"What happens when the Global South meets the American South?"
Pancho Arguelles shouted out this question to 1,000 people from 35 states and 12 countries gathered recently in Newmarket, Tennessee, at the justly respected Highlander Center. Activists of all ages and backgrounds met in this beautiful location overlooking the Smokey Mountains for three hot, inspiring, energizing days of workshops, strategy sessions, music, dancing, and performances, celebrating three score and more years of hard work for human rights.
Pancho Arguelles' answer might come as a surprise to some, but not to the activists gathered at Highlander. What happens on a human level when the Global South meets the American South is that workers realize they have much in common and see the need to work together for living wages, safer working conditions, better health care, and improved education for all children.
Suzanne Pharr, a former Director of Highlander, showed how the South can lead the way with a new blueprint for social change. The South has survived colonization by real estate developers, strip miners, and big box stores. The South has seen hard times, economically, racially, and environmentally, and southerners know what it means to overcome some day. The South can now help lead the way to developing new collective strategies for social justice and positive change.
If Suzanne Pharr's close analysis and well grounded rhetoric couldn't make a believer out of you, Rev. Osagyefo Uhuri Sekou could for sure. Reverend Sekou is a self-proclaimed squirrel-eating, milk-drinking Southerner, and he knows how to touch the spirit. Remembering his roots and the people who made sure he went to school and followed his dream, he reminded enthusiastic listeners of how important it is to have a vision of a better world and your place in it. He reminded us all to keep on believing and keep on working for social justice even when storm clouds appear overhead. Don't worry about finding out about the weather, Rev. Sekou says, we need to be the weather, bringing in a new climate of hope.
And you had to believe the Reverend when he said that 'cause all you had to do was look around. As a recent e-news update from Highlander pointed out, participants included activists, organizers, and cultural workers from across the region and the world -- veterans of the Civil Rights Movement, people fighting mountaintop removal, young people working on education issues, residents of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast responding to the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, immigrants organizing for fair immigration reform, LGBTQ activists fighting injustice and discrimination, and many, many more.
Visit the Highlander Center website to find out more about its proud history and exciting plans for the future.
See for yourself how for 75 years, Highlander has served as a catalyst for progressive movements in Appalachia and the South, and across the country and the world -- bringing people together to share ideas and experiences and to learn from one another other how to address the problems facing their communities.
The 75th Anniversary Celebration demonstrated that Highlander continues to inspire activists and organizers, and that new generations of Highlander-supported activists are in forefront of the fight for social and economic justice now and for years to come.
Stay tuned for next week's blog which will feature some of the exiting new ideas and strategies discussed at Highlander's 75th Anniversary!