Wednesday, July 04, 2007

U.S. Social Forum 2007

First Day of Workshops

The U.S. Social Forum in Atlanta is spread out throughout the City. The way that the Forum is set up is to have opening remarks and a short talk in the morning then a 10:30 a.m. workshop lasting until 12:30 p.m. then a 1:00 p.m. workshop. After a short break from 3:00 to 3:30 p.m. there is another two hour workshop. Then into the evening with two one and half hour plenary sessions at the main stage at the Civic Center. There are 109 different workshops happening all at the same time all over the City of Atlanta. They are held at hotels like the Marriott, Renaissance, and Westin, at libraries, churches, coffee shops, parks and at the Metro Atlanta Task Force.

The workshops were in the areas of:
**Agriculture/food/land **Community
**Culture/Media **Economy
**Education **Environmental Justice
**Globalization/International Trade **Health
**Immigration/Migration **Indigenous
**Labor/Workers Rights **Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgendered
**Militarization/War & Peace **Movement Building
**Politics/Democracy **Poverty
**Prisons/Police/Courts **Race & Class
**Religion/Spirituality **Human Rights
**Social and Public Service **Urban Issues
**Women/Gender Issues **Youth/Age/Families

So, there were plenty of choices in workshops to attend. It was very difficult to move from one side of town to the next in a half hour so that had an influence over which place to go. There were activities going on all day at the cultural tents. There were social justice films all day going on as well as cultural events throughout the day.

I decided to attend the workshop to start out the day with the survivors of Katrina and Rita. There were four people from Louisiana and Mississippi along with a moderator also from New Orleans. Two of the presenters had family members who died during the aftermath of the flooding. One of the women had her mother left behind because she could too sick to make it down the stairs. The national guard members said that they would go back--it never happened. Everyone who presented kept saying that national guard members would tell people they would be back and they never did come back. The other woman lost her brother-in-law. They saw babies dehydrated and dead outside the Convention Center. They saw police brutalizing the population forgetting to protect and serve. The first plenary of the night also featured survivors of Katrina/Rita who charged that race played a big role in the rescue and rebuilding effort. No one had good things to say about Ray Nagin, the Mayor of New Orleans.

From both the workshop and the plenary, we learned how bad the situation was in New Orleans. There is a great deal of anger toward the federal government, and a big movement demanding the right to return to their homeland. The survivors are asking for help under the U.N. guiding principles on Internally Displaced people, which mandates that people who were forced from their homes by man-made or natural disasters must be provided help in returning to those areas. The men and women of the Gulf Coast are angry over evacuation efforts, forcing people out of their homes, the refusal to re-open public housing after three years, the rent gouging and the gutting by 85% of the budget in 2004 to shore up the levee system. All of those who testified had to endure the worst conditions and the most pathetic response from government that they all deserve reparations. These angry former residents are holding a tribunal in New Orleans at the end of August. It would be great to have similar tribunals throughout the United States around the same time to document the stories from displaced citizens from all over the country.

The elevator system in the Westin Hotel was a nightmare. So, from then on I decided to skip any workshops on the upper floors of the Westin--if I could not make it with the stairs I would not go. They lock the stairwell on the upper floors. I got to hear a little about the overthrow with the support of the U.S. of Aristide in Haiti. I also got to hear from the American Friends Service Network and the Black Panthers talk about the Criminal Justice System in the United States. There were three panthers including Fred Hampton's son, and then one Panther called in on the telephone. They talked about Attica and the segregation of black nationalists within the prison system. The prisons label people as "gang members" for any organizing and then place these individuals in solitary confinement or in supermax confinement which is 23 hours alone. There was also mention of the Lucasville 5 in Ohio who took the fall for the riots and are serving life sentences.

The last workshop of the day was by the National Coalition for the Homeless about criminalization efforts around the Country. As the co-chair of the NCH Committee, I gave my pitch about efforts in Ohio to make it illegal to be homeless. I did not learn much here since I help put together the national report, but helped further the presentation. I left after the first plenary session of the evening on Katrina--too much depression for one day. I missed a few cool sounding workshops on the disappearance of Native Americans and housing as a human right because of conflicts, but a full day none the less. The theme of "Another World is Possible*Another US is Necessary" did not really fit for the forum. So far, I have not learned much to hope for, but just a series of condemnations on the current system. They sure could have used a few plenary sessions on keeping hope alive and the good things that are going on in America. Maybe I was biased because of all the problems at NEOCH. Four or five workshops in a row could really put a fragile person over the edge.

Regarding NEOCH finances: Back in Cleveland, we started getting some response to our e-mails and the article that was in the Plain Dealer. Our Board secretary was interviewed by Channel 5 and WTAM. Supporters began calling and asking what they could do to help. Old friends that we have not heard for a while were shocked to hear of the problems. Letters started coming in asking the foundations to support the organization. All of the support certainly raised the spirits of the staff.

Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

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