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The Right to the City: Pushing Back on Neo-Liberalism

Andrew Willis
Date Published: 
November 01, 2007

The Right to the City Alliance came out in a big way at the US Social Forum, with workers, mothers, grandmothers, youth organizers, tenants and activists from across the country taking part in the forum’s opening march to defend the interests of urban working class communities behind a banner declaring “Democracy, Human Rights, Power.”

Convened earlier this year in Los Angeles by base building organizations and their allies, the Right to the City (RTTC) alliance is an attempt to build a national urban movement for housing, education, health, racial justice and democracy. Alliance members spent months preparing for the forum. Member organizations from Los Angeles to Boston mobilized 250 delegates to make the trip to Atlanta. Members and staff of groups like Just Cause Oakland, California; CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities in New York, New York; and Tenants & Workers United in Alexandria, Virginia collaborated on eight workshops over four days on topics like “Race, Gender, and Nationality” and “Urban Struggle from the Philippines to South Africa.” Most of the workshops were offered with simultaneous translation in three languages.

The alliance also used the forum to announce their twelve principles of unity (see sidebar). The principles were affirmed on the last day of the USSF at the Peoples’ Movement Assembly, under a resolution titled “Pushing Back on Neo-Liberalism, Gentrification & Displacement in the US Through a National Urban Movement.” Delegates attending an all-day business meeting held during the forum itself formalized the group’s political commitment to New Orleans and residents of the Gulf Coast, reaffirming relationships developed during several delegations to the area earlier this year.

Alliance member groups also led many of their own workshops and panel discussions during the forum. Direct Action for Rights and Equality in Providence, Rhode Island pulled together a session on strategies for building a prisoner-led anti-prisons movement including friends and families of incarcerated people. [email protected] youth leaders of PODER in San Francisco gave forum participants an overview of their innovative campaign for tobacco control and treatment.

For many of us in attendance, the connections made between activists was the highlight of the week, surpassing even the success of our collected presence in jubilant, overflowing workshops. Shirley Williams, a longtime leader of Organizing Neighborhood Equity (ONE DC) in Washington, DC, summarized the sentiment among the ONE DC delegation following a session on grassroots leadership that closed out the forum. “We didn’t realize this was happening everywhere,” she said. “To Blacks and Latinos, all of us. It’s good we were here together to figure this out.”

About the Author
Andrew Willis is a community organizer with ONE DC in Washington, DC.