Detroit socialists march together on MLK Day, inspired by growing efforts toward socialist unity.
“Austerity and occupation will never bring liberation!”
“Nationalize the Big 3! Workers’ control of the factories!”
“Capitalist crisis! What’s the solution? World-wide revolution!”
If you were attending this year’s auto industry spectacle, the North American International Auto Show, in Detroit, you would’ve heard these chants coming from the streets of the Motor City as the annual Martin Luther King Day march passed by Cobo Hall. The march usually passes by Cobo during the Auto Show, however, this year, several socialist groups and individuals marched together as a contingent, with the aim of building regional socialist cooperation, and to raise the profile of the socialist solution to the merging economic, ecological and international crises.
Every year on Martin Luther King Day, as in many cities across the US, Detroiters hold a rally and march commemorating the legacy of Dr. King. The rally and march are typically very progressive, emphasizing the anti-imperialist and social justice aspects of Dr. King’s work. Many of the people involved in organizing the first march several years ago are socialists and set out from the beginning to have a strong Left tone to the occasion.
Inspired by growing interest in socialism as well as recent successes in building socialist cooperation, local socialists came together this year to march as a bloc. The depression, along with right wing red baiting, have been piqued many people’s interest in what socialists have to say. To maximize the advantages of this opportunity, socialists across the country have been building efforts to increase unity and cooperation. In Ohio, so-called “Buckeye Socialist” and labor leader Dan La Botz ran a strong Senate campaign that brought together socialists, and educated thousands across the state about the possibilities of socialism. La Botz’s campaign resulted in over 25,000 votes for a Socialist US Senator and the construction of the Buckeye Socialist Network. Other efforts include the Socialist Contingent at the October One Nation rally in Washington, D.C., which brought together hundreds of socialists from across the country. Efforts locally have also been building a stronger atmosphere of socialist cooperation, including regular facilitated meetings among socialist cadre to discuss local and national strategy and analysis to help strengthen socialist organizing.
Efforts like those listed above are urgently needed if we are to ensure that the converging economic, ecological and international crises are exposed, that an alternative pathway from oppression and exploitation is illuminated, and that the Left become a relevant force once again. This urgency led to issuing the call for forming a socialist bloc this year, first issued by members of the metro-area branch of the Organization for a Free Society (http://afreesociety.org). The call was sent to several area revolutionary socialist and anarchist groups including Solidarity (http://www.solidarity-us.org), the Socialist Party of Michigan (http://www.spmichigan.org), Workers’ World Party (http://www.workers.org) and more. The call was enthusiastically answered. Members of the march’s steering committee were also very supportive of the formation of a socialist contingent.
The call asked socialists to come together under the banner of “socialism for the 21st century,” a popular phrase among Leftists across the globe, especially in Venezuela. This was partly an act of solidarity with the revolutionaries of Latin America, but also a call to revitalize the socialist tradition and reinvigorate the revolutionary imagination – to clarify the vision of a classless, socialist society and the pathway to it. The call also relevantly emphasized Dr. King’s own socialist and anti-imperialist sympathies, especially from his Riverside Church speech on Vietnam, where King said that,
“If we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin…we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”
The rally on Martin Luther King Day had already set a radical tone. Every year the rally is at Detroit’s Central United Methodist church whose congregation has a long history of peace and justice activism in the city. The church’s Reverend Edwin Rowe spoke first, giving a fierce speech calling for economic justice and democracy. Reverand Rowe was followed by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee veteran Willie “Mukasa” Ricks, whose passionate (to say the least) speech set the stage for a very energetic march.
All members of the socialist contingent were encouraged to show up to the church early to help prepare for the rally and march. During the rally, contingent members were helping seat attendants, handing out programs, and later handing picket signs to eager marchers. As marchers left the sanctuary, contingent participants were being handed pieces of red felt to safety-pin to their coats and jackets.
As the march began, members of the contingent began to chant, “Austerity and occupation will never bring liberation! That’s bullshit! Get off it! The system is for profit!” Members of the contingent held signs addressing a diverse range of specific issues, but all related to the need for radical social change and marched behind the banner of “Socialism for the 21st Century.” Participants called for an end to the illegal, US backed siege on Palestine and for the immediate withdrawal of US and all occupying forces from Afghanistan and Iraq.
Signs and chants largely focused on the growing call for austerity measures being pushed by both GOP and Democratic lawmakers in hopes of reducing national and state budget deficits, and ending the capitalist crisis. Signs read: “Capitalism is the crisis,” “No cuts for capitalism,” “Workers pay while corporations play.”
Finally, marchers also called explicitly for socialist solutions to the capitalist crisis. As marchers passed by the International Auto Show (which was framed as a “comeback” for American automakers, but it is everything but for their workers), the socialist contingent began chanting “Nationalize the Big 3! Workers’ control of the factories!” while marchers held signs reading “Socialism is the alternative – Build it now,” “Socialism = Economic Democracy For All!” or “The People Should Plan the Economy.”
Participants in the march and in the contingent were excited by the energy and turnout of the socialist bloc. Individuals attending the march approached contingent organizers as marchers reconvened at the Central United Methodist asking for the red patches that socialist marchers were wearing.
The broad goals of the contingent were met, and further actions such as this one should be taken in the near future to continue to build regional cooperation among revolutionaries and unity. Efforts at building unity however, shouldn’t just mean that we periodically march together from time to time. Socialists here in the Motor City, and all over the country, should be taking practical action together, while also engaging in spirited and dynamic debates and discussions about how to best reinvigorate the socialist movement, the nature of our society and contemporary crises, and the visionary goals of our growing movement. Struggling over our differences while taking action together is the best way for us to grow our movement, fight the right, and build toward socialism.