similar work. I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to connect with so many people and exchange ideas and gain knowledge from other’s work.

      The opening march of the forum was an absolutely wonderful show of solidarity and energy for progress. There were an incredible amount of people and movements present and people of all ages and backgrounds were marching together and showing support for their causes. My first workshop was a council of radical marching bands who gave insight into how music can really help social movements and also organized a flash mob to protest a “bad restaurant” with song and dance.  Later I was able to learn about organizing against sexual assault in activist communities and meet people from other organizations around the country.

      From the Beehive Collective I learned about the problems facing the indigenous people of Mexico and the problems with NAFTA, including the construction of super projects and military suppression of the people. Their use of art to explain politics is a great tool and their explanation of how US companies are operating in Mexico was outstanding. They focused on the construction of large dams, superhighways and airports to benefit foreign businesses and how people’s movements against these constructions have been violently subdued.

      I went to two workshops focused on bike collectives. A collective in LA called La BiciDigna works with the immigrant community to make transportation by bike a safer and more empowering experience as well as advocating for cycling as an economical, healthy and sustainable form of transportation in the LA area. They work on keeping bikes legal, safe, and maintainable and creating a community for immigrant cyclists. The Fender Bender collective in Detroit works to create a space where women and transgendered people can go to work on bikes and share their stories without facing issues of male superiority. Both these spaces were incredibly inspiring and are doing great things for their respective communities.

      Picture the Homeless is fighting against the housing crisis in NY by reclaiming abandoned homes and encouraging those who cannot afford their housing to do the same. They spoke about how housing ordinances and urban policies have been used to oppress people of color and how police use homelessness to take away civil rights, harass and criminalize the homeless. They advocate against racist and classist policies in urban areas and resist police harassment of the homeless.

      The workshop on Immigrant rights and the prison industrial complex was particularly useful and insightful for me as an immigrant rights organizer. We brainstormed ways to connect activism against immigrant detention and against the prison industrial complex and shared ideas about building coalitions and supporting other movements that are fighting for related issues. This workshop helped me connect issues of immigrant detention with imprisonment and connect issues of citizenship to the treatment of nonimmigrant prisoners.

Front of the opening march

Cash & Kristin
As we rounded the corner in downtown detroit people of all color, ethnicity, and age were gathered to start the march that kicked off the USSF. People were cheering, singing chants, holding signs, and dancing all in the name of social change that the United States and world are in dire need of. All types of groups from around the country and world gathered together under one banner of social change, and each sign and chant represented what change they wanted to see in the United States and world. This forum was the first forum that we had ever been to and it has been one of the most inspirational experiences. Covering different aspects of societal needs, the forum succeeded in engaging all ages with rich knowledge about global crises. people from around the world shared their struggles in various workshops that were held through out the forum. the workshops were a great opportunity to learn more about issues, issues that we will be facing in the future like biotechnology, and how to creatively organize. It also gave us a chance to network and meet all walks of life and exchange stories and experiences. The USSF was a great experience but in reality we thought it would have been more unifying experience than it actually was. there were many workshops on how to organize but there was very little organizing in the USSF itself. Everyone seemed to have their own agenda and only really care about their own agenda, than sharing visions and ideas on how to help each other as a whole and a common problem that we all face. The most important thing that we learned from one of the workshops is that organizing different groups under one banner can be the most effective change because it brings power in numbers. Hence, this is our message to Houston groups and organizers, if we all can find a common struggle that we all face, without losing sight of each groups individual goals, and come under one banner it would be much more effective and efficient.  

Houston folk with Rachel Corrie Banner


Going into the trip to Detroit I did not know what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised to see and hear from thousands of like-minded individuals who traveled from all over the US and abroad to attend the 2010 United States Social Forum. Media coverage was almost non-existent and the people of Detroit asked us constantly what this was all about. I suppose that it’s no surprise that the mainstream media has little interest in a peaceful gathering and cooperation of such magnitude from the Left. So what exactly was this Forum all about? 

The vast majority of participants at the Forum came to actively engage in dialogue with educators, fellow peers, activists, and the curious, over a variety of hundreds of topics ranging from the future of genetics in food and living beings to underground radio and everything in between. It was essential to narrow the focus to a few topics since there were so many topics to choose from and so much information to absorb.  

I decided to focus and learn about the future of genetics in food and living beings, anti-military recruitment efforts, and fundraising and communication within organizations. The Forum best resembled crash courses so it was possible to learn a ton of information in just an hour or two. I did not know that only four states in the US have anti-human-animal hybrid laws. Genetics has come a long way and the future seems Frankenstein-esque because we have reached some very important thresholds and are beginning to dabble with creating new life forms. San Antonio leads the nation in the highest military recruitment in the nation and Texas leads as the highest state. Fundraising and communication within organizations go hand in hand and a proper understanding of its mechanics allows for successful campaigns. The Forum can be thought of as the tip of the ice berg as far as research goes; it is up to each of us to glean the necessary amount of primer material from the Forum and from there we could come back to our respective homes and begin the real work of research and learning. 

Most importantly, I felt a greater sense of camaraderie amongst the group of friends I rode up to the Forum with on our charter bus. I also met new friends from the Forum and hope to build not only networking contacts with similar interests, but to also learn from and appreciate different perspectives and learning methods. The Forum’s atmosphere of encouragement and learning made it possible to reach a greater depth of character and friendship-building with friends and strangers. The energy from the Forum and its participants greatly revitalized my inner sense of activism, concern, and joy. The Forum helped me ascertain and strengthen certain goals in activism on a variety of topics. I’m confident I would have achieved great traction in these goals by the time the next Forum comes around because I am already excited to go to the next one. Who knows, maybe I can be the one teaching at the next Forum. Until then, I am busy with the task at hand which is taking an active part in the local community and making a difference. 

The crew at Hush House


Detroit. A community that has so much potential and hospitality, it was almost like I didn’t even attend a “conference” (Don’t worry, I did). It was an experience that I will never forget. I was able to learn about key issues effecting not only their community, but also the ones acting on the national level. I believe the discussions were beneficial because they included how to analyze these problems in order to create successful solutions. I also had the opportunity to do a couple days of community service to help an at-risk youth program “Build On” construct a labyrinth all within a “controversial” Detroit neighborhood termed Zone 8 (it was right next to a community garden that they started 4 months prior). I actually met them on accident when I became stranded miles away from the conference area on foot (don’t ask how I got there). I feel that this was the best part of my experience in Detroit. I felt like I was making a difference.

UH folk at Student Farmworkers Alliance Benefit


My impressions of the social forum may have come from a different place than other folks who attended. I was not as involved in the events that transpired from June 22-26 in Detroit as I was in the events that lead to a group of us getting there and being able to experience it. I did however experience Detroit, and I experienced what motivated people to want to be there, and I experienced what it took to get people there.

The event was a bit last minute, and understanding something like what the forum is, tells me that it really can’t function well as a last minute event. Getting there isn’t that important, if you are just going to observe, rally a bit, and learn from some new people. The experience is the process, and I feel like I got a whiff of it, if I was not fully submerged.

One instance is our fund raising efforts. Apart from the donations we received there were three fundraisers that the student delegation was a part of: a yard sale, an unsuccessful ice cream sale, and a house party. The most profitable, by $200, was the house party, but it was removed a great deal from the spirit of the forum. It had oppressive elements, but because we were dependent on it for funds, we did not have time to discuss these and air out our concerns. Although this had the highest attendance of any of our fundraisers, it had no perceivable elements of social change (from my perspective at least).

Our other events were under-volunteered, and though some of us were able to be a part of them, and even participate in our community a bit, learn about our community, and even support it by selling really cheap useful stuff at our yard sale. The majority of people did not attend this however.

The forum was a bit of the same for me, not planned and not cooperative. Many people were more concerned with their own short term needs, than the cooperative spirit of world change that the forum seemed to be dreamed out of. Twenty-six plus hour road trips are difficult, but the spirit of the forum was so much bigger than that, so much more important than getting a shower, or getting dinner at a decent hour, or any other luxury that was hoped for.

That was part of the forum that was missed by several people. The point was to step out of your routine, and make this experience of a new world shared and experienced by all of us. We did not spend time discussing this, so it seemed like some of us were upset about little things, and some of us were not sensitive or supportive enough to other people’s needs.

Being in Detroit was inspiring though. The city has been abused so much, but so many people are so bravely looking to make it whole and beautiful in new and interesting ways. The marches were amazing, and many of the workshops I attended were engaging and very useful.

What I learned though, seems so obvious now. We cannot expect some event to bring us a vision of a new world, and wait for it to show us what to do. We have to start planning for the new world now, and we have to start visioning the future and creating change now. We have to build a culture of change, and take the time for it that we need, so when we have big events like this, with so many people and ideas to learn from, we can appreciate it the way it should be.

At the March for Environmental Justice

For more information on our organizing:


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