Monday, July 12, 2010

meet us in the whirlwind: convergence, Day 1

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Aaron drops me and Linda off in front of Cobo Hall in the heart of downtown, then rushes off in the face of peeved policemen who yell at us for holding up traffic. In truth, they have a point. It's barely 10 in the morning but the center of US Social Forum activity is already swarming with people. To my relief, there's lots of open space still; to our annoyance, the line to register is long and doesn't appear to be moving. My health hasn't been great all last weekend and I have to rush to the bathroom a few times while we wait; to my surprise, it's barely occupied. The setting is still somewhat calm. Linda and I gaze at the others in line. Many have slogan-crossed T-shirts and flyers for events, assemblies, promotion for their particular organizations. So many groups I've never heard of. Aaron finds us in line. "This is pretty cool, actually," he says. "It's exciting to be here." To my surprise - sitting as I am at the wake of a 20,000-person convergence of absolutely exhausting activity over the course of 5 days - I feel the same way.

I'm here to promote Team Colors and the book, of course. It's easier than I expected. Everyone is friendly and asks what I'm up to, so I never feel awkward describing the Whirlwinds project. While waiting for about 10 minutes for my registration to go through, the flummoxed yet easy-going woman behind the laptop computer chats me up about the project. I ask her in turn about what it's like to volunteer. "I wasn't even planning this; they just needed people and I said, sure, why not. I just hope someone else steps in for me at some point, cuz I don't want to be doing this all day. The first two hours have been agonizing. Still - all the people you can meet in two hours!" There's a brightness in her eyes.

We head over to Avalon for lunch before the march begins. Craig and Ben finally reach me; they had some trouble getting out of the airport area, but they're finally in Detroit. I guide them to where we are. I spot them before they spot me. They park excruciatingly close to the street corner; the moment they get out and Craig says "Stevie! Great to meet you!" I respond "Nice almost-illegal parking job there." Seeing them both is awfully weird; I've been in talks with both of them for over two years now but am meeting them for the first time. For some reason, their voices don't match their appearances. It occurs to me that they could look like any old thing and I would still be befuddled; when all you know about a person is their voice, you almost feel like this is the only part of them that exists.

We drive to the Motor City Casino Hotel, where we'll be staying for the week. The irony of staying in a place that Grace Lee Boggs and many others have railed against for years is not lost on us. It's exceedingly gaudy; it's even worse, what with all the glittery lights and towering retro image, that all around it are deindustrialized buildings and foreclosed homes. It's the sort of place where security stands outside the elevator, and you have to flash your doorkey to go past them. Craig and I try very hard to hide our panic when they staff inform us that they have, in fact, booked for us a single bed instead of a double; they don't know that we secretly plan to have five people crash in this room. Our panic subsides when we see the room; it's so expansive and well-equipped (mini-bar, shower AND a separate bath) that we feel pampered. We had joked beforehand that Kevin, the last person to arrive at the USSF, would have to sleep in the bathtub; now, after seeing it, we decide that this really isn't a punishment.

Craig drives us to the march and is immediately alarmed at the security that the USSF has hired for the parade: extremely muscular and imposing men and women, donning black bulletproof vests, stoic looks on their faces in the midst of chanting and cheering. "This is fucking insane," he says over and over, as Ben and Linda and I gaze and wonder. We join in near the end of the march and slowly make our way up. We find the Macalester contingent, folks from the Catalyst Project, other familiar faces throughout. The march is a full one but less spirited than what I remember from the USSF in 2007. At one point we pass by large puppets of Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, Julian Bond. I prod Linda into getting the gumption to introduce ourselves to various API groups, including CAAAV, the CPA, Asian environmental justice groups, and National Domestic Workers Alliance. Someone hands me a sign at one point; I reluctantly wave it, than discreetly leave it next to a bench, having no idea what to do with it otherwise. My health problems remain annoying throughout, and the moment we reach Cobo Hall I sprint to a bathroom. We file into the main auditorium-like area for the opening ceremony. They say it will last an hour; it actually goes for three. By the time they reach the end, there are less than 15 people present. I complain to my friend Margie about the inability of organizers to organize. "Look, they've listed in the program right here that there'll be statements from Leonard Peltier and Mumia. So why the fuck are they at the very end, when everyone's already tired from marching and hungry and just can't stand sitting through all this other stuff? If I have Peltier and Mumia on my playbill, I'm putting them up first thing while everyone's still energized. Why is that so hard to figure?"

Sometime during the ceremony, Ben and I finally make it over to the Exhibition Hall and AK Press. Copies of Uses of a Whirlwind are holding down the fort at the very end of their table. I take a copy and page through it, not knowing what to think or feel, except for maybe relief. "What's it like, seeing your book after all this work on it?" Ben asks. "Anticlimactic," I shrug. "I've already seen the damn thing 40 or 50 times by now, just in different forms." Ben nods sympathetically, but also laughs, "You know, getting published is supposed to feel good."

After a dinner of Thai food, Craig and Ben and I head back to the hotel for an early night in. I stay up longer than I should, worrying about my how my health will hold up over the next several days in the midst of three workshops and panels, constant promotion, and a mess of people to meet. That's the thing about convergence, I think to myself. A resonance here and there with other bodies and minds and hearts is the stuff of an everyday life; multiply it a thousand-fold, and you end up moving in ways that - exhilirating or terrifying - are simply beyond your control.

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