“Our Youth is not the Future, Our Youth is the Present” – Julian Moya, Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP), Albuquerque, New Mexico
“We cannot choose the historical conditions we find ourselves in, but we can choose how we respond to them” – Ajamu Baraka, Director, U.S. Human Rights Network, Atlanta, Georgia
These two quotes, among many other hopeful messages I heard at the U.S. Social Forum (USSF) from June 27 to July 1, 2007 in Atlanta epitomized for me the USSF – what it stands for and envisions in terms of a different kind of United States. Both represent the truth embedded in the official slogan of the USSF – Another World is Possible; Another US is Necessary.
The almost 10,000 people and over 1,000 organizations that gathered in Atlanta came from every state of the United States. Busloads of folks came in the People’s Freedom Caravan organized by the Southwest Organizing Project, Southwest Workers Union, Southern Echo, and the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond traveling across the Southwest and the South into Atlanta. Along the northeast corridor, a similar caravan brought busloads of youth from Boston, Providence, New York and Washington. Some participants flew from Alaska and Hawaii, others from Puerto Rico.
They were joined by 400 activists from 68 countries in Latin America/Caribbean (Brazil, Mexico and Haiti for instance), Asia (India and South Korea among others), Africa (including Kenya) and the Middle East (Palestine and Iraq). One of them was Faleh Abood Umara from the Iraqi Federation of Oil Workers’ Unions who brought the audience to its feet when he thundered that «we kicked out Saddam, we kicked out KBR (Halliburton’s subsidiary) and we will kick out the occupiers!»
The amazing diversity of people and movement sectors and the very visible and huge youth presence was energizing and hopeful.
There were over 300 workshops/panels and 6 major plenaries besides numerous other musical, cultural and related events throughout the 4 days. Events took place in public spaces like Atlanta’s Civic Center and Central Library, churches, campuses, and downtown hotels. The plenary sessions, which emphasized key movement building moments focused on Gulf Coast Reconstruction; U.S. Imperialism, War, Militarism and the Prison Industrial Complex; Indigenous Voices; Immigrant Rights; Liberating Gender and Sexuality; and Workers’ Rights in the Global Economy. Around the Civic Center were theme-based tents such as the Palestine Tent, the Africa Tent, the Americas Tent, and the Water Tent (which we shared) – where activists networked, shared strategies and literature, or just took a break from the heat.
The Forum was kicked off by an opening march with almost 4,000 people including puppets on stilts and babies in strollers that began at the Georgia State Capitol and wended its way through Atlanta’s busy downtown to the Civic Center. Corrina, Maria, Ginger and I marched with our “Building the Global Movement for Food Sovereignty” banner right behind the truck carrying Chicago hip hop youth artists who rallied the marchers rapping messages of resistance and hope; and ended with a People’s Movements Assembly that discussed “New Paradigms of Change in the US” and a closing ceremony that included a “Movement Building Kick-Off.”
The USSF is part of the World Social Forum process and next year rather than have a WSF the WSF international council has called for a Week of Action and a Global Day of Mobilization to happen in January 2008 around the world. However, there are plans to have a continental Americas Social Forum in Guatemala City in October 2008 and the next WSF is slated to happen in January 2009 in Brazil.
Grassroots International participated in the USSF, with Maria Aguiar, Corrina Steward and Nikhil Aziz from Staff attending, and Nikhil joining the Funders Network on Trade and Globalization delegation. We were joined by three of our partners: Maria Luisa (Maisa) Mendonça of the Social Network for Justice and Human Rights or Rede Social-Brazil, Alberto Gomez Flores of the National Union of Autonomous Regional Peasants Organizations or UNORCA-Mexico, and Camille Chalmers of the Haitian Platform to Advocate for Alternative Development or PAPDA-Haiti. We also had the wonderful surprise of running into Ziad Abbas of the Ibda’a Cultural Center-Palestine, especially since Jamal Juma’ of Grassroots’ partner the Stop the Wall Campaign-Palestine was unable to come because of the worsening crisis in Palestine and U.S. visa issues. Jamal sent us a statement that we read and passed out to folks.
Grassroots worked closely with U.S. allies (including some from the Building Sustainable Futures for Farmers Globally campaign), such as the National Family Farm Coalition, the Rural Coalition, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, Food First, Food and Water Watch, Friends of the Earth-USA, World Hunger Year, Action Aid-USA, and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy to put together three panels and a workshop on food sovereignty that were well attended and received.
Our workshop, which was coordinated by Grassroots consultant Ginger Nickerson focused on Fixing the Broken Food System. Our panels covered food sovereignty perspectives on crises and conflicts, biofuels, and the U.S. farm bill. Maisa, Alberto and Camille floored the panel audiences with their knowledge, their passion, and their message. All three were extremely busy throughout the Forum, strategizing with other activists from both the global South and North. For example, Alberto spent a lot of time with immigrant and minority farmworkers from across the United States to introduce and recruit them to the Via Campesina – the global alliance of farmers, farm workers and other producers that many of Grassroots’ partners and allies are members of. Corrina and Maria also participated in panels organized by other organizations including a debate on trade and a strategy session on biofuels, and we all tried to attend as many other panels and workshops we possibly could.
The USSF organizers had put out an inspiring message to the world that «the US Social Forum is more than a conference, more than a networking bonanza, more than a reaction to war and repression [and that it] will provide space to build relationships, learn from each other’s experiences, share our analysis of the problems our communities face, and bring renewed insight and inspiration. It will help develop leadership and develop consciousness, vision, and strategy needed to realize another world. [They asserted that] the USSF sends a message to other people’s movements around the world that there is an active movement in the US opposing U.S. policies at home and abroad [and] that we must declare what we want our world to look like and begin planning the path to get there. A global movement is rising. The USSF is our opportunity to demonstrate to the world ‘Another World is Possible!'»
The USSF was truly all that. Organized over the last two years, largely by the labor and dedication of numerous mass-based movement organizations from across the United States – primarily grounded in People of Color and working class communities, the Forum with all its overwhelming logistics was shaped by a national planning committee, regional committees, a local organizing committee of Atlanta-based groups, and numerous working groups. While financial support from various foundations covered some of the costs, most of the costs, including labor and in-kind contributions were borne by people’s organizations themselves and through grassroots fundraising. This massive organizing effort was itself movement building in action.
To paraphrase Jerome Scott of Project South, Michael Leon Guerrero of Grassroots Global Justice, Ruben Solis of the Southwest Workers Union, Sarita Gupta of Jobs with Justice, and other organizers – No one believed we could do it. They said it was not possible in the US. But we did, and we were mostly all working class and people of color movement organizations.
After being at the USSF it is quite apparent that not only is Another World Possible, Another US is Possible too!