U.S. Social Forum, July 13, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: Every year or two the World Social Forum gathers the world's workers, organizers, thinkers, youth, teachers, and farmers in countries of the global South like Brazil and India to create a counter-vision to the plans of the economic and political elites of the World Economic Forum held each year in Davos, Switzerland. Now the Social Forum has come to the U.S. with three regional forums in 2006 and a national U.S. Social Forum set for June 27-July 1, 2007 in Atlanta. You can get involved in a regional planning committee for the event.]

Why a US Social Forum?

Progressive forces in the United States have not been able to mount an effective national response to issues such as the Gulf Coast tragedies, corporate scandals, government corruption, war, attacks against migrants, deregulation, corporate welfare, a widening gap between the rich and poor, a deteriorating education system, monopolization of the media, privatization of public resources, a ballooning federal deficit and attacks on our civil liberties. In the face of these enormous challenges the progressive movement remains fractured along geography, race, class and issues. The nation's largest labor federation split, and union membership is at its lowest point in decades. Churches, once a backbone of the civil rights, peace and environmental justice movements, have lost strength due to scandal within the Catholic church, declining membership and the rise of the religious right. Grassroots community-based organizations represent a growing sector, but are severely under-resourced. This lack of political strength demonstrates the clear need for greater convergence among progressives and for spaces in which progressives can begin to come together and articulate our vision for "another world."

The US Social Forum will provide this space. It will be the largest gathering of progressives in over a decade, drawing participants from different regions, ethnicities, sectors and ages. Community-based organizations, Indigenous nations, unions, academics, policy and advocacy organizations will be able to come together for dialogues, reflection and to define future strategies. Perhaps as many as 20,000 people will attend.

The purpose of the USSF is to effectively and affirmatively articulate the values and strategies of progressive civil society in the United States. Those who build towards and participate in the USSF are no longer interested in simply stating what social justice movements "stand-against," rather we see ourselves as part of new movements that reach beyond national borders, that practice democracy at all levels, and that can articulate the world we want. The USSF provides a first major step towards such articulation by bringing together the new movements.

Why the South?

The US Social Forum is more than a conference, more than a networking bonanza, more than a reaction to war and repression -- The USSF is the next most important step in our struggle. This moment demands that we build a powerful movement that disrupts and transforms this country. We must declare what we want our world to look like and begin planning the path to get there. The USSF will provide spaces to build relationships, learn from each other's experiences, share our analysis of the problems our communities face, and begin to vision and strategize how to reclaim our world.

To win nationally, we must win the US South. The Southern site of the USSF marks a new moment in the US movement for social and economic justice. Project South believes "as the South goes, so goes the nation." These words, spoken by DuBois, ring true in every moment of American history. The roots of oppression, injustice, exploitation and social control run deep in Southern soil. The US South has also cultivated determined and consistent fights for indigenous self- determination, black freedom, working class emancipation, and human liberation. Hosting the US Social Forum in the US South builds political potency for a powerful movement to challenge white supremacy, imperial domination, worldwide genocide, ecocide, and all other manifestations of global capitalism. Join us in Atlanta to build a strong and effective movement for liberation!

A global movement is rising. The USSF is our opportunity to prepare and meet it! The World Social Forum (WSF) has become an important symbol of this rising global movement. Over the past 5 years the WSF has gathered the world's worker, peasant, youth, women, and oppressed peoples to construct a counter-vision to the economic and political elites of the World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland. After gathering 150,000 people in Porte Alegre, Brazil earlier this year, it was decided that in 2006 there would be regional social forums to culminate for a WSF in 2007. The WSF committee delegated Grassroots Global Justice (GGJ) to coordinate a US Social Forum that represents 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 initiated a process to create a US Social Forum Planning Committee, and Atlanta was selected as the USSF host city.

We call those who fight for justice from within the US borders to converge and act. We call you to reflect on the potential of our position and the power of our connections. Though movement leaders have built organizations that push forward an integrated, multi-issue, multiracial strategy, we have yet to build our movement on a scale relative to our brothers and sisters in the global South. The first USSF offers a historic opportunity to gather and unify these growing forces. We must seize this moment and advance our collective work to build grassroots leadership, develop collective vision, and formulate strategies to grow a strong movement.


From: Yes! Magazine, Spring 2006

Global Justice: Another U.S. Is Possible

by Tanya Dawkins

Prepare for the first U.S. Social Justice Forum in the summer of 2007 in Atlanta

In 2001, the World Social Forum burst on to theworld stage with its ambitious rallying call, "AnotherWorld is Possible." This now-familiar mantra has come to symbolize the dynamism of movements for social and economic justice around the world. If attendance is any measure of success, it is worth noting that the World Social Forum has grown from 20,000 participants at its first gathering (5,000 were expected) to 150,000-plus at the 2005 gathering in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

The Forum responded to a hunger for a different kind of possibilities- oriented dialogue that embraces principles of pluralism, deep debate, respect, justice, and an internationalist perspective.

A broad-based network of U.S.-based activists, grassroots organizations, and their allies are betting that a similar hunger exists in the U.S. and that this is a time when a U.S. Social Forum could be a vehicle for moving a social, environmental and economic justice agenda to center stage.

Recent census figures confirm what most know intuitively or by lived experience. Poverty and inequality are on the increase in the United States. Since 2003 an additional 1.1 million people have slipped below the poverty line. The May 15, 2005, Business Week cover story, entitled, "I Want My Safety Net!" sums up a growing backlash that transcends party,race, class, and geography.

"Hurricane Katrina has put the historic racism, white supremacy, and poverty that has always been a part of this country on center stage," says Walda Katz-Fishman, a Howard University scholar activist and member of the U.S. Social Forum planning committee. "It has come at a moment when people are building a common analysis and are conscious about dealing with basic and structural problems."

The U.S. Social Forum planning effort grew out of a series of consultations held in 2003 between activists in the United States and members of the World Social Forum International Council. Grassroots Global Justice (GGJ), a national alliance of U.S.-based grassroots organizations, facilitated the process, including a 2004 meeting of 50 grassroots organizations in Washington, D.C.

The 22 organizations spearheading the planning came of age in response to varying forms of community displacement resulting from the last 20- plus years of neoliberal economic policies. Most are led by people of color. All are rooted in a commitment to building power for social justice through building low-income community leadership, strategic alliances,and learning from and with movements inthe global South.

U.S. Social Forum: Atlanta, 2007

Last year, the World Social Forum International Council decided that the time had come to focus on pushing the debate and organizing closer to home.

Atlanta will host the gathering. According to JeromeScott, director of Project South and member ofthe planning committee, "It is important for this first U.S. Social Forum to be in this historic area of the country. The South continues to have great strategic importance'lots of oppression and lots of resistance."

The Forum will take place from June 27-July 1, 2007, with 2006 devoted to strengthening the outreach and organizing efforts of its 10 regional organizing committees. The timing was moved back following Hurricane Katrina, after planners consulted with groups in the hurricane-affected communities, including about 50 internally displaced organizers from New Orleans and the Gulf States who participated in a recent meeting called by the People's Hurricane and Relief Fund in Penn Center, South Carolina.

The U.S. Social Forum effort builds on what has become a widespread practice since the social forums began: local, regional and national social forum "spinoffs" that seek to expand the World Social Forum model of movement-building around the world.

Last year, the World Social Forum International Council decided that the time had come tofocus on pushing the debate and organizing closer to home. In addition to a diverse array of social forums around the world, 2006 will be the year of the "polycentric" social forum. Simultaneous regional gatherings are being held in Bamako, Mali (Africa) and Caracas, Venezuela (Americas). The Venezuela forum organizers made U.S. participationa priority. The Asia region polycentric forum slated for Karachi, Pakistan, was postponed due tolast year's earthquake.

"A U.S. Social Forum has tremendous potentialas both a process and an event. It connects us to the rest of the world and the global South," says Michael Guerrero, director of Grassroots Global Justice."That is essential right now. Corporate power exists at the global level. We have to find ways to organize at that level without losing the local work."

Now that a location has been selected, U.S.Social Forum planners are turning to organizing and fund-raising. The group has hired Alice Lovelace as the lead national staff organizer and is working to raise the $100,000 needed to scale up, secure sites,and develop the website and communications infrastructure that can serve as a movement- building tool leading up to and after the actual event.

The forum will take place at a key moment betweenHurricane Katrina and the 2008 U.S. election and has the potential to serve as a rare and powerful moment in the history of organizing and movement-building in the United States. Organizers hope it will be the largest and mostsignificant gathering of progressive U.S. civil societyin decades, with up to 20,000 participants from across the geographic, racial, cultural, economic, and issue spectrum. There is much more social justice work taking place in the United States than mostrealize, the organizers point out. The forum process will be a critical point for creating connections, developing strategy and breaking the isolation people often feel as they work at the local level.

More information is available at www.ussocialforum.org

Tanya Dawkins (dawkinst@mindspring.com) is the founder/director of the Global-Local Links Project and a member of the board of the Positive Futures Network, publisher of YES!.