Forging Connections at the U.S. Social Forum

UFCW members and allies march to step up pressure on Smithfield Meats. Cited by Human Rights Watch for violating human rights standards, workers at Smithfield complain of intimidation, racial tension and physical violence.
Photo by Brooke Anderson.

Over ten thousand social activists gathered in Atlanta, Georgia from June 27 to July 1, 2007 for five days of spirited dialogue and collaboration. As the United States joined the global Social Forum movement, citizens from around the country united in the belief that “Another World is possible. Another U.S. is necessary.” The tradition that started in Brazil and spread to locations in Asia, Africa and Europe has finally arrived in the United States.

Hundreds of workshops and handfuls of planning sessions later, the U.S. Social Forum succeeded in providing a meeting place for those striving for social justice. From public health care workers to local farmers to Iraq war veterans, they converged in Atlanta to vocalize and to strategize, drawing out the principles on which a just America must be based.

march in solidarity. Photo by Sarah van Gelder.
Marching in solidarity and representing Mondohomo.
Photo by Sarah van Gelder.

The foundation of social justice is the acknowledgement of a common humanity that crosses generations, overrides class barriers, is irrespective of sexual orientation and defies racial lines. The U.S. Social Forum differed from many other meetings with similar intention because it was so well attended by usually under-represented groups. People of color organized the five day event, and the majority of participants were either working-class or under-employed, people of color, women or youth. Efforts from all of these groups made it a remarkable event, as well as the most diverse social forum to date.

The forum promoted connectivity, and succeeded in bringing together activists from all walks of life to create relationships and build solidarity. Through participation in the forum, organizations were exposed to each other's agendas, challenges faced and tactics used. This enabled the many groups to see the broader context of the social movement and to better understand their role within it. Connections were made and coalitions fostered; small groups with common interests came together in an energetic, inspired display of civil society at its best.

Iraq Veterans Against the War. Photo by Brooke Anderson.
Iraq Veterans Against the War.
Photo by Brooke Anderson.

For participants such as Vanessa Corea of the Avenidas Program and Community Response based out of San Francisco, the forum provided an opportunity to meet other activists involved with youth work and gang rehabilitation. Vanessa was jumped into a gang when she was just eleven years old, and remained a gang member until she became pregnant with her first child at the age of nineteen. Faced with the very real prospect of her child growing up in gang, Vanessa decided to transform her life and has since changed the lives of many others.

Vanessa became a member of Avenidas and now works with Latino youth involved with gangs. Through recreational activities with the youth, members of Avenidas are able to build relationships and earn trust. Avenidas helps gang members acquire legitimate work, legal advice, financial help and educational assistance, providing them with alternatives to gang life.

Urban Youth Movement. Photo by Andy Davey.
Conscious and the Urban Youth Movement.
Photo by Andy Davey.

For others like Conscious of the Urban Youth Movement, the forum allowed him to raise awareness of his organization, and to collaborate with others involved with at risk youth. At the age of twenty-three, Conscious, who was both under-educated and illiterate, taught himself to read. He eventually spearheaded a small business and started outreach for disadvantaged youth. The forum also provided an important opportunity for the youth who accompanied Conscious, as they were able to realize their part in the greater movement to bring social justice to America's inner cities.

A different America is necessary if another world is to be realized. The people who attended the U.S. Social forum are a testament to the fact that civil society is not lying dormant in America these days. Americans from all backgrounds are standing up, working for change and giving voice to a truly grassroots and democratic movement.

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