Tuesday, August 28, 2007

this is what makes it all worth while...

we'd prepared for months. in fact, more than 3 months ago, we entered an intricate process of crafting our delegation to attend the us social forum.

we knew that folks would want to go--that wasn't the issue. really, what we were looking for were the leaders within the organization that were hungry...hungry to meet others who are engaged in the struggle, hungry to learn new tactics and ways to fight this beast that we're living in. but we also wanted to bring a delegation that was representative of the struggles happening here in San Francisco. so we did. and at the end of it all, we were able to bring 23 leaders within the organization to attend this historic event, about half from each of our organizing projects (the Bayview Hunters Point Organizing Project, comprised primarily of African Americans, and the Women Workers Project, comprised primarily of immigrant Latina women in the informal and/or service sector). A lot of our work has centered around the building of living solidarity between African Americans and Latin@s, understanding that this is a critical step in building a movement for social justice in this country.

so for months, we prepped together. we ran workshops on the movement lay of the land, on the relationships between immigration and displacement, on the war on terror, on the legacy of the south. we met for 4 hours each week, sharing our expectations, our hopes, our fears, our questions. but in the end, no matter how much we prepared, it was hard to really know what to expect.

I've been to two social forums so far since i've been at POWER. The first one that i attended was the Border Social Forum, in Juarez, Mexico. However, when i attended the World Social Forum in Nairobi, Kenya earlier this year, it was completely different from the forum i'd attended a few months earlier. so, even as someone who'd been to a few social forums, i had no idea what to expect, and i had to wonder what the experience would hold.

in any case, i digress. Our first day in Atlanta, we took the delegation to the Martin Luther King Center. As we walked through the center, taking in all of the exhibits, i watched, in particular, for the reactions and experiences of our Latina members. As Black folks in this country, we've been inundated with information about Martin Luther King, so much so that his legacy, in some ways, seems to have been commercialized. However, for folks who were not born in this country, and who haven't learned in any great detail about the legacy of slavery, and how that impacts all of our communities today, Martin Luther King is someone you see in abundance one month out of the whole year.

I watched one of our members staring in awe at a TV screen mounted from the ceiling, showing the ugliness of segregation in the South. She was mesmerized and disgusted, all at once. others looked in shock as the pictures and exhibits across the room showed horror after horror of how Black people in this country were relegated to second class status.

At some point, i left the group to go and explore Ebenezer Church, the historic site where King and many others delivered powerful sermons that would rouse the sleeping giant in the South. Today, you can sit in the same pews where Ella Baker and Fannie Lou Hamer sat, while listening to the same sermons being delivered over a loudspeaker somewhere in the church. While its somewhat haunting, its also extremely liberating as well, to know that we are walking in the footsteps of folks who were willing to die for equality.

Outside, we debriefed our experience. For over an hour, we had a powerful discussion about the legacy of slavery in the United States, the connections to the conditions that African Americans live in today, and the relationship between the conditions of African Americans and immigrants in this country. While we fanned ourselves in the sometimes sweltering heat, i saw, almost tangibly, new levels of communication and respect opening up between all of us.

it's moments like these that make social forums worth while...

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