Rank and file dominate Social Forum
More than 10,000 grassroots activists from across North America poured into Atlanta, Georgia, for the first-ever "United States Social Forum" from June 27 through July 1. The USSF was modelled on the "World Social Forums" which were organized in response to the World Economic Forum held annually in Davos, Switzerland, to unite the politicians and corporate leaders of the world.
World and regional social forums have been held in locations as diverse as Brazil, Kenya, Pakistan, Venezuela and India. The U. S. Social Forum was different. Politicians, religious leaders and heads of "Non-Governmental Organizations" (NGOs) were missing from the plenaries and workshops, which were dominated by tenants' and workers' rights activists and environmental justice and anti-racist groups. It was marked by the presence of large numbers of working-class African Americans, Latinos and Asians.
The emphasis of the USSF was on building and strengthening networks of activists and grassroots organizations. There were continuing workshops and tents organized around immigrant rights, health care, the right to water, Native Americans and indigenous peoples, Africa and Palestine. Unique to this event was the "1898 Caucus," a gathering of people from Guam, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and other places seized by U.S. imperialism after the Spanish-American War.
The Peace and Freedom Party delegation to the USSF focused on building contacts with organizations and individuals across the country, looking forward to building a national independent people's party or alliance of parties. Much of our work was with the Independent Progressive Politics Network, a national grouping we have worked with for the past 15 years to build ties and mutual work among opponents of the two-party system.
On Wednesday, June 27 the Social Forum opened with a march through Atlanta of at least 5000 people, a demonstration for public housing at city hall, an opening ceremony and cultural events. Each of the next three days had three workshop sessions of over 100 workshops each (for a total of nearly 1,000 workshops) and two evening plenaries, plus films, cultural events and "tent activities." The workshop sessions and plenaries were scheduled with only 30 minutes between them, and were spread over a large part of Atlanta, so most people picked clusters of workshops near each other and/or skipped a session or two in order to eat. In addition, there were ongoing regional and issue caucuses.
A national gathering of domestic and household workers organizations left the USSF with the framework of a national organization in place.
The Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign linked with its own local groups and other organizations. They marched on Coca Cola headquarters on Friday.
There was a running series of workshops, films and training sessions on single-payer health care throughout the conference. This included a special preview of "Sicko," which was attended by several hundred people. The event kicked off a national campaign for single-payer health care centered on HR 676 (the "Conyers Bill").
There were joint events and networking between local groups of the Student-Labor Action Project, Jobs With Justice, anti-war activists and groups affiliated with the anti-gentrification RTTC ("Right To The City") Alliance, which includes the Los Angeles Community Action Network, Just Cause Oakland and POWER and PODER in San Francisco.
While the enormous number of choices meant that no one could possibly go to all the events he or she was interested in, the majority left Atlanta with a feeling of solid accomplishment and greater knowledge of the breadth and depth of working-class resistance in the U.S.
The Peace and Freedom Party delegation was led by California state officers Cindy Henderson, Marsha Feinland and Debra Reiger.