13th annual Martin Luther King Jr. human rights conference to take place Saturday

Western Today staff

The 13th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Conference, presented by the Whatcom Human Rights Task Force, takes place Jan. 15 at Whatcom Community College’s Syre Center.

The Human Rights Task Force is co-chaired by Korry Harvey, a faculty member at Western Washington University in the Department of Communication. Conference co-sponsors are Whatcom Community College and Community to Community, and many WWU faculty, staff, students and alumni are involved in the conference.

The conference, which is free, begins at 9:30 a.m. under the theme “All Together Now: Connecting the Dots for Progressive Change in Whatcom County.”

New this year is the Whatcom Social Forum. The social forum model is an approach to social justice work that is more than just a one-time educational experience but rather a platform for building a movement of sustained progressive organizing and networking. It is a highly participatory and community-driven people’s movement—an inclusive, diversified, non-governmental and non-partisan effort bringing together individuals and organizations for a meaningful exchange of experiences, ideals, methods and tactics.

The intention is for various elements of the human rights/social justice movement (multiculturalism, poverty, gender, youth empowerment, educator training, indigenous issues, food sovereignty, ecological balance, civil liberties, immigration, nonviolence, etc.) to organically address the needs in each focal area.

The 10 a.m. opening ceremony will include a welcome by Lummi elder Juanita Jefferson and keynote speaker Cindy Domingo, a long-time Filipina progressive organizer from Seattle, offering words of encouragement and advice about the social forum process. Two workshop sessions (11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.) and lunchtime performances (1 p.m.) will precede a closing ceremony at 4:30 p.m. with keynote speaker Maureen Taylor from Detroit, where she was a key leader in rallying the masses while on the host coordinating committee for the U.S. Social Forum.

Although this is serious and important work, the conference/forum will also have a fun, festive, joyful atmosphere, with performers, art exhibits and interactive events.