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Report on MWSF 2006
Submitted by mwsf on February 26, 2007 - 12:34pm.
Nearly one thousand community activists, members of grassroots organizations, students, educators, and others committed to social justice movement building gathered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in July for the 2006 Midwest Social Forum (MWSF). In addition to a near doubling in attendance over the previous year, and the participation of more than 200 organizations, the program itself increased from approximately 50 sessions to more than 100. The activities included panels, workshops, roundtables, skills and training sessions, a film fest, music and spoken word performances, three plenary panels, strategy sessions, tabling and exhibits, and extensive children’s programming. A number of sessions were organized as tracks, which provided participants the opportunity to explore an issue in depth and leave the Forum equipped to organize around it. One example was the immigrant rights track, which included the opening plenary, several films, a series of sessions exploring various dimensions of the immigrant rights struggle, and a strategy session. For all of these sessions, the Forum provided simultaneous translation from English to Spanish, relying on the support of nearly 20 volunteer translators.
Another innovative feature of the 2006 edition of the Forum was the use of spoken word performances, which were designed to bridge the divide between youth, art, and social activism by placing some of the most talented, politically conscious and outspoken youth front and center throughout the weekend. Many of the workshops and panels, and all of the plenary sessions were kicked off with poems by members of the Young Chicago Authors, Youth Speaks Wisconsin, and the Minnesota Spoken Word Association. Each evening of the Forum also closed with a concert geared toward youth participants that featured hip hop and top Midwestern spoken word artists. This injected the Forum with tremendous energy and inspiration.
Yet another innovation was the Thursday caucuses, which provided participants the opportunity to gather in advance of the Forum to build or strengthen regional networks and plan long-term campaigns. Four caucuses took place (youth organizing, immigrant rights organizing, independent media, and water privatization) and each was very successful. It is hoped that this represents only the beginning of the development of the caucuses. In fact, the Forum Organizing Committee has placed a high priority on the expansion and growth of the caucuses, not only to develop movement infrastructure and generate ongoing opportunities for collaboration and networking beyond the Forum, but also to institutionalize and strengthen their role in the planning of Forum activities themselves.
With the growth of the Forum, and the rise in expectations that growth has generated, it is also clear that it faces numerous challenges. Among these, one of the most important is the increased engagement of socially and economically marginalized communities that are disproportionately affected by the systems of injustice that social forums seek to address. The MWSF has made enormous strides in this regard, as reflected in the ongoing evolution of the Organizing Committee, the content of the program, and the participants at the Forum. But there is much more that needs to be done if it is fully to realize its goals in this regard, and the Organizing Committee continues to make this its highest priority. Toward that end, the Organizing Committee recently instituted some important changes in its organizing structure, aimed not only at meeting the increasingly complex demands of the Forum and its related activities, but also at providing new opportunities for participation in the planning and development of those activities.
The growth and expansion of the MWSF is illustrative of the growing importance of the Social Forum movement more generally. Join us in Atlanta for the next stage in the struggle to make a better US and a better world possible, and stayed tuned for updates on Midwest Social Forum activities in 2007 and 2008, including a joint caucusing / organizer training event in the fall of 2007, and the next edition of the Midwest Social Forum in the summer of 2008.