Reflections from OP Detroit Coordinator Will Copeland

July 16, 2014

I was honored to serve as Coordinator for the Our Power Detroit Gathering, June 2014.

Directors Diana Copeland and Ife Kilimajaro joined the Young Educators Alliance to set the tone with a profound opening ceremony.  Fifty-seven people representing CJA member organizations and other environmental justice allies joined with local Detroit activists, artists, and community change agents. We are happy to announce that over ⅔ of Gathering participants were 25 and younger.  Khafre Sims-Bey at the YEA debrief remarked “I have a feeling that I will be seeing them over and over again”  One of our objectives was to host a significant gathering of youth activists in the climate justice and environmental justice movements that would help build relationships and deepen a generational analysis of organizing.

EMEAC and Our Power Detroit collaborated with the People’s Water Board, We The People of Detroit, and others to organize the Water Is Life Community Action.  This action was inspired and spirited by Charity Hicks who transitioned after the gathering (July 8, 2014).  We cleaned and replenished the Dexter-Elmhurst Community Center and canvassed throughout the surrounding neighborhoods to let people know where they could get water supplies.  Now, this building is not only home to the city’s first People Relief Station, but also to vital neighborhood programs such as Children’s Free Lunch, Senior Activities, a Swap/ Re-Sale store, excersice classes, and youth recreation. Queen Mother Helen Moore said “I have not ever seen that many youth and adult leaders work in conjunction with each other to get the job done.  You did not know this, but I was at my wits end and was concerned that we would not get the job done.” (full letter below)

There were significant lessons we learned from the organizing and hosting experience.  First, we learned the value of our organizing style and made a commitment to doing the theoretical and intellectual work to describe the theory of change that we embody.  At its root, we are engage the development of skills, resources, and analysis of our people via cultural organizing.  Also, we exhibit a spirit of radical hospitality that was first exhibited on an (inter-)national level in the 2010 US Social Forum process.  We have been developing this practice of space-making, caring detail, emotional-political connection, local resourcing, and hospitality in the last 4 years.  As Bryce Detroit summarizes, “we are creating a new culture.” One challenging lesson that we learned is that we need to put intentional attention to our relationship building in the US South and Great Lakes.  We conflicted schedules with the Freedom Summer events and these regions were underrepresented in our national participation.  The Our Power Detroit was an unmitigated success, pulled off under duress and stress that planted powerful seeds of culture and youthful energy.