Chicago PMA: report-back

A People’s Movement Assembly was convened by the Compass in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago at a free, self-organized cultural space called Mess Hall. The walls there are covered by an exhibition of proposals for the first participatory budgeting process to be carried out in the USA, a direct result of the alderman’s visit to the first US Social Forum in Atlanta!

The purpose of this meeting was to bring together Chicago people who are interested in going to the Forum to exchange plans and ideas, and to take resolutions about actions “on the road to Detroit” – literally as well as figuratively. We are hoping that the Forum provides a catalyst to strengthen networks and support structures within our city and beyond.

1. Introduction to the Compass, with a brief recap of some of our activities to date. We formed two years ago as a traveling seminar to explore together our region and its global context and to meet some of the activists and visionaries forming “The Midwest Radical Cultural Corridor.” Now we’re using our journeys to Detroit as a chance to connect with more local groups and struggles. The Compass invites others to take up The Midwest Radical Cultural Corridor as a sign, a vision, a call to meet people in cities, towns and rural areas on the roads to Detroit, to learn about local situations and find common solutions.

2. A report-back from the People’s Movement Assembly that members of our group attended in Detroit on March 12, including a short video made by organizers at that event. Details on four actions being planned during the USSF gathering. We then heard about the activities being coordinated by the Road to Detroit committee in Chicago and about an organization of cooperatives working on an alternative economies project for the forum.

3. Taking our cue from the PMA organizing kit, we set out to describe the basic problem and identify the underlying causes.

We see the same thing everywhere, in the bailouts, the foreclosures, the cuts in social services and the collapse of public education: the economic crisis is being used as an excuse for a redesign of our everyday lives from the top down, for the privilege of the wealthy and the profit of the corporations. An example is Detroit itself, where Mayor Bing is teaming up with big-money foundations like Ford, Kellogg, Knight and Kresge to draft a new plan for what they call “right-sizing the city” (see also this). They want to demolish homes and neighborhoods, relocate people, sell the land cheap for “creative corridors” and “safe neighborhoods.” Green belts and urban farms set up by millionaire patronage are among the ideas. But who will make these decisions?

As Shea Howell from the Boggs Center writes: “The redevelopment of Detroit cannot happen from the top down. It has to begin from the bottom up. Detroit is not vacant. Across the city for more than three decades, people have been reimagining and redeveloping their neighborhoods. Hundreds of urban gardens are flourishing, parks are maintained by block clubs and informal neighborhood groups, small businesses and artist enclaves are emerging, community projects are being run out of garages and reclaimed houses.”

An extreme makeover of our cities, infrastructures and public services is underway, but which direction will it go? Some kind of downsizing is inevitable, because the old systems of production and consumption are killing us, and because corruption and abandonment have left a void that calls out for change. But the call is being answered by corporate elites whose plans will leave out huge numbers of people. Change conducted from the top will always serve the top. Our task is to create our own solutions.

4. Discussion. We heard about various interests, plans and lingering questions about the forum. Below are several of the issues addressed: How we can participate in ongoing social and economic justice efforts in Detroit and how we can tie these activities to organizing in Chicago? What is the value of the social forum process: what kind of power is generated during the process and at the forum convergence? Participants also mentioned important sites of struggle and contestation in Chicago and elsewhere that reflected our key thematic: the marketization of the education system; the food system; land use and redevelopment schemes in Chicago. Participants expressed a strong desires to connect with various campaigns and struggles around Chicago. Proposals were made to visit a series of community gardens and to connect with anti-eviction campaigns, as an example of how connections between different locals, themes and approaches could be explored.

5. Resolutions.

Because of the invitation extended to visiting work brigades by the design teams planning to create spaces for outdoor classrooms in Detroit; because we understand that standard classrooms have long been sites of narrow social normalization and class stratification; because the need for spaces of community education exists not only in Detroit, but everywhere the forces of capital deem residential populations worthy of sacrifice; and because we seek to learn from and contribute to a concrete effort to remake our world in another part of the midwest, and bring to that effort our experience, in a gesture of solidarity and mutual recognition; we resolve to participate in the construction of the new outdoor classrooms led by the Nsoroma Institute and Barbara Jordan School by offering our physical labor, building and design skills, and spirited good cheer.

In addition, we also formed working groups to develop the following next steps:

a. Organize another a PMA in another part of town, possibly drawing on the themes of USSF tracks;

b. Organize a weekend journey across the city, exploring activist projects and local struggles;

c. Contribute to a reading list for participants interested in the forum process;

d. Ask USSF communications if they can post registrants on their website according to geographic location so we can find more people in Chicago who are going to Detroit;

e. Work with the Chicago Road to Detroit coalition to develop a web platform for further organizing.

Filed under: Midwest