“It is beautiful to see us coming together as I’ve never seen before.” Ruben Solis
“We have to emulate, not compete. We need hope, imagination and love and we have to dream. Our biggest obstacle is ourselves.” Robby Rodriguez
“We must talk from the heart and shake hands with one another. A prayer has taken place that this spirit is going to grow. No matter who we are we must demand not reform of a broken system but transformation. We need to organize from the grassroots.” Tom Goldtooth
“There will come a time, I know, when people will take delight in one another, when each will be a star to the other, and when each will listen to his fellow as to music. The free people will walk upon the earth, men and women great in their freedom. They will walk with open hearts, and the heart of each will be pure of envy and greed, and therefore all humankind will be without malice, and there will be nothing to divorce the heart from reason. Then life will be one great service to humankind! His/her figure will be raised to lofty heights-for to free humanity all heights are attainable. Then we shall live in truth and freedom and in beauty, and those will be accounted the best who will the more widely embrace the world with their hearts, and whose love of it will be the profoundest; those will be the best who will be the freest; for in them is the greatest beauty. Then will life be great, and the people will be great who live that life.” excerpt from Mother, by Maxim Gorky
History was made over the last five days at the US Social Forum (USSF) in Atlanta, Ga. We were 10,000 strong, black, brown, red, yellow and white, a majority people of color, of all ages with a big percentage of young people, from all over the country, working on a wide range of issues. We danced, we sang, we chanted, we spoke with one another, we listened, we planned, we marched, we sweated and we were inspired.
As Ruben Solis expressed during Sunday’s final session, this “beautiful coming together” was unprecedented and historic. The U.S. Left has unquestionably turned a corner. In doing so we can now see much more clearly the road we must follow if we are to prevent catastrophic climate change, end the current and future oil wars, and usher in a truly democratic, liberating and fully just new society.
“What do we want? Justice! How do we get it? Peoples power!” For many of us, this new version of an old chant learned Sunday morning summed up one key aspect of that path. Not corporate power or Democratic Party power or power given to those who say they speak for the people but then use our votes and support to advance their individual careers.
The USSF movement is about multi-cultural, democratic, participatory, community-building, anti-oppression, striving-for-equality, accountable peoples power.
This movement for fundamental change is integrating music, film, theatre, dance, photography, banners, posters, art and poetry-cultural expression in all its forms-into the very heart of the way we work. In the words of Rickke Manazala, “culture is essential to sustaining our work.” Culture is not an adjunct, an add-on, something pigeon-holed and secondary. All throughout the USSF, from the puppets at the opening day march to the Indigenous drummers and singers at the final plenary, this truth was made manifest.
The leadership of the USSF understood that narrow “correct politics” or efficient organization alone do not do it. As Lillian Cotto Morales said, “we need to know one another as people so we can then talk politics and strategy.”
The USSF was a classic example of how empowering it is to have an open and inclusive process and structure. Any organization which registered was able to organize up to four workshops on subjects of its choosing as long as the subjects were politically consistent with the USSF’s broad principles. What this meant was that on the three full days when workshops were held, people could choose between 100 different options each workshop session, 900 in all.
The daily culture of the USSF-the way in which we interacted with one another-was deep and profound. Despite the heat and humidity, logistical challenges like long waits for overloaded elevators, and the inevitable glitches and problems, the dominant spirit all throughout was collaborative, comradely and cooperative. It was truly beautiful rubbing shoulders, sitting next to, talking with, dancing with, feeling love and solidarity with thousands of sister and brother activists of so many cultures and nationalities.
We are unquestionably a movement that is maturing and growing, not just numbers-wise but internally.
Even the open conflict during the final plenary session demonstrated this truth.
One of the co-chairs during that session, George Friday, a woman of African and Cherokee descent, stopped an Indigenous man from speaking after he and his partner had gone over their allotted two minute time, with 20-25 more people waiting for their two minutes. About 20 minutes later a group of 50-60 Indigenous people came up onto the stage with the cooperation of the USSF leadership and spoke from the heart about how offended they felt at this action and how it was done. With support from the audience they expressed their feelings of anger and of being disrespected.
After they left the stage, and before the remaining speakers came forward for their two minutes, George acknowledged that this person felt dishonored and spoke of how we are all going to make mistakes as we build the 21st century peoples power movement. To much applause, she spoke of how we need to be willing to accept that as we work to build the relationships with each other that undergird our movement that it will not always be a smooth process, but we must learn from mistakes so that we can go forward together.
And the USSF is going forward. At the final session a call was made for the organization of local people’s assemblies. There will a World Social Forum-initiated international day of action on January 26, 2008. And the spring of 2010 will see USSF/2.
There is hope. We are getting it together. The times are urgent, but we are rising to the urgency of the times. Si, se puede! Si, se puede!
Ted Glick is the coordinator of the U.S. Climate Emergency Council and works with the Independent Progressive Politics Network and the Climate Crisis Coalition. He can be reached at [email protected] or P.O. Box 1132, Bloomfield, N.J. 07003.