Atlanta Plans US Social Forum

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(APN) ATLANTA – 20,000 participants are expected to attend Atlanta’s upcoming, first-ever United States Social Forum (USSF) in late June 2007. Atlanta activists are busily planning away for the massive descent of progressive Americans upon their iconic city which is so rich in historical ties to the US Civil Rights Movement.

The US Social Forum is a national incarnation of the World Social Forum, which recently made national headlines, after being held in Caracas, Venezuela in January 2006. President Hugo Chavez had been a prominent spokesperson at the recent WSF; it had also been attended by US peace activist, Cindy Sheehan.

“The U.S. South and especially Atlanta welcomes the opportunity to host the first U.S. Social Forum at this critical juncture in the development of our movement for social and economic justice” Jerome Scott of Project South, said on the event’s official website at www.ussocialforum.org.

The Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless hosted the Community Report for the World Social Forum (WSF) on March 9, 2006, where local attendees of the Venezuela event were able to share their experiences.

Approximately 150,000 people from around the world had attended the Venezuela WSF, which had been the Sixth Annual.

“The highlight of the whole thing was at a stadium on the other side of town, hearing Hugo Chavez speech which was interpreted [in English]. It was like being back in the 60s and hearing Martin Luther King speak. He was very inspirational, extremely intelligent. He talked about everything from God to the environment to making Venezuela better. Working with the counties around Venezuela so they could all pull themselves up,” Gloria Tatum, 62, a member of the International Action Center, said in a phone interview. Tatum had attended the recent WSF with a labor delegation.

“Chavez talked about how we need to go back to the values of the first Christians. Feed the hungry and clothe the naked. So that was really a wonderful experience for me hearing him talk. He talked about all the books he reads, and said that he did read, which was a jab at Bush,” Tatum said.

“The World Social Forum is an annual meeting held by members of the alternative globalization and anti-imperialist movements to coordinate world campaigns, share and refine organizing strategies, and inform each other about movements from around the world and their issues,” literature available at the March 9 meeting said.

The WSF is intended to be an alternative counterpart to the World Economic Forum, which convenes in Davos, Switzerland, and other locations, at the same time. The World Economic Forum is where agents of undemocratic international banking groups regularly meet to plan their austerity programs for poor nations which owe debts to wealthy international banks.

The WSF is not an organization but rather “an open meeting place for reflective thinking, democratic debate of ideas, formulation of proposals, free exchange of experiences and interlinking for effective action.”

Groups and individuals that participate in the WSF are opposed to neo-liberalism and to domination of the world by capital and any form of imperialism.

Some of the topics discussed in Venezuela were indigenous rights, sustainable development, women’s rights, health care, fair trade and alternative energy, according to a video documenting the WSF by Chris Hume available on truthout.org.

Five Atlanta residents who attended the WSF this year led the March 9 meeting. The crowd in attendance consisted of people from a variety of backgrounds, ethnicities, and organizations, much like the WSF in Venezuela.

The meeting was conducted by Emery Wright, of Atlanta-based Project South, an organization that will be instrumental in planning and executing the USSF when it comes to Atlanta. Wright, who had gone to Venezuela, led the large group discussion about the experience, complete with a slide show of photos.

Later, the crowd broke down into five small groups, with each group headed by one person who went to Venezuela.

Atlanta Progressive News participated in one of the five groups led by Angela Winfrey of The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond.

Winfrey was able to compare her work with others in Venezuela, talk about and learn how to organize people, not just locally but globally, and to expand her knowledge of the world, she said.

Winfrey was impressed by the fact most people in Venezuela seemed to know what was “going on” in Venezuela socially and politically.

It was difficult to walk around the streets of Venezuela and find someone who could not speak intelligently about current events, Winfrey said.

“It seemed like the labor unions down there had a lot more power, are stronger in some parts, than here in states,” Tatum added.

After a half hour, everyone reconvened to discuss important topics brought up in the small groups. This kind of free form sharing of ideas is similar to what took place at the WSF, will take place in Durham this summer, and eventually will occur next summer in Atlanta.

In addition to workshops at the WSF, “there was a huge march, probably 100,000 or 200,000 people, where everybody did gather and I was taking pictures and people started from every street, it was like streams moving into a river,” Tatum said.

The Forum planning process in Durham will intentionally be led by people of color and working people and the aim is to have a majority of the participants consist of the same make up, according to literature available at the March 9 meeting.

Other Social Forums will take place across the country this year in order to educate the public, to mobilize people and prepare for the USSF in 2007.

According to ussocialforum.org, Atlanta was chosen as the host city over San Francisco and Albuquerque after an extensive examination of over a dozen U.S. cities.

“As the birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King III, Atlanta has a very proud history of promoting and celebrating human rights. It is a history we continue to appreciate and build upon for the future. Serving as the host city for the U.S. Social Forum is a continuation of our legacy,” Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin said in an endorsement statement.

It is the “consistent fights for Black freedom, indigenous self-determination, and working class emancipation” in Atlanta and the South that led to the planning committee’s choice.

APN asked some in attendance at the Community Report why they think Atlanta was chosen.

Barry Weinstock, who is on the Host Committee for the USSF, credited Project South’s instrumental lobbying effort. Project South’s long list of contacts and the members’ energy were pivotal in bringing the USSF to Atlanta, Weinstock said.

Jules Dykes, who works for the Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, is working with the Logistics Committee to reserve the Atlanta Civic Center in Midtown. The Civic Center would be a place to host a variety of events during the USSF.

Dykes believes the history of oppression in the South and the fact that the Civil Rights movement started in the region are two important reasons. In addition, “the glaringly adverse response of the government” in the wake of Hurricane Katrina makes the region in general an important place to hold the USSF, Dykes said.

“Currently, the region is home to new immigrant-groups from Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Many of these new immigrants are political or economic refugees whose situation is the result of corporate globalization and who seek to find common ground in order to build a powerful movement for social and economic justice,” according to ussocialforum.org.

Further, “planners hope that holding the USSF in Atlanta will give space for the bottom-up movement building that has been emerging throughout the region and that it will, in turn, significantly impact the rest of the country.”

Other countries that send delegations to the WSF have held national social forums but the United States has not held one yet; the Atlanta event being planned is a first.

The USSF will better prepare future U.S. delegations to the WSF, attendees at the planning meeting agreed.

The USSF will serve as a test to see how progressive Atlanta, and possibly the South, really is, Winfrey told Atlanta Progressive News.

Despite all the progress, “the South has also been a historically exploited region that has restricted unions and deterred environmental regulations, while creating a legal system that defended capitalism’s right to exploit working people,” according to ussocialforum.org.

These are sure to be hot topics in 2007.

About the author:

Jonathan Springston is a Staff Writer for Atlanta Progressive News. He may be reached at jonathan@atlantaprogressivenews.com

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This article may be reprinted in full at no cost where Atlanta Progressive News is credited.

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