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New UAW president Bob King joins FLOC’s Baldemar Velásquez in successful Detroit protest against JPMorgan Chase targeting R.J. Reynolds support and Michigan foreclosures


By Alan Abrams, La Prensa Senior Correspondent


DETROIT, June 25, 2010: “We have won the first step to victory” Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) President Baldemar Velásquez told a cheering crowd of hundreds of supporters Friday June 25 following a historic meeting with representatives of Chase Bank.


His announcement was met with cheers of “Hasta la victoria” by members of the crowd.


“They sent four people from Chase’s national headquarters to meet with us,” Velásquez told La Prensa after the hour-long meeting. “We will be meeting with a representative from Chicago in two weeks,” added Velásquez.


FLOC has been turning up the heat on Chase’s parent company, JPMorgan Chase, to sever ties to tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds as part of FLOC’s campaign for improved working conditions for Reynolds’ tobacco workers in North Carolina.


However the Detroit protest also focused upon calling for a temporary moratorium on home foreclosures in Michigan. Velásquez’s comments reflected the decision following an hour-long face-to-face meeting with Chase.  In terms of the R.J. Reynolds situation, Velásquez said FLOC will organize a boycott of Chase if progress isn’t made by Labor Day.


Chase’s Detroit-based spokesperson Mary Kay Bean declined to comment on the meeting.


Velásquez was joined by new UAW President Bob King and the Rev. Ed Rowe of Central United Methodist Church in Detroit in the meeting with Chase. King was elected president of the UAW on June 15.


The protestors were organized by the US Social Forum (USSF), the consortium of social activists who convened upon Detroit June 22-26. The Chase protest was organized by the USSF Faith and Spirituality Committee.  After the crowd marched from Grand Circus Park to Chase Tower, protestors were barred from entering Chase by at least 20 Detroit Police officers.


Earlier, Velásquez told La Prensa that JPMorgan Chase is “the leading bank in the consortium” that extends a half-million dollar line of credit to R.J. Reynolds. Historically, FLOC and Velásquez have been successful in targeting financial institutions such as Wachovia Bank to pressure corporations to enter into contracts with FLOC.


“Wachovia is second to JPMorgan Chase in financing R.J. Reynolds and may yet become a target,” said Velásquez.


Author’s Commentary: The more than 15,000 community organizers and progressive activists who gathered in Detroit June 22-26 for the second United States Social Forum (USSF) comprise an important and powerful movement to effect social change.


Yet their peaceful conclave was virtually ignored by mainstream media and was even underreported by Detroit media.


However, if it were the right wing extremists of the Tea Party that staged a convention in U.S.-America’s 11th largest city and held marches throughout the downtown area, CNN and FoxNews would probably have broadcast live from the Motor City all week.


The Tea Party conclaves draw national speakers like Sarah Palin. By contrast, there were no Democratic party candidates addressing the Detroit crowds. Not that there was any shortage of fiery orators with FLOC’s President Baldemar Velásquez, the UAW’s new president Bob King, Rev. Ed Rowe of Detroit’s Central United Methodist Church, and David Bullock, president of Rainbow PUSH Detroit and the Highland Park NAACP on hand. But aside from the unions and supporters of social justice movements, mainstream liberals were nowhere to be found.


You don’t have to be a media blogger to notice that disparity. Indeed, so much for the argument about the “liberal media.” Why assignment editors did not see the news value of reporting this coming together to help heal one of U.S.-America’s most damaged urban areas defies any logical thought process,


The US Social Forum can easily trace its roots to Latin America. In 2001, social movement leaders in Porto Alegre, Brazil convened the first-ever World Social Forum, which, according to an informative article published on AlterNet by Sally Kohn,  was designed to bring progressive activists together “from around the globe to meet, learn and strategize with one another to strengthen the fight for justice, peace and equality worldwide.”


The motto of the World Social Forum is “Another World is Possible.” Kohn says that U.S.-American activists who had attended World Social Forums in Brazil, India, and Africa heeded the pleas from international activists that “progressive change in the United States was critical to staunching injustice around the world,” and the United States Social Forum was launched.


The first gathering of the US Social Forum took place in Atlanta in 2007. Last week’s impressive Detroit gathering was only the second. Once again, the mainstream media has missed a story, but sooner or later they will realize that in terms of social justice, the US Social Forum can not be ignored.


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