A new world, a better America
By Nick Meyer
DETROIT — Uniting under the motto “Another World is Possble,” an estimated 20,000 people from across the country gathered in downtown Detroit this week for the landmark 2010 U.S. Social Forum (USSF).
The event grew from the blueprint of the World Social Forum which is based in Brazil and came on the heels of the first incarnation of the USSF in Atlanta in 2007.
Thousands of people marched Woodward Avenue as part of the event’s opening festivities on Tuesday, June 22 to Cobo Hall, the epicenter of the various workshops and events organized at the USSF.
Grassroots activists representing causes ranging from the fight for clean air and water to workers’ rights to anti-war demonstrators all made their presence felt during the march.
Various issues relating to Arabs and Muslims were also featured both during the march and over the course of the USSF’s weeklong series of events.
Rabab Ibrahim Abdulhadi, a professor of ethnic studies relating to Arab and Muslim issues at the San Francisco State University in California and former University of Michigan-Dearborn director of Arab American Studies, marched while wearing a keffiyeh in support of Palestine along with friends carrying Palestinian flags.
Abdulhadi talked about the importance of solidarity between activists fighting against injustice along several different lines.
“We’re all under the same umbrella of justice and our struggles should not be separate,” she said.
“Being a part of others’ movements is a much better choice than trying to do it all on our own.”
Julio Lopez, a member of the Southwest Workers Union who traveled to the forum from San Antonio, provided an example of activists working together.
Lopez grabbed a bullhorn during the march and began chanting “Viva, Viva, Palestina!” as members of his group and other nearby marchers joined in.
“All of us here are connected to the same struggle, it’s the fight against corporate power that’s been going on for a long time,” he said.
Abdulhadi also emphasized the importance of educating others on a person-to-person basis and highlighting similarities.
“Many people don’t know about the details of things like the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, Gaza, the occupation and anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment in the media,” she said.
“We need to do what needs to be done and educate each other about our struggles.”
Organizers also constructed a Palestine tent in the USSF’s tent city area and tables were set up to pass out literature and educate fellow activists about the struggle.
A full slate of workshops at the USSF were also planned through Sunday, June 27, and with so many choices, many forum attendees were forced to make difficult decisions.
On Tuesday, June 23, a workshop entitled “Building Arab and Black Solidarity” was held at the TWW & Associates, Inc. education center in Detroit.
Speakers including Council on American-Islamic Relations-Michigan (CAIR-MI) staff attorney Lena Masri, organizer Nada Khader, and Nisrin Elamin, a curriculum development specialist for the Global Kids education center in New York City, talked about the importance of building solidarity between African Americans and Arab Americans in the face of injustice and oppression. They also discussed strategies for better education on the two cultures.
“What I’ve found is that the best way to engage the youth and to get them to see different perspectives is during afterschool programs, since our schools are always about increasing test scores,” Alamin said.
Shaun Pierce, an activist from the south side of Chicago, said that the goal for the two cultures should be to get past the dialogue stage and move into actions that will enable them to organize with each other for common goals.
Linda Najjar of Ann Arbor said she’s worked with numerous young Detroiters and agreed that education was especially important.
“I work with black youths and educate them about Arab issues such as the Palestine conflict and in most cases they didn’t know, but they truly want to help once they find out.”
The issue of increasing safety for Arab American business owners in inner city communities was also brought up, and Dearborn resident and activst Rhana Natour relayed a strategy that local Arab American and Detroit police leaders have touted in the past.
“We need to encourage more community building efforts for small businesses to get to know each other and their customers, that’s the first step,” she said.
The forum was also a golden opportunity for event organizers to educate fellow activists about the challenges facing the Muslim community in metro Detroit and beyond, and the Thaqalayn Muslim Association (TMA) of UM-Dearborn hosted an event entitled “The Media Hijacked my Religion” at Wayne State University’s Student Center on Wednesday, June 23.
CAIR-MI head Dawud Walid was the featured speaker, highlighting important issues such as what he called media bias regarding the FBI killing of Detroit Imam Luqman Abdullah and the preponderance of fear-mongering and “passive propagation” of Islamophobia.
Walid showed local news coverage from WXYZ-TV about the Abdullah event and took issue with the way it was reported on.
He said that Abdullah was never charged with incitement, terrorism, or treason but that media outlets ran with the story that Abdullah wanted to wage a “jihad” against the U.S. Government.
Walid also took issue with the misuse of the word “jihad,” which means “personal struggle,” and the use of the word “ummah” to designate an alleged radical group despite the fact that the word means the entire global community of Muslims.
“This type of misreporting and misuse of Arab terminology is promoting Islamophobia,” Walid said.
He also slammed reports of 10th Precinct police in Detroit being told to be on high alert “because it was in a Muslim neighborhood” according to the WXYZ clip.
Walid also cited FBI statistics from the website loonwatch.com showing that 6% of terrorist attacks committed in the United States were by Muslims and compared the stat with the media coverage various events have received.
“You’d think that it was 94% of Muslims committing attacks with the way they are covered,” he said.
While the workshops served as an excellent way for various activists to get to know each other, a great deal of strategizing was also done on the side through conversation.
Non-profit worker Robbie Samuels of Boston came to Detroit with a plan to help create focused, topically relevant dialogue between USSF attendees.
Samuels passed out stickers that read “Ask Me About…” or “I’m Looking For…” on them for USSF attendees to publicize their issues and areas of expertise.
Samuels believes that organization and cooperation are the keys to making things happen in the fight for social justice in America.
“My goal is to get people engaged and to create welcoming community spaces across issues and across identities based on shared values,” he said.
“We need to get people engaged so we can take action.”