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"The Answers Are Coming from the Bottom": Legendary Detroit Activist Grace Lee Boggs on the US Social Forum

Boggs calls Detroit a "symbol of a new kind of society, of people who grow their own food, of people who try and help each other."

Amy Goodman: We're on the road in Detroit on the opening day of the US Social Forum. Thousands of people are here for one of the largest gatherings of grassroots activists and community organizers in the country. The event this week marks the second time the Social Forum has been held in the United States. The first one was three years ago in Atlanta.

Detroit is a city with one of the highest unemployment and foreclosure rates in the country. But to many longtime Detroit-based activists, the city today is not just a picture of devastation and ruin. To them, Detroit is a city of hope, a place that seeks to nurture sustainability and community building.

Democracy Now! 's Anjali Kamat and I spoke to the legendary Detroit-based radical organizer and philosopher Grace Lee Boggs. Born to Chinese immigrant parents in 1915, Grace Lee Boggs has been involved with the civil rights, Black Power, labor, environmental justice, and feminist movements for over the past seven decades. Along with her late husband Jimmy Boggs, Grace has been at the forefront of efforts to rebuild urban communities. In 1992, she co-founded the Detroit Summer youth program to renew her city. Grace Lee Boggs turns ninety-five this week and is speaking at a number of events at the Social Forum, including a public conversation with Immanuel Wallerstein.

On Monday night, we visited Grace Lee Boggs at her home in Detroit on the east side, where she has lived for over fifty years. The city is considering declaring her home to be a historical landmark because it has served as an incubator for countless social justice organizations. We asked Grace Lee Boggs to talk about the importance of the US Social Forum coming to Detroit.

Grace Lee Boggs: You know, the World Social Forums began after the Battle of Seattle in 1999. And the slogan, "Another World Is Possible," emerged out of a completely new mentality, when people recognized that essentially those in control are dysfunctional and that the old social democracy dependence on those in power to give you things, that period is over.


And I think it's really wonderful that the Social Forum decided to come to Detroit, because Detroit, which was once the symbol of miracles of industrialization and then became the symbol of the devastation of deindustrialization, is now the symbol of a new kind of society, of people who grow their own food, of people who try and help each other, to how we begin to think, not so much of getting jobs and advancing our own fortunes, but how we depend on each other. I mean, it's another world that we're creating here in Detroit. And we had to. I mean, we didn't do so because we are better people than anybody else, but when you look out and all you see is vacant lots, when all you see is devastation, when all you see--do you look at it as a curse, or do you look at it as a possibility, as having potential? And we here in Detroit had to begin doing that for our own humanity.

Anjali Kamat: So what do you think the rest of the United States can learn from Detroit?

Boggs: Well, I'm hoping they will learn, and I spoke to two young groups today, one of them from California and another one from Ithaca, New York. Downtown they had come in vans for the Social Forum. I hope they understand from Detroit that all of us, each of us, can become a cultural creative. That's what's taking place. We are creating a new culture. And we're not doing it because we are such wonderful people. We're doing it because we had to, I mean, not only to survive materially, but to survive as human beings. We couldn't give up. And that's why I think--that's what I hope people will learn, because the United States is going through some difficult times, and unless we understand that, and that that is what it means to evolve, not--to see what is negative as a potential positive.

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