Post Social Forum Thoughts

Future Hope column, July 2, 2010

By Ted Glick

What are the key ingredients, the absolutely essential ingredients, if we are to have any hope of fundamentally transforming, of revolutionizing our country and our world? Based on my organizing experiences and reading of history, this would be my list:

-a broadly-based, mass popular movement of millions, supported by tens of millions, with organizational structures that support and build it;
-general agreement on the part of this overall movement on a progressive program on the issues;
-an anti-oppression (racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, ageism, etc.) consciousness on the part of most, if not all, of this movement’s leadership and much of its organized base;
-an internal culture that is about respectful listening, cooperation and the common good (“an injury to one is an injury to all”), as distinct from the currently-dominant culture’s individualism, power-seeking and greed; and,
-an explicit commitment to the tactics of community and labor organization, activism, including civil disobedience, and movement-building on issues, and involvement in the electoral process, running people for elected office on the basis of the movement’s overall program

How does the second United States Social Forum which convened in Detroit last week match up with these ingredients for human and ecosystem survival and fundamental transformation? Pretty well, with a couple of significant exceptions.

When I think back on my three days in Detroit a smile comes to my face. What a wonderful experience! I have nothing but the utmost gratitude for all those people who worked so hard over many months to put this amazing event together. They did an exemplary job.

I don’t know how many people were there, but I heard on the first day I arrived that 13,000 people had pre-registered, so I would think that 15-20,000 is an accurate figure. This is more than were at the first USSF in Atlanta and is a big deal in and of itself. There is clearly something about the way that social forums are organized—particularly the openness for participating groups to organize their own workshops and sessions—that is attractive and effective in generating participation. If this active interest can be organized into an on-going, activist network with a common program and joint actions, not just every-three-years gatherings, it would shake up our corrupted and corporate-dominated political system for sure.

One positive change in this year’s USSF compared to the one in Atlanta in 2007 was the conscious effort on the part of the leadership to encourage the organization of a diverse mix of four-hour “Peoples Movement Assemblies” and to bring representatives of those PMA’s together afterwards to come up with a kind of overall program, reflecting the discussion at the PMA’s. This beginnings of a common program is a new and positive development for the USSF process in the USA.

The USSF in Detroit was an outstanding example of the power of an anti-oppression political process with people of color, young people, women and l/g/b/t/q people playing major leadership roles. It led to a USSF internal culture over the course of the five days in Detroit that was notable for the palpable sense of unity and camaraderie among the participants. I’ve seen comments via email of people afterwards about how impressed they were by the way the USSF participants interacted with one another. It was almost like a political Woodstock, without the drugs, rain and mud.

This alone is no small thing, given the history on the U.S. Left of sectarian battles between rival groups and a much too widespread circular firing squad mentality. How many people are going to follow a group, or an alleged movement, which says it is about a different kind of world but then interacts with one another in the same destructive and divisive ways as the corporate-dominated world we are trying to transcend?

However, there are two main areas of challenge for the USSF, it seems to me.

One is the challenge of building out of the USSF event a USSF movement, with national days of action, perhaps regional conferences, various ways of making our movements on issues visible and mutually supporting one another. There is an urgent need for this, and there is no organized entity other than the USSF capable of giving the leadership to make it happen right now.

The second is the way in which it seems that USSF participants, including some in leadership apparently, view the electoral process and how we should relate to it.

My sense was that many of those in Detroit look upon the U.S. electoral process as something so corporate-dominated, so corrupt, that we should pretty much forget about it as much as we can. We should do our organizing, do our actions, build our networks, be creative and all the rest but, in essence, “get around” the established structures of electoral power.

Others, a minority, agree about all the problems with our so-called “democracy” but deal with it by supporting candidates or working with elected officials whose politics may be progressive but who usually are Democrats since the electoral system makes it very difficult for alternative party candidates to win.

My view: how can we ever expect to build a mass movement of tens of millions challenging for power—an absolutely essential goal, the power to prevent wars, shift to clean energy, reform racist police departments, cut the military budget and enact a wealth tax to finance all the things we need, etc.—unless we find a way to build independent and progressive electoral activism into our movement-building? It’s a fact deeply rooted in U.S. history that it is via elections that governments change. We will be setting up a wall around our movement, limiting its potentials and its scope, if we don’t seriously address this issue of elections, including making pro-democracy electoral reform one part of our common program.

Long live the spirit of Detroit!

Ted Glick has been active politically since 1968. He is facing months in jail when he is sentenced on July 6th in D.C. Superior Court for helping to hang two banners in a U.S. Senate building last fall which read, “Green Jobs Now” and “Get to Work.”

More info on this case can be found at Past writings and more info can be found at