How will we bring about significant change in the USA? There are a number of things that need to happen, but one bottom-line, essential requirement is the coming together of a critical mass of organizers and activists into a grassroots-based, politically independent, popular and progressive network, alliance and/or party. Given what we are up against here in the belly of empire, it’s hard to see how we have any hope of change absent such a development.
Some of us got an idea of the impact such an alliance could have 20 years ago during the period from 1983 to 1989. During that time, because of the 1984 and 1988 Presidential campaigns of Rev. Jesse Jackson, a grassroots-based National Rainbow Coalition began to emerge. This African American-based and African American-led formation brought together leaders and groups from a mix of constituencies and movements—Latinos, labor, farmers, women, lesbian and gay people, peace activists, community groups and more. Between 1986 and 1988 it began to take root via local and state coalitions, developing as a progressive alternative to two-party politics-as-usual. It was a grouping which consciously linked activists operating in the Democratic Party with activists building independent organizational forms and parties, united behind a consistently progressive political program.
This type of a Rainbow Coalition movement no longer exists, but there is an important initiative underway that has the potential to advance a different kind of unity- and alliance-building process across lines of race, culture, issue and geographic region, a process that we desperately need: the United States Social Forum, happening in Atlanta, Ga. June 27 to July 1.
Organizing toward this event was initiated by Grassroots Global Justice, an alliance of over 50 grassroots organizations representing people of color and low-income communities in the U.S. Over the last couple of years it has been putting the pieces in place to make this major event possible.
World Social Forum Origins
It is significant that the US Social Forum is emerging out of many years of World Social Forums that have been happening in countries of the Global South. Originally begun in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2001, the first World Social Forum (WSF) was organized as an alternative to the world ruling elite’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The second and third WSF’s were held in Porto Alegre, the fourth one in Mumbai, India and the fifth one back in Porto Alegre. Beginning with 12,000 people in 2001, it grew to 155,000 registered participants in 2005.
The sixth World Social Forum was “polycentric,” held in January 2006 in Caracas, Venezuela and Bamako, Mali, and in March 2006, in Karachi, Pakistan. The Forum in Pakistan was delayed to March because of the Kashmir earthquake that had recently occurred in the area.
Earlier this year, in late January, the seventh WSF was held in Nairobi, Kenya, attended by 60,000 people.
There have also been regional and national social forums in Europe, Asia, the Mediterranean, Italy and, in the USA, in Boston, the Southeast, the Midwest, the Southwest and just recently in Washington, D.C.
This first national social forum in the USA is coming at a particularly auspicious time. Bush, Cheney and the Republicans are on the defensive, struggling to maintain support for their agenda of wars and occupations for oil and empire abroad and, at home, the destruction of basic Constitutional rights and cutbacks to education, healthcare, Social Security and other human needs. Yet there is also widespread, popular dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party and with corporate, big money domination of both major political parties.
Jerome Scott and Walda Katz-Fishman, leaders of Project South: Institute for the Elimination of Poverty and Genocide, a key group within the leadership of the US Social Forum process, recently summarized its importance in this way:
“The social forum process was initiated by social movements of oppressed and exploited peoples in the Global South; and no one group in the U.S. ‘owns it.’ Second, the social forum is being brought home to the U.S. by grassroots organizations—with people of color and low-income led organizations in the leadership. Third, the social forum is a convergence process of all our fronts of struggle; it is multi-issue and multi-sector, and inclusive of all who are struggling for justice, equality and peace. Fourth, the social forum is a space where a broad range of political analysis is welcomed—from progressive to revolutionary.
“This is why the US Social Forum is the place to be this summer if you are a movement builder, if you have a vision of another world, if you want to make it happen!”
Let’s make it happen. See you in Atlanta!
(For more information and to register, go to http://www.ussf2007.org)