"People are asking me when Atlanta has ever seen something like this," Jerome Scott of Project South and long-time Atlanta activist told the opening plenary of the US Social Forum. "I’ve been reflecting on that, and my answer is: Atlanta has never seen anything like this. The Civil Rights movement was mostly African-American, and last year’s May 1st demo was mostly Latinos, but this march was the most multi-national action I have ever seen. It was amazing!"
And indeed, it was. It felt like the youth and the poor and oppressed people of the United States were rising up as one...a glorious day.
It is a gathering of the movements of the United States, and especially what they call here the "base-building" movements. Poor people, people of colour, queer and transgendered people, indigenous people, workers, women and a remarkable majority of young people. I’ve never seen a more diverse crowd, whether from the perspective of colour, age or class. And from the workshops I’ve attended so far, they are almost all deeply involved in community organizing.
The demonstration on Wednesday was extraordinary. Lively, colourful, musical, noisy, and one of those rare moments that you feel a real sense of history. I had the feeling that no one would forget that they were there on this day when all the people’s movements across the United States of America joined together as one to oppose their government and demand justice and peace. The slogan of this US Social Forum is, "Another World is Possible, Another US is Necessary." The people here understand their responsibility to bring down the empire that’s destroying the world, but it’s also destroying their communities. And therein lies a new basis of solidarity. Fred Azcarate from the National Planning Committee explained to the opening plenary that he had attended the 2001 World Social Forum in Porte Alegre and came back to discuss with people here the idea of bringing together all the people’s movements in the US. It took seven years because they wanted to do it right by building the necessary relationships among the grassroots organizations and ensuring the right outcomes.
Having it in Atlanta was symbolic because of the history of the civil rights
movement in this city. It is clear that holding the US Social Forum in the US South is an important symbol of the kind of movement here people want to see: a movement, as some say, led by black and brown, who are the most marginalized and the most oppressed. And the racial diversity not only of the participants but of the leadership is remarkable. It is no longer just black and white; indigenous people have pride of place, there is a rainbow of immigrants and children of immigrants: Latino, Chinese, Korean, South Asian, East Asian, every place you can think of and always hyphenated with "American". There are more people with disabilities than I have ever seen at a movement event, and the LGBT presence is visible and proud.
It is also clear, as some of the organizers have said, that this is a process to build the movement. Three days go from consciousness to vision to strategy, and there is a meeting of people’s movements at the end. Anyone who thinks that the World Social Forum movement has stalled and doesn’t produce any results had better think again.