By Vivian Hain

root - Posted on 11 December 2007

Race and Poverty Scholar, welfareQUEEN, digital resistor

by Staff Writer

Thinking back on my experience at the United States Social Forum with POOR Magazine, I feel many mixed emotions. First, when we (POOR Magazine) arrived at the Civic Center in Atlanta to set up our Community Newsroom meetings, an innovation by POOR Magazine that uses an indigenous organizing model to create media, we were allocated to an isolated, dank and damp confined basement hallway space with prison-like concrete walls painted in toxic oil-based battleship gray paint. Due to the extremely narrow hallway, we were told that our presence there was a potential fire hazard. We were marginalized and completely separated from the rest of the media and most of the USSF guests and participants.

We (POOR) were unable to access and work collectively with other media sources with whom we had hoped to collaborate with. We were also unable to get all of the USSF guests and participants into our Community Newsroom and media workshops, because they had to have a special media pass in order to get to the upstairs basement like dressing room. If they even had a pass and made it through the maze of confusion to the media center, they could just stand in the narrow, half blocked off hallway space were we were thoughtlessly put by the USSF planning committee to conduct our workshops and Community Newsroom. By the second day, a few of my fellow POOR colleagues and I developed acute asthma, unable to breathe properly, due to the toxic paint fumes and lack of fresh air in the media center.

I felt truly kicked to the bottom of the barrel, separated from the rest of the forum and hidden away in the darkness, not to do important media work but just to get sick with asthma. We had to literally fight for our right to be allocated to a more humane, healthy and open space that was accessible to all USSF guests and participants. We took it upon ourselves to find one that would not continue to segregate POOR Magazine’s community newsroom from reaching all people at the USSF.

In addition, there were no proper accommodations for people with disabilities, many being forced to use a freight elevator in the Atlanta Civic Center to access the basement area of the media center. This was a thoughtless and discriminating action of the USSF. By not providing access to those with special needs, the organizers ended up marginalizing even more people.

The media- made up of poverty, race and disability scholars- should have been the first thing that those who were attending and participating in the USSF saw when they entered arrived at the social forum, not just the vendors selling their cause. It is the voices, faces and words of the people that make a social justice movement, not capitalism with a 501c.3.

At the USSF, I was also very disturbed by the extreme paramilitary security presence, which totally contradicted the whole meaning of the forum itself. This was very unpleasant and unnecessary by all means for an event of such, one that is supposed to promote social peace and justice.

In addition to this, it was a social atrocity that there were no ‘real people’ from the local community in Atlanta representing at the USSF. Many houseless folks and low and no income people were kept out of the tall iron gates of the Civic Center, marginalized and cast away in extreme heat. They stood outside on the sidewalk surrounding the Civic Center completely ignored and disregarded. As a poverty scholar myself, I found this whole social dynamic very upsetting. Watching many young, privileged and educated folks mindlessly dance about to music without a care in the world within the confines of those tall security gates as if the USSF was some sort of progressive Disneyland, made my stomach turn.

The USSF is an event that should bring people closer together to form alliances and coalitions and to create solidarity collectively, not individually and certainly not by marginalizing and separating people through class and privilege. It is clearly imperative that the USSF planning committee changes its thought process when planning for the next US Social Forum. It is most important that the USSF provides an event that includes more than just privileged activists, but also the real people struggling with issues of racism, poverty, disability etc., as well as real media created by the people. I feel that human connectivity must be the true foundation of the next USSF if we hope to create ‘a new world.’


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