From June 22 - 26, 2010, tens of thousands of social justice activists from across the US will converge on Detroit, Michigan for the US Social Forum, a unique convening that is part of an international process aimed at increasing justice in our world. Grassroots organizers from New Orleans have been working to make sure that New Orleans is a central part of this historic event.
According to organizers, "People world-wide know that another world is needed. The Social Forum movement believes it is possible. At the US Social Forum people from all over the country gather to think about what kind of world is needed and how we can get there.
"The US Social Forum is a very special kind of gathering: one that has never taken place in this country up to now. It isn't a conference with an agenda and a program of events; it's a gathering whose participants produce our own agenda and our own programs. The mere process of planning, thinking, talking and preliminary organizing will move you, the people you're working with and the rest of us forward. The moment you think of an idea, you are already participating in the Social Forum."
The Social Forum process began in Brazil nine years ago with the first World Social Forum. It happened at the same time that the World Economic Forum (WEF) gathered in Davos, Switzerland. While the WEF consisted of a small group of the wealthiest and most powerful people in the world gathering to make decisions that affected those without money or power, the World Social Forum was seen as an opportunity for the grassroots - the poorest and least powerful - to make their voice heard in these decisions.
More than 20,000 people from across the country came to the first US Social Forum in Atlanta, Georgia in 2007. New Orleans organizers raised over $70,000 through grants and grassroots fundraising to make sure that no one was prevented by financial reasons from attending. Several hundred people from New Orleans arrived in a convoy of several buses.
The Social Forum highlighted Gulf Coast concerns. Panels, workshops and a large plenary featured a wide range of voices from New Orleans. Activists from across the US came together to say that a great injustice had been done to the people of the Gulf Coast, and pledged to support our struggle for a just rebuilding.
New Orleans organizers have been planning for the 2010 US Social Forum for several months. There is already a youth contingent organizing to make sure young voices are represented, and fundraising has already begun. Local organizations like The People's Institute for Survival and Beyond; Advocates for Environmental Human Rights; Black Men United for Change and Equality; VOTE-NOLA; and Safe Streets Strong Communities are already working on making sure the people of New Orleans are represented. To get involved, contact one of these organizations.
There is much that people from around the US can learn from New Orleans and our post-Katrina experience. On any issue - criminal justice, education, health care, privatization, housing, and the workplace - we have faced both crisis and massive changes. This process represents a chance to move our local struggles forward, and to make sure the lessons we have learned educate and inspire others.