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A Chain Nobody Can Break: The Southeast Social Forum

Miami Workers Center
Date Published: 
October 01, 2006

The Miami Workers Center (MWC) is a strategy and organizing space for poor and low-income Black and Latino communities in the City of Miami and Dade County, FL. It began with organizing in 1999 in the historically black neighborhood of Liberty City, building an organization that eventually became Low-Income Families Fighting Together (LIFFT). We are currently expanding our work into the mixed Latino neighborhood of Wynwood, by building the Wynwood Anti-Gentrification Comittee (WAGC).

Since 2001, both staff of the MWC and leaders from our grassroots organizations have participated in the World Social Forums held in Brazil, India, and Venezuela. Participating in the forums has provided great experiences for our leadership development and inspiration for our organizing. The forums have always been a place where to get a feeling of broad social movements in motion. They also provide a vision of a pluralistic left: committed revolutionaries, left academics, students, and political leaders converging and sharing struggles and experiences. Coming from the US, a lot of this movement exchange is outside our reality.

While Latin America witnesses a resurgence of left populism and strong grassroots social movements, we in the US remain in dire straits. The neo-conservative agenda dominates politics, and as they continue to wage war and destroy progressive gains, left forces remain fragmented, inconsistent, and generally unable to mount a significant response. In this context, the United States Social Forum (USSF), planned for June 2007 in Atlanta, holds great promise as a vehicle toward reversing the tide.

The two main objectives the USSF can achieve are creating coherence among various grassroots organizations and struggles within the US and providing a space to debate left strategy and overall direction for the US social movements. These objectives reflect MWC’s priorities of building mass organization and raising left consciousness, all within a process that is in unison with our brothers and sisters in the Global South.

The Southeast Social Forum (SESF), held from June 16-18, was the first in a series of regional social forums building toward the USSF, and the MWC both participated in and built our organization through it.

Next stop: Durham, NC

At 10pm on June 15, Low-Income Families Fighting Together members, the Wynwood Anti-Gentrification Committee, the Miami Workers Center staff, and other allies, boarded a bus for Durham, NC. Our 700-mile journey to the Southeast Social Forum took us 16 hours and through four states. The Florida delegation numbered close to 100, the second largest contingent at the 600-person forum.

The bus brimmed with energy from members of Power U Center for Social Change, Haitian American Youth of Tomorrow, Asociación Campesina of Florida, SEIU Local 11(janitors), South Florida AIM, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, STAND (University of Miami), and Imagine Miami. The ride itself was an advance for the growing south Florida social justice movement, a relationship and alliance-building experience.

Upon arrival, we took a tour of the Durham area hosted by the Black Workers for Justice. Samantha Wadley, a LIFFT member who traveled to the forum with her family, reflected on the tour: “We passed through Shiloh, which is the first place that free Black slaves bought property. That land has been in Black hands for generations and it is now being threatened by gentrification.”

The forum kicked off with a multi-tradition cultural event and an opening plenary that drew hundreds of people to an enormous gymnasium at North Carolina Central University. Delegations had come from all over the Southeast: North Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee.

Breaking barriers

The SESF featured workshops from different organizations on topics ranging from communities confronting sexual assault to youth organizing. One of the MWC and LIFFT workshops—Who’s City? Our City!—focused on urban land reform and the anti-gentrification struggles in Miami. The other MWC-sponsored workshop, Towards a Black/Brown Alliance, focused on drawing out the opportunities and challenges in building alliances between the Black liberation struggle and the immigrant rights movement in the wake of and Hurricane Katrina and the massive immigrant mobilizations.

MWC worked to anchor the forum on these political themes of Katrina and the immigrant rights movement, and connected them to issues of militarization, occupation, and gender violence. Such framing highlighted where white supremacy, empire, and patriarchy are dominant, and where strategic resistance is critical. Each day, with goals of relationship building and information-gathering, members of the MWC spread the word about our work, raised grassroots donations, and made hundreds of new individual and organizational allies.

Speaking of the forum, LIFFT member Paulette Richards said, “It was like a big family reunion. You come to this big gathering and meet all these people that are fighting for justice where they are from. We share the same struggle.”

Saraí Portillo, organizer with the WAGC, added, “It was important for our members to be there because they got a sense that things can change, that there are people making change. It really gave us a sense of a common struggle and inspired us to go home and work hard.”

Upon returning home, the MWC crew was fired up for the upcoming US Social Forum. The feelings of excitement and possibility coming out of the SESF not only invigorated members of LIFFT and WAGC but the entire South Florida delegation.

In a reportback to the larger community this July, members spoke about how they stepped up and were awoken. “We are trying to make a chain that nobody can break,” said Samantha Wadley. The entire delegation felt more connected, more hopeful, and more determined to change our neighborhood, our region, our hemisphere, and our world.

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