What the US Social Forum Means to Me
Imagine a world where everyone has what they need, where people make the decisions that matter and where government truly is for and by the people. Now, imagine we are working, talking, debating and planning to bring that world into being.
This is the World Social Forum (WSF) process, an open space where tens of thousands gather together to imagine and then work to realize that “other” world. Over the years, the World Social Forum has helped to advance fundamental regime change throughout the world. In places like Venezuela, Brazil, Chile and Mexico, grassroots movements have forged political environments that offer more than a choice between the lesser of two “evils.” They are crafting societies that demand authentic participation and voice.
The Forum's slogan is “Another World Is Possible.” I believe that. And I believe that in order for us to achieve that other world, we must bring the Social Forum movement home to help build another United States.
A Journey Starting in Seattle
This June 27th, thousands of like-minded people will meet for a week in Atlanta for the first national U.S. social forum. It is ironic that it has taken more than six years for the U.S. to host a national social forum because the World Social Forum process was birthed in an action that took place in the United States.
A movement was launched at the World Trade Organization conclave in 1999 in Seattle. Forget what the media showed you, release that frame and see it from another perspective. Paul Hawkens, a leading environmental businessman and author, in a January 2000 speech about the world trade organization and the events in Seattle wrote:
Already, the world's top 200 companies have twice the assets of 80 percent of the world's people. Global corporations represent a new empire whether they admit it or not. With massive amounts of capital at their disposal, any of which can be used to influence politicians and the public as and when deemed necessary, all democratic institutions are diminished and at risk. Corporate free market policies subvert culture, democracy, and community, a true tyranny.
The American Revolution occurred because of crown-chartered corporate abuse, a "remote tyranny" in Thomas Jefferson's words. To see Seattle as a singular event, as did most of the media, is to look at the battles of Concord and Lexington as meaningless skirmishes.
From the streets of Seattle and every struggle that proceeded from that day in November, a vision was born; the idea that maybe, just maybe another world other than the one being planned by the eight richest nations, a world that encompassed all the peoples of the world, was possible.
Bringing the Vision Home
The U.S. Social Forum (USSF) presents a unique opportunity to develop relationships, collaborative campaigns, and a greater sense of hope that indeed another U.S. is possible. The forum process places us in step with the global movement for justice, helps us connect our work in more strategic and inspired ways. Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “Our nettlesome task is to discover how to organize our strength into compelling power.” This is the next important step in our struggle and this is the very heart of the forum process.
To date over 300 organizations are working to make the USSF a reality. What holds us together is the belief that we live in an interdependent world community and must hold each other accountable.
The WSF committee delegated Grassroots Global Justice (GGJ) to coordinate a U.S. Social Forum that would represent those most adversely affected by the ravages of globalization and neoliberal policies. GGJ is an alliance that grew out of people of color-led grassroots groups who participated in the first WSF. These grassroots leaders created a U.S. Social Forum Planning Committee. Atlanta was selected as the host city because of its location in the U.S. South.
I wanted to be a part of this process because I believe:
- in creating sustainable communities
- there must be an end to the worldwide AIDS epidemic and its devastation of Africa and India.
- that we must stand together in our support of nuclear disarmament and an end to nuclear proliferation
- that we must work to reform the juvenile justice system and put an end to the private prison industrial complex that profits from finding ways to make criminals of our youth
- that we should support indigenous land rights, as we oppose Artic drilling, environmental racism and Global Warming
- that we must support a just minimum wage because a job should keep you out of poverty, not keep you in it struggling to pay for necessities
- that everyone should have food, affordable housing, extensive and affordable public transportation systems, education and quality health care
- that we are a nation of immigrants and must stand in support for Immigrant Justice
- that we must join thousands of organizations and congregations across this nation and around the world that are working for the end of war; those committed to take nonviolent action to end the U.S. war in Iraq, who call for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops and occupation in Iraq.
- and that we must not be silent in the face of man made misery and destruction like what is taking place in Darfur.
Here in the U.S., we have our own man made devastation. One year after Katrina, the failure of the levees and “homeland” policy have been exposed. And these man made failures have contributed to the devastation of the Gulf Coast and the scattering of hundreds of thousands of persons from New Orleans across this nation.
Katrina is a wake up call that we must embrace our mutual interdependence and take responsibility for one another's well being. The reality is we are each linked to the fate of all persons in this nation, whether the storms and floods directly affected us or not. This awareness of our interdependence will be at the core of the USSF as the forum will feature updates on conditions in the Gulf Coast and the policies affecting the region and its residents.
It is time for us to connect—all of us who are committed to justice, love, equality, creativity, and sustainability. We must work collectively to ensure deep and lasting social change and for the protection of the planet.
Alice Lovelace is the national lead staff organizer of the United States Social Forum. First published by In Motion Magazine, November 22, 2006.
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