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The Detroit Free Press

US Social Forum: Activist Stands Ready to Be Part of Big Movement

As many as 20,000 people are coming to Detroit for a massive discussion of social change.

Rochelle Riley

DETROIT - As many as 20,000 people are coming to Detroit for a massive discussion of social change.

First of all, "Yay!" that as many as 20,000 people are coming to Detroit.

Second of all, do not dismiss the grassroots activists, idealists,
revolutionaries and community organizers (even Tea Party members
inquired about space) who will be in the city for the US Social Forum
from Tuesday through Friday. Organizers say it will be the largest
gathering of its kind to explore, among many things, improving public
education and strengthening the working class. 

The forum
grew out of the 10-year-old World Social Forum, which was a cry against
"the world's elite - a small amount of people, entrepreneurs and
government officials - making decisions for the majority of people,"
said Adele Nieves, a 36-year-old Detroiter who is the forum's media

"If you're going to make decisions for every
majority, then make sure you then do that with poor people's
initiatives in mind," she said.

Even if you're not
participating, the forum will be hard to miss. It's expected to take
over Detroit's west riverfront and will have meetings, workshops and
discussions at sites from Cobo Hall to Hart Plaza, from Wayne State
University to a USSF Village along the water behind Joe Louis Arena.

An Activist's homecoming

The position of "community organizer" has earned great stature since the election of President Barack Obama.

But back in the day, for Jerome Scott, it meant underpaid activist trying to teach people economic and street smarts.

Scott will be among the throngs gathering in Detroit this week for the US Social Forum and for him, it's also a homecoming.

grew up the son of a tailor and a waitress in Detroit's old Black
Bottom neighborhood, worked in Chrysler plants for 10 years and helped
found the League of Revolutionary Black Workers before moving to
Atlanta, where he became a full-time community organizer.

founded Project South: Institute for the Elimination of Poverty &
Genocide, which helped host the last US Social Forum that brought
thousands of people to Atlanta. Scott and thousands of activists like
him want to get America to focus on solving the problems of the poor,
the working poor and the soon-to-be poor.

"You cannot really get significant social change without a large social movement in this country," Scott said.



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different in fervor and size than the rallies that sparked civil rights
and environmental improvements, the forum is to give grassroots
activists a national demonstration of economic concern.

participants know that some will roll their eyes and others might
question everything from their motives to their collective ability to
see past the 1960s.

But Scott, who attended the old Wilbur Wright
High School, rightly sees thousands of high school students graduating
to lives of poverty and says corporate America cannot be trusted to
solve problems that aren't going away.

"I've been involved in
social-change work all my life," he said, "and I see the forum as one
of those opportunities to talk to literally hundreds or thousands of
people that are talking about social change and social justice."

The ideal setting

And what does social justice -- the kind forum attendees hope for -- look like?

would look like full employment," Scott said, "people not having to
suffer from under- or unemployment, a government that actually serves
the needs of the people, that actually looks at how to resolve problems
rather than incarcerate such a high percentage of the population.

"We're talking about resolving real everyday problems. ... How do we deal with this whole situation with Detroit?"

There's a question.

isn't coming to Detroit because it is Detroit. But he is glad that this
year's forum is being held in a place that speaks to every problem
government faces: poor education, high unemployment, the loss of major
industry, a place where four out of five eligible voters don't vote.

grew up in a Detroit that was a manufacturing city that people with a
high school education could get a job you could raise a family on.
Those jobs don't exist anymore anywhere. How do we deal with that
changing situation when we still have this growing population?"

Monumental change

Scott says the forum may be the beginning of a movement that can
literally shift government. He said, for instance, that he concentrated
on the other side of Obama's presidential campaign, the one that seems
to be forgotten now, the side that said: "I can't do it without y'all
-- which meant to me that if we don't put the kind of people in the
street that can pressure him to do what has to be done, there's no way
for him to do it."

In a country where a community organizer
turned junior senator can become president, is it possible for
monumental change to begin with revolutionaries gathered in the poorest
big city in America? Don't dismiss the revolutionaries. They arrive

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