The revolution was already an hour behind schedule by the time Harry Belafonte took to the stage Saturday at Detroit’s Martin Luther King Jr. High School. The peripatetic fund-raiser and activist (and entertainer of note) made a direct, biblical appeal to the citizens before him: “Joshua has been called. Jericho lies before us. The trumpets must be sounded.”
Like energized City Council members Maryann Mahaffey and JoAnn Watson, as well as U.S. Representatives Carolyn Cheeks-Kilpatrick and John Conyers (both D-Detroit) and others before him, Belafonte’s mission was to pump up and challenge the 150 people gathered to put together a “people’s agenda” for the upcoming presidential election.
Discussion questions and statistics were provided by the Washington, D.C. Institute for Policy Studies (www.ips-dc.org) and the Detroit Area Peace with Justice Network. The crowd was racially mixed but predominantly white and suburban. Participants sat at desks in classrooms, ate bag lunches, listened to experts, and created a long list of problems with a shorter list of possible solutions on butcher-papered blackboards.
Conyers, engaging and funny, was warmly welcomed into groups focusing on such issues as human rights, the environment and criminal justice. He listened, inserted stories and dispensed advice from his many years in Congress. He also cracked jokes about the lunacy of working with a Republican-controlled government.
Solutions ranged from policy recommendations (kill the Patriot Act, abolish MEAP tests, use Instant Runoff Voting), to what seemed like revolutionary appeals for corporate responsibility and jobs for all.
Perhaps it was the noticeable lack of students and color within the forum that kept the “righteous anger” of which Belafonte spoke from surfacing and spilling into the streets. The success of the event will depend on those inside the hall getting those outside to feel the same. They have their work cut out for them.Contact News Hits at 313-202-8004 or NewsHits@metrotimes.com