Westchester Social Forum

Join community organizations in Westchester for a social forum to exchange ideas and information, foster solidarity, and celebrate our work to create a more just and equal society. We live in a time of struggle as we witness growing threats to the well-being of our planet and communities, as profit is placed over people and land, and corporations, not citizens, control our democracy.

Yet, we, the people, have the collective power to organize a movement for change. The Westchester Social Forum will provide the space to learn from one another, strengthen our organizing skills, and connect as a community.

Here is a video from the 2017 Westchester Social Forum.

Westchester Social Forum 2024

Divest from Violence – Invest in Communities

Sunday, April 14 12 PM – 5 PM


Building Community Resilience


Palestinian Liberation, Climate Justice, Immigrant Justice, Decarceration, Worker Justice and Cooperatives, Housing for All and much more will be highlighted at the 2024 Westchester Social Forum.

Dozens of local organizations will participate in the Westchester Social Forum on Sunday, April 14th at the Andalusia School located at 380 Walnut Street in Yonkers, NY 10701. The event will open with a People’s Parade through the streets of Yonkers lifting up our vision for another world with freedom, justice, peace and environmental protection.

The opening plenary session will feature musicians, collective songs and our community leaders who are working on all the issues that we care deeply about. Following the plenary, participants will break out into workshops delving deeper into the most pressing issues of our time. Details of each workshop are below.

Community organizations will table to exchange ideas and information, foster solidarity and celebrate our work to create a more just and equal society. Participants will harness our collective power to organize a movement for change. The social justice forum will provide the space to learn from one another, strengthen local organizing skills and connect as a community.

All are welcome. Spanish and ASL interpretation will be available! Advance registration is requested at $10 per student/fixed income and $20 general admission – NO ONE WILL BE TURNED AWAY FOR LACK OF FUNDS. Falafel sandwiches and other food will be provided by WESPAC from a local Yonkers restaurant. Childcare provided! We deeply thank our sponsors for helping to make this happen including the Elias Foundation.

Event Schedule

12PM to 12:30PM: Networking, tabling. WESPAC will provide complimentary food and drinks.

12:30PM to 12:45PM: Prepare for the People’s Parade! We will gather in our various contingents, listen to a poem reading, and hear song from the WESPAC Solidarity Singers.

12:45PM to 1:30PM:  The People’s Parade!  Colorful, with banners, placards, signage, instruments that celebrate all of our campaigns for social, racial, economic and environmental justice. It will be a short loop in the neighborhood of the school.

1:45PM to 2:35PM: Opening Plenary Session with Land Acknowledgement and word from our special guest speaker Maurice Carney. Music Provided by Professional Musicians Firas Zreik and George Ziadeh.

2:45PM to 4PM: Workshop Session – See below for descriptions

4:15 PM to 5 PM: Closing with the Freedom Dabke Dance troupe.

Opening Plenary Guests

Special Guest Speaker Maurice Carney

Maurice Carney is a co-founder and Executive Director of the Friends of the Congo. He has worked with Congolese for over twenty-five years in their struggle for peace, justice and human dignity.

Mr. Carney possesses two bachelors degrees, a masters degree and is pursuing a Ph.D. in political science. He has worked with civic associations in West Africa providing training on research methodology and survey. He served as the interim Africa working group coordinator for Rev. Jesse Jackson when he served as Special Envoy to Africa. Mr. Carney has worked as a research analyst for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies and as a research consultant for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.

For decades Maurice has been advocating for the dignity and inclusion of the Congolese civil society in all efforts for peace, democracy, food sovereignty, and climate justice. He provides consultation to political leaders in the US, Canada, Latin America, Africa, the UN as well as to international NGOs and funders. Interviews with Maurice can be found in the New York Times, Washington Post, Al Jazeera, Democracy Now, Pacifica Radio Network and a number of other media outlets.


George Ziadeh

George Ziadeh is a Palestinian American vocalist/oudist, composer, and educator residing in New York City. He started his career at a young age, singing and playing the oud from the age of 12. His expertise is on the maqam repertoire from the late 19th and early 20th centuries from Cairo and Aleppo and more recently the Baghdadi maqam tradition. In addition to being a classical maqam performer, he has collaborated with different artists in a range of genres: from jazz, classical Indian traditions such as raga, flamenco to Afro-Cuban music. He has performed with Amir el Saffar, Aruan Ortiz, Hamid al Saadi, and the National Arabic Orchestra among many others, and has performed widely in Europe, America, and the Middle East.

Firas Zreik

Firas Zreik is a Composer and Kanunist and has performed and recorded across the world as a leader and highly sought collaborator since 2013. A sonic revolutionary, the Palestine-born New Yorker has transformed global perception of the Kanun. His treatment of the instrument preserves its identity as a vital part of the Maqam tradition, and stretches its potential as a cultural chameleon enhancing a range of fresh, evolving sounds. He views the Maqam’s improvisation-driven legacy as a vessel for unbound creative expression across musical styles. Over the years, he has collaborated with a cross section of leaders, including Roger Waters, G.E. Smith, Residente, Simon Shaheen, Amir ElSaffar, Fabrizio Cassol, Marwan Khoury, Abeer Nehmeh, Walid Toufic, Elias Karam, Shreya Goshal, Shankar Mahadevan, Aynur Dogan and his internationally-renowned mother and frequent artistic partner Amal Murkus, for whom he serves as musical director.


Cooperatives are the Future!

(English interpretation available)

Westchester Cooperative Network (WCN) co-founder Delia Marx will be leading a workshop in Spanish on worker-owned cooperatives alongside members of existing worker co-ops. This workshop will cover the background on cooperatives, how to form a cooperative, and the ways in which worker co-ops benefit worker-owners. Hear from members of existing worker co-ops talk about their experience as worker-owners. By highlighting worker co-ops started by immigrants, this workshop will demonstrate how the cooperative model offers a path toward economic stability and community wealth building for the Spanish speaking community in Westchester and surrounding areas.

Free Congo

The Democratic Republic of the Congo has been the victim of centuries of extractivism in the form of slavery, colonialism and resource exploitation. The central quest of the Congolese people has been to control and determine their own affairs so that they can control their land, control their wealth and control their means of production. This quest is particularly important considering the outsize role that the DRC is currently playing in two major phenomena: Climate Emergency and Green/Clean Energy Transition. The workshop will offer the following:

1. Importance and centrality of Congo to each of us, especially with the devices and amenities that we benefit from such as smartphones, laptops, and electric vehicles
2. Congo’s role in combating the climate emergency
3. Congo’s role in facilitating the green energy transition
4. Actions to take to challenge US foreign and corporate policy toward the Congo
5. Actions to take to support Indigenous and frontline communities in the Congo as they organize to control their land, wealth and own affairs

Grow Food Not Prisons: Transforming the Economy to Promote Food Sovereignty and Local Food

In this workshop we will explore the Progressive Utilization Theory (Prout) as an alternative socio-economic system emerging in the local food and food sovereignty movements. Documentary filmmaker Wilder Nicholson will share about how employee and member owned businesses are transforming the local food system in Maine, and present ideas for organizing cooperatives into three tiered, decentralized and bioregional economies based on self-sufficiency. 

Ruby Olisemeka will share her journey from farmer to teacher to land representative with a local land trust, and speak to the potential role that land trusts can play in renewing collective relationship with our local land base. Sharing an affinity with Indigenous spiritual traditions and worldviews of Africa, Ruby will also speak to the essential interpersonal work necessary for cooperative development and forming a solidarity movement for economic systems change. 

Mike Capers, a farmer with Sweet Freedom Farm will explore the intersections of Black land sovereignty and prison abolition with the theme “Grow Food Not Prisons”. Sweet Freedom Farm’s namesake comes from the farm’s maple sugaring practices, which have long been an alternative to cane sugar production that historically and to this day relies on enslaved labor. Mike will present Sweet Freedom’s mission “to positively impact people who are negatively impacted” by the prison-industrial complex, in order to create healing “on both sides of the fence.” 

Lastly, Giovanni Green of Break Bread not Hearts brings the conversation around to health, hope, and humanity, and the community components of our “Wecosystem”. This discourse will be rooted in the education and empowerment of the people, by the people, of locally produced food and how to prepare the bounties of the Creator in order to be active participants in Cooking UP Community.

Building Support for Palestinian Liberation

For over seventy five years, Palestinians have been denied their right to statehood and sovereignty and have been forced to endure massive Israeli state violence, displacement, incarceration and are now facing genocide and starvation in Gaza.  Join National Students for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace – Westchester and the Palestinian Youth Movement as we discuss building the movement locally for Palestinian liberation and return.  Workshop facilitated by Hadil Sarrar, co-founder of Westchester for Palestine.

Know Your Rights

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is a nonprofit, grassroots civil rights and advocacy organization. CAIR is America’s largest Muslim civil liberties organization, with affiliate offices nationwide. CAIR representatives will review the dos and don’ts regarding actions and speech at rallies, protests and in other spaces.  Discover how to become an effective advocate and organizer while safeguarding both your own safety and the safety of others, including with law enforcement interactions.  Stay empowered while speaking truth to power!

People Power vs. Big Polluters: How to take on the Industry and Win!

New York banned fracking over 10 years ago yet the fossil fuel industry is still pushing dirty fracked gas infrastructure in our state. Despite stopping many pipelines and powerplants over the years, two new proposals to expand fossil fuel projects in the Hudson Valley (Project Maple & the Iroquois Pipeline Expansion) are in the works. Expanding fossil fuel infrastructure is a no go in New York due to our climate crisis and this workshop will explore how we can build enough people power to stop the most powerful corporate interests from polluting our environment.  We will also learn about efforts to close the WIN-Waste trash incinerator in Peekskill and move Westchester towards zero waste.

Santosh Nandabalan is a Senior Organizer at Food & Water Watch. Alongside working on state and federal legislation to tackle climate change, Santosh has years of experience managing coalitions and building out strategic campaigns to stop fossil fuel projects in New York and advancing clean water protections. His work includes organizing in New York City and the Hudson Valley, including stopping fracked gas infrastructure like the Danskammer and Gowanus powerplants and keeping radioactive waste out of the Hudson River. Prior to Food & Water Watch, Santosh was a union organizer at SEIU and graduated from Gettysburg College with a BA in Philosophy.

Courtney M. Williams, PhD is a scientist, parent, and activist living in the environmental justice community of Peekskill, NY.  She brings over a decade of experience researching cancer and the molecular mechanisms of disease to parse the emerging data on the health and environmental impacts of pollution from energy infrastructure and shale gas development. She has worked closely with local, state, and Federal officials to educate them on the public health issues surrounding fossil fuel infrastructure, industrial pollution, and climate change. Since 2013 she has been fighting the expansion of the “Algonquin” fracked gas pipeline system under Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant and 400ft from her home.  In 2021 Courtney founded Westchester Alliance for Sustainable Solutions (WASS) to close the WIN-Waste trash incinerator in Peekskill and move Westchester County towards zero waste. Courtney lives in Peekskill with her husband and two children less than one mile from the WIN-Waste trash incinerator. She is a cancer researcher at a Westchester-based biopharmaceutical company.

Divesting from Violence and Investing in Communities: The Movement to Decarcerate New York

We will hear from impacted individuals who will speak to the importance of passing crucial legislation to help the tens of thousands of New Yorkers and their families who have endured the effects of New York’s carceral system.  We will specifically hear updates about #CommunitiesNotCages, the campaign to eliminate mandatory minimums, enforce the Second Look Act and the Earned Time Act, as well as hear about what we all can do to build support for Elder Parole and Parole Justice.   We will be joined by speakers from Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP), Center for Community Alternatives (CCA), #CommunitiesNotCages campaign, Clean Slate and Critical Resistance.

Ismael Diaz Jr. is a formerly incarcerated individual who served nine and a half years of a twelve-year sentence. When he was released from prison in 2016, his single focus was to find a steady job that would allow him to take care of his family and rebuild his life, while satisfying strict parole requirements. On paper, at least, he was overqualified for a lot of the minimum-wage jobs for which he was applying; he had finished his associate degree while incarcerated and was one class shy of a bachelor’s degree. He also had more than a decade of experience working for and running small businesses before his incarceration. Today, Ismael is the Downstate Community Organizer at the Center for Community Alternatives (CCA). Ismael is so proud to have played a part in passing the Clean Slate Act and building a more equitable and prosperous New York. CCA’s work aims to end mass incarceration and promote safety and justice in New York State. CCA knows that it is investments in housing, education, jobs, and community-based services—not perpetual punishment—that keep communities safe and allow them to thrive. 

Noel Casey is a Yonkers native and current resident, with a deep sense of pride and love for her community. Upon graduating from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where she earned a BA in Political Science and Sociology, Noel served as a staffer in the NYS Legislature for 3.5 years. Throughout her time in government, Noel connected deeply with various advocates from across the state which helped redefine the lens of her work. Her commitment to human rights and care for her community members drives her to work towards and imagine a more restorative world. 

Greg Mingo was released from prison on 9/16/21 after 40 years of incarceration for a wrongful conviction. Greg became a certified paralegal and respected jailhouse lawyer who has helped numerous men obtain their freedom or sentence reduction. He has taught domestic violence, communications, fatherhood, and much more. Upon his release he has been a champion for racial and social justice, clemency, freeing our elders, and parole reform.

Both Noel and Greg are organizers/leaders of Release Aging People in Prison – RAPP is working to pass the Elder Parole and Fair & Timely Parole bills in NYS. With these bills, we are working to end the racist law-and-order policies that have more than doubled the number of elders behind bars over the past 20 years, to expand the use of parole, compassionate release, and clemency, and to end life imprisonment. By advocating to free incarcerated elders—women and men who have served decades in prison for crimes including those of violence; who have taken responsibility, transformed their lives, developed profound skills and abilities, and who pose little if any public safety risk—we strike at the system of endless punishment that fuels mass incarceration and damages Black and other communities of color. During the breakout session, we will be focusing on how to best organize and empower our most impacted communities to pass these bills.