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United States Social Forum
Submitted by marc on July 4, 2007 - 11:28am.
Ten thousand activists gathered in Atlanta the last week of June for the first ever United States Social Forum. The USSF adopted the World Social Forum’s slogan “Another World is Possible,” and added to it the line “Another US is Necessary.” The week’s events demonstrated the dedication of social movements in the United States to building a new and better world.
The USSF built on the two main issues that drives the WSF: opposition to corporate globalization and repressive neo-liberal policies that leave deep marks on marginalized communities. As with all forums, the USSF took on characteristics of its local host community. In the case of Atlanta, this was particularly notable for being rooted in a history of struggles against racism and other forums of oppression.
Lead organizers of the USSF (Project South and Grassroots Global Justice) consciously and deliberately organized the forum out of communities of color. It took time and effort and at points was a painful experience, but the result was one of the most participatory, horizontal, and grassroots forums in history. Skeptics wondered whether a forum could be successfully held in the heart of the empire, but rooting the forum in local community struggles provides a challenge and model for other forums to follow.
The forum began on the afternoon of Wednesday, June 27, with a massive march through the hot and humid streets of Atlanta. Two USSF banners and banners calling for “Indigenous Sovereignty Now” and “U.S. military out of Iraq & out of our communities” led the march from the Georgia State Capitol to the Atlantic Civic Center that provided the home base for the forum. As with other social forum marches, placards advocated for the broad range of issues that make up social movements–environmental, homeless, immigrant, women’s, and many other issues. Numerous banners called for the impeachment of Bush and Cheney for war crimes. Theater is always a part of these marches, with puppets and others on stilts adding color and excitement to the event.
Activists gathered in almost 1000 panels during the three main days of the forum. Organizers assigned one theme for each day: consciousness, vision, strategy. The first two days began with roundtables on movement building and visions for another world. Breakout sessions were organized into three time slots, and spread throughout the downtown area. At the end of the day, participants came back together for two plenary sessions in a large hall in the Atlanta Civic Center. Parallel events, receptions, and informal gatherings were held in a series of 14 solidarity tents (Indigenous, Africa, youth, democracy, health, Palestine, peace and justice, immigrant rights, solidarity economy, and others). A film series and art events ran parallel to the forum, and concerts closed off each day’s activities.
The six evening plenary sessions reflected the range of issues that are important to activists in the United States: Gulf coast reconstruction in the aftermath of the Katrina hurricane, militarism and prisons, Indigenous voices, immigrant rights, gender and sexuality, and workers’ rights in the global economy. The National Planning Committee carefully crafted the plenaries so that presenters would reflect the range of participants at the forum in terms of race and ethnicity, age, and sexual orientation. Most of the plenaries, scheduled from 6:00 to 9:30 pm, only attracted a minority of the forum’s participants as many left for dinner or other receptions or cultural events. The one exception was the Saturday night panel on Liberating Gender and Sexuality that played to a packed auditorium and was greeted with wild cheers.
The forum ended on Sunday, July 1, with a Peoples Movement Assembly, renamed from the Social Movements Assembly held at other forums to more closely match a North American vocabulary. Preparations for the assembly began in regional breakout assemblies on Saturday morning which gave participants an opportunity to strategize on a more local level and prepare resolutions for the following morning assembly. Organizers gave each group two minutes to present their statement. When the Indigenous group went long and organizers tore the mike from the hands of the presenter the assembly came to a standstill until the issue could be resolved. The process for bringing these resolutions to home communities are still being worked out.
The USSF plans to join the WSF in international days of actions against neoliberalism at the end of January 2008, send delegates to the third Americas Social Forum in Guatemala in October 2008 and the next WSF in Brazil in 2009, and talk is of a second USSF in 2010. The forum was clearly a success. It provided a space for ideological opponents to gather and strategize around common issues. The workshops were engaging, passionate, and inspiring. Participants reflected the face of the United States. The forum pointed to the presence of strong social movements in the heart of the empire committed to making a better world.