Imagine thousands of people meeting, mingling, and marching peacefully through your city streets for nearly a week. Last month, a racially, ethnically and geographically diverse crowd of more than 15,000 people vitalized the epic, but destitute, city of Detroit–the epicenter of the Great Recession in the US.
The second US Social Forum (USSF)—the first was in Atlanta in June 2007—was inspired by the 2001 World Social Forum in Brazil. The 2001 gathering was an international attempt to pose and discuss alternative economic models and rules to those discussed at the corporate-dominated World Economic Forum in Switzerland.
Four UFE staff members, as well as several board members, volunteers, and supporters, led popular economics education workshops, participated in planning meetings, marched in demonstration, attended plenaries, networked, and enjoyed cultural activities. Our message about the scope of economic inequality and our method of engaging people in dialogue about its consequences and what to do about it, were very well-received. New relationships were forged, old ones strengthened, and a great deal of enthusiasm for collaboration was generated.
But, the significance of the Forum goes way beyond these specific outcomes for UFE. What we witnessed (and participated in) was a key step forward in building a powerful social and economic justice movement that will realize the USSF theme: "Another World is Possible, Another US is Necessary."
Labor & racial justice activist Bill Fletcher provided his take, “...[the USSF] was the antithesis of the Tea Party movement. Instead of the fear, ignorance and hatred that emanates from the Tea Partiers, here there was a sense of optimism.” The provides a vibrant and safe space for exchanges of ideologies and strategies. While we still struggle to construct a common narrative that explains how we got here and a common vision of where we want to go, the willingness to engage open-mindedly in the hard work to build such consciousness, was on display throughout the Forum.
“For five days in Detroit, an incredibly diverse group of progressives became a community,” said Steve Schnapp, UFE's senior education coordinator. “We are making the road as we walk. But, more importantly, we do so in ways that draw upon our unique perspectives and celebrate our unique gifts. This feeling of solidarity inspires us to continue our important work. A world where power and wealth are not concentrated in the hands of a few is indeed possible!”