Environment Picture

U.S. Social Forum, march against the waste incinerator an inspiration for lifelong Detroiter

Michigan Environmental Council Community Outreach Director Sandra Turner-Handy helped organize the four-day U.S. Social Forum in Detroit this summer—a gathering of more than 10,000 people from across the country committed to social and environmental justice and community empowerment. She was instrumental in organizing a march on the Detroit incinerator—more than 1,000 strong led by the Zero Waste Detroit coalition. The marchers called for recycling programs and healthier trash disposal options to replace the dirty trash burner. Here are some of her thoughts:
People of every nationality, young and old, black and white and all shades in between interacting and working together like old friends reunited. This group commandeered Cobo Hall and packed downtown Detroit hotels, restaurants and pubs. They traveled in cabs, on bikes, on foot, and on our great DDOT bus system. They branched out, walking and riding to Avalon bakery, small coffee shops and eateries. The U.S. Social Forum literally took over Detroit from downtown to midtown.

It was great, it was glorious, and it was refreshing to look at my city through the eyes of those who only knew Detroit from media stories. Surprisingly they branched out into unchartered territories all times of the day and night, with smiles on their faces. What a wake-up call for me not to have to defend the city I love so much.

The Social Forum events included tours of the city; workshops ranging from water rights to tar sands, environmental justice and urban gardening; and healing walks led by the indigenous community.

The forum culminated with more than 1,000 activists marching from Detroit’s main library to the expensive, polluting, Detroit incinerator.

The threat of rain did not deter the energy raging like the waters of Niagara Falls within these social activists. Signs in hand, banners stretching across two to three people, and the glorious sunflowers standing tall led the start of the three-hour march that culminated with calls for replacing the trash burner with cleaner alternatives.

Many people spoke of their fight for environmental justice in their communities. As the sun peeked out from behind the clouds, the boundaries of those communities disappeared, turning the struggles into one for all.

As the group walked farther, energy levels rose as the chants became stronger. “We are the people... the mighty, mighty people….”

The group gave focus to the reality of a major city that lacks a role for recycling, recovery or reuse of its garbage in its solid waste policy. It’s a city that has a polluting incinerator that contributes to a childhood asthma rate three times the national average. And it’s a city that sees the environmental injustice every time the furnaces are lit and the smokestack belches.

“Clean air, good jobs, and justice” chanted the procession. The yells of support were deafening, and the handclapping was thunderous as they marched past the gates of the facility. The marchers moved on with even more energy in their steps as they neared the Old Ferry Market—once a recycling center and now an abandoned eyesore.

The final act of resistance was an improvised skit that involved Mayor Bing dismantling a paper mache incinerator and putting up a “Detroit Recycles” sign.

The U.S. Social Forum renewed our spirits, gave energy to our hopes, and gave us very strong shoulders to lean on. Detroit will have clean air, good jobs, and justice as the city moves toward a sustainable society. There can be no doubt. 
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