SAN FRANCISCO - Thousands of social activists from across the United States are descending on Atlanta, Georgia this week.They aren't coming to protest. Instead, they're traveling to meet each other, share stories, and develop a unified vision of how the United States should be run.
"It's an opportunity to bring together a diverse number of organizations from across the American landscape to talk about how we envision a better world and how to get there," said Alice Lovelace, a lead organizer of the U.S. Social Forum.
The U.S. Social Forum, the first of the World Social Forum's regional events to be held in the United States, begins today with a march from the state Capitol to the Atlanta Civic Center. The theme of the march, said Lovelace, is "reclaiming the public sector."
"Reclaiming it from privatization and all the other assaults (like) defunding of hospitals, defunding of public education, gentrification, running poor people out of the city, lack of housing -- you name it," she added.
Organizers are expecting participants from all over the country to talk about such issues as immigration, poverty, housing, and police conduct. At the end of the week-long forum, participants will assemble again to decide what campaigns should be undertaken and how to work together towards that goal.
"The social forum really couldn't be coming at a better time," said Colin Rajah of the Oakland, California-based National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, which is part of the event's national planning committee.
Immigrant-rights events at the forum include a convergence of household workers and a talk entitled "Remittances: A Strategy for Transnational Migrant Organizing."
"Immigrant communities are really mobilizing and trying to get an understanding of what are our rights in this country," Rajah told OneWorld. "I think it's really important to be able to communicate with other communities. What's our relationship to the African American community? What's our relationship to the indigenous (Native American) community? Not all immigrants to the United States are Latino. Some are Asian or African immigrants. The Social Forum is an opportunity for us to come together and talk."
The U.S. Social Forum is an outgrowth of the World Social Forum (WSF), an annual event that now attracts tens of thousands of people a year for a week-long conference of dialogues, workshops, cultural events, marches, and rallies.
Launched in 2001 in Porto Allegre, Brazil under the banner "Another World Is Possible," the Forum has grown steadily and led to regional gatherings around the globe. In January, an estimated 75,000 people gathered in Nairobi, Kenya under the banner "People's Struggles, People's Alternatives."
"The WSF was created to provide an open platform to discuss alternatives to the economic plans created by multinational corporations and governments at the World Economic Forum," the WSF Web site explains. "These plans often result in strategies that suppress workers and human rights, and undermine national and indigenous sovereignty."
Organizers of the first U.S. Social Forum picked Atlanta because of its legacy as the home of the late civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the multi-racial organizing he championed in helping to end segregation.
The organizing theme for the U.S. forum is "Another World Is Possible - Another U.S. Is Necessary."
Alice Lovelace said the Atlanta event is almost seven years in the making.
"We insisted that it had to be led by people-of-color-led organizations," she told OneWorld. "There was no knowledge in the United States. There had to be a lot of educating in the United States for people to understand what a Social Forum was. They had to see that this was their process that would address what they felt was important."
© 2007 One World USA