APN Preliminary Guide to the US Social Forum in Atlanta

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(APN) ATLANTA — After over a year of intensive organizing, Atlanta will host the first ever US Social Forum (USSF), from June 27, 2007, to July 1, 2007.

At least 10,000 delegates have registered and over 10,000 more from all over the country and world are expected for the five-day event titled “Another World is Possible.”

“The USSF will provide space to build relationships, learn from each others’ experiences, share our analysis of the problems our communities face, and bring renewed insight and inspiration,” according to www.ussf2007.org, the official USSF website. “It will help develop leadership and develop consciousness, vision, and strategy needed to realize another world.”

The first day will showcase marches around Atlanta, opening ceremonies, issues tents, a concert, and more.

Each subsequent day “will be devoted to a principle of movement building and include two plenary sessions focused on major issues,” according to a press release obtained by Atlanta Progressive News.

The Atlanta Civic Center will serve as a kind of home base for those in attendance, the hundreds of volunteers, and media covering the event. The parking lot will be home to issues tents and other activities.

There will be several blocks of time during the event when delegates will have a chance to attend several of over 900 workshops.

Workshops will occur in several locations including the Westin Hotel, Marriot Hotel, Auburn Avenue Research Library, Atlanta Fulton Central Library, Seven Stages Theatre in Little Five Points, and the Little Five Points Community Center.

When delegates are not in workshops or attending plenary speeches, they will have the chance to enjoy a festival of cultures, dance, theatre, art exhibits, slams, musical concerts, and more activities the USSF’s Cultural Working Group is still preparing.

There will be a film festival at the Downtown library, with a list of films to be posted on the USSF website next week, Barry Weinstock, a volunteer working on technology concerns for the USSF, said.

Organizers are hoping to have a soccer tournament but setbacks such as securing the proper permits have put its chances in the air.

Jules Dykes, a Logistics Committee Chair who is working on the program of events, said the actual program is still being put together.

“There isn’t a whole lot of stuff to plan for until you have that program in your hand,” she said.

“Things are going to be incredible,” Alice Lovelace, USSF’s lead organizer, told APN. “Things are looking very good. Registration is looking solid… it’s an incredible thing to see.”

“We’re trying to find common themes and common grounds [in order to] gel a progressive movement in this country,” Dykes said, “[and] make it easier for us to have a united movement front.”

“People should continue the forum after the forum,” Weinstock said. “My hope is to have a compilation of all these ideas so we can see what all these groups on the left are doing.”

PLENARY THEMES

The USSF will focus on six key movement building moments during plenary discussions: (1) Gulf Coast Reconstruction in the Post-Katrina Era; (2) War, Militarism and the Prison Industrial Complex; (3) Indigenous Voices: From the Heart of Mother Earth; (4) Immigrant and Migrant Rights in a Global Society; (5) Liberating Gender and Sexuality: Integrating Gender and Sexual Justice Across Our Movements; and (6) Workers’ Rights in the Global Economy.

These six “overarching issues… are all connected to each other,” Lovelace said.

“They are deeply interconnected and related to all the crises in our communities within today’s reality of globalization and repressive neoliberal policies,” the USSF website says.

“These struggles, when connected strategically, form the basis of a powerful movement to challenge the legitimacy of US empire, and to help build a cooperative world of peace, justice, equality, solidarity, and self-determination,” the website says.

COPIOUS WORKSHOPS

When groups register, they are able to submit up to four proposals for workshops or cultural events. The deadline for submissions passed earlier this month.

There are 967 proposed workshops, all of which are listed on the USSF Web site, Dykes said.

“A majority of the workshops have been approved and the challenge now is getting enough sites to hold [them all],” Dykes said, adding some people may not show up and there may be a chance to partner people conducting very similar workshops.

The Program Working Group receives the proposals, reads through them, and decides to approve or deny them. Dykes said many proposals that have not been approved stand a good chance.

“The USSF will show the world our country has an active movement opposed to oppression here and abroad, including the actions and policies of our own government,” according to a press release.

WHAT IS THE US SOCIAL FORUM?

The USSF has its origins in the World Social Forum (WSF), an event “created to provide an open platform to discuss alternatives to the economic plans created by multi-national corporations and the governments at the World Economic Forum.”

The first WSF was held in Brazil in 2001 and has developed into an annual event drawing 100,000 people from all over the world.

The bottom-up organizing approach of the USSF allows everyone to participate and have a say in what goes on during the event. This is the opposite of the more top-down organizing approach of the World Economic Forum which often leaves many people out.

“I think the Social Forum is a self-organized event by the people who are directly experiencing the direct effects of big business in our society,” Dykes said. “We’re trying to create a safe environment for people to express opinions, where they can take control of the agenda.”

In June 2003, the WSF International Coordinating Council approached Grassroots Global Justice Alliance (GGJA) to develop a planning process for a USSF and see if such an event was plausible.

Planners ultimately chose Atlanta because of the “political significance of the US South as the area where the worst attacks against people and greatest struggles for justice have occurred,” according to the website.

While Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin said the USSF would help continue Atlanta’s “proud history of promoting and celebrating human rights” in an endorsement statement last year, Lovelace said the City has done nothing to neither help nor hinder the event.

Throughout 2006, there were Regional Social Forums in places like Boston, Massachusetts; Houston, Texas; and Durham, North Carolina. These Forums served as guideposts as to how the organizational structure of the USSF should look, and how to raise money for the event.

“We’ve already made history in the planning phase,” William Cordery, Member of the Resources Mobilization Working Group, said. “People are working together that have never worked together [before].”

ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE

The GGJA established a National Planning Committee (currently with 35 Member Organizations), charged with addressing logistics, funding, outreach, and program coordination.

The NPC began meeting in the second half of 2005, Dykes said. “The national committee meets weekly on conference calls,” she said. “[While] they are able to do tremendous work, [it’s] tough if you can’t be in the same room together.”

Geographical divides keep the Members from meeting face to face as often as they would like. The NPC is broken down into 10 Regional Committees and 8 Working Groups.

The Regional Committees “are responsible for setting up relevant working groups to implement a plan to get a diverse cross-section of community members to participate in the process and attend the Social Forum,” according to the USSF website.

The Working Groups are broken down this way: communication, program, culture, resource mobilization, outreach, youth, women, logistics, and language access.

During NPC meetings, Members discuss outreach efforts to ensure as many people from all around are involved. Members also share other news and ideas happening in the different regions.

The Local Committee began holding meetings at the end of every month at the end of 2006 in order to bring all the Working Groups together. Progress has been measured and ideas have been shared at these meetings.

Dykes said at the beginning of 2007, meetings began to restructure so that everyone had a hand in logistics because there were not enough people involved in logistics early on.

Now the Local Committee and Working Groups keep in touch weekly to continue monitoring progress and make sure everyone knows what everyone else is doing.

The Logistics Working Group and the Local Committee work together closely to secure venues and work with Atlanta officials to make sure the City is prepared to handle the large crowds.

“There seems to be, at both levels, a fairly collaborative process” when it comes to making decisions, Dykes said. “There is some chain of command at the national level” but there tends to be votes by consensus, she added.

FUNDING THE USSF

The Resource Mobilization Working Group developed a three-year plan to raise $1.5 million to address needs in three phases: planning in 2006, implementation in 2007, and follow-up in 2007 and 2008.

The fundraising apparatus started last year as just a “handful of people,” with some connected to foundations, Cordery told APN, adding, “It has since snowballed.”

“The most important benefit [of bottom-up organizing] is the entire USSF is owned by every individual and group represented at the forum,” Cordery said. “Every single person who comes to the Forum owns a piece of the Forum. The same can be said of the fundraising.”

The USSF has raised money mainly through registration fees and individual donations, although there have been some donations from organizations and foundations.

One major grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation recently awarded to Project South, a USSF anchor organization, provided $40,000 to help low-income people attend the USSF and for follow-up planning, according to a press release.

While the minimum registration fee for individuals is $15 and applicants are encouraged to give more, Dykes said there are different scholarships available to people who cannot afford the $15.

For example, The Third Wave Fund provides full scholarships for women and transgender activists aged 15-30. The Hill Snowdon Foundation awards $25,000 in Opportunity Fund grants to support recipients’ involvement in the USSF.

The USSF Solidarity Fund provides limited travel stipends for potential delegates to travel to the forum.

“It’s a completely open process,” Cordery said. “Folks do what they can do [and] no one is going to be denied.”

“People have organized to come here against incredible odds,” Weinstock said.

GETTING TO AND STAYING IN ATLANTA

While most conferees will pre-register, it is not absolutely necessary to do so, Dykes said.

“There will be a lot of local folks [from Atlanta] who hear the buzz who want to show up and register,” she said. “Registration is going to be hectic.”

The USSF website outlines three budget types for accommodations (lowest-$410, medium-$715 to $1,090, highest-$1,615) so delegates can get an idea of how much it will cost to get to and stay in Atlanta.

Each budget offers options for shared van or airline travel, lodging, food, entertainment, and miscellaneous.

Delegates can stay several to a hotel room and split the cost, stay in a room alone, or can stay at one of the campgrounds or youth hostels around the metro area that may be more affordable.

There will be a youth camp for those aged 18-23 at the Lake Claire Community Trust that is very close to a MARTA train station. “It was very challenging to secure this space because of the City’s urban camping laws,” Dykes said.

She added, while delegates may choose to stay at campgrounds around the Metro area, they need to make sure to identify transportation to and from the Forum ahead of time.

For $13.50, delegates can purchase a 5-day MARTA pass that will offer unlimited access to trains and buses during that time. Delegates can purchase these in advance and pick them up at registration or simply buy them when they show up to register.

CHILDCARE

Children aged 3 to 12 can be cared for 8 am to 4 pm during the four main event days (June 27-30) on a first come, first serve basis.

Activities available for these children will include song, music, dance, storytelling, art, games, and popular education. Some activities will be prepared for age groups, while others will be for everyone. Children will receive lunch and healthy snacks during the day.

Parents pay $10 per day for one child, $15 per day for two children from the same family, and $20 per day for three children from the same family. Parents or guardians may volunteer for four hours per day in order to waive this fee.

MORE VOLUNTEERS NEEDED

While there are expected to be between 800 and 1000 volunteers at the USSF, more are still needed.

Potential volunteers can visit the USSF website to see where help is needed and contact USSF Volunteer Coordinator Mary Babington at volunteersussf2007@gmail.com

To learn much more about the USSF, visit www.ussocialforum.org

About the author:

Jonathan Springston is a Senior Staff Writer for Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at jonathan@atlantaprogressivenews.com.

Syndication policy:

This article may be reprinted in full at no cost where Atlanta Progressive News is credited.

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