US Social Forum Day One: A Tale of Two Protests

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(APN) ATLANTA — From 12pm-1pm, 100 public housing residents and advocates from Atlanta and Chicago gathered at City Hall to plead for the preservation of poor people’s homes in Atlanta and across the United States.

From before 12pm, to 1pm, thousands of US Social Forum marchers began to arrive early for the USSF March, which was to begin at 1pm. Some arrived with huge street puppets and banners, and all arrived excited to participate in the USSF. The USSF March today was indeed one of the largest and most exciting progressive marches to occur in Atlanta in years.

But, why were thousands of progressive activists with the US Social Forum standing only yards away from–just around the corner from–but oblivious to, the public housing rally, for over an hour, talking amongst themselves while waiting for the USSF Opening March to begin?

“I felt bad about it, it’s very strange. I don’t see a sign that they’re thinking about public housing or thinking about the poor,” Morris Hall, a homeless person residing at the Task Force for the Homeless, said.

APN interviewed several USSF March early-birds as to why they were not at the public housing rally down the street. Each, including Shelley Chinnan of Atlanta-based Choice USA, said they didn’t know anything about it.

One USSF organizer, Terence Courtney, said he didn’t know about the public housing rally, and that’s why he did not announce to USSF marchers who arrived early that another protest opportunity was just yards away, around the corner.

Yet, the public housing rally organizer, Lynn Griever, said she sent multiple emails to Courtney, who also a public housing advocate. Griever and other public housing advocates also participated in USSF March organizing meetings, where they made sure USSF organizers knew about the public housing protest.

Courtney also said he “didn’t think about it [making an announcement],” and wasn’t planning on having so many USSF marchers to arrive an hour early anyway.

“I really did feel there was a clean break between what we’re doing and the Social Forum, and it bothered me,” Griever said. “They missed the importance of the rally.”

The public housing rally, for one thing, was not listed prominently, if at all, on the official USSF website.

Some told Atlanta Progressive News there was a longstanding disagreement over whether to include the public housing issue in the official USSF March. “There’s been an internal struggle,” Courtney said.

A veteran of the Civil Rights Movement begged public housing advocates not to have their rally on the day of the USSF, one source said.

Originally, the proposed USSF March route to the City of Atlanta included a stop at City Hall to collectively protest Atlanta’s destruction of public housing. It also included a stop at Grady Hospital to protest the underfunding of emergency room care. This is what Atlanta Progressive News reported last month in its preliminary guide to the USSF.

“The original starting place was by Hurt Park. The Police and the City met with the March Committee and said you have to make a left instead of a right,” therefore not passing by City Hall, Anita Beaty, Executive Director of the Task Force, said.

The USSF organizers gave in to the City’s demands, but they did not have to do so, Beaty said.

“At the G-8 protests in Germany, they were diverted, but they went anyway,” Beaty said.

The City’s wish to divert the USSF March away from City Hall was seen as to prevent collective action which would bring attention to Atlanta’s mass eviction and demolition policies.

After sitting on the permit application for months, the City actually had made a counterproposal just weeks before the USSF, to USSF’s original proposal, which would have diverted the March on to Piedmont Avenue, away from many important and visible, locations Downtown.

In that sense, the final March route, a settlement between the City and USSF, was an improvement over the City’s initial counterproposal, Courtney said.

Also, “I thought they’d be on the corner,” Courtney said of the public housing protesters. If they’d been on the corner, they’d have been seen by more USSF Marcher early-birds.

“We did have the option of going over there and doing this,” Griever said. Instead, public housing residents chose to rally in front of City Hall steps, just yards away, in part so they could accommodate tables for food and drinks for the homeless.

In the course of interviews, Beaty and Griever asked APN not to run this article because overall they are very excited about the USSF and do not want to distract from its successes. However, APN chose it was important to look into what was a glaring, unfortunate disjuncture.

About the author:

Matthew Cardinale is a News Editor for Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at matthew@atlantaprogressivenews.com

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