Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Last Days of the U.S. Social Forum

Saturday: Last Day of the Workshops in Hotlanta.

I could not find the Housing workshop that I wanted to go to, and the health care workshop did not have a presenter show up, so I stumbled into two workshops that were very interesting. I listened to the Jobs with Justice people talk about organizing techniques in various cities. I listened to the presenters in another workshop talk about the immigration raids taking place around the country including the unlikely city of Painsville, Ohio.

The second set of workshops there were two workshops right next to each other that were probably the best of the week. The first was Globalization at the Crossroads by the Environmental Health Coalition which looked at the Maquiladora Plants in Tijuana, Mexico. They showed the impact and environmental costs over 30 years in this border town. They had a great slide show that was somewhat dated with 2002 stats and pictures. The tariff free manufacturing plants have just taken over, but done nothing to improve the city. They still have a lack of sewers or roads. They have these horrible labor standards, and all the promises of NAFTA have turned out to be lies. The heart of NAFTA was that it would stem immigration. We attract more people across the border then we ever had in our history. They steal salaries from the workers and force them to work in the worst conditions possible. The slide show focused on the movement of all our television makers from the United States to Tijuana or China. I left after the speaker went into the Spanish presentation. They had translation available, but I had a hard time following the translation.

The workshop next door featured the Venezuelan Consulate member, Jesus Rodriguez, stationed in Chicago talking about the problems with representative democracy. The workshop was entitled “A Democracy movement for the USA” and was organized by the group Liberty Tree. This was an excellent panel discussion with Rodriguez from Venezuela, John Nichols of the Nation Magazine, and George Martin, the national organizer from United for Peace and Justice. Martin had come to Cleveland during the 2004 election and tried to have speakers at CSU including Joan Baez, but was stopped by the conservative board of the University. How did I never hear about this, and I live here? Finally, the university relented at the last minute, but would not allow them to advertise and only 60 people showed up. Nichols was great talking about all the problems with our current elections system and he talked about the mainstream media ignoring all of these issues. How was it that the U.S. Social Forum was right next to the headquarters for CNN, and they never mentioned the forum that brought 10,000 people from around the country to Atlanta?

Finally, Rodriguez from Venezuela said that he was not allowed to criticize the United States, but would talk about the changes in his government since the rewriting of the constitution in 1998. He talked about the principles of participatory democracy that allow better access to the ballot box for minor parties, and allow citizens to control where money and resources are used within the country. They have 5 branches of government including a branch that oversees elections. There is an independent section of the government that acts as ombudsman headed by the Attorney General. Venezuela does not have these high hurdles for getting a candidate on the ballot like we do in the United States. There is an ability for groups to form political parties and become viable voices for segments of the population. He admitted that there were problems that they are working on, but it does sound better than our system. I am convinced that we are long overdue for another Constitutional Convention to fix some of these structural problems in our system.

They opened up for questions, and once again people do not know how to ask questions. There should be a workshop on how to ask a simple direct question from the participants and not try to hijack the discussion. Some guy tried to become a part of the workshop by championing his idea to produce cable access shows. That is when I was out of there. When the zealots grab the microphone and try to sell us on the next revolutionary idea from the audience is the time I leave.

One unexpected but interesting controversy at the Forum was a series of forums by the CARA/Sista II Sista group called “Organizing Community Accountability in Communities of Color.” They hung up a sign that said “For People of Color Only.” This generated a lot of attention by those walking by the workshop at the Marriott, and many put comments on the sign. It turned out that the sign really meant no white males. A white woman went in and came out crying because she was made to feel so bad for being white. It seemed that they wanted her to apologize for all the sins of all white people in the past. For such an advanced group of progressives, this workshop seemed to be the opposite of the theme of the forum, “Another World is Possible*Another U.S. is Necessary.” I don’t know why most progressives object to the right wingers who want to eliminate affirmative action and try to crush alternative voices in the media, but have no problem excluding white people from their discussion. I don’t know why the organizers would allow this, but if you can’t even talk to progressive whites at the US Social Forum your organization has little hope for long-term success.

The two forums in the evening were on gender and sexuality and workers rights. After the experience with the gender group excluding whites, I was not much interested in the gender plenary session. They were not as inspiring as the previous plenary sessions from the previous days.

Sunday was the closing ceremonies. We were too exhausted and too depressed to make it all the way downtown for the closing remarks. There was a presentation of all the resolutions that came up during the forum and then the summary speeches. I went to see the botanical gardens instead. A very impressive center, but a little pricey.

REGARDING NEOCH: Rep. Mike Foley called and said that he was working on ways to save the Coalition. He said that the City of Cleveland wanted to meet with me to discuss options. This is very good news.

Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

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