Stop talking about it and be about it!
June in Detroit: The Allied Media Conference and United States Social Forum.
Adele: We’re here with United States Social Forum (USSF) and Allied Media Conference (AMC) organizers Adrienne Maree Brown, Jenny Lee and Oya Amakisi. Let’s start off by talking about the AMC, which is happening the week before the Social Forum.
Jenny: The Allied Media Conference (AMC) is in its twelfth year, its fourth year in Detroit. AMC is a national annual gathering of artists, technologists, social justice activists, educators, and many other folks who are all using media, art and technology in the most innovative ways imaginable to solve problems in our lives and communities, and to organize for social change. The AMC has become more than just a conference. It’s a node in a year-round organizing process for a lot of different networks – youth organizers, networks of women of color anti-violence organizers, teachers who use media for social justice work in their classrooms, and countless others.
Adrienne: I’m also on the board of the AMC and consider it a political home. Seeing how powerful it was for the AMC to come to Detroit was one of the reasons I thought it would be amazing to have the Forum here. Detroit can really uplift and improve the way folks are thinking about organizing.
The World Social Forum was organized in 2001 in response to the World Economic Forum, where basically the rich and powerful of the world get together every year and plan the direction of the world. In response, people’s movements around the world, particularly in the global south, said “we have different ideas for the direction the world should be going.” We believe another world is possible and we want to come together and think about what this different world could look like.
In 2003 the World Forum turned toward the United States and said “y’all need to have a Forum because all the problems we’re dealing with were started there.” U.S. organizers took the call seriously. Grass Roots Global Justice Alliance helped to organize the first US Forum in 2007 in Atlanta, GA. 15,000 people came, and it was incredible. With Detroit, it’s amazing to see the differences. There’s been a lot of conversation about how we’re going to do this in a way that leaves a lot of new infrastructure and strong relationships in Detroit’s organizing community, and working to make sure everyone who comes gets to experience what is different about Detroit.
I’m really excited we’re having the AMC and the Social Forum back to back. The AMC theme last year was ‘we are ready now’ and I think it’s exciting to show folks what it looks like to be ready for the alternatives, to be ready for the solutions.
Adele: Why Detroit? What’s going on in Detroit that makes it important to have both these gatherings happening?
Jenny: It was independent media makers and grassroots organizers from Detroit – particularly organizations of youth of color and communities of color using media, hip hop-based organizing, and other types of independent media production to develop leadership and community – who were instrumental in bringing the AMC to Detroit.
So often, you don’t have the city as a place of teaching. AMC has uniquely flipped that model on its head by putting Detroiters and the lessons of Detroit at the forefront of the conference. We also are creating spaces where Detroiters are able to learn from emerging solutions in other cities and the world.
Oya: Detroit represents change and transformation. What’s happening in the rest of the country has been happening here for years.
Detroit is an example of how to make a way of out no way. We want to do more than survive, we want to thrive, uplift and empower everyone!
Adrienne: From a very personal place, I just moved to Detroit about 6 months ago for love. I tell people all the time it was both for love of someone here, but also for love of the city. It’s really interesting that both the AMC and the USSF declare themselves as processes – it’s not about the event, it’s about this larger process of movement building. Detroit is a really good place to think about that. Like you show up to a meeting in Detroit and you have old school black farmers with young white anarchists in the same space talking about “how are we going to do this?”
Some of the elders I’ve learned from, particularly Grace Lee Boggs, talk about cycles, or processes. You don’t reach a final conclusion about what works - you reach a point and learn from that point and then you continue, back around in the same cycle again and again. When you start to look at things this way, you stop looking for experts and start looking for experiences. Detroit is in a very advanced place, because it is a city full of experiences people can come and share.
For the Forum, we’re excited about being able to take people out in the city. There are over 800 community gardens in Detroit. We want to make sure people can go out and get their hands dirty and experience and feel that.
Adele: You’ve all been involved with organizing for quite a while, so you’ve seen a lot. What are you personally excited about?
Adrienne: I call myself the Facilitation Evangelist. I get really excited about folks taking tangible, direct actions. Having the AMC and the USSF back to back is a major challenge for me and a lot of folks I’m working with – can we step up, stay calm, hold this space, and through a facilitative leadership process really show people the best of what Detroit has to offer? Hearing all the stories people are bringing to the city, helping to weave them in with our stories, and coming out with something collectively powerful for all of us? I believe we can make it a transformative experience for everyone who comes.
Then the action piece – there is the People’s Movement Assembly process happening all around the country, where people come together to talk and listen about the changes they want to see in their community, and bring that to the Forum. Detroiters are talking about the actions we want to see, and how what we do at the Forum will lead to actions after the Forum.
But I also thrive on those times when we can come together and share. So much of our life’s work is doing, you know? Organizing is all about doing tedious tasks every single day; nobody likes meetings, nobody likes phone calls, and yet that’s what we spend all our lives doing. With the way both the AMC and the Forum are being organized, there’s so much culture, so much performance, so much action, so many exciting ways in which to network and build relationships with each other, and sort of fall in love with each other. It’s going to be two weeks of really thrilling, exciting times to uplift our energies and uplift ourselves and then take that back to our communities.
There’s also this thing called Detroit Expanded, which is just going to be fresh. Everything at the Forum will be broadcast to communities around the country and the world so other folks can participate and interact in real time with what’s happening at the Forum. That’s something we’ve talked about for the AMC – bringing people together to think about how we decentralize is exciting, and I think this is a magical time to be doing it. We can really think about where the work is actually happening, and I’m excited to participate in that and learn.
Oya: People seeing the best of our city, People who are coming together to create positive change. The negative is always emphasized. We know what’s wrong with the world. How do we instead emphasize what’s right and go about making it better.
Jenny: I echo all of Adrienne’s sentiments; it’s going to be an exciting two weeks. Some of the most exciting and inspiring times in my life, my formative political experiences, were in anti-corporate globalization protests where a convergence of people created alternative ways of living for a period of days – whether it was Food Not Bombs, the Street Medics, Housing Centers, or Independent Media Centers – all these gave us the sense we could construct the world we want to live in, even temporarily.
What is so different about this summer is these gatherings are deeply connected to so many different social movements in communities around this country that haven’t typically converged together. The fact that it’s in Detroit makes it unique, where we have models for what alternative system-building looks like – from our gardens and our long tradition of housing takeovers to our new, blossoming independent media infrastructure.
We’re really coming together around this positive, transformative vision where all of our energy is channeled into creating those things, as opposed to protest, where we’re just in streets and only expressing what we’re against.
You asked what we’re excited for, and I’m excited about Detroit, and have such a stake in it being a place where folks who have grown up here want to stay, and where folks who left to pursue their passions can come home to. Also, a place people from cities around the world can fall in love with and move to. With the AMC and the Social Forum happening back to back, there’s this opening for all three of those things – a real, dramatic shift in the way people stay in Detroit and relate to Detroit, both as outsiders and insiders.
Adrienne: I’m also excited about folks coming and talking about how we shift, from what we traditionally think of as protest, into actions to advance our solutions. We can totally keep marching and doing rallies and other stuff, but we have to escalate our tactics – we have to be living the solutions, and we have to use all of our action skills to do that. There is so much more that is possible, and the Forum will be a place where people can see what it looks like to begin a living practice of action and a living practice of solutions.
Adele: Something amazing about both the AMC and the USSF is the focus on youth. Can you explain why youth is so critical and how the organization and structure of AMC and USSF emphasize youth and their interests and needs?
Adrienne: The Youth Working Group, one of the Forum’s self-organized working groups, would probably say the Forum needs to be more focused on youth than it is. There are really righteous, fierce young people coming to Detroit from all over the country who’ve been thinking about what a youth space needs to look like, what youth workshops and tracks need to look like, and what will really make people feel like youth are being engaged in every way. They’re really laying down their desires and stepping into the process. I think a lot of us recognize those voices are not just the voices of tomorrow but are the leadership voices of today.
But I think we could do even better. What would it look like to actually be able to support young people organizing their way to the Forum, and are we doing enough? I want to see us do more.
Jenny: Youth involvement with the AMC has evolved a lot since it was started 12 years ago. The AMC grew out of a youth sub-culture, which was zines. By 2006 we started to see a shift happening with youth organizations like Street Level Youth Media in Chicago, Elements Hip Hop Youth Center from Cincinnati, Detroit Summer, and Global Action Project in New York. There were coming and participating as workshop leaders, offering what they were doing in their communities as models. So it was recognition that young people were doing some of the most cutting edge work, and their models should be showcased.
2007 was the first year we created specific space for youth leadership to shine. In 2008 there was an even more explicitly youth-centered piece of the AMC that would intersect with other sessions – integrating and infusing lessons young people are bringing into the rest of the conference. We gradually figured out ways to do that, so this is the first year we took an open call for proposals on what the tracks should be, and asked people to submit tracks that could deeply advance year-round work already happening.
So there are a number of tracks entirely led by youth and youth organizations, but they’re not coming together around their identity as youth. They’re coming together around the work they’re doing using media for environmental justice, or the work they’re doing for trans and queer liberation.
We’re also trying to break out of the defined categories of young and old, and examining what intergenerational collaboration look like, including the 90 year-olds and the babies. We’ve had an AMC childcare since 2006, as more mothers and parents within the AMC community advocated for that space. Then it wasn’t long before people said ‘why just childcare, why not media workshops for children?’ and so the Kid’s Track was launched last year.
Adrienne: In 2007 the Social Forum had a Children’s Social Forum, which was amazing. A group called Regeneracion helped pull that together. One of the values was the idea that children are their own political beings. Children are not just empty vessels to be filled; they have so much to offer, so much wisdom, their own viewpoints, and their own organizing. At the closing keynote of last year’s AMC one of the kids from the Kid’s Track got up and did a report she’d worked on with a collective of kids, and it was amazing – it was literally one of the most powerful, beautiful moments. That’s the kind of movement I absolutely want to be part of.
Adele: What would you say to people about why it is important to come at this time, and what opportunity does this time provide?
Adrienne: Grace Lee Boggs always asks “what time is it on the clock of the universe?” This is a moment when more and more people are starting to realize the systems we have in place – no matter how much we organize within those systems – are not going to serve us. I think the people coming to the AMC and the Social Forum already realize that, and are already working on the alternatives, the new ways we’re going to live and survive and be with each other.
I’m hoping this becomes a place where we can really open that door for more and more folks, and say “jump out of the matrix – it’s a matrix, and there’s a real world out here, and there are ways to survive beautifully in that place.”
This is a time of turning from the practices of the last century and starting to practice new post-industrial, post-partisan ways of being. And we’re the ones who know how to do that. We’re the leaders in that movement and in that turning, and it’s an exciting place to be. This is a great time to bring thousands of people together to indulge in that experience and this moment, and really think intentionally about where we want to go.
Jenny: These events are not the beginning and end of transformation in our lives and our world; we don’t want to fetishize the moment so much. Both the AMC and the USSF are committed to ongoing processes. We come together to share a really important experience, but the work we do every other day is so much more important – the attentiveness to our local experiences, our communities, and the knowledge-sharing between communities.
The type of transformation and change we need in the world today is going to come through critical connections and critical relationships, as opposed to a critical mass of people all being in the same place at the same time. We need to deepen the way we’re applying our ideas and visions for social change – instead of just becoming larger, we’re becoming deeper.
Adrienne: Yeah, if we can think of scale as depth, instead of mass or width or breadth. For all our outreach, we’re trying to find folks who are on this path, who are deeply committed. In Detroit, it’s really important to have tons of people coming from Dearborn, from Arab communities and Muslim communities who are being targeted. It’s important to have tons of people who are undocumented living in this country, living in this city, to come at this moment, because those folks are so targeted and so highlighted. Having a space where they can come together and share their survival strategies is key; that’s something we don’t want to forget at this moment. When economic crises happen, some of the people hit hardest are those living with disabilities and those who are living on the system, relying on welfare and unemployment checks because there are no jobs available. We’re gathering those people too, and we’re making sure they have a place to share with each other.
What Jenny said is important – it’s not about coming to this place; it’s about being in this place in your mind and in your heart, and accessing everything that will come out of it.
During the keynote address at last year’s AMC, a woman named Allesandra talked about how Detroit is a city people stay in because of love – you come here for love, and the only reason you can stay, the only way you can survive is because of deep love. If you look around, things are falling apart, falling down – you can see the city as a place that has been divested from. But if you look at the love people have for the city – love for the land, their gardens, their communities, peace processes, and all these other things – then Detroit is a city you can come to and fall in love with and be in love with.
There are movements throughout the U.S. that need love to be much more of an undercurrent for them. A friend recently said ‘what would the world look like if we were fighting to build love more than to build power?’ Detroit is a place where I really see that happening, so the more people we can get here to see it, the better.
Oya: This is a critical moment in history, the bubble has burst. We no longer have the illusion of a system working for the people. It is essential that we capitalize on this moment to get everyone involved.
Stop talking about it and be about it! Our very lives depend on it.
For more information, please visit the following websites:
Allied Media Conference:
United States Social Forum:
AMC/USSF 2010 Statement:
AMC/USSF Housing & Travel message board:
AMC/USSF Bridge Activities:
Adele Nieves is the National Communications Coordinator for the United States Social Forum 2010. She is also an independent journalist, community organizer and mixed media maker.