US Social Forum Forges Common Ground

ATLANTA - In all, the crowds were huge, the workshops passionate and inspiring, and participants made ideological, relational and personal gains, both large and small.

The U.S. Social Forum wrapped up Sunday in the southern city of Atlanta with a People's Assembly, where civil society and native leaders read declarations on the meeting's main issues: Gulf Coast reconstruction in the post-Katrina era; militarism and the prison industrial complex; indigenous, sexual and immigrant rights; and labor struggles in the global economy.

Atlanta videographer Judy "Artemis" Condor said it was the youthfulness of the crowd that inspired her. "Usually, it's just us old folks at these marches and it takes all our energy just to get from point A to point B," she said.

The youth, on the other hand, were making music, singing, shouting, carrying huge puppets, and some even walking on stilts.

USSF Director Alice Lovelace said many participants were looking to possibly hold their own regional Social Forums in the months and years ahead.

In January 2008, there will be International Days of Action, Lovelace said. Next year will also feature a Social Forum of the Americas, and the USSF will send delegates. World Social Forums should resume in 2009, she said.

The Assembly did not go off without a hitch, as members of the Native American delegation rose in protest when a USSF organiser grabbed the microphone out of one of their speaker's hands because he went "over time." After backstage negotiations, the speaker was able to finish his comments and the Native Americans also held a "healing drum circle" to restore the speaker's dignity.

Still, according to two USSF organisers, some seasoned delegates to the World Social Forum walked away very impressed with the whole event.

"We hit 10,000 [participants], Lovelace said. "The sessions were brilliant. People made a lot of connections. We had proclamations and declarations. It was an extraordinary gathering."

"Members of the [World Social Forum] International Council were here. They said this presented a great challenge to them because it was the best Social Forum they ever saw. They said it raised the bar across the board in terms of diversity. The sessions were focused on the future, on vision, on strategies. They were going to have to step up their game to match what we did," Lovelace told IPS.

It was still vague by what process the USSF participants will be able to endorse the various resolutions.

"There was a decision to extend the process," of submitting resolutions to the Assembly, said USSF organizer Ruben Solis. It "would continue to be organised once people got back home so they would include more people that did not have the opportunity to be here in Atlanta physically at the USSF. All of July and August will be dedicated to that."

"The final adoption [of resolutions] will probably happen in September," Solis said.

The adoption process would involve both the Internet and the next Planning Committee Meeting. "Get them out to all the delegates, give us a process of consultation, adoption, and voting them in, and a process. Because it was a social experiment that has never been done -- even at the World Social Forum -- this was really groundbreaking. This made history in that sense as well," Solis said.

And despite the bitter dispute that erupted when one of their speakers was cut off, the Native American contingent also saw gains from their participation in the USSF.

"This was really an awesome opportunity for the indigenous people of the U.S. to develop family with indigenous people from the South, delegations from Guatemala, from Chile and Argentina who were here... It really provided us an opportunity to develop a family," said Tom Goldtooth, a leader with the Cherokee Nation.

"We're willing to share some of our knowledge," he added. "The Water Ceremony [at the USSF] was our opportunity to help inform all people about the unification of water."

"It was announced on the USSF website to bring water from their homeland, whether contaminated or not. This was a ceremony for all people to pray for the water of life. People brought water from all four directions. We had an indigenous woman named Josephine Mandamin, the Water Walker or the Water Keeper, she's walked around each of the Great Lakes," Goldtooth said.

Kimberly Richards from the People's Institute for Survival and Beyond in New Orleans, Louisiana departed feeling ecstatic on the People's Caravan. Richards joined hundreds of others on a caravan of several buses that came from the Western U.S., went through New Orleans, Mississippi, and Alabama, to join the USSF. Now she was returning home.

"I think there was a lot of progress made. People from the Gulf Coast were able to see oppressive and repressive systems in housing and health care. Atlanta's Katrina was the Olympics. The Olympics displaced people and increased homelessness just as Katrina. For Detroit it was the closing of the auto mills. For North Carolina it was the textile factories," Richards said.

"People are [now] able to understand the intensity of the human rights violations. People's don't [typically] understand the U.S. has signed on to the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights. The evacuation was: get in your car and leave. People who didn't have cars were discriminated against. That's a human rights violation. We have to understand what our human rights are in order to protect and defend them," she told IPS.

Richards said the biggest benefit for the New Orleans delegation was the raising of consciousness.

"To organise, people have to have all those things. To have the action, you have to have the awareness. We don't need unconscious people to take an action. Those parts are critical to effective action, to effective organising. We do need to do something, but we need to do it with consciousness," she said.

Meanwhile, public housing advocates from across the country at the USSF were able to make connections and have planted the seeds of starting a national organisation to protect public housing, said Carl Hartrampf of the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless.

After the People's Assembly, a delegation of about 50 public housing residents and advocates marched and delivered an "eviction notice" to the Atlanta Housing Authority, which they taped on the office's front door.

Copyright (c) 2007 IPS-Inter Press Service

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