by Lucy Hough
DETROIT – Last week, thousands of people were in downtown Detroit, marked by their neon-orange wristbands. Those people came from every state in the country, countries from around the world, some speaking no English at all, others by bike alone, some flying, some driving in from the suburbs. The orange wristbands had the words “Another world is possible,” uniting these people for the U.S. Social Forum.
The Social Forum, which took place June 22-26 across the city, was deemed not a conference but “a political process through which we work to align and strengthen our communities, weaving ourselves into a movement that transcends oppression and opposition, increasing our collective power and resilience.”
USSF was a collection of workshops, protests, information tents and general camaraderie all promoting this idea – that the world could be a better place. There were thousands of workshops over the four days ranging from immigration to environmental issues to prison reform.
I had a list of workshops I specifically wanted to attend, all of them LGBT-based. At these workshops, I met people truly from every corner of the country who are fighting a very similar fight to what we find in Michigan.
I learned a lot – about LGBT history, about other movements and about what people are frustrated by in terms of social justice.
A word that was repeated in every workshop that I attended was solidarity: the need to come together as a movement – not just with everyone in the LGBT community, but also other movements that are fighting for the basic rights.
So headstrong in my belief that I deserve relationship recognition and basic civil rights for being gay, I never considered that by joining forces with people who are fighting for similar rights, we would be fighting for more than what we feel we deserve, we’d be fighting for what all people deserve: equality.
As one woman who commented during the first workshop I attended said, “As long as anyone’s oppressed, we’re all oppressed.”
Such an idea truly embodies the importance of activism and standing up for what we feel is right. Perhaps the love that we’re fighting to be recognized should be shared across movement borders.
Allyship, an LGBT group in Seattle that works with this very principle, hosted a workshop at the forum, “Building a Progressive Multi-issue LGBTQ Movement.” A man spoke up from Phoenix, Ariz., about how he is having a hard time helping queer immigrants who may be undocumented but living and struggling in the city nonetheless, particularly with recent anti-immigrant laws.
We talked about ways that we could help him – some of us being white, middle-class citizens of Michigan – and determined the most important thing was educating the people around us to keep such laws from coming to our state. Michigan is one of 16 states that has already introduced such legislation. We also discussed the importance of taking part in marches for issues such as immigration or labor rights in order to show solidarity for a common demand of equality and respect.
Solidarity goes beyond just standing up in headlines with other movements, though. In a workshop about the criminalization of LGBT people throughout U.S. history, I learned how the term “sexual deviance” has been used as
a means for other goals – picking up immigrants off the streets, belittling black people and generally just incarcerating people who look “different.”
Duanna Johnson was a black transgendered woman from a poor neighborhood in Memphis who was beaten by police offers after being picked up for sex work, though there is no proof of her doing such. This was only two years ago, proving that there is still so much work to do, particularly for the transgender community.
The incident with Johnson shows that we have to be able stand in solidarity with people in our community when the government won’t completely fulfill their roles.
At the same workshop, I learned about the importance of learning how to defend myself and teaching others to step forward when something wrong is happening. We have to keep each other safe and be accountable as a community when something as unthinkable happens as what happened with Duanna Johnson.
I learned a lot at the U.S. Social Forum, but what is especially important is what I decide to take away from it all and apply to what I do.
When I walked through Detroit and saw all of the people with orange wristbands, I realized that solidarity was happening actively around me. People were coming together for the exact reason our wristbands expressed: Because another world is possible. We were together in our hope for change in very aspects of our lives, whether for equality or environmental protection or effecting better foreign policy.
Sherry Wolf, a key organizer for Equality Across America, spoke at the first workshop I went to and said confidently, “We have to stand together, we have nothing but our solidarity to hope for.”
I was lucky to be a part of that in Detroit with the U.S. Social Forum, and hope to be a part of it in the future as I work for equality – not only for myself, but for everyone.
by Lucy Hough