The US Social Forum 2010
By Michael Leon Guerrero and Cindy Wiesner
“What time is it on the clock of the world?” —Grace Lee Boggs
The second united states social forum (USSF) could not come at a more opportune time. We are in the midst of the worst structural crisis of global capitalism in nearly a century, and the worst man-made ecological crisis in the world’s history. By the time USSF2 convenes June 22-26 in Detroit, MI, Barack Obama will be in the middle of his first term as President, the Group of 20 (G-20) national leaders will have met to determine the future of capitalism, and the United Nations will have convened a summit in Copenhagen to find a way to manage the social and environmental devastation created by climate change. National and regional social forums are being convened throughout the world to define a “peoples’ exit to the crisis.” A demonstration of national unity and hope from progressives in the United States would be a critical contribution at a critical moment. The USSF offers us an opportunity to do this.
The first USSF in June/July of 2007 was a significant achievement for grassroots social movements in the United States. It created a space for convergence across movements, sectors, geography, race and cultures. The program for the USSF was mostly self-organized by the participants. The wide-variety of nearly 900 activities captured the vibrancy and diversity of political activism in the US. Along with panels and workshops, there were indigenous ceremonies, a family reunion picnic of formerly incarcerated people, theater, art, music and a soccer tournament.
The USSF created space for new innovations and initiatives to emerge. Examples include: the founding of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, encompassing 20 domestic worker organizations in six cities; the Southern Strategies process convened by Highlander Center, bringing together organizations from throughout the southeast and Appalachia to share and collaborate on organizing strategies; the Organizers’ Roundtable in New Orleans which continues to meet monthly to share information and mutual support; the South-by-Southwest process organized by Southwest Organizing Project, Southern Echo, and Southwest Workers Union, convening grassroots leadership to understand the rich history of struggle in these areas and develop state strategies to build power; the Poor Peoples’ Agenda process, convened by Project South and other Atlanta-based organizations; the founding of the national Solidarity Economy Network, as part of the international movement to promote just economic relationships; and the emergence of the Right to the City Alliance, working for housing and development rights for inner-city poor and working people. Because of the scope and scale of the USSF, we continue to hear of other unique and exciting initiatives that emerged from USSF Atlanta.
Overall, we demonstrated that the grassroots base-building movement is capable of mobilization on a mass scale, and can organize a bottom-up deliberative process on a national level.
Initiated in 2001 in Porto Alegre, Brazil, the World Social Forum (WSF) was a response by global social movements to the challenge of neoliberal global economic policies that have concentrated wealth and political power in fewer hands, while forcing millions of people into poverty. The domination of global politics by neoliberal institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund and mechanisms like free trade agreements have allowed for greater capital mobility while diminishing the rights of workers and communities. The root cause of many of today’s key issues are rooted in these policies, including global migration, the tenuous state of labor, and the ecological, health, and economic crises.
The Social Forum is neither a single event nor a conference—it is a process. One of the great benefits of the social forums has been the relationships established among diverse actors during the organizing. Movement building in the US has suffered from the divergence of progressive political movements, fragmentation, and a lack of a broader vision. The Social Forum is an experience that unites people from different sectors, ethnicities, cultures, and geographies to discuss a broad spectrum of political issues, how they relate to each other, and how to build a movement beyond specific interests. The forum provides a “big tent” where movement activists working on housing, militarism, workers rights, education, and environmental justice can all interact.
The first USSF was organized by multiple bodies. A National Planning Committee was comprised of more than 40 organizations, including national networks, labor federations, and grassroots community-based organizations. Project South, American Friends Service Committee, and a number of organizations comprised the Atlanta Organizing Committee, which anchored the process locally. Hundreds of organizations throughout the country led the organizing process at different levels through Working Groups, local planning committees, and regional social forums.
On the eve of the first USSF, the NPC agreed that the USSF process should continue beyond Atlanta in order to build upon the foundation established in 2007 and provide more opportunities for strategic convergences. A smaller interim NPC has continued to meet during the past two years, laying the groundwork for the next USSF.
The overall goals of the second USSF are similar to those of the first:
• Create a space for movement convergence to strengthen and expand progressive and Left relationships and infrastructure for long term collaboration and work for fundamental change.
• Initiate dialogues that explore movement building challenges, opportunities and key global and national issues.
• Shape and influence the public conversation and policy in ways that convey momentum and hope.
• Model diverse, representative movement building that is cross-cutting, democratic and effectively integrates process and outcome.
Road to Detroit
Few cities symbolize the collapse of the global economy like the city of Detroit. It has been described as “New Orleans without the flood.” The economic crisis has been unfolding in Detroit for decades. Due to corporate outsourcing and off-shoring of auto production and the decline of manufacturing, unemployment rates are among the highest in the nation—an astounding 22% according to government statistics. Empty lots and abandoned houses are common features in the Detroit landscape. In fact 30% of Detroit is vacant land. City revenues have been stripped as taxes have been eliminated and public infrastructure has been privatized.
Organizing infrastructure has also been hit hard due to the crisis. Unions struggle with declining memberships; community-based organizing groups suffer from a lack of resources. Building a stable membership and volunteer base becomes increasingly difficult as people struggle to find work or relocate to other cities in search of jobs.
Despite these enormous challenges, the spirit of struggle and pride in Detroit continues to thrive. Farms and over 300 community gardens have been sown in the vacant lots. Local food industries are being started. Vibrant music and poetry movements are flourishing. In the last several years, Detroit has been the home of the Allied Media Conference, and Detroit is the headquarters of the United Auto Workers, now majority owners of Chrysler Corporation. This is an historic city for popular struggle and organizing. Detroit was the last US stop on one of the Underground Railroad routes, by which thousands of Africans reached freedom from slavery. The city also shares a border with Canada and is a central location for several indigenous nations. As one of the local activists said in a recent meeting, “Another world is possible, another US is necessary, and another Detroit is happening.”
The Detroit Local Organizing Committee (DLOC) is made up of different sectors of the movement: members of the faith community, cultural workers, retired UAW members, and a multitude of activists in the city. Centro Obrero, East Michigan Environmental Action Council, SE Michigan Jobs with Justice and the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization are anchoring the local administration and infrastructure.
In the last National Planning Committee held in July in Detroit, we decided the overall schedule of the Forum in 2010.
We invite you to be part of this movement building process by organizing local and regional delegations, hosting Peoples’ Movement assemblies, joining a national working group or the National Planning Committee.
Michael Leon Guerrero and Cindy Wiesner are part of the USSF 2010 National Planning Committee.
More information about how to get involved in building the Road to Detroit/ USSF II is on the website: ussf2010.org or call 877-515-USSF.