The US social forum, 2007, Atlanta Georgia
(July 9, 2007)
© All text copyright Skip Schiel, 2007
The US social forum, 2007, Atlanta Georgia: essentially it offered voice to many who usually find themselves voiceless because of oppressive conditions in this country and the entire world. Emphases were divided into 6 parts: Katrina survival, gender and sexuality, militarism and the us empire, immigration, indigenous rights, and workers' rights. Workshops--a plethora of workshops, nearly 1000--were offered in two-hour slots in the morning, mid day, and afternoon, with plenaries organized around the 6 primary foci at night. These plenaries were well attended, upwards of 3000 people at each of the two nightly two-hour sessions--highly energetic, with standing ovations and occasional discordant moments. The total attendance was 9000 registered, with another 1000 attending, total 10,000.
In my photography of this momentous event, I concentrated on the mixture of peoples: young and old, with those under about 30 making up at least 60% of the population; different skin colors, more than 50% people of color; from different geographical regions including Central and South America; and about half female. To show this mixture I watched for groups consisting of different sectors mixing together, then tried to focus on one person with others in the background or on the sideline. I think this might have worked marginally well; had I more time (I devoted one entire day to finding locations, while carrying all my gear, video projector, laptop, personal stuff, reading materials, etc, showing my slides and putting up my exhibit) I might have done better. For now, my early results are sketchy.
The workshops I attended were universally well presented, from the Color of Water workshop organized by Massachusetts Global Action, specifically about the threat of potential privatization of metro Boston water resources, to the Iraq War vets highly charged workshop which began with a simulated patrol and raid as in Iraq. There I heard from Adam Kokesh, the inactive reserve marine who initiated the simulation project. I learned about their bus tour and contributed $5 to it, anticipating writing IVAW about the peacemaker story and Maxine Wong Kingston's writing workshops.
My photo presentations drew a miserly 5 for Gaza, another 5 for Hydro, and at least 5 for Living Waters, the exhibit. Maybe more since I only remained with the show about 1/4 hr. One of the advantages of a display is people wander in and out, I don't have to worry if only a few show up at one time, as happened with the 2 slide shows. At the moment, my photos have also wandered--out, lost, I hope not forever, these 10 wayward waifs.
Besides the workshops and plenaries, I cruised: music outside, often black oriented; meeting vets at their table and interviewing a black Viet era vet who broke his silence shortly after 911; the Palestinian tent with its books, DVDs, slide shows (about digital story telling in Israel-Palestine), literature, and a few perfunctory meetings with people; several tables about water, meeting a robust and passionate young woman advocating for rights use of water (meaning diminish corporate control); the spectacular AFSC Iraq photo display, Nightmares and Dreams, consisting of an outer ring of color photos showing happy Iraqis and an inner ring of BW photos showing aspects of their suffering, with texts bringing home the US equivalent (this I photographed or hope to find on line so I can publicize it--more here); a water ceremony under the indigenous peoples tent, blending water brought by many people from different regions, blessing it; an African American tent in which I learned about the ongoing Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Greensboro NC, investigating the 1970s massacre at the hands of Ku Klux Klan, a debacle that led to the formation of the organization, The Beloved Community; among others. I won't list all that I missed.
L and I occasionally intersected: we attended the water ceremony together, also the indigenous evening panel plenary; I ran into her after her writing workshop, attended by 30 people in a relatively remote setting (the Apex Museum) and accepted a ride to the temple with two of the workshop participants (losing the brakes part way, a major emergency); and we dined together one evening on Caribbean food, sharing curry chicken with bones. More about L later.
Other of my friends at the forum: David A, Patty OB, Grace, Susan B, and Bert S from Atlanta Friends Meeting. Otherwise, I saw no one from Boston or that I knew from anywhere.
Overall, the fact of the Forum happening, with its divergences in political perspectives, backgrounds, geographical regions, ages, focus issues, and needs is astonishing. I feel overjoyed, very happy to have attended, despite the dismal turnout to my programs (Palestine/Israel generally was well covered, but somehow I did not enter that publicized stream), and more connected and more aware than before. I am curious about the organization of this event, how it was done, how they found the front money to rent such luxurious facilities as the Westin and Renaissance hotels, what process they used to bring this array of people together, etc.
Does this event mark a turning point in the history of social movements, in the US and the world? I doubt it. I doubt it partly because I realize how daunting is the task of follow up. I've heard that Forum organizers plan a large-scale action event in January. Perhaps this will help solidify energy created by the Forum. Is the Forum a turning point for me personally, especially regarding my work with Israel-Palestine? Yet to be decided.
I depend heavily on my muses. So one day when I wasn't sure what to attend, I gave the decision making power to my feet, guided by muses. They headed me toward the Westin hotel and the sacred sites workshop. About half way there I noticed a slender black man tottering down the sidewalk on one crutch. I photographed him from the back, he turned around before I'd finished, I applied my usual response: a forthright openhearted approach to him. I introduced myself as a participant in the Social Forum, reading his body and face, and found him pleasant, not upset. I admitted photographing him, then asked, "How'd that happen," pointing to his leg and crutch. I acted as if I had his complete confidence. He responded with the following story.
--I had a "silent stroke," incapacitating my entire left side. I'm slowly recovering, thru Grady hospital (which is perennially threatened with closure). I'm from Nigeria. I have a degree from the University of Wisconsin, my father covered the tuition, I've applied to grad school at Georgia Tech. I expect soon to receive the social security payments I'm entitled to, even tho not a citizen but a legal resident who for years has paid into the account. I've worked for IBM and other corporations.
--Where do you stay?
--Right over there, he said, pointing his crutch to a black tarp under a tree along this busy highway. It's safe, so far.
He said further, I'd like to move out of the south, maybe to New York City, because blacks here treat me badly. They say the white man can give them much more than I can.
He invited me--or I asked, I forget--to photograph him again. He posed, leaning on his crutch. This could make a before-after set: before we'd met, after. Or simply two photos of the same person, front and rear. I feel privileged, honored, gifted, that I could photograph him, something the muses might have led me to.
Leaving, I extended my hand, told him my name, learned his name is Daniel Iakoba, thanked him for the talk and photos, and wished him well.
The muses also brought me to the IVAW workshop, already mentioned, but then heading home, exhausted, I chose the wrong bus side at the Inman Pk MARTA station--too long a wait, I'd just missed the bus. So I had to reclimb the stairs with my computer gear, and walk across the long corridor to reach the other side. I chastised these same muses that had led me to Daniel, but thanked them for their overall performance.
A further observation from the Forum: a young black man attended my Gaza show, entered late, stayed for conversation then left hurriedly. He returned to thank me for the show, announce that he worked in Roxbury and Dorchester with the organization, Project Think Different. His goal is to help youth move beyond their immediate concerns, like staying alive, and enter a larger world, such as Israel-Palestine. I plan to contact him when I return and see if more linkage is possible. This is one tangible result of the Forum for one individual, or maybe two.
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