Detroit Free Press
By: Rochelle Riley
June 20, 2010
The position of "community organizer" has earned great stature since the election of President Barack Obama.
But back in the day, for Jerome Scott, it meant underpaid activist trying to teach people economic and street smarts.
Scott will be among the throngs gathering in Detroit this week for the US Social Forum and for him, it's also a homecoming.
He grew up the son of a tailor and a waitress in Detroit's old Black Bottom neighborhood, worked in Chrysler plants for 10 years and helped found the League of Revolutionary Black Workers before moving to Atlanta, where he became a full-time community organizer.
He founded Project South: Institute for the Elimination of Poverty & Genocide, which helped host the last US Social Forum that brought thousands of people to Atlanta. Scott and thousands of activists like him want to get America to focus on solving the problems of the poor, the working poor and the soon-to-be poor.
"You cannot really get significant social change without a large social movement in this country," Scott said.
No different in fervor and size than the rallies that sparked civil rights and environmental improvements, the forum is to give grassroots activists a national demonstration of economic concern.
Yes, participants know that some will roll their eyes and others might question everything from their motives to their collective ability to see past the 1960s.
But Scott, who attended the old Wilbur Wright High School, rightly sees thousands of high school students graduating to lives of poverty and says corporate America cannot be trusted to solve problems that aren't going away.
"I've been involved in social-change work all my life," he said, "and I see the forum as one of those opportunities to talk to literally hundreds or thousands of people that are talking about social change and social justice."
The ideal setting
And what does social justice -- the kind forum attendees hope for -- look like?
"It would look like full employment," Scott said, "people not having to suffer from under- or unemployment, a government that actually serves the needs of the people, that actually looks at how to resolve problems rather than incarcerate such a high percentage of the population.
"We're talking about resolving real everyday problems. ... How do we deal with this whole situation with Detroit?"
There's a question.
Scott isn't coming to Detroit because it is Detroit. But he is glad that this year's forum is being held in a place that speaks to every problem government faces: poor education, high unemployment, the loss of major industry, a place where four out of five eligible voters don't vote.
"I grew up in a Detroit that was a manufacturing city that people with a high school education could get a job you could raise a family on. Those jobs don't exist anymore anywhere. How do we deal with that changing situation when we still have this growing population?"
Scott says the forum may be the beginning of a movement that can literally shift government. He said, for instance, that he concentrated on the other side of Obama's presidential campaign, the one that seems to be forgotten now, the side that said: "I can't do it without y'all -- which meant to me that if we don't put the kind of people in the street that can pressure him to do what has to be done, there's no way for him to do it."
In a country where a community organizer turned junior senator can become president, is it possible for monumental change to begin with revolutionaries gathered in the poorest big city in America? Don't dismiss the revolutionaries. They arrive Tuesday.
To order a copy of Rochelle's latest book, "Raising A Parent: Lessons My Daughter Taught Me While We Grew Up Together," go to www.rochelleriley.com. Contact ROCHELLE RILEY: firstname.lastname@example.org
The US Social Forum
What is it? Organizers describe this gathering of up to 20,000 people Thursday through Saturday in Detroit as a "movement building process ... the next most important step in our struggle to build a powerful multiracial, multi-sectoral, inter-generational, diverse, inclusive, internationalist movement that transforms this country and changes history."
Where will it happen? Meetings, forums, workshops, exhibitions and other events will be held at venues including Detroit's west riverfront, Cobo Hall, Hart Plaza and Wayne State University. The opening march begins at 3 p.m. Tuesday at Woodward and Warren.
Why Detroit? Because of the economic conditions here. Organizers say "Detroit is a harbinger for what we must do in our communities!"
More info: www.ussf2010.org