U.S. Social Forum kicks off in Atlanta

ATLANTA — Thousands of people marched through the streets here June 27 as the U.S. Social Forum, billed as one of the largest gatherings of progressive groups and activists, kicked off. The march, complete with stilt walkers, giant-headed puppets, drummers, bikers, and everyone from antiwar activists to anti-computer-waste advocates finding a place in the multiracial throng, started out from the State Capitol.

Chants, whistles and shouts punctuated the air as enthusiastic men, women, and children, young and old, Black, white, Latino and Asian, gay and straight offered their picture of democracy to the world. The march took place peacefully, winding past government buildings, Georgia State University facilities and Marta stations before ending at the Atlanta Civic Center, ground zero for the conference. The conference closes July 1.

Local police, office workers and everyday Atlantans watched as the lively wave of people flowed down boulevards in the “city too busy to hate.”

Conference organizers said Atlanta was a logical and specific choice for the first U.S. Social Forum, modeled after World Social Forums that have grown from 15,000 to more than 150,000 people since the first meeting in Porto Alegre in Brazil in 2001.

Longtime civil rights leader Dr. Joseph Lowery laid a wreath at the tomb of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King. Speaking afterward, organizers of the U.S. Social Forum talked about King’s role and Atlanta’s historic place in the struggle for civil and human rights.

Other activists felt Atlanta was the right place because of the South’s historic struggle for social change and its continued battles against injustice. The wreath-laying ceremony was the first official conference event.

“The South has seen lots of repression and lots of resistance,” said Jerome Scott, a member of the forum’s National Planning Committee. Events will include a variety of trainings, from organizing to anti-racism to media-making, at venues near the Civic Center and hotels.

Part of the forum’s purpose is to inspire greater activism and to challenge U.S. hegemony and corporate dominance nationally and internationally. The gathering is also about collaboration, where activists look for the places where serious issues — like racism, poverty, violence, corporate wrongdoing and environmental abuses — intersect, and places where groups can combine efforts to challenge these problems.

“Another World is Possible, Another U.S. is Necessary” is the conference theme.

In the end, the U.S. Social Forum hopes to inspire less progressive talk and more action. “An interesting thing happens with these social forums around the world,” said Alice Lovelace, a USSF national lead organizer. “You see it in South America, in Africa, in Asia. A wave of change and grassroots political engagement follows.”

Forum organizers hope to see a similar wave of engagement in the home of the world’s greatest democracy.

Richard Muhammad is an independent journalist and founder of Straight Words E-Zine, which can be found at http://straightwords.typepad.com.