Thousands meet in Atlanta
as U.S. Social Forum opens
Thousands march in opening ceremony of U.S. Social Forum in Atlanta June 27
BY OLYMPIA NEWTON
ATLANTA, June 27More than 5,000 people marched here today for the opening ceremony of the U.S. Social Forum. The march kicked off what will be five days of nonstop political discussion and debate on questions ranging from the struggle for Black freedom, to the fight against imperialist war, to how to fight against environmental degradation.
Young people, trade unionists, and others have come from nearly every U.S. state as well as from other countries. Signs and banners carried here today ranged from No blood for oil Lets share the worlds resources, to Eat peace: become a vegetarian, to Legalization now! Many contingents marched behind banners of the trade union, nonprofit, political, or social service organizations with which they work. Such contingents included the Coalition of Labor Union Women, Choice USA, Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), Jobs with Justice, Direct Action Working Group, and dozens of others.
This is the first nationwide Social Forum to take place in the United States. It grows out of the World Social Forum, which began in 2001 in Porto Alegre, Brazil, as an international gathering against neoliberal globalization.
Joseph Lowery, a founding member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, addressed the opening rally. Other speakers included leaders of the Cherokee and Aleut indigenous peoples, who explained that the Forum was taking place on land stolen from Native peoples.
Many have come to the Forum to exchange experiences in struggles. Others have come to meet fellow fighters and figure out what are the next steps to advance issues theyre concerned about.
Were going to share the work weve been doing in the Asian and working-class communities, so we can learn from our allies, and they can learn from us, said Eric Shih, 24, an organizer for the Chinese Progressive Association (CPA) in San Francisco. The CPA there is currently fighting for severance pay for 100 Chinese immigrant workers laid off with no notice at an electronics factory in the Bay Area, Shih said.
Weve been working to gain our treaty rights, said Lisana Readbear from the Honor the Earth and the Indigenous Environmental Network in South Dakota. Im here for solidarity, networking, and the progression of a movement for social justice.
Rainbow Alvarez, who came with a group of 10 from the Youth Justice Coalition in Los Angeles, was holding a banner with a portrait of Deandre Brunston, a 23-year-old African American killed by Los Angeles cops in 2003. We came here to get a bigger network, and bring to life the bigger issues, she said. L.A. is addicted to incarceration. And now the L.A. cops are taking their repression tactics elsewhere, she said, explaining that the Los Angeles Police Department sends experts to train cops in other cities.
Dozens of hospital workers wearing union T-shirts and holding signs greeted the march as it wound past Grady Hospital. The workers explained that Grady, which they describe as the last hospital in Atlanta primarily serving the uninsured, is being threatened with closure. The message is health care for all, Ana Avato, an organizer for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), told the Militant. AFSCME organizes workers at Grady.
Kellie Cavagnaro, who described herself as a student looking for a life of activism, said she came from Philadelphia to propose mass unity of nonprofits into one body to unite around issues for social change in the U.S.
I came to dialogue on immigration issues and mobilize for legalization for all, said Olivia Geiger, who teaches English as a second language (ESL) in Providence, Rhode Island. Geiger is part of a group of ESL teachers called English for Action/Comité en Acción, organized to fight for legalization for immigrants.
Demands for the rights of immigrants were prominent on signs and banners at todays action. The March 25 Coalition from Los Angeles brought a huge banner demanding, Legalization Now! in several languages. Others had signs calling for Humane immigration reform, and Stop anti-immigrant terrorism.
A lively contingent of the Young Socialists and Socialist Workers Party carried a banner reading, Legalization now! Stop the raids and deportations. Other banners in this contingent read, Not one penny, not one person for Washingtons warsTroops out now! and U.S. hands off Venezuela and Cuba.
Emily Paul contributed to this article.
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