Written by Lauren Traugott-Campbell, Organizing Intern
My Friday morning began about 10 blocks from Detroit’s JP Morgan Chase headquarters. Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) and Moratorium NOW called for a march and rally and were met with the enthusiasm of hundreds of activists chanting “Bail out the people, not the banks!” and waving red flags that read “Hasta la Victoria!” Energized by the presence of local percussion band, Cakalak Thunder, we descended upon Chase’s skyscraper.
Members of FLOC condemned Chase’s investments in Reynolds American, one of the US’ biggest tobacco corporations which profits from the exploitation of tobacco field workers’, and threatened them with a boycott set to begin in the fall. Moratorium NOW also spoke to their demand that Chase Bank immediately stops all foreclosures, evictions and utility shutoffs in Detroit.
Looking around at the empty homes throughout the city coupled with hearing testimonies about the working conditions in the NC tobacco fields, the reality of Chase’s priorities became painfully clear and the reason for the union of these two groups’ seemingly different demands was evident.
I then spent my afternoon at Oakland Sister Circle’s workshop entitled “Addressing Misogyny and Counter-Organizing in the Movement.” This was space for activists to share and react to the ways in which patriarchy manifests in the social justice sphere, even despite men’s & queers’ good intentions and feminist labels. Discussion centered on the reality that the personal is political and the need for restorative justice infrastructure within organizations. I left with a copy of their powerful magazine entitled “Undefeated” and a better understanding of the way patriarchy and other forms of oppression can manifest, even in the movement.
After the workshops were over, I had the opportunity to see some of Detroit’s artwork. We headed out to see the Heidelberg Project, an outdoor art project that spans across vacant lots and foreclosed homes in Detroit’s East Side. Tyree Guyton started the project 24 years ago and has since filled it with discarded objects ranging from stuffed animals to shopping carts. The withstanding presence of ovens filled with shoes instead of food and the plethora of junk that inhabits these homes instead of people emphasized the priority that capitalism places on things instead of people.
Our art sightings continued as we visited the Detroit Institute of Art Museum and marveled at Diego Rivera’s mural that sprawled across all four walls of the room. The piece, funded by Henry Ford, depicts the dichotomy of the auto-industry with its images of workers and bosses along with other themes that plague the city of Detroit and the US at large.
I left Detroit with new skills, new visions, new connections and a rejuvenated commitment to fighting for social justice in the South.