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Q&A: Adele Nieves on the U.S. Social Forum

Next week, thousands of people are expected to gather in Detroit “to help transform one of the cities hardest hit by the global economic and environmental crisis.”

That's according to the organizers of the second United States Social Forum (USSF), which will set up shop here from June 22 through 26. The goal is to bring artists, activists and others together in the city. They will create urban gardens, build housing, set up mobile computer labs, tour the city and talk. Lots of talk – about what it will take to change Detroit and the rest of the world.

The goal is to create strategies that “produce sustainable social reforms in education, transportation, employment, immigration and environmental issues,” according to organizer Adele Nieves, national communications coordinator.

There will be a constant stream of workshops and assemblies – literally there are hundreds planned (for a full list, check here). There are work projects, whose aim is to leave Detroit a little better than when participants arrived. There is an art gallery, a kids' area and more. There will be nightly gatherings to lounge and review the day's events.

Here's what else Nieves had to say about what promises to be a dramatic Detroit event.

Q: Why Detroit?

A: Our national committee had long been interested in coming here. But the people here were not so interested! There was hesitancy among the organizers here. They worried about the city's capacity to host so many people (up to 20,000 are expected) and whether the infrastructure could sustain so many. They also worried that the USSF could take away from what was already going on on the ground. But we spent months going over proposals, talking with the planning committee and looking at Detroit in amazement – look at what the city has done with so few resources! They've been building alternative strategies and economies for 30 years. There is such an opportunity for the rest of the country to learn from Detroit. But there also is an opportunity for Detroit to have access to the rest of the world. This will allow Detroiters to have conversations regionally, nationally and internationally.

Q: How did this all come together?

A: For months before, we've had work brigades here, building housing, helping people find places to stay and setting up a massive media center at Cobo Arena. When we're done, everything will be taken apart and given to other organizations within the city. There are thousands of people expected to bike here, and they will be leaving those bicycles behind. It could be a new way for Detroit to think about transportation.

Q: Are locals invited?

A: Yes! If we have 15,000 to 20,000 around the world coming to meet Detroit, it would be a shame if Detroit didn't meet them in their own city. … Everyone can get involved at any time. It's really about creating a space for people to come and do what they want.

Q: What are some of the Detroit-related issues that you'll talk about?

A: We came together in communities to talk about what we'd address at the Forum. There are issues like the incinerator – what does it mean to not live with one? We'll be talking about programs within the city, like when the local utility company is turning off people's energy. There will be a discussion around the rightsizing or downsizing effort – does that displace people who need affordable housing? Each state will bring their own topics to talk about and how to create bigger actions. The idea is to leave with actual steps to move those issues forward.

Q: Do people really want to come to Detroit?

A: Of course! They're looking forward to being here.

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