“We are meeting at a moment of world history that is in many ways unique – a moment that is ominous, but also full of hope. The most powerful state in history has proclaimed, loud and clear, that it intends to rule the world by force, the dimension in which it reigns supreme. Apart from the conventional bow to noble intentions that is the standard (hence meaningless) accompaniment of coercion, its leaders are committed to pursuit of their ‘imperial ambition’.”
So spoke Noam Chomsky in an address to the World Social Forum (WSF) in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 2003. The picture Chomsky went on to paint, of an America ridden by fear and aggression, called for the creation of “a different world, one that is not based on violence and subjugation, hate and fear. That is why we are here, and the WSF offers hope that these are not idle dreams.”
Under the banner “Another World is Possible, Another US is Necessary,” the attendees of the United States Social Forum (USSF) plan to do just this – on a more local level.
An outgrowth of the WSF, which was created as a people’s alternative to the World Economic Forum headed by the world’s wealthiest countries in Davos, Switzerland, the USSF will take place in Detroit, Michigan, on June 22-26, and is expected to bring together more than 15,000 progressive-minded people from across the country.
Detroit, a city especially ravaged by the decline in American manufacturing and the foreclosure crisis, was called “the ultimate reflection of America’s pain” by “Dateline NBC.” But it was not chosen to host the forum only for its status as poster child of the global economic and environmental crisis – unemployment in Detroit was at 15.5 percent in March – but also for the grassroots social movements which have begun to fill the void left by a lack of social welfare and regenerative funding.
Lottie Spady, assistant director of the East Michigan Environmental Action Council (EMEAC), said, “having the Social Forum in Detroit is really a good opportunity for the citizens of Detroit as well as across the nation to see different solutions from those that are being proposed by corporate models.”
Spady’s organization, founded in the 1960s, was instrumental in winning stronger water regulations in Michigan and promoting “green chemistry,” with which toxic substances are eliminated from chemical products and processes. The fact that the Social Forum is a zero-waste event is a bonus for Spady and her colleagues at EMEAC.
The USSF will consist of workshops on a wide range of issues, including climate justice, indigenous sovereignty, immigration, migration, displacement, democracy and strategies for organizing social justice movements.
There will also be a daily People’s Movement Assembly, “a gathering of people (25, 250 or more!) who come together to identify community issues, discuss solutions, and commit to actions,” according to the USSF web site. Throughout the forum, “organizations will collaborate to hold Assemblies throughout the five days of the Forum to culminate in a national Peoples Movement Assembly on the last day,” and, after the forum, there will be “coordinated actions across the country! The Assembly process offers the opportunity to collectively create action plans and political directions for our movements in the US, our regions, and our local communities.”
More than 1,300 organizations are expected to participate in the event.
This year’s event will be the second USSF – the first was held in Atlanta, Georgia, in 2007. Out of this came a number of national alliances, one of which, the National Domestic Worker Alliance, was instrumental in organizing for the Domestic Workers Rights Bill in New York, the first of its kind.
After his first time at the forum, Sam Finkelstein, a youth organizer with the Chicago-based Gender Just, found that “everyone came back with a lot of renewed energy. It also created this like spirit of coalition building – we connected with lots of other groups.”
However, Finkelstein said, the first flush soon wore off. “The flip side of that is that things were not really long-lasting,” Finkelstein said. “You come back to reality and the romance of a coalition turns into how is a coalition going to really operate, so it kind of fizzled out.”
Now Finkelstein is going back to the Social Forum, armed with the knowledge to keep from falling prey to the same obstacles.
“The lesson that we got out of it is that its important to find the middle ground, thinking about how we build community, not worrying about what’s the name of the coalition – creating shared language and shared demands,” Finkelstein said.