United States Social Forum: Position Paper for January 2012 NPC meeting

A) What impact did the USSF process have on your organization or sector, or on organization's you affiliate with that develop and/or support social movement building? What relationships did you develop that support your work, sector or the building of our social movement?

The impact of the USSF process on May First/People Link was inestimable. We greatly enhanced our network, recruited a score of new members, and broadened the discussion of and our response to the political issues related to an open Internet, which we consider important. Our work at USSF drove our entry into World Social Forum work which links to our other International work and enormously raised our profile within progressive movements world-wide, but especially here in the United States.

Among the most important outcomes was the many relationships we developed on the NPC and its related work groups. These relationships draw the map for a lot of the work MF/PL is doing currently. Additionally, the experience allowed us to broaden and strengthen our own technologist-led support team, which is fundamental to meeting the ongoing needs of our membership.

The USSF was an opportunity for the progressive movement to engage with communications and technology issues head-on, through praxis. The impact of the USSF process on strategic, movement-building approaches to Internet technology has shifted the national discussion about the use of digital communications to one based in political vision. MF/PL changed its own thinking around these discussions, too.

B) What is your organization's political assessment of this current historical moment, and do you see a role for the Social Forum process as a vehicle for supporting stronger social movement building, including grassroots organizing? Please include your assessment of the primary issues our social movement faces externally and internally as well as the most vibrant social movements of this moment (i.e., fronts of struggle).

We see the entire world going in an obvious forward motion and have always believed that the Internet is one manifestation of this forward motion; we see the Internet as a community or movement created by humanity. The economic crisis has bankrupted the social and political structures that run the world and has given humanity an ultimatum to either move forward or face greater crisis. War, blanketing much of the world, has proven completely incapable of improving the situation. All traditional institutions of governance, communications, and law have clearly defaulted and many are completely broken.

The human race is responding through several strategic reactions. At this point, the most visible are the proliferating popular demonstrations and "uprisings" ("revolutions" in the parlance of the participants). This forest fire of popular movements, reminiscent of the world-wide movement of youth struggle in 1968 - 1970, is an obvious first step in major and potentially tumultuous mass movements challenging the world's structures of power. There are other companion developments -- the axis of progressive governments in Latin America, the Climate Change movement, the world-wide leadership of Indigenous peoples -- that precede these popular uprisings and, in the long term, may actually enter into coordination with them.

We are in a period when communication among movements is essential and that's what our organization is about.

C) The 2007 and 2010 USSF brought many attendees, some for the first time and others to a more in-depth understanding of what a Social Forum is. As the global economic and ecological crisis deepens, do you see a specific role that the Social Forum process can play (1) within US social movement building; and (2) in relationship to the World Social Forums or other national or international social movement building processes? How do we then connect in meaningful ways to grassroots struggles inside and outside of the US?

We think the USSF already connects with all kinds of grassroots struggles and we think it already plays the role of "gathering place" for these movements. The Social Forum is a place to come together periodically with a very strong agenda of interactions. The last USSF was so much more politically developed than the first one that it proves the importance of the Social Forum in this country.

The USSF, for all its conflicts and challenges, demonstrated to the US left that multi-racial organizing can happen and this understanding was critical to, for example, the Occupy movement. It is, effectively, a major political statement and proof that that statement is feasible. There's a long way to go, of course, and the USSF has to play the role of modeling racially integrated organizing led predominantly by people of color.

Outside the US, the Social Forum should participate in the development of the "border challenge" Social Forum movement -- a movement that refuses to recognize the artificial borders that divide us. Movements within the US should begin participating in more solidarity actions with movements outside of the US. Inspiration, like that from the Arab Spring that helped drive the occupy movement, is not enough.

Bringing delegations of US activists to global convergences like the WSF is transformative and helps build solidarity, which are both important parts of international movement work. Based on MF/PL's participation in the WSF International Council, along with other members of the NPC, we're aware of the necessity of alternatives to the forum process. Yet it remains as one of the only places to organize internationally an alter-globalization movement, which is still desperately needed today. Increasingly, we're seeing regional and thematic forums with much greater success than the larger WSF because of the intentionality and relevance that these forums bring to both local and international movements. Related to this, the USSF remains a highly-respected event in the international social forum movement due to its prioritization of leadership from truly grassroots leadership.

In 2012, a Maghreb/Mashrek regional forum and a world forum on Palestine are just two examples of international processes that MF/PL will be involved in. These will no doubt inspire our work towards the next USSF and further our praxis of using communications and technology to increase democratic participation at forum events.

D) As the nation approaches critical elections in 2012, how can the USSF separate itself from traditional bourgeois understandings of social change (i.e. demands for reform rather than transformation of the exploitative economic system)? How can the USSF process centralize working class struggles, including grassroots democracy, issues of survival, the needs of the many versus the needs of the few? Given all this, what should the Social Forum’s relationship be to the 2012 electoral process?

We believe that the Social Forum should steer clear of all elections. Electoral work, while an acceptable tactic in the eyes of many, is not a unifying concept for movements and, when not place appropriately in the politics of an organization, it can drain resources, raise false expectations, and allow the ruling class to define the parameters of the political discourse. That's one of the lessons we can draw from the Obama candidacy and current Presidency. People should work around elections, such as the USSF letting campaign groups use its lists, etc., but nothing more.

E) How has your understanding of the role of the National Planning Committee (NPC) changed over time? What alterations should it undergo as a national planning body for the USSF? What is your understanding of the NPC's relationship to the PMA (Peoples Movement Assembly) process? How can the NPC be a better vehicle to support social movement work?

The NPC leads the USSF strategy and should therefore set the dates for the Social Forums, make sure the logistical arrangements are secure and efficient. This has been its traditional role and should be moving towards the proximate future. We believe the PMA is a highly dynamic and significant contribution that the USSF has made to the movement and that PMA gatherings are continuing to develop US-based movements, with the potential to also shape international movements as well. At this point, the relationship between NPC and the PMA is as it should be -- the former assists, encourages and supports the latter. This is an excellent path to continue to walk.

It is vitally important for the NPC to continue to do only what it's been doing. The structuring and facilitating work the NPC does for the Social Forum is in fact politically driven and informed. Political discussion around the work we do -- putting on the Social Forum -- is valuable and should be encouraged and enhanced. But no more. The Social Forum in and of itself must be allowed to make the organic and natural contribution it can make by bringing people in struggle together. The planning body of the forum, by the definition of its political role to create space, may mar the productive interactions and environment if it tries to add to the process by doing more.

F) Lastly, the big it time to start a discussion about a 3rd USSF, which would include talks about what should be changed and why? What form might a 3rd USSF take (regional, national), and why? What criteria might we discuss and list to help guide any discussions about if, when, and where?

When the social forum was born more than 10 years ago, it was revolutionary because it brought social movements together from around the world. Today, simply bringing everyone together is no longer enough; we must focus our movements regionally and thematically in order to achieve our goals. Where large funders have traditionally supported forum processes, today the economic crisis has severely impacted the financial support for all movement-building work, including international summits like the social forum. And what is possible technologically today like blogging, podcasting, and even live video streaming has been developed and utilized by movements over the past 10 years to meet the needs of international convergences.

We believe the next Social Forum should be made up of about four or five regional Social Forums taking place simultaneously within the US. This is the idea put forward by our Co-Director Alfredo Lopez at the last NPC meeting. Three developments, mentioned briefly before, encourage us in this direction:

  • The political situation in this country is acquiring a much more "regional" and "struggle-specific" nature. The alignment and cohesion of forces is taking place around these magnets, precluding any kind of larger, national identity for movements. There is even a regional nature to the Occupy movement which is one of the most "national" movements in recent history. Additionally, many developments are taking place that challenge the idea of borders and the very idea of a United States. For example, is the Southwest a region of the US or part of a region that reaches across the border and include portions of Mexico?
  • We don't have the money to put on a national Social Forum. Even if we could raise a few million dollars, many question the real value of this effort. To project a national Social Forum and then fail because we can't raise the money would be devastating. On the other hand, the announcement of innovative regionally-based events around the country can attract some national funding that can be shared, regional funding (or funding from funders who concentrate on local activity), and individual and organizational fund-raising. In any case, localized events are cheaper than national ones and more additive to local organization's capacities in the long term.
  • We have the technology to do a national convergence of local or regional events. Each region could, for instance, do a full day of local events and then converge, through streaming, for a national event in the evening (or a combination national and regional events). All kinds of combinations are possible including international participation, cross-border participation from South and North, and participation by people who can't physically attend any of the Forums. All of this is now possible. We also believe that this form of remote and local convergences are becoming more common, showing us the future of international movement-building with the use of Internet tools.
Last modified 10 years ago Last modified on Dec 2, 2011, 9:47:45 AM

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