People from Iraq and across the world braved deadly bomb blasts in Baghdad Thursday to kick-off the country's first-ever social forum in a boisterous opening ceremony that marched under the banner 'Another Iraq is Possible with Peace, Human Rights, and Social Justice.'
The event maintained an air of solidarity and celebration of social movements, Nadia al-Baghdadi, one of the organizers of the Forum and part of the Save the Tigris Campaign, told Free Speech Radio News. "[The opening ceremony had] a message of solidarity and just some fun and joy," she said. "People were singing and dancing and walking around.... it was so wonderful."
This historic convergence brings together over 1,000 people from 150 organizations, including Iraqi social movements, unions, social justice activists, and civil society organizations as well as regional and global activists to engage in "democratic conversations, to discuss ideas, formulate suggestions, and exchange experiences," according to a statement from Iraq Social Forum organizers.
"We have marched against the war and have stood with the Iraqi people against US intervention in Iraq and the region.... Your quest to deepen your democracy on the principles of social justice, political, gender, civil, social, economic, and cultural rights is a model for other social justice movements." –Grassroots Global Justice Alliance
It follows in the tradition of the World Social Forums, the first of which was held in Brazil in 2001 as an alternative to the annual meeting of the global capitalist elite at the World Economic Forum. The Social Forum is modeled after the Latin American encuentro and is billed as a space for pluralistic and open dialogue between social movements across the world. Since 2001, a series of global, regional, and national social forums have taken place, with the last world social forum in Tunisia gathering under the banner of karama, or dignity.
"We are here to contribute, collaboratively and horizontally, to work on the realization of alternative options for the weary scenario in which we live today," declare the organizers of the Iraq Social Forum. In over 60 workshops held from September 26 - 28, participants will take on issues ranging from freedom of expression to children's health to nonviolent protest in Iraq. They will tackle difficult questions about Iraq's future, from the repercussions of the Arab Spring to poverty; unemployment to domestic political crises; and power struggles to global solidarity. Many of these discussions will be live-streamed for viewers across the world.
These vital discussions take place under the shadow of ongoing violence that continues to claim lives, with August and September particularly bloody months and more than 4,000 killed by violence since April, according to the United Nations.
Organizers acknowledge the challenges of building movements in a society torn by U.S.-led war and occupation. "The loss of the lives of over one million people, the destruction of infrastructure, fatal and debilitating effects of depleted uranium and chemical weaponry used by the occupation forces cannot be forgotten, neither by the Iraqi people nor by the international movements who have been mobilizing against the war and the occupation," organizers declared.
The Iraq Social Forum has prompted an outpouring of solidarity from across the world. The U.S.-based Grassroots Global Justice Alliance declared in an open statement, "We have marched against the war and have stood with the Iraqi people against US intervention in Iraq and the region.... Your quest to deepen your democracy on the principles of social justice, political, gender, civil, social, economic, and cultural rights is a model for other social justice movements."