A Filmmaker's Journey

Detroit US Social Forum: One Year Later

One year ago today, the second annual US Social Forum (USSF) took place in Detroit, Michigan. One year ago today, a group of 15 students from Rollins College formed the forum’s largest media coalition – Rollins College Media and Justice Fellowship – and took part in a gathering that aimed to create a better America. One year ago today, that group of students got a harsh taste of reality.

One year later…things seem to be the same.

In the words of the forum itself:

The US Social Forum (USSF) is a movement building process. It is not a
 conference but it is a space to come up with the peoples’ solutions to the 
economic and ecological crisis. The USSF is the next most important step in our
 struggle to build a powerful multi-racial, multi-sectoral, inter-generational,
 diverse, inclusive, internationalist movement that transforms this country and
 changes history.

We must declare what we want our world to look like and we 
must start planning the path to get there. The USSF provides spaces to learn 
from each other’s experiences and struggles, share our analysis of the problems 
our communities face, build relationships, and align with our international 
brothers and sisters to strategize how to reclaim our world.

As a media fellowship we broke up into teams to cover the hundreds of panels happening over the next few days, but before the forum started, we toured the ruins of Detroit. Yes. Ruins.  This probably sounds quite melodramatic, but the harsh reality is that Detroit was, and still is in ruins. When we toured the city with DetroitUrbex.com’s, Al, we all got a nice taste of how bad the city was suffering.

Remains of the Packard Plant

It was interesting for me as a filmmaker to be completely encapsulated by the ruins. The buildings were in ruins, yet they were stunningly beautiful. There’s a very odd allure to the sad beauty that is a major building, such as the Detroit train station, and seeing it crumble away. One of the things that we kept saying in the car was that the areas we were driving through looked like landscapes from a Call of Duty: Modern Warfare videogame. We’d drive down a street and there’d be three homes, all boarded up, and then right next to them, there’d be a family living there. It was odd. What made it more odd was the fact that we were in a caravan driving through these neighborhoods with our cameras sticking out the windows! This experience set the tone for the opening march of the forum and really got us motivated to go out and make a difference.

The opening march took place on the 22nd at three o’clock. This was the most memorable part of the forum, because we were all runningto get that perfect shot. However, there was a point in the march where it wasn’t about getting the shot anymore. It was about joining the people. I put my camera down and joined the mass of people walking towards COBO Hall – the hub for the forum. The feeling was indescribable.

Team A "The A-Team" watches the Opening March.

The forum went well. We covered everything we wanted to, we wrote all the articles we were assigned, and we were even commissioned by The Michigan News Center to create a video explaining what the forum was about. With our leaders telling us there was no way we could produce a five-minute video in one afternoon, I was hell-bent on proving them wrong. We discussed our vision, got the b-roll and interviews that we needed that afternoon, and then spent the remainder of our last night in Detroit putting this piece together. Never have I been more proud of my peers. In one room we had two people editing, and one floor below us we had the rest of our group going in to film their part of the intro while everyone else was going through their footage from the week to see what we could use. As I was going back to my room where we had the main timeline being edited, it was around two o’clock in the morning when all of the pieces were on that one thumb drive that I knew we were going to make it.

Police outside of COBO during the opening march.

In the morning we left the hotel to go to a leader’s relative’s house. In the car, I was putting the final touches on the soundtrack, and when it was done I played it back. To this day I still get chills when the video ends. I finished the cut ten minutes before we got to our destination and showed everyone in the car. We all had the biggest shit-eating grins on our faces when we showed it to everyone else. For me this video had captured what the USSF was about. It’s about a small group of individuals coming together and telling the naysayers that they’re wrong. We can and will change the world. All it takes is enough motivation to prove everyone wrong.

A year has passed and that fire to change the world has dimmed. Outside of the USSF, the college environment and the nine-to-five environment doesn’t allow for that fire to burn. Sure, at liberal arts colleges, the fire may flare from time to time, but it takes a certain type of person to be able to commit to such a large calling – a revolutionary calling. I’ll be the first to admit that I am not that type of person. But there are hundreds, if not thousands, of those people who attended the forum last year.

I know I said things haven’t changed. At first glance, it hasn’t. But it is through forums like the USSF that groups of like-minded people are gathering, discussing, and most importantly thinking.

This is the first step.

We must first be aware of the problems before we must face them. Once enough people are aware, then it will be time to change things. In the words of the forum:

Another world is possible. Another US is necessary.

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