Next week, thousands of activists from around the country begin arriving to Detroit for two events: the Allied Media Conference June 17-20 and the United States Social Forum June 22-26.
Perhaps you've never even heard of either, or maybe you have and just aren't sure exactly what they are.
Here are the deets on both happenings, as well as a look at who will be coming to Detroit and how local Couch Surfers are greeting them with open sofas.Allied Media Conference: A laboratory for participatory media
As the world of media changes, so-called citizen journalism is undoubtedly on the rise. Bloggers now land press passes to mainstream political events and are being hired by traditional media outlets -- proof that their influence is growing along with their numbers.
The Allied Media Conference, which has been held in Detroit since 1997, seeks to provide activists with tools that will help them get their message out, whether by building blogs, producing zines or radio shows or via more traditional modes of communication such as dance or storytelling.
The event started as the Midwest Zine Conference in 1999 and morphed into Allied Media Projects, the group that now organizes the conference based from its offices at the Burton School. Last year, 1,000 people traveled from as far away as Australia to attend AMC; this year organizers are expecting 1,500 attendees from 36 states and at least four countries.
What to expect from the AMC, which is centered at Wayne State University's McGregor Conference Center? A hands-on media center, DIY workshops, evening events at Garden Bowl and MOCAD and lots and lots of learning sessions, one of which is about building community wireless networks.
Co-presenter Ben Chodoroff is a North Corktowner who
participates in the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition, a Detroit collaborative dedicated to net neutrality, the concept of "giving everyone access to technology, especially the working poor and other marginalized people," he says.
Chodoroff's AMC-catalyzed efforts will lead to three community wireless networks being installed in Detroit: permanent ones in Northwest-Goldberg and North Corktown, and a temporary one at Woodward and Temple specifically for United States Social Forum participants who will be camping there the following week. Community wireless networks, he explains, are "a way for people in a neighborhood to create a shared wireless network that goes beyond just sharing your own house's wireless signal to having something that's more reliable and is a community institution."
Chodoroff says that building community-based wireless networks embodies the core principles of the AMC as a whole. "It gives (people) access to media creation tools and, when you learn how to set up a wireless network, you learn cool things about physics, electricity and wavelengths -- and that's very empowering," he says.
For more information, registration and conference program, go to www.alliedmedia.org
United States Social Forum: Another world is possible, another U.S. is necessary, another Detroit is happening
The World Social Forum was initially held a decade ago as a grassroots response to the World Economic Forum. The first United States Social Forum was held in Atlanta in 2007, and its second incarnation is headed for Cobo Hall.
Why Detroit? Adele Nieves, national communications coordinator, says the whole point is for the Forum to be "people of color-led, grassroots-led. ... People are coming to Detroit to learn from Detroit and build with Detroit."
Nieves says the Forum is not a conference, a business or a nonprofit organization. "It's simply a gathering space created so people from all walks of life, all political backgrounds, for whatever's important in your community, you come and you can talk about it," she says.
Topics will include education, labor, environmental issues, economics, immigration and media, amongst many others. There is a youth forum and a kids forum. There are art happenings, concerts, tours, marches, planned protests -- basically a ton of politically charged activities. "People are taking a vacation for this and are going to go back home exhausted and need another vacation," says Nieves.
There are 20,000 to 25,000 attendees expected, representing every state of the union and dozens of countries from around the world. More than 10 percent of attendees are from Michigan, and local participation and inclusion is key, says Nieves, who notes that the Forum's outreach team pounded the pavement in all corners of the city for the past year to get the word out. "We want all different parts of Detroit to feel a part of this," she says. "We want everyone to feel like you have a voice in what goes on in your city and, beyond that, what goes on in the world."
More information about the United States Social Forum can be found at www.ussf2010.org
.So, where are all these people staying?
Activists and students might not have the pocketbook power to stay at the Westin Book Cadillac, but there are lots of options. AMC attendees can stay in a WSU dorm for a low cost, and USSF is building a tent city at Woodward and Temple for intrepid outdoorsy types. But there is another option, Couch Surfing, which pairs up travelers with a local couch, air mattress, spare bed or even backyard.
Nathan Andren is Detroit's Couch Surfing Ambassador, a title that, he acknowledges,
"doesn't really mean much." It does signify that Andren is very involved in the global phenomenon that has grown from 1 million registered couch surfers just last spring to 2 million presently.
Couch surfing has been happening informally for years -- picture backpackers making friends at the pub and then crashing their floor for a night or two -- but CouchSurfing.org
formalizes the process a bit. Registered couch surfers build a profile and then receive requests to host or, if travelling, request a couch for a period of time. Profiles allow users to be "vouched" for and display reports made by fellow travelers about the time they've spent together.
People ask Andren all the time if he is crazy for opening his doors to strangers, but he says the website is a kind of vetting process, much like buying something on Ebay or using an internet dating site. "It's a social network system," he says. "It's got this social structure built into it, which really allows (this to happen)…There is a social evolution going on, which is manifesting itself in many ways -- Couch surfing is just one of them."
Since Andren joined the site more than five years ago, interest that travelers have shown in Detroit has boomed. Events like the Detroit Electronic Music Festival, AMC and USSF buzz up the site, but there are more and more random visits from cross-country travelers, photographers, students and film-makers as well. Andren suspects the uptick is due to worldwide curiosity about Detroit. "It's like, 'I've heard about Detroit. ... I've heard it's strange there, not what we think it is.' "
That curiosity keeps his couches occupied: over the next couple of weeks, Andren will host 10 to 20 guests in his North End residence, as well as 20 to 30 at an E. Jefferson loft that he currently owns that is on market.
Why the willingness to cohabitate with strangers? Andren encourages skeptics to attend a local meet-up, which doesn't require hosting. "Talk to people and I guarantee you'll be converted by the end of the night," he says. "Everyone is so passionate, so friendly."
Go to www.CouchSurfing.org
to build a profile and join the Detroit group for information about local couch surfing activities.Kelli B. Kavanaugh is Model D's development news editor. She's been on both ends of the couch crashing stick more than a couple of times. Send feedback here.Unless noted, all photographs © Marvin Shaouni Photography
Contact Marvin here
Adele Nieves, National Communications Coordinator, United States Social Forum - photo Marvin Shaouni
Nathan Andren - photo Marvin Shaouni
All AMC photos courtesy AJ Manoulian