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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Report backs

Part of attending a social forum is reporting back to the home community on the events. I've written an essay "U.S. Social Forum a Mechanism for Change" for Upside Down World, talked about it on Third World View on WORT (please note that this link will disappear after 2 months), and we will report back on the forum at the Socialist Potluck at the Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center (953 Jenifer Street Madison, WI) on Saturday, July 10, at 5:30pm.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

National People's Movement Assembly

One of the innovations of the US Social Forum is the People's Movement Assembly. Over the course of the organizing and convocation of the Detroit forum, over one hundred assemblies were held, 45 before and 52 during the forum. Because of their depth and brilliance, the resolutions of the assemblies could not be read at the final assembly of the forum. Instead, a committee crafted summaries of the resolutions that were read to the gathering. The resolutions in their entirety will be posted to

A commission of five people (including our own Rose Brewer from the MWSF and an Indigenous representative) read a reflection on a synthesis of the resolutions. Then, in very quick order, representatives of the different working groups read very brief summaries of their resolutions. Significantly, and perhaps as a result of a conflict at the closing assembly in Atlanta 3 years ago, the first one out of the gate was the Indigenous sovereignty group. Seemingly,they were allowed to take just a bit longer than the other groups.

Presentations from subsequent groups reflected the wide range of issues that activists engaged at the forum, including workers struggles, gender justice, transformative justice, poverty, immigration, environment, media, and an end to endless war militarism. One group gave a passionate call for the independence of Puerto Rico. The groups laid out politically charged summaries that required multiple strategies to realize their goals. Looking over the list of resolutions on the website, it looks like the list of presentations were a relatively small sampling of what has been accomplished at this forum.

After quickly reading through the summaries of the various resolutions, organizers put up a list of proposed actionto discuss and plan, and then voted whether people were willing to take action (blue card) or be in solidarity (orange card) with a specific proposal.

The afternoon's work began with a presentation by the children's forum, including the singing of a song they wrote and the presentation of a poster they drew and signed to present to president Evo Morales of Bolivia.

USSF lead organizer Adrienne Brown joked that after the world's longest opening for a US Social Forum, we would now close with a short and sweet closing. Instead, after reflections on what we had brought and done and learned in Detroit we dropped into a holding pattern of poems and other performance artists while we waited for the final 2 speakers to arrive since the people's movement assembly had run so short. The first was a WSF international committee representative from Mali who welcomed us to Dakur in February, and told us that when Africa arises, the world arises.

Finally, Manny Pino from the Indigenous Environmental Network introduces Pablo Solon, ambassador from Bolivia to the United Nations. Pino briefly mentions the work of the IEN at the Cochabamba Climate Summit in April. Then Solon takes the stage, and in flawless English talks about how he just arrived from the G-20 meetings in Toronto and the long struggle and need for an end to neoliberalism. He discussed the water wars that expelled Bechtel from Cochabamba when they tried to privatize the water supplies. This was the beginning of change, because if it was possible to expel Bechtal then anything is possible. From there they began to talk about the nationalization of gas, and they knew it was possible because they had already won the water wars. But they learned that they could not realize these gains without organization, and so they began to build political organizations.

In 2005, for the first time an Indigenous leader Evo Morales won the presidency with 54 percent of the vote, and six months later they nationalized the gas sector. Under Morales, they have improved the lives of the poor because now the resources of the country belongs to the people. We can do this two ways, either ask for the people to sacrifice or to cut the profits to the large corporations and then we’ll have enough resources for the needs of the people. The example of Bolivia shows that this is possible if we organize from the bottom up and take the needs of the people into consideration.

After last year’s climate change meeting in Copenhagen, we realized that the situation is getting worse and that we need to take action. We need to build a world-wide movement to defend life and the mother earth. We only have one opportunity, and it is now to create a new alternative not only for us but for our children and grandchildren.

What do we want? In the short-term, we want industrial countries to reduce emissions. This is the only way out. The Cochabamba meetings show the path forward, and we hope to achieve this in the Cancun meetings. But we can only achieve this with the mobilization of people. But to do this requires changing how to relate to Mother Earth. We’ve treated the earth like a commodity, but now we see the consequences of that. We need to change what BP is doing with the spill in the Caribbean. In order to guarantee human rights, we need to guarantee the rights of mother earth. We are part of a system; we’re not the owners, but just one part. We have to take responsibility to take care of it. We will present proposal to the UN that the mother earth also has a right to exist. Both humans and nature, all beings have a right to water.

The challenge of this century is to build a new contract, not only a social contract, but a social and environmental contract. This is key to the building of a new and better world. The G-8 talks about a green economy, and it sounds nice. But it means brining capitalism to nature, to put a price on nature, and we need to have property rights. Instead of the Washington Consensus it will be the Green Economy Consensus, but this still leads to the commodification of nature. We need to look for the rights of nature, this is why a declaration of mother earth rights is so important.

At Cochabamba, we also talked about making a court of climate justice where cases like BP can be tried. We cannot allow these abuses to continue. We need to build it from the grassroots. Democracy is being constrained at a world-wide level. What is the message? Large countries draft Copenhagen Accord, give it to small countries at 3am and have only 1 hour to read it. But all countries have the same rights, and large countries who think they are the most powerful cannot decide for the rest. We have to end the five permanent members on the UN security council; no one has elected them, but they have veto power. Democracy means democracy at a world-wide level as well. We don’t want to see more military bases in Latin America. In Latin America, we’re worried. Why do we need military bases in Colombia? What has happened in Honduras? We have to stop this process. We need democracy at a global level.

One of the proposals at Cochabamba was to create a world-wide referendum on climate change, to reach six billion people on the planet who are influenced by these policies. People around the world should be consulted on where resources are directed. Our challenge is to build this referendum for next year, because we see that Cancun won’t solve problems. Money needs to go to solve problems of poverty and climate change, not to war. We can only do this if we engage everyone, each one of you. That is why I have come from Toronto. I have heard that this social forum was a great opportunity to organize.

Ten years ago I was a water warrior in Cochabamba, but now I’m a water warrior ambassador. We want to declare in the UN the human right to water and sanitation. In the UN we’ve declared rights to food, education, shelter, but we haven’t declared yet the right to water. We need to count on your support to campaign for these rights.

After Solon's comments, a sister from the Detroit School of Arts with the assistance of two of her students pours libations to ancient African ancestors, and then engages in a song and dance of pouring, drinking, bathing, and sharing.

Another woman with a child on her arm then sang a song "hold on to your dreams child and don't let them go." All together, it was a very moving ending for the forum. A couple more performance artists did their pieces. And with that, the second US Social Forum suddenly came to an end.

The history of labor in Detroit

I woke up this morning with a plan, but life hasn't really played out like I thought it would. There were three things I wanted to do, no, four, I guess. I wanted to get some breakfast (and check my email), catch a bit of a climate change march that was scheduled to start at the Detroit Public Library at 9am, and then head to Cobo Hall for a panel on the history of labor in Detroit at 10:00. Best laid plans never work out so well. Instead, between waiting for people to join me, and then trying to find a new place to eat that was closed, and a ride apparently leaving without me, I missed breakfast, barely caught a small piece of the march, and missed the first part of the panel because now Cobo Hall was a two-mile hike away on foot.

Now I'm finally at the panel, but rather than paying attention I'm multi-tasking in trying to catch up from all of my morning delays. But I should be paying attention, because the panelists are really giving inspiring and rousing speeches. They have spent decades in labor struggles, recounting what they had gained, what they have learned, what they have lost, and what lessons they have for the mostly youth audience at the USSF.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Future of the Forum, Part II

Future of the Forum, Part II: Rooting the US Social Forum Process in the Everyday Practices of the Subaltern - How else are other worlds possible?

This was the second part of a two-part forum that we started yesterday. I think others will present something more formal on the discussions from this panel, but here are some quick notes.

Jai Sen from CACIM introduced the session by noting that it is important to engage with the forum process, and especially the Detroit forum. We learn from this process, something that it is not just an event. How are other worlds possible, other than just in the actions of the subaltern? That is the great contribution of the forum.

Will Copeland from the Detroit Local Organizing Committee began his presentation with a poem, intentionally pointing to the importance of culture in the forum experience. For him, the USSF represents a major generational shift in activism as 1960s peace and leftist activists give way to the coming of age of new activists. Interest in the forum slowly start to build in Detroit, and it took awhile for communication to get going between African American and Indigenous communities because of cultural gaps. Poverty in Detroit also results in a significant low tech/high tech divide. Many people who are on verge of having their utilities shut off do not have easy access to the Internet.

Bineshi Albert from the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) pointed to the importance of connecting with local Indigenous community. This was hard to do in Atlanta because most tribal communities had long since been forcible removed. Detroit has a larger urban Indigenous presence, which helped to create a different space. Events like a welcoming dinner hosted by the local community created a different, much more welcoming type of engagement. As a result, these issues were easier process this time around. A key lessons from Atlanta was that they had their own Indigenous tent and it was easy to connect with each other in their own spaces, but they had not reached out to others. They needed to do a better job of connecting with others on issues like militarization, environment, and criminal justice system. Connecting with others still remained a challenge, but Indigenous peoples can learn from others.

Michael Leon Guerrero from Grassroots Global Justice (GGJ) spoke about the USSF as a people’s victory. He briefly outlined the history of how GGJ began to work on a global scale, and how important that engagement was. Their objectives were to strengthen their work in US, and to develop these global links. He stressed the importance of reaching out to marginal communities, and the need to start with them. An open space is not necessarily a level playing field. The result of the USSF has been a life changing experience. The result is the construction of a strong progressive social force on left for upcoming elections.

Jeff Juris from Northeastern University provided a reflection coming out of Atlanta. That forum was a process of opening spaces, and he questioned what spaces are closed when others are opened. There are no correct strategies, and tensions are inevitable. Did we move too far to the side of intentionality? Were anarchist groups being left out? Can we push back toward more openness, without losing community participation? Can we expand without losing people who need to be at the center? Juris argued that there are no right or wrong answers, but it is important to put that conversation out there.

Guerrero responded that intentionality does not make exclusivity, but we want the process to be consolidated enough so that it was not overrun. We are so far behind we need to be quick to make changes, but we also need to be deliberate so that these changes are successful and solid. Guerrero also briefly summarized discussions whether to hold another USSF, or possibly the idea of holding a North American forum in Mexico. He said that they are ready to host one.

Thomas Ponniah from Harvard said that we need to start with the local and subaltern, but that we also need to move beyond that. Focusing on the local gives a needed feeling of agency. We need to engage with state power, and unfortunately conservatives are better at this that we are. We need to fill these social spaces, otherwise we remained locked out.

Alternatives and Solutions Plenary

I decide to catch a quick bite to eat before the evening plenary, which turns out to be a huge mistake. I returned to the same stall where I ate last nite on Hart Plaza. It was slow last nite, but at least we were at the front of the line. Tonite, I was at the back of the line, and it's not so much that the line was long but that it was impossibly slow. I was supposed to meet Thomas at the plenary at 6:30, and as the time slipped away I wondered whether I should bail or stay. Do I throw good time after bad? Now it's an hour an half later, and I've missed the first hour of the plenary--as well as my scheduled meeting with Thomas.

I walk in just as Jihan Gearon from the Indigenous Environmental Network is speaking. It sounds like she's saying interesting things, but of course I'm just arriving rather than paying attention. Nevertheless, it's significant that an Indigenous person is on the closing plenary, and she mentions how natives are often excluded and forgotten. She also fits her struggles in a global context, including the Cochabamba People's Climate Change Accord from the meeting in Bolivia in April.

A representative of ALBA (the Bolivarian Alliance of Our Americas) speaks after Gearon, and all I can think is that my Indigenous compas in Ecuador are currently mobilizing people against an ALBA meeting in Otavalo. This same guy spoke last nite at a screening of Oliver Stone's new movie South of the Border, and now I'm regretting not taking advantage of that opportunity to ask him what he knew and thought about this Indigenous opposition to ALBA. Gearon spoke of celebrating October 12 as Indigenous peoples resistance day rather than Columbus day, and the ALBA rep said that this comment brought back distant memories, since it had been a decade in Venezuela since that date meant anything other than celebrating Indigenous resistance.

Time slips by, and somehow I'm always at the wrong place at the wrong time and miss my best opportunities.


I show up late for the panel Dialogue with Activists from the Haitian Popular Movement (organized by the Haiti Action Network) just as Rea who we met at her school SOPUDE back in January in Haiti is complaining that aid from the hurricane several years ago is still sitting on the loading docks. After she finished talking, the widow of CLR James, the famous author of The Black Jacobins also complained about how NGOs are making money off of the crisis in Haiti. A main demand remains for a return of Aristide. She said that his policies are like Chavez, but the difference is that Chavez has oil. Frances Jerome disagreed. He pointed to the building of oil refineries and asked whether this was part of a project of reconstruction or the looting of Haitian resources? Walter Riley from the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund notes that every U.S. president including Obamba have opposed the forceful symbol of an independence Haiti.

The session approved a final document "Support the Call of Haiti’s Grassroots for the Return of Aristide and the end of the UN Mission."

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Indigenous Peoples Movement Assembly

One of the innovations of the USSF is the organization of Peoples Movements Assemblies (PMAs) for groups to collaborate and present their concerns around common interests and concerns. One of about 50 groups at the forum was the Indigenous Peoples Assembly, led by the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN).

Tom Goldtooth, IEN leader and a member of the NPC, pointed to the need to decolonialize our mindsets. When he travels to Latin America, activists there ask him what they are doing in the US to address ongoing problems with imperialism. Goldtooth, however, noted that Indigenous peoples are the south that is located in the north, they are also communities that are oppressed. This contributes to an urgent need to develop political connections with the global south. Manny Pino added that IEN is an environmental justice driven organization, but it is multi-dimensional.

IEN has developed four principles of climate justice:
1. Leave Fossil Fuels in the Ground
2.Demand real & successful solutions.
3. Industrial countries have to take responsibilities.
4. Living in a Good Way on Mother Earth (Come to understanding for living with mother earth, coming back to mother earth. Reaffirm spiritual relationship with mother earth.)

José Matos addressed immigration issues. Even though they are not immigrants, all the issues that effect immigrants still effect Indigenous peoples, especially those in the Southwest. These issues include a negative impact of border control efforts such as fences on the environment and the destruction of ceremonial sites. The United States government needs to respect the sovereignty of Indigenous peoples, and this will give new meaning to sovereignty and self determination. Matos called for the government to understand and respect those concerns.

Visiting from Peru, Miguel Palacín, the leader of the Coordinating Body of Andean Indigenous Organizations (CAOI) spoke about the move in Latin America from Indigenous peoples resisting oppression to making concrete actions and proposals. The are working on intense changes in order to reconstitute Abya Yala. Two key proposals are for the establishment of plurinational states and the Buen Vivir. The demand for plurinational states is to recognize diversity that is in our countries, to make democracy more horizontal and to make relations more equilibrium. This goal has been codified into the constitutions of Bolivia and Ecuador, but still a lot of work remains to be done. Realizing that goal is more complicated elsewhere, including Peru, but he said that they are going to continue to try to implement plurinationalism in Abya Yala South.

The second proposal is the buen vivir, the sumak kawsay, not living better but to live well. Palacín noted how western states have destroyed the mother earth through an irrational exploitation of resources. People are responsible for the climatic crisis, but Indigenous peoples live with this resulting reality, it puts their lives in danger. Living well means harmony, being in equilibrium with our own selves and realizing a full life with other beings in nature. The point is not just to accumulate riches, but to redistribute these resources for the betterment of humanity. We have to “caminar la palabra,” to weave harmony with all of society.

After a variety of opening comments, we broke into three groups to discuss four questions:
1. What are the common messages that unite us?
2. What does victory look like?
3. How do we organize together and with allies to be victorious?
4. What is one collective actions we can do in the next 6-12 months to win?

We reported our smaller group discussions back to the main group, and delegated a commission who will synthesize the contributions into a document to present to the final peoples movement assembly on Saturday afternoon.

From Detroit to Toronto

At the same time that social movement activists are meeting in Detroit, leaders of the countries with the twenty largest economies are meeting across the border in Toronto. The Grassroots Global Justice Alliance (GGJ) organized a press conference “From Detroit to Toronto: International Social Movement Leaders Challenge the G-20” to bring us some of the voices in opposition to the Toronto meeting.

Colin Rajah from the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (NNIRR) noted how the USSF has different goals than the G-20 in Toronto. How they can further exploit, criminalize, and use people, he asked. We are looking for opportunities at the USSF, Rajah said, because we know that they will not happen at the G-20. Here we have answers to problems with equality, answers that flow from the bottom up. We’ve learned to disregard top-down answers from the G-20 because they fail. Rather, we listen to our brothers and sisters from around world. In Detroit, we are enjoying an enormous opportunity with people who are engaged in struggles around world.

Alejandro Villamar from the Mexican Action Network on Free Trade pointed to the G-20 as an exclusive club that tries to replace the UN and their problems. We cannot follow the G-20, he argued, but we must learn from Venezuela and other countries. Otherwise, countries like Mexico will not have the opportunity to grow.

Future of the Forum, Part I

Future of the Forum, Part I: The Social Forum Process from a Global Perspective

Following what is now an established tradition at social forums, the Network Institute for Global Democratization (NIGD) helped organize another session at the USSF on the future of the forum. The purpose of these discussions is to help define where the forum process is going and where it should be going. At Detroit, we had two such sessions, though some people argued that we should have many more. Following are some notes on the first session.

Sociologist Scott Byrd launched our discussion by raising three questions:

1. How does the international process inform and influence our organizing in the US context?
2. How will the social forum process change in the future?
3. What are some strategies going forward for making the social forum a more effective agent for progressive change and innovations?

WSF founder Chico Whitaker began by observing that Detroit has a similar ambience as Porto Alegre had at the first forum in 2001. Whitaker observed a feeling that we were small, but that we also found energy and strength here. People began to organize both forums without a clear idea about what we would find. Porto Alegre realized success, and from Brazil it spread out into multiple forums throughout world. It was not easy to leave Brazil for India in 2004, but in doing so we began to understand what we had invented. Now, ten years later, we realize that we could not have expected this success. We began with one event, and instead we launched a process. The challenge was to create spaces, to create a new political culture.

In examining the future of the forum process (as opposed to just the forum itself), Whitaker pointed to three key issues:

1. The development of new politics and a new political culture. We need a new way to pull people together, and a new way of doing politics. A threat always exists that old ways of doing politics will restrain and disrupt us. To avoid this problem, we need to change minds and processes.
2. The proposal of the forum was to give political power to civil society, not governments. In the process, we learn and build together.
3. A third issue is the level of content. We need to think about what is happening in the world, what we need to change and how. This is changing, and we are facing new challenges, but how to do this is emerging more clearly.

Michael Hardt picked up on two themes in Whitaker’s presentation. First, he urged a rethinking of the forum as a subject vs. seeing it as an open space. Originally we saw it more as open space, but this debate looks differently in the United States. At Belem, those who wished to see the forum as a subject wanted to interact with leftist presidents. This raises the whole issue of relations between social movements and electoral politics. A second question is that of the politics of the common, not only of the earth and its ecosystem but also human creativity including intellectual production. How do we structure and manage the common? Hardt urged seeing administration of the common as neither an issue of private nor public property, but rather democratic self management. We need an alternative forum of the political subject in which we see the forum as an issue of governance rather than global government in terms of the institution of common, constructed, and institutional concerns. In this way, Hardt put a slightly different twist on the question of the forum as a subject or space.

Francine Mestrum from Belgium provided an European perspective on the social forum process. She sees it as a space where people who are not in agreement come together to overcome their differences. We agree that capitalism is not sustainable, but we need more of a political engagement to make this a reality. Her point was not to abandon the open space idea, but rather to give it more relevance. Mestrum argued that while it is easy to criticize Europe for its colonial past, especially since the continent is currently experiencing a deep financial and ecological crisis of civilization, it is a mistake to reject modernity in its entirety, particularly ideas like individual rights and emancipation. The WSF should be a place to discuss these issues. The point is not to find convergence, but we need to clear them out. The forum’s greatest achievement is its focus on diversity, and that can help us on the left. This raises two extreme views: should the forum become a new international party, or remain an open space without any structure? The most important issue, she argues, was to preserve a focus on diversity in order to enhance our political relevance.

Sociologist Jackie Smith pointed to the defeat of the WTO in Seattle as the emergence of something new. Globalized capitalism is a failure, so we need something different; we need to move forward. She explained how scholarship has changed in working on forum, how it has guided a path to creating new world, and we make that path by walking. What we have are not so much solutions to the crisis, but rather a guide as to where to step next. So, the point is not just to criticize the forum, but to understand how to find a path forward. We have to think of ourselves as agents. We cannot stay separate as scholars, but we have to jump in and become involved and take agency. Smith said that she has learned more at the USSF than by going to Porto Alegre, because trying to implement these ideas in a local setting gave her insights on how to inspire people at local levels to new ways of thinking. This means engaging a new type of politics to try to implement these ideas locally, to introduce models we have learned. She echoed previous presenters that we need the emergence of a new political imagination with new ideas that invites new people into the process. The people movement assemblies at the USSF are part of this expanding process to link local issues with global ones.

Finally, Scott Byrd, the co-chair of the communications working group at the USSF and a member of Sociologists Without Borders (SSF) provided an insider perspective on these events, specifically touching on the issue of bureaucracy and the management of the commons. We need a forum to manage the forum, Byrd argued. We need a certain amount of hierarchical bureaucracy to get stuff done, but we need to look at how we can work toward democratizing this bureaucracy to spread out the power. Byrd also noted the problem of the “tyranny of the workshops,” where we run from one workshop to the next at these forums, which makes it hard to connect with each other. The People’s Movement Assemblies (PMA)s were created to help counteract that problem. We should also think of the forum as an incubator where we develop new ideas and ways of relating with each other.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The rest of the day...

Hey, so I thought I'd continue blogging throughout the rest of the day, but it didn't really work like that I guess. After lunch I participated in a panel on scholar activism. It's hard for me to take notes and participate actively in a panel at the same time, so I have very minimal notes from that session. We broke into three groups to talk about fighting the neoliberalism of the university, knowledge and information, and advocacy research. Many of the attendees were graduate students and spoke of the need for faculty mentorship in order to support student interests and validate their activism. We used to have an International Network on Scholar Activism (INOSA), and the session made me wonder whether we needed to rejuvenate that network to support, encourage, and facilitate scholar activism.

After that session I went to another one, but the room was so full that I left. Instead, I returned to display area to sit at the Historians Against War table. To my surprise, a group from Chicago had taken over our table. We reacquired the table, but I didn't have much literature and the table looked very bare so not many people stopped.

Now I'm at the evening plenary. A series of three plenaries are focused on the crisis that neoliberalism has created, tonite focusing on Detroit, tomorrow on the national and international arena, and then concluding Friday nite with alternatives and solutions. These are billed as fishbowls, but with a couple thousand people in attendance a true fishbowl doesn't really work so the presenters are sitting in a semi-circle really talking to us instead of each other with us eavesdropping in on the conversation. I've had a long day and increasingly I quickly hit a conference wall at these types of events, so I really don't have much concrete and conceptual to contribute to these discussions. I haven't left Cobo Hall once today, and it really feels like a bunker in here. A storm passed through earlier today and I was completely oblivious to it. Tomorrow is another long day, and so I think I'll go home so I can start over again in the morning.

African Solidarity with the Cuban Revolution

Especially after spending last fall in Ghana, a panel listed in the addendum to the USSF by the Cuban Working Group of the Black Left Unity Network on African Solidarity with the Cuban Revolution caught my eye. I'm fascinated by connections between Kwame Nkrumah and Fidel Castro in the 1950s and 1960s, and thought that this panel would be another example of such south-south solidarity. Instead, the room was filled by African-American solidarity activists. A woman sitting besides me said said "it's hard to find the language, something that you've never felt before in your own country," but she urged people to travel to Cuba "if you want to know what freedom feels like." She pointed to her time in Cuba as a life changing experience, as something that she never felt or saw in the US.

Efia Nwangaza from the Afrikan American Institute started the conversation with the observation that Cuba is an ally of African people on the continent as well as in the US. Cuba was also particular an ally for women. “We as African people have a long standing debt to Cuba,” she stated. She then read a March 10 statement that she had helped draft on International women’s day with the Cuban Women’s Federation.

Tony “Menelik” VanDermeer from U-Mass Boston described a trip to Cuba that he took in March on a replica of the Amistad, the famous slave ship. They had managed to acquire State Department clearance to go to Cuba on slave freedom day. They traveled with the UN, US, and Cuban flag, the first time anyone had ever done that. There were few international reports on the trip, but it was big news in Cuba. Instead, the international news reports focused on the women in white who were protesting against the revolution. It is important to have solidarity with Cuba, he said, and that there is a lot we can learn from them.

VanDermeer described a recent trip to Nigeria, and while he said he loves Nigeria Cuba is much better. Nigeria is politics as business, while people in Cuba care about each other. If Africa was 25 percent as organized as Cuba, he said, it would be a power house. What is happening in Cuba that the US doesn’t want us to see? We need to go so we get different perspective. It’s not perfect, but people are engaged with the process.

Saladin Muhammad from the Black Workers for Justice said that the Cuba Working Group in the Black Left Union Network is particularly important in the era of Obama because of how his election gives an image of a post-racial society. But this is not true. They have initiated a thank-you Cuba campaign to highlight Cuba’s role in a struggle against racism. They want people to express their thanks to Cuba by signing postcards, hold events, etc., so people can see and feel the role that Cuba has played.

After these introductory statements, they opened the panel to a broader conversation and comments. One woman emphasized that we need to go and see advances in Cuba, that socialism is doing something right. Before the revolution people were not allowed on beach, just like in US, but now that has all changed. A former SWP candidate for the governor of Illinois observed that the same people who maintain us in poverty in the US also want to maintain Cuba in poverty. The only way we can make a revolution is to break that oppression. Others also provided testimonies about their positive experiences in Cuba, underscoring how important it is to travel there to see how things from a different perspective, and also explaining why the US government does not want us to travel there.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

United States Social Forum

The second United States Social Forum (USSF) started this afternoon with a massive march through the streets of Detroit. Representatives of various social movements led the march with a banner of the forum. Behind them were representatives of native peoples with their own banners. As always, people in the march had a wide variety of demands, with an end to repression against immigrants (especially in Arizona), universal access to health care, and freedom for Palestine being particularly large issues. The slogan for this forum adds "Another Detroit is happening" to the previous USSF slogan "Another US is necessary" and the standard World Social Forum (WSF) insistence that "Another world is possible."

The march ended at Cobo Hall in downtown Detroit which is the main venue for the forum. As we filed into the cavernous hall, native dancers on the stage greeted us with songs, drumming, and dancing. George Martin from the Ojibwa nation invited us to the native lands of Detroit. An African dance troop and others performed as well, including hip-hop artist Olmeca with whom just last week I attended an Indigenous encuentro in Ecuador!

In addition to the cultural performances, political, labor, and social leaders also presented short speeches. Organizers emphasized the multi-ethnic and multi-lingual nature of the event, including providing Spanish and sign language interpretation for the opening, closing, and plenary events. About 10,000 people are here at the forum. The energy level is high, with expectations for a useful and positive forum.

It appears that I will have good Internet access access here, so I will try to blog and upload photos as we go along. I have my first batch of photos from the march and opening session at

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Blog changes

My old blog posts are at From now on, my blog posts will appear here at

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