Imagine a country built on peace and social justice, on racial and gender equity, on ecological and economic security for everyone. Imagine transforming a culture from one where two million people are imprisoned, where migrant workers die everyday for lack of services, where 85 million people lack health coverage, and where billions of dollars are taken from schools, hospitals, and public housing to fund war and occupation, into a culture that excludes no one, marginalizes no one, imprisons no one, and leaves no one behind. Imagine another world…a better world…a world made of many worlds…Imagine a country called hope.
For those who were able to attend the first US Social Forum (USSF) this June in Atlanta, Georgia, a glimpse of this country appeared on the horizon. Spun off from the World Social Forums that began in Brazil in 2001, the USSF brought together over 10,000 people to dream, plan, strategize, and act toward a just society. The gathering took place in Atlanta, birthplace of Martin Luther King, Jr. because, in the words of W.E.B. Dubois, “As the South goes, so goes the Nation.” Katrina turned from a natural disaster caused by climate chaos into a social disaster caused by the government’s failure to respond to the needs of tens of thousands of mostly poor, African American refugees. Many activists see the South as highlighting some of our nation’s most urgent needs for change.
Years in the making, the USSF brought together over 10,000 people to dream, plan, strategize, and act on the notion that if you want peace, you must work for justice. By coming together to strengthen their movements – in the words of Kai Barrows, an organizer with Critical Resistance, “to turn many movements into one Movement that really moves” – participants in the USSF hope to bring about long-term, radical social change.
Over 900 workshops, cultural events, and lectures took place over 5 days, touching on issues from immigrant rights to environmental sustainability to abolishing prisons. The overwhelming majority of presenters and participants were young people of color, affirming what 21-year-old Julián Moya, a representative of New Mexico’s Southwest Organizing Project said: “As youth, we are not the future, we are the present.”
The People’s Health Movement participated in the Social Forum by organizing over a dozen workshops and panel discussions throughout the week, as well as a full 4-day session of the International People’s Health University (IPHU). Designed to stimulate critical thinking in the health and healthcare sector (see previous post here) and to encourage action around the social determinants of health (see previous post here) IPHU is an effort to direct attention at the ways in which access to health is denied by structural inequalities, both in the US and around the world. Participants in the IPHU looked at the health impacts of global warming, militarism, the pharmaceutical industry, water privatization, and other issues, and brainstormed about campaign strategies to bring about health equity. Meanwhile, groups involved with PHM, such as Doctors for Global Health, the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, Partners in Health, and Hesperian, held workshops on liberation medicine, environmental justice, food sovereignty, and other crucial topics.
We know that many who attended the USSF and especially those who attended the IPHU and other PHM workshops, will return revitalized with new knowledge, a stronger analysis of the problems we face, and energized by the awareness that they are part of a worldwide movement for positive change.
Keep an eye out for regional social forums happening across the country until the next U.S. Social Forum in 2010.
Other articles about the forum: