FIST delegation in Detroit. LeiLani Dowell,
second from left.
WW photo: Alan Polloc
The People’s Summit and Tent City in Detroit was by far one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had. It was like going to Cuba, or Venezuela, and seeing the level of solidarity that exists among the people in those countries—solidarity that is borne of the struggle to build, in the case of Venezuela, or retain, in the case of Cuba, socialism.
Socialism didn’t come to Detroit with the People’s Summit. But the message of it sure did, loud and clear, and the solidarity that could be seen in that park in downtown Detroit made clear to me that socialism can and will someday exist in the U.S. It made it clear to me in a way that no book could.
The demonstrations and rallies that took place during the People’s Summit and Tent City were very powerful, but the most powerful part of the People’s Summit was the interactions that were had on a daily basis among activists, organizers, workers, youth and people just off the street.
It was a true place for workers to connect, be heard and hear each other, and see the potential in struggle. An example of this was when, after FIST members had talked casually with about a dozen youth present on June 14, an impromptu meeting was called near an empty fountain behind the stage.
After some initial shyness on the part of the youth—who I believe were all African American and one Latino—they just opened up. One young man said, “My name is Patrick, and I’m fucking pissed that I have to jump from state to state just to find a job.” Another young woman was a teacher, who yelled about how there aren’t enough desks in her classroom and she stands for six hours a day so that her students can use her desk at the front of the class.
You just knew that some of these young people never get the opportunity to express the struggles they are living through. Their frustration was so palpable. A lot of them had just passed through the area and saw the Tent City, but they came back the second and third days, marched on the GM Renaissance Center, and now some of them are seriously talking about building a FIST chapter in Detroit.
The People’s Summit also provided a space for those militant sections of the labor movement who have watched their unions barely respond to the economic crisis—at least, barely respond in a fight-back manner, in a way that would push the struggle forward.
The rally for jobs held June 16 in front of the Renaissance Center was the first demonstration in opposition to GM following their announcement of bankruptcy. It included GM, Chrysler and American Axle workers. Martha Grevatt from Cleveland was treated like a rock star after her militant talk about taking back the plants. Workers shook her hand as she passed.
This also was a place where another sector of workers that is rarely ever heard could be heard, and that’s the homeless. Because of the level of respect between the organizers of the People’s Summit and the homeless people, some of whom live in Grand Circus Park where the Tent City was held, homeless people took active ownership of the event, taking on organizational and logistical responsibilities, as well as taking the microphone to discuss their struggles.
Every night, when volunteers at the Tent City provided a delicious meal, the lines of people would swell to several hundred. And every person got fed, whether they had a dime to give or not. It wasn’t on a charity basis, but a solidarity one—everyone was eating the same food; everyone sat down for dinner and had lively conversations together, or listened to speeches or music.
A microcosm of what’s ahead
I’ve never seen a park so full of people be so clean; it was like everyone consciously picked up after themselves in solidarity with each other.
Everyone took ownership of the People’s Summit, from City Councilperson JoAnn Watson to the youth who didn’t want to leave when the Summit was over, to the pastor who opened up his church next door for meal preparation, to the random people who came through.
The gathering was also highly political and highly educational at the same time. The political consciousness of many of the attendees was noticeably high. There was eager agreement on a program of militant fight-back.
There also was no discomfort about discussing socialism, about the need for unity amongst Black and Brown, women and men, LGBT and straight. There was also none of this “why are we talking about so many issues?” that you hear sometimes—no, it seemed that everybody understood the need to connect the wars at home and abroad, the immigrant rights struggle with struggles against police brutality, for disability rights and against evictions.
And while some people may have come with some backwardness on some of these questions, they readily changed their views when shown the perspective of unity. I saw it several times. Young men who were approaching women in a sexualized, disrespectful way went about it differently after seeing those women as leaders in struggle.
Another person had made bigoted remarks about LGBT people but changed his tune following a short discussion after the leader of the Triangle Foundation gave her speech. It was truly an example of how solidarity is advanced as struggle progresses.
The People’s Summit and Tent City showed the potential for so much—for militant struggle; for multi-national, multi-gendered, multi-sexual unity; for real community and labor collaboration; for socialism in the U.S.—it isn’t quite as far away as some may think. ν
LeiLani Dowell is a managing editor of Workers World newspaper and a leader of FIST—Fight Imperialism, Stand Together—a revolutionary national youth organization.