Local Voices Seek National Platform at US Social Forum

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New America Media

Local Voices Seek National Platform at US Social Forum

by
Anthony Advincula,

DETROIT, Mich. — Rev. Phil Reller, coordinator for Phoenix-based
Southwest Conference United Church of Christ, arrived here Monday night,
hoping to share with other participants his views on immigration
debates in Arizona.

Gloria Sandoval of California Central
Valley Journey for Justice, along with her colleague, came to continue
pushing for minorities' rights to proper health care and quality
education.

And Michele Kelley, who volunteers for Families
United for Racial and Economic Equality in New York City, wanted to
network with other social movement groups.

Reller, Sandoval
and Kelley are just three among the thousands of community activists,
journalists, artists, the ethnic media, environmentalists, human rights
leaders, and other social advocates from across the country and around
the world gathered here for the five-day U.S. Social Forum.

"This
is a perfect opportunity to educate people on what’s truly happening in
our local communities, not just about the struggles of immigrants in
Arizona, but also the momentum of hope among community leaders to repeal
SB 1070," said Reller, who has been building support groups here with
his son, Adam, for the upcoming vigil that his organization plans to
hold in Phoenix.

SB 1070, a state bill that allows local
enforcement to arrest and detain undocumented immigrants in Arizona, is
set to take effect on July 29. "It's not too late to tell my story at
this forum. The heart of the communities in Arizona is good and strong.
In fact, it's too early to give up; we have a long struggle ahead of
us," Reller said.

For two miles, from Wayne State University to
Cobo Center in downtown Detroit, where most programs will take place,
thousands of the forum’s participants marched on the street, marking the
opening of the social forum on Tuesday afternoon.

"My hope is
that this is going to be an enormous chance for Detroit to see people
who came from different places and discover something from their
experiences," said Adele Nieves, national communications coordinator for
the U.S. Social Forum.

Since the economic recession struck two
years ago, Detroit and the state of Michigan have the highest
unemployment rates in the nation, and the rate of homelessness has
increased by 10 percent this year. More than a million families,
according to local officials here, have already moved to other cities
and states in search of a better future.

"This is the time and
place for people to speak for their own cities and have their own
voice," Nieves added. "Through conversations at the forum, we hope to
find means on how to rebuild the city of Detroit."
She estimated
the forum's number of participants at 20,000, which is a 300 percent
increase from the previous national forum held in Atlanta three years
ago.

"We can use this collective power to impact and move
policy at local, state and federal levels, from immigration to housing
to access to health care,” said Don Rojas, executive director of Free
Speech TV. "This is the biggest grassroots social movement in the
country, and the variety of participating organizations is so broad."

Sandoval
described the worsening economic condition in California's central
valley. People are losing homes, she said, and many do not have proper
health care.

"We have many, many things to talk about. I hope
we find the answers here," she said.

But, not everyone is
looking for answers.

Kelley, who has been an organizer for 20
years, said that she has been struggling to find alternatives to groups
that might sound radical but are in reality funded by foundations,
operate as 501(c)(3) non-profits and mimic "a very corporate structure."
She said she wants the "horizontal movement" she saw in the ‘60s and
‘70s.

"I hope I'll find it here again," she said.

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