US Social Forum Day One: Thousands March in Downtown Atlanta (UPDATE 1)
This article contains additional reporting by Matthew Cardinale, News Editor
(APN) ATLANTA — Thousands of progressive activists from around the US and the World marched through Downtown Atlanta on the first day of the US Social Forum.
Our conservative estimate of the number of marchers is 5000, also the official estimate provided by USSF spokesperson Karlos Schmeider. However, other USSF organizers had a wide range of estiamtes: Jerome Scott said 10000; Selah Abrams said 700 to 800; Terence Courtney said 5000.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitutional newspaper, which notoriously underreports crowd turnout at progressive events, said 1000 attended. Local NBC TV news said as many as 2000.
Because APN reporters walked in the parade–rather than observing from a fixed location–it was difficult to see just how far back, and ahead, it went. Thus, 5000 is the conservative estimate, with 10000–the number of projected USSF Conferees–a distinct possibility.
Hundreds of organizations were represented in the March, and equally, hundreds of issues were represented on banners and signs, including workers rights, sexual orientation equality, peace, impeachment, and saving public housing, just to name a few. Large street puppets also made appearances.
Prior to the parade, several activists gave speeches.
“Because we’re the first inhabitants, we understand what racism is, we understand what genocide is, we understand what capitalism is,” Tom Goldtooth, Executive Director of the Ingidenous Environmental Network, said.
“Welcome to the homeland of the Cherokee people,” Amy Walker, of the Eastern Cherokee Band, said. “We’re concerned what happens to Mother Earth, because what happens to her, happens to all of us.”
At that point, APN’s attempted coverage of the speeches was disrupted by aggressive USSF marshals in orange vests, who asked APN and other reporters to move from where we had been told we could stand. One USSF marshal asked, “Why are you [media] disrupting what we’re trying to do? Why are you causing a problem?”
“We’re excited to be here. We want to focus on the North-South connection. We’re facing all the same issues in Alaska as folks are facing in the lower 48 states. In that way we feel a connection to all the people in the lower 48 states and Canada and beyond international borders. We’re faced with toxic chemicals, climate change, offshore oil, and gas issues. We’re charged with the task of protecting our future generations,” Shauna Larson, from Alaska, of the Indigenous Environment Network, said.
“Our national dilemma today is not technical retardation but moral deficiency. We have a moral deficiency in establishing priorities when putting our technological advances to work for the common good,” Rev. Joseph Lowery, a Civil Rights Movement veteran, said.
“We continue as a nation to put corporate greed above social needs and we insist on relying on militaristic solutions to political and moral challenges,” Lowery said.
“We have sacrificed the ideals that could make us great, on the altar of our ambition that can make us big; but big is not the same as great,” Lowery said.
“We have deserted spirituality and we are shacking up with the prostitute of materialism and greed. It is an incestuous affair and like all incest, it produces offspring with congenital defects, like addiction to violence, guns, drugs, sex, sexism, race, racism, and various idolatries. America needs a revival to save her souls,” Lowery said.
“We have sown the wind of mean-spiritedness toward the poor, and lack of humaneness toward the stranger at our door. There is something terribly wrong with our system of economics and values when we have disparities, when any handful of people have more than they’ll ever need while millions have less than they will always need,” Lowery said.
“We must have respect for the mandate to nurture the young, comfort the aging, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, home the homeless, heal the sick, welcome the stranger to our borders,” Lowery said.
“We are torn asunder by the erosion of our civil liberties. We are damaged by the misconception that might makes right and that we can resolve every conflict by sending smart bombs on dumb missions,” Lowery said.
One activist seemed to be in shock that the USSF was finally happening, after so much preparation.
“It is outrageous,” USSF volunteer, Barry Weinstock, said, during the March itself. “People have become active in collaborating and coordinating. What I’m looking for in the future is an ongoing collaboration that builds on what we do here.”
“We need to work out a way to speak to each other across all these great distances and barriers in a way that doesn’t deny people access and gives everyone a voice.”
“We like to hang out with fighters for social justice. It’s hard to measure, I went to the WSF [World Social Forum] in Africa… I was blown away by the spirit and enthusiasm and the coming together to talk about things, no bullshit. You’re bound to get some things from that,” Maryann Barnett, an activist with a group that is working to save Atlanta’s Grady Hospital and keep it public, said.
“I’ve never seen any diversity like this [at any other event]. It’s not just White folks. I want to see groups like this keep coming together and growing. The diversity in this crowd is like nothing I’ve seen in another march. The more mixing the better,” Randy Aronov, Atlanta activist, said.
However, diversity of agendas also presents some challenges to having concrete gains come out of the USSF.
“It’s a difficult thing to get these people, very passionate about specific issues, to organize around a single focus. It would be good… [to have some goals with a] smaller focus,” Rev. Lauren Cogswell, Open Door Community, said.
“It can bring hope, you’re not alone. Especially in the South, in the City of Atlanta. It’s [usually] that same 40 people that show up to every protest,” Cogswell said.
The original version of this article stated Tom Goldtooth was a Member of the Cherokee Nation. He is instead the Executive Director of the Indigenous Environmental Network and a Member of the Dine’ (Navajo) Nation and Dakota. APN regrets the error, which we attribue to all the pushing around and disruption of reporters by USSF Marshalls during his speech.
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