South X Southwest Experiment
Building Bridges to Empower a True Majority
Jackson, MS July 26-July 29
by William Copeland
East Michigan Environmental Action Council (Detroit)
It was challenging to participate fully and remain fully engaged, but at the same time keep in mind that we are not direct partners in SxSW Experiment and that the coalition building is not aimed at us. in other words I had to be ok with fully participating at the margins of the exchange.
One way I achieved this was by saying “Yes” to whatever role was asked of me. I served on a small synthesis committee of 3 people from organizations that are not in the coalition. We were tasked with giving personal evaluation as to whether the weekend met its goals. One powerful framework put forth this weekend was “We didn’t come here for answers.” The convening organizers recognized that creating models of accountable governance is a long term project. (By this weekend the partnership has already been 6 years in the making). They sought to bring in staff, youth, members of the core organizations with allied elected officials and national partners (such as EMEAC). Another framework that was discussed was the political advancement from protest to policy to co-governance to implementation as a pathway to implement policies that will be in the community’s best interests and are accountable to the community.
In my synthesis presentation I mentioned EMEAC’s Up South Down South Global South initiative. I focused on the importance of communities where people of color are numerical majority using democratic practices to create policy tools that can be shared with the rest of the nation. As a Detroiter in an 85% Black city it is a challenging research question — to do a power analysis — to understand why our local policies do not reflect the needs of this majority community. The political and strategy question is what can we do about it.
We all went out dancing on the last night. The Central Mississippi Blues Society rocked the house. During a break in the music I was asked to perform. The crowd enjoyed “Dedication,” “Respiration,” and “Organic Activist.”
Another strategy I used was limiting my Detroit comments to about 1 per workshop. I tried to make connections and highlight similarities and differences between our local situation and the situations discussed in the South and Southwest. I talked about the impact of Mayor Coleman A. Young being Detroit’s first Black mayor and raising the standard of community accountability that still haas yet to be equalled. I talked with a Mississippi school board member about their state takeover (conservatorship) and similarities of Emergency Management in Michigan.
Lastly an important strategy was building relationships during the meals, breaks, and other down time. Again, I used this strategy so that the group time wouldn’t be dedicated to relating to the issues of Detroit, but with specific individuals I could have exploratory conversations about how our socio-economic struggles, political challenges, or organizing efforts shared common similarities. In other words, we exchanged tips. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but a list that may be of significance to allies in Detroit:
Diana Lopez, Southwest Workers Union, Food Justice
I loved hearing about their Food Justice organizing and campaign work, including a campaign where youth investigate urban grocery stores in San Antonio and point out shortcomings in produce and healthy options
Javier Benavidez, Center for Civic Policy, Gentrification
He has studied gentrification and has some resources to share. We engaged in a comparison of gentrification in Albuquerque and Detroit
Amelia Hunter, Southern Echo, Digital Justice
Wants to increase broadband access in rural Mississippi. Got excited when I told her about BTOP programming and wants to share models.
Emma, Liz, etc. SouthWest Organizing Project
Using student bill of rights as organizing tool to empower youth to understand and demand rights
Mike Sayer, Southern Echo, Electoral Politics
Wants to dialogue about electoral strategies for community governance given new city charter in Detroit.