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News :: DNC : Organizing
The Boston Social Forum: Another World is Possible
25 Jul 2004
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Starting on July 23rd, 2004, thousands of progressive individuals and organizations came together for the 3 day Boston Social Forum (BSF, http://www.bostonsocialforum.org). Following the 2004 model of the World Social Forum that took place in Mumbai, India, the Boston Social Forum is not a platform or an organization, and is, in their words, an “open space… a meeting place for reflective thinking, democratic debate of ideas, formulation of proposals, free exchange of experiences and interlinking for effective action by groups and movements… committed to building a society centered on the human person.”
Starting on July 23rd, 2004, thousands of progressive individuals and organizations came together for the 3 day Boston Social Forum (BSF, http://www.bostonsocialforum.org). Following the 2004 model of the World Social Forum that took place in Mumbai, India, the Boston Social Forum is not a platform or an organization, and is, in their words, an “open space… a meeting place for reflective thinking, democratic debate of ideas, formulation of proposals, free exchange of experiences and interlinking for effective action by groups and movements… committed to building a society centered on the human person.”

Featuring a collection of progressive events, exhibits and cultural activities, lectures and workshops, art installations and convocations, the Boston Social Forum is a massive local reaction against the societal issues that our world faces, including the current U.S. Administration and the Boston-based Democratic National Convention. The nearly 600 events planned for this weekend summit include topics as diverse as: Racial Profiling: Before and After 9/11, Impacts of Nuclear Testing in Light of New nuclear Rearmament, The Killing Zone (Gaza), Theatre of the Oppressed, Community Based Divestment, "Free Gift with your Cosmetics Purchase! A Complimentary Dose of Toxic Chemicals", Sweatshops, Outsourcing, Venezuelan Democratic Revolution, and many more.

The mood of the event has been nothing if not festive. While there are sobering topics and issues discussed, there are also pointed moments of joy and a general feeling of welcome relief. There are real issues that we face, there are enormous obstacles that we must overcome, and there are many people who are all aware of and working towards a better future. The Boston Social Forum is one small step in our process of education and betterment.

Outside of the dozens of classrooms, media labs and lecture halls, underneath the eves of college buildings, many local and national organizations had tables with informational literature, buttons, bumper stickers, books, clothes, maps, posters and other items for the curious attendee. Well known activist organizations like the Beehive Collective (http://www.beehivecollective.org/) and Code Pink (http://www.codepink4peace.org) had booths, and other lesser known but equally important organizations such as the Somerville based Eagle Eye Institute (http://www.eagleeyeinstitute.org), an organization that helps urban youth experience nature in a variety of different ways, including forest learning, land stewardship and green industry career programs.

Within the hallways of the U-Mass Boston campus, delegates to this Social Forum politely made their way to the day's events. Each day was planned with many minor events and a single major evening Convocation with guest speakers. The opening Convocation included guest speakers such as Angela Davis, Winona LaDuke and local city Councilor Chuck Turner. Some of the many topics mentioned by these guest speakers included U.S. imperialism, racism, green power and representative government. Perhaps most clearly and elegantly, Winona LaDuke's comments about representative democracy and our need for true alternatives to our country's longstanding oppressive government are an accurate summation of this forum.

The groups and individuals who came to this gathering, the majority of whom have just met for the first time, are a small representation of the larger anti-globalization movement. The common ground of each topic discussed at this forum is corporate greed and the de-humanization of our current social and political structures. During these 3 days, while people talk and smile and weep, they are also building bridges and forging networks that will help strengthen the movement. These delegates represent a handful of people who are changing the world, and this Social Forum is one of what we should all hope will become a progressive trend in global liberal and social movements.
See also:
http://boston.indymedia.org/feature/display/22882/index.php

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Keep Working
25 Jul 2004
Modified: 01:05:06 AM
After the second day of the Boston Social Forum today, I'm a little dizzy trying to process the vast amounts of information passed around. Meeting people from all over the world and hearing stories and testamonies of personal and public struggles from every corner of the globe was sometimes enlightening, sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes frustrating, and yes...sometimes hopeful.
One of the most powerful speeches I heard was from a former staff sargeant marine who was recently in Iraq. He told of his eventual dissent and what led up to him making the decisions he did to stand up against this illegimate war. He said that he didn't begin to realize until he got home and was exposed to the media in the country, just how incorrectly and deliberatley wrong the war is being portrayed to Americans. He spoke very candidly about the things he had seen and done while in Iraq. He told horrifying stories of peaceful and unarmed civilians being killed by the US military - completley unprovoked. But he said he was shocked to come home and find that not only were reporters fabricating tales of fierce battles that never took place, but that the media in this country had falsely reported the whole war from start to finish. He was there. He saw the thousands of Iraqi citizens being killed, he saw the horrible injustices committed by the US military on a daily basis. His story was powerful. His message was clear.
What has happened to the media in this country is a very dangerous thing. Media is an extremeley powerful weapon. And just like any other weapon, in the hands of the wrong people we are all in a lot of trouble. Right now the media is in the hands of the wrong people. And now we have to take it back. The lies and propaganda and misinformation is spreading like wildfire and this time it led to an illegal war...what's next? I don't know about you, but I don't want to find out. The truth has got to be exposed because once it is, the lies will not stand up. And that is my job and that is your job and that is all of our jobs. Public airwaves are our right. Independent media is our right. And it is our own fault if we don't exercise it. It's not enough just to get mad about it. You have to get out there and do something, you have to stand up to those in power, you have to let your voice be heard because those who are speaking for us are lying and misrepresenting us to the rest of the world.
There is so much more. But just reflecting on the day and all of the information shared, I am hopeful. I am hopeful because I think people are finally starting to say - no more. No more lies. No more propaganda. No more suffering. Not in our name.
That is why organizations like IndyMedia are so crucial. Just a few hours ago I listened to Amy Goodman speak about many of these issues and in her closing comments (in which she praised IndyMedia Boston) she called on everyone to be our own media.
The words still resonate.
Be our own media.
Be our own media.
Re: The Boston Social Forum: Another World is Possible
25 Jul 2004
It should be noted that the Boston Social Forum organizers have fully compensated the University of massachusetts for the use of the buildings, resources, and the security according to UMASS director of special events in compliance with Mass State Law. It is unknown at this time if The special events director is aware of the specifics of the event and it's Goals. Which may or may not be consistent with Mass State Law and US Federal law.

Although this is obviously a political forum with the aim to change the current focus of the government with respect to the people if not an actual change of government is still not clear. An actual change of government or those who would advocate and support a change of government by any other means than is currently allowed by US and state law is simply criminal. Even peacefull sedition is still sedition.

For now the social forum is only a great venue for an exchange of ideas which may help the common citizen here and abroad. People helping people.

I applaud S. Eppler for a balanced report.

BOB gorman
UMASS Student
Re: The Boston Social Forum: Another World is Possible
25 Jul 2004
i was there and they definitely weren't teaching us, hmmm, "school of the americas" kinda stuff. what were you saying about overthrowing governments?
Only a coward would worry about "sedition".
25 Jul 2004
Any government that relies on silencing the speech and thoughts of its citizens does not deserve to exist. Should someone submit to authority merely because authority may seek revenge? Those who are silent in the face of oppression because the oppressor declares their speech "criminal" are nothing more than cowards.
Re: The Boston Social Forum: Another World is Possible
25 Jul 2004
Ugh. Which "goals," in particular, of the Social Forum process are goals you're implying are grounds for prosecution for sedition? You are one scary dude.
Re: The Boston Social Forum: Another World is Possible
25 Jul 2004
I didn't attend any of the Porto Alegre Forums, but was able last January to go to Mumbai. At that event there were well over 100,000 people, the vast majority from India. Although there was a "counter event" across the street called the Mumbai Resistance, the Forum itself was a wild affair with a vast range of discussions and cultural events. Most impressive was the coming together from all over the sub-continent of peoples from the two most deprived social classes in India, the Dalits (the 'untouchables") and the Adivasi, the indiginous peoples. For them, this gathering was an historic coming together, a resounding battle cry in their struggles for justice. The internationalistas present were important endorsers of their human rights and that itself gave the event legitimacy.
Post-Mumbai discussions about Social Forums have proposed that the most important "next step" is to have regional and more localized forums. Well, the Boston event was fulfilling that mandate, and here are my thoughts about this Atlantic coast whale.

THE WHITENESS
In contrast to the Mumbai Forum, there was scant evidence of representation by disenfranchised peoples at the Boston Social Forum. Although there were people of color scattered here and here, the crowd was pretty white, even though my daily route to the forum location at the UMass campus passed through one of the largest black urban communities in the United States. I am sure there was "good will" and the "best of intentions" on the part of the organizing committee for this event, but I hope that in retrospect, and in preparation for similar events to come there is some serious rethinking of how to "do the right thing" in the future.

LOCALISM SHOULD BEGIN WITH YOUR STOMACH
The most often heard comment was a question, "Where is the food?" I was positioned at a table near the door of one of the display lobbies and literally everyone who entered the door would grasp for my attention, not to discuss the videos we were screening or the flyers we were handing out, but to entreat me more information, "Where can we get something to eat?" The answer, sadly, was only one place. The contract with the university mandated that the only food providers would be that vile corporation of prison fame, Sodexho. This company, the largest food service company in the world, has a strangle hold not only on most prisons and universities, but also on our would-be liberated events such as the Social Forum. The university had said that there would be five food "cafes" open. For most of the time there was only ONE, which had a bit of candy and soft drinks and one or two choices of grossly overpriced white bread processed food sandwiches.

It is hard to believe that with the rich ethnic diversity of the Boston area there couldn't have been twenty or thirty food stalls at which local people could have served homemade nutritious food. But NO! the Sodexco corporation would not allow it! Here is an issue for the Forum to truly address. A local issue, an issue with vital substance, an issue on which our lives depend. Could there not have been some enterprizing group of Food Not Bombers to bring some actual real food to the thousands of attendees? Were the organizers too cowed to resist? What hope for any sort of social revolution exists if people cannot even ensure their daily sustenance? Could this not have been an issue to organize around? The resulting deprivation lead to many a cranky response to panels and lectures. How can one listen if one is only fed coke and candy? I salivated remembering all the delicious samosas that local people provided in Mumbai. The mood in Boston was verging on hypoglycemia. The next forum had better ensure that there be healthy, local, non corporate food or there will be a Potemkin style revolt.

THE MEDIA "SUMMIT"
After losing another dollar in the non-functioning ice cream machine, I spent about twenty minutes trying to find the "Media Summit" in the library. This event was well publicized on multi-colored brochures (where do they get their money?). Finally I traversed the maze of hallways and stairwells and found a reception table where I was asked to fill out a long questionnaire to enter. Beyond lay something much more desirable than rhetoric about media: FOOD. This Social Forum event actually provided nuts, popcorn, chips and water to those willing to fill out the form. (Who is paying for this?)
Once inside with my plate of goodies, I was surrounded by all sorts of high tech media, projectors, shotgun microphones and various recorders and laptops. (Who is paying for this?)

Some of my white male colleagues who had been invited to be 'on the panel" whispered to me that they had been told they only had 60 seconds to speak, but that the person talking had been going on for over 15 minutes. Who was the person talking? A guy who works for Harry Thomasson and who has helped to make a film about Bill Clinton and how he has been slandered by the media. He shows an elaborate trailer which extolls Clinton and disses Jennifer Flowers. It is full of violin crescendos and very fancy video wipes. The lights come on and the discussion veers into the virtue or venality of Clinton. Wait a minute, I scream, I thought this was supposed to be a summit about alternative media?

A slick professional facilitator quickly grabs the mike. She introduces herself as someone who began as a teacher and learned that education is not just pouring information into the heads of young people. (Oh great, I think, is she going to talk about Freire, and education as social activism, as action, as process?) No, she says, education is a science and needs specialists who are trained in the techniques of modern (sic) communication skills. Which is why (and now I understand where the money for this "summit" is coming from) we need Al Gore and his network, which will hire the skilled technicians who can make media for our causes. It's not enough to tell the truth, she says, we need to know HOW to convince people it is true. We need professionals, she says. Meaning herself first of all.

The paper put out for this event listed thirteen media makers and activists who were supposed to speak-- I guess for 60 seconds when the Clinton and Gore people finished.

One of the problems with these events is that they are there for the coopting. What the hell are shills for Bill Clinton and Al Gore doing at an event like this?

At this point I walked out.

See you in Seattle.
DeeDee Halleck
Re: The Boston Social Forum: Another World is Possible
25 Jul 2004
MMM coward, interesting term for you to use. In this particular forum which I am a lone dissenter against you'll the "establishment" of the forum. I find it hilarious that The forum in general is devoted to fighting the establishment and you lecture me about Cowardice? what does that say about your own participation in voicing your dissent.

The way You'll see society in the US is to a common citizen just plain ludicris paranoia. But I dont see it that way. While I don't understand your convictions I at least try to accept them as rational even if they are radical and out of the mainstream thought.

So why should you not try to accept my convictions as rational in this forum of minority opinion. even if only as a courtesy. For me to be called a coward by the likes of you "Not bob gorman" (doesnt even have the stomach to use their own name or see me face to face). the laws that protect our great nation were made by the members of our gov't that had a real understanding of revolt and it's origins. They were not cowards to want to preserve our great nation as it exist then and now.

Call me what ever you wish but if it is undue or unsupported it only reflects on your own character. The only difference between cowardice and courage is what is done with the fear that precedes it by instinctual reaction.

When you have literally put your life on the line to save another dispite the fear in you, then you talk to me about cowardice.

bob gorman
Re: The Boston Social Forum: Another World is Possible
25 Jul 2004
A response to Dee Dee.

Yes, the crowd was overwhelmingly white. All the panels I attended (all either in the global justice or labor tracks) had heavy representation from people of color though, which was refreshing. The lack of people of color in attendance is a little puzzling, since the Campaign on Contingent Work and the North American Alliance for Fair Employment--the two groups that initiated the organizing for the BSF--are both community-labor coalitions with a lot of membership of people of color. One of the organizers (Jason Pramas) told me in an interview, "This has been a multi-racial effort since the beginning." So there is indeed a puzzle here. One possibility may be linked to something a Native American speaker on a panel I attended said--that her people don't feel comfortable coming to gatherings like these because they are culturally alien. In their own gatherings, they start with prayers for instance. She also said that when Native Americans do attend gatherings like this, they have their own space where they can hold their prayers and rituals. Quite possibly, other people of color were put off by a culturally alien format (I don't know--it's just an idea, but I've read of similar things with other global justice gatherings). Certainly, some sort of "safe space" for people of color might be a good idea for future Social Forums.

What was depressing about the panels I went to is that I don't think the white audience always heard what the panelists of color were saying. I went to one on resistance to corporate power by people of color. All the panelists were non-white. Several of them emphasized the links between capitalism and racism. When it came time for the (predominantly white) audience to ask questions or make comments, most of those who spoke talked about how to deal with corporate power, while completely ignoring the race issue. Most of them didn't seem to have heard what the panelists had to say. Here was one of the few occasions where it was white folks listening to people of color--and most of us (I'm white myself) didn't even hear them. May be it's that sort of thing that keeps people of color away from gatherings like the BSF too.

As for Sodexho--when you rent out the facilities of a place like UMAss, you gotta take the what's already already there, including the companies that have contracts with the university to provide food. I don't there's much the organizers of the BSF could have done about it, unfortunately.
Re: The Boston Social Forum: Another World is Possible
25 Jul 2004
I wasn't aware that, "the laws that protect our great nation were made by the members of our gov't that had a real understanding of revolt and it's origins." I think the only understanding that the members of the government had then and now, is essentially how to manage natural revolt, and people, against oppression. Look Bob, the Unites States is not a special country with a special beginning, by default of course every "country" is unique ( space and time). Study every country and all countries have some special beginning that has to do with some kind of "manifest destiny" or the likes; special people that got together and said yes we care for liberty but um yeah you gotta sell your labor, and pursue property, yes that's it. Now in the face of this I think you are engaging in willfull destruction, and not what I would consider constructive criticism.
Re: The Boston Social Forum: Another World is Possible
25 Jul 2004
yeah, all the hundreds of folks in the Active Arts Youth Conference in the BSF were sure white all right. . .

oh, no, wait a minute. . .
Re: The Boston Social Forum: Another World is Possible
26 Jul 2004
I GOT THIS RESPONSE FROM A FRIEND.

Media activist and journalist john Grebe of Boston pointed out that the site (OF THE BOSTON SOCIAL FORUM--I.E. U MASS BOSTON) was built on a toxic waste dump, and had actually been planned as a prison- in fact, the blueprints had been drawn for the facility as a prison, when the state decided they didn't need such, so the existing plans were built and the use was transferred to University campus - thus the tunnels, enclosed catwalks between buildings, and general mazelike nature of the place. So Sodexho was right at home.
Re: The Boston Social Forum: Another World is Possible
26 Jul 2004
Dee dee - About UMass and the BSF -

1) The construction of UMass, a rare inner-city public university, is a famous story in Boston community development, and it most certainly was not planned as a prison and built on a toxic waste dump. Before UMass was on Columbia Point -there was a decrepit public housing development there - called Columbia Point projects. It was torn down and replaced with the university, and another mixed income housing development. The plans for UMass were drawn up by a prison architect - as was not uncommon for colleges built during the early 70s..due to student strikes and riots. It is an ugly set of buildings, that is for sure. The catawalks and connected garages are nice for avoiding inclement weather, nonetheless.


And as for the demographics of the conference - yes the stuff I went to had a mostly white audience, I also know that more than half of the planning committee were local activists of color. Also - the youth track events I went to had much more participation from people of color...which makes sense given local demographics - the immediate neighborhood of UMass has young families of color and older white people.

As for the WSF in Mumbai - The knock on them is that Dalit and Adavasi people, who comprise the vast majority of the Indian population (close to 80%)were barely represented there. Just because you see brown people does not mean that no one is being excluded. Events were largely in English, a language that better educated Indians tend to speak but one that Adavasis and Dalits rarely speak....can you imagine and international popular event being held in the United States that would be linguisticly inaccesible to those who spoke Englih only? Social change is hard. We begin somwhere and work to get better. People worked for 20 months on this event and you are taking your impressions from walking around for maybe two and a half days and allowing the organizers and participants no benefit of the doubt - in fact you said nothing positive at all. You describe your experience with only one workshop. As for where the money for fliers and equiment came from...most of the presenters I know pulled it out of their own pockets and that of their, you will have noticed, predominantly small organizations. People shared equipment and borrowed equipment from the university and other local organizations. I'm glad that you were interested enough to come to the BSF - but when you only have negative things to say it just sucks the energy out of people, make your criticisms, but..what are you going to do to make things better?
Re: The Boston Social Forum: Another World is Possible
26 Jul 2004
I would like to add, despite some of my criticisms, I thought the BSF was very positive on the whole. The BSF is hardly the first global justice event to have problems with a lack of attendance by people of color. The organizers did a really good job recruiting speakers of color. I don't think the problems of having mostly white attendees will be solved until those of us who are white (and usually middle class) global justice activists begin to acknowlegde that racism is still a problem, including in our movement. I'm not talking about global justice activists being bigots or anything like that, but about the need for consciousness-raising: acknowledging all the stereotypes of people of color we've internalized, the way we take our unasked for privileges for granted, and begin to come to grips with those things and try to change the often unconscious ways we think and act.
Re: The Boston Social Forum: Another World is Possible
26 Jul 2004
Frankly, the Sodexho shit is a red herring. Yes, it sucks to give them business. There were also Coke machines all over the campus. But the organizers had a choice either to go with Sodexho or not go with UMass. And if they didn't go with UMass, the main other choice that was available from the research folks were doing would have been MIT, a private institution with major ties to the military.

So which would you have rather supported? MIT or UMass? It's easy to criticize from afar over the internet, but given shitty choices in the real world, I thinkt hat the organizers were right to go with UMass.
Re: The Boston Social Forum: Another World is Possible
27 Jul 2004
There were far more people of color at the BSF--at least 20 percent of attendees--than any major multiracial event in recent memory in the U.S. (few of which have been on anything like the scale of the BSF).

Significant long-term outreach was made to communities of color, and it worked. Was parity to the percentage of people of color in the U.S. achieved? No.

But was it a totally white event? No way.

White activists who are quick to level charges of conscious exclusion of people of color at BSF organizers (many of whom are people of color themselves), should perhaps look more closely to their work in their own communities (if any), and how they're doing with organizing other white people into progressive movements. Then they should ponder that people of color might trust them more if they feel that white activists have their own base before coming into communities of color, than they will if these white activists spend all their time tailing around after activists of color trying to prove how PC they are.

This kind of bridge-building work takes a long time. The BSF organizers took almost two years at it, and did quite well. As time goes on, progressives of all racial backgrounds can grow closer together, but only if white activists step up and organize their own backyards. And only if they stop seeing people of color as a mere category--to be noted, tallied and numbered like widgets in a factory--and start seeing them simply as people. People that white people can talk to as fellow human beings, work with, and build movements with. Gradually building trust and mutual respect over long years of working together more and more.
Re: The Boston Social Forum: Another World is Possible
27 Jul 2004
A repeat of my comment on the other thread...

One comment about the perceived whiteness of the BSF - I would say for sure that the participants at the event did not reflect the diversity of the city of Boston, which is less than half white. But we can say that we would have liked the event to be more diverse without refusing to see the people of color who were participants, panelists, and behind-the-scenes motivators for the social forum. There actually were very many people of color from very diverse backgrounds - I won't hazard a guess at a percentage. If you didn't see or hear from these people at the forum, you might have just had your blinders on. Or maybe you weren't going to the workshops and events that drew large numbers of people of color because they addressed issues more central to their experience, and you were still stuck in yours. If that's the case, then you missed a pretty great opportunity.

... On this page someone made a similar comment about the Dalit and Adivasi people at the World Social Forum in Mumbai. I find it hard to believe that someone who was at the WSF would say that Dalits and Adivasis were "barely represented" - which WSF were you at? It was my impression that these people made up at least half of the attendees, maybe 3/4. Just because they weren't the panelists at the events you attended doesn't mean they didn't make a tremendous contribution to the event. Again, what a missed opportunity for you! At the WSF I was able to have conversations with some pretty amazing Dalit and Adivasi organizers and every day people. For some of these conversations I had to work pretty hard to find myself a translator, but it was worth it. People need to understand that there are literally thousands of different languages spoken in India, which blows our US conception of diversity out of the water. So making a comparison with having a similar event in the US that wasn't in English is not an appropriate analogy. English was the hinge language spoken at the WSF, mainly to make the job easier for the legions of translators who worked to make the event accessible to as many as possible. There were events I couldn't attend because they weren't translated into English - horror of horrors that I should be excluded!

All I'm saying is, sure there is a lot more that can be done to make events like the WSF and the BSF both more accessible to, and more reflective of the experience of, oppressed people in both places. That's a crucial point to make and a crucial thing to do. But in the meantime, don't be so dismissive of the contributions that those same people went out of their way to make for these events. And don't think that because the voices of people of color and oppressed people were not all up in your face doesn't mean they aren't speaking loud and clear. Sometimes it's YOU that has to go out of your way to be able to hear THEM.