[WSMDiscuss] sharing -- US Social Forum 10 Years Later: Reflections from Project South

walda wkatzfishman at igc.org
Tue Jun 27 16:27:42 CEST 2017

>From Project South


Hey y'all – 


Sharing a short reflection piece on the USSF we posted on the Project South website with links to the Report we released in 2009 and a link to the longer book.  


It’s important to mark the moment. 




Much love and respect - 





Stephanie Guilloud

Project South, Co-Director



From: stephguilloud at gmail.com [mailto:stephguilloud at gmail.com] On Behalf Of Steph Guilloud
Sent: Tuesday, June 27, 2017 8:15 AM
To: Project South <join at projectsouth.org>
Subject: US Social Forum 10 Years Later: Reflections from Project South


WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BUILD A MOVEMENT? <http://projectsouth.org/global-movement-buildingus-social-forum-10th-anniversary/> 

A reflection on the 10th Anniversary of the first U.S. Social Forum

By Emery Wright and Stephanie Guilloud, Project South Co-Directors

The  <http://blog.thesietch.org/2007/12/11/hip-hop-bridges-the-green-divide/> first solar powered Hip Hop Concert in Atlanta happened on a stage in the middle of Pine Street near Piedmont Road during the summer of 2007. The solar power idea originated from the Indigenous Environmental Network who provided the RV with solar panels, and the music included raw hip performances by the likes of Rebel Diaz and DJ Chela. Legendary Blues Ambassador Dr. Love managed the stage. Although this concert was just one of over a thousand scheduled activities that took place during the first US Social Forum between June 27- July 1, 2007, it represented the power of movement convergence that fueled the organizing process before, during, and after this first USSF.

Learning from social movements in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, USSF organizers strived to create a forum for our fragmented social movements and community organizing efforts in the United States to converge in a way that would grow new social movement organization and power. We worked to center the experiences, leadership, and liberation history of the U.S. South, Black, Brown, and Red communities and young people. Towards those goals, we were successful.

The U.S. Social Forum was a national collaboration of people of color-led social justice organizations that worked to organize a five-day convergence of community members and frontline organizers from around the country. We answered the call from the Global South and the World Social Forums in Brazil, Venezuela, and Kenya. Forces in Atlanta, across the South, and partners across 10 regions and territories of the U.S. demonstrated the political will, took the political risks, and rolled up our sleeves to do the work that made the U.S. Social Forum possible. There was very little foundation money and not even a clear understanding about what a “social forum” meant in grassroots communities. But in the wake of a Gulf Coast Disaster, after years of Indigenous Sovereignty being marginalized in social justice spaces, and in the midst of a George W. Bush presidency further ravaging our many oppressed communities, we knew something different had to be done.

The formal effort to organize the U.S. Social Forum was tremendous. Without big money, we had to be creative and self-reliant to resource the million dollar costs from the rental of the Civic Center to tents to port-o-potties. We made it happen together: we coordinated massive caravans, travel scholarships to ensure poor and working people could be there, interpretation equipment for five days, planning costs, and the overall implementation of this huge project.

Many people believed in the project and organizations contributed time, energy, funds, and an immense amount of political vision to bring the first U.S. Social Forum to life on June 27, 2007. Thousands of people from Alaska to Massachusetts, Albuquerque, New Mexico to Dothan, Alabama decided to find their own road to Atlanta, and that is what made the USSF such an overwhelming success.

Ten years ago was a different moment in time. Before the rise of Facebook. Before the election of Obama. Before the global financial collapse. Before Occupy Wall Street, Standing Rock, or the uprising against police murder of Black life. The United States Social Forum converged almost 20,000 people in Atlanta for five hot days from every corner of social justice struggles in the U.S. Though it did not make a blip in the corporate news media, there were no hash tags, and the significance was not debated in endless ‘thought pieces’ online, the USSF represented a turning point in U.S. social movements.

Too often we allow the tidal waves of news cycles and information to overwhelm us without taking the careful time to remember, to recognize success and setbacks, and to learn from our collective work. Project South was the anchor organization for the USSF and sat on the National Planning Committee, the Atlanta Local Organizing Committee and helped build the Southeast Regional Organizing Committee. 

On this tenth anniversary, we offer what we believe are several of the most significant achievements from the USSF as a new introduction to the  <http://projectsouth.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/USSF_report.pdf> report we wrote in 2009 that documents, in detail, the process, the practices, and the political lessons learned from our perspective as the anchor organization. Let us celebrate the accomplishments and critically reflect on the deep lessons learned to build even more powerful social movement today.

What was accomplished by the first U.S. Social Forum?

*        Self-recognition of U.S. social justice efforts as social movements. The term ‘movement’ was not as prevalent then as it is now. The USSF represented a shift from generalized activism and isolated community organizing to bringing people together who were working, fighting, and winning at the grassroots levels to see each other as more than just singular organizations but a broader, more powerful movement of people most affected by oppression and injustice. The space spoke for itself: Renaissance Park outside the Civic Center held the Indigenous Sovereignty tents, the Formerly Incarcerated Peoples Family Reunion, and a transformative healing space of spiritual practitioners; the visible shift in consciousness when people witnessed bus after bus rolling into Atlanta from the Southwest, the Gulf Coast, and the Deep South; thousands of people pouring onto Peachtree Street on a Wednesday afternoon to open the Forum with an action in the heart of the city. We saw ourselves as more than a conference of many parts but as a strong people’s movement for justice, and that recognition has carried forward into new, important developments over the next 10 years.

*        The Peoples Movement Assembly was birthed at the first U.S. Social Forum. The Assembly as a dynamic and cumulative space on the last day of the five-day Forum urged people to make strategic commitments to action beyond just attending or facilitating workshops. Ruben Solís, then with Southwest Workers Union, envisioned the Peoples Movement Assembly as a way for the U.S. movements to align with the call from the Global South to do more than just meet. The PMA was envisioned and organized to reflect the political urgency of acting together as a more cohesive social movement in the U.S. The tension and difficulty of that first PMA reflected where we were as a growing and learning movement. We were learning how to facilitate a generative space across many differences in political views, histories, cultures, and styles. A major lesson from that moment remains that assemblies and convergences must be rooted in the legacies and histories of our movements whether the Black Radical Tradition in the South, the labor movements of Detroit, indigenous sovereignty movements, environmental justice movements, queer liberation movements, and all our diverse movement continuums.

*        A new generation of organizers grew into movement leadership. The political will to make the US Social Forum happen was a multigenerational effort drawing from some of the best of our shared movements. At Project South, Jerome Scott represented a powerful legacy of Black leadership shaped by wildcat strikes in auto plants and Reagan rollbacks in the Deep South. His leadership supported a younger generation of leadership that was at the helm of Black youth organizing and anti-globalization movements. This new generation was informed and strengthened by the national collaboration connected to global liberation movements. Participating in the World Social Forum and standing shoulder to shoulder with our counterparts, young organizers and leaders in other parts of the world, allowed a generation (late-twenty/early thirties-somethings at the time) to connect, experience, and be informed by Global South movements in the 21st The use of the Peoples Movement Assembly is evidence of those connections, learning from living examples in the Global South. Across movements in the last 10 years, there has been more interrogation and intentional use of the term “decolonization” as a path forward from here. Leaders continue today to work on initiatives, parallel systems, and community-based alternatives rather than reforms or state-based solutions.

*        The practice of building infrastructure ignited new visions of movement infrastructure. As we describe in the USSF Report, we built a ‘city within a city’ for those five days to support 15,000 participants moving in and through a huge area in downtown Atlanta. With very little resource, we organized hundreds of volunteers and teams to manage and coordinate the massive logistics of a five-day gathering. Alice Lovelace, the national coordinator, acted as a mastermind of coordination and deployed incredible people, mostly Black women who knew what they were doing, to every inch of the site as it expanded and absorbed the passions and distress of our hundreds of grassroots delegations. The lessons of people-driven infrastructure remain incredibly pertinent today as crises heighten in neighborhoods and rural areas. The need for children’s space, principled movement security, mobile pirate radio stations in RVs, relationships with carpenters to build wheelchair ramps, water accessibility, volunteer nurses and medics on call, and the design of effective flow in a public space built for convergence of people and ideas rather than efficient trade and transaction: infrastructure is not to be underestimated.

*        The strategic role of the U.S. South in the Western hemisphere and in relationship to the Global South is just as relevant today as 10 years ago. The power of anchoring the first-ever US Social Forum in the South was significant and rooted in the painful reality of organizing in a region ravaged and recovering from the hurricanes and human-made disasters of the Gulf Coast Crisis in 2005. The world history of how our current economic crises have been shaped by white supremacy, slavery, and attempted annihilation of indigenous peoples connects us to a shared reality from Senegal to Haiti to New Orleans. Building movements rooted in the legacy of the Southern Freedom Movement is critical to liberation movements for all of us, and the powerful commitment of Southern organizations that held leadership in 2007 and still work together today is a part of the regeneration of that movement. The US Social Forum was a critical turning point in our collective sense of that shared history and mandate.

USSF II was held in Detroit in 2010 gathering 20,000 people; the Southern Movement Assembly was launched in 2012 and six have happened in the last five years; there were USSF convergences in 2015 in multiple sites; and the Convening for Black Lives in 2015, led by many who had participated and helped organize within the USSF process; and countless movement spaces have been built by and for social movement power since USSF I.
The power of the US Social Forum is that it was built from the bottom up by grassroots forces. There were no celebrities or national experts at the first U.S. Social Forum, there were no major foundation or philanthropic sources pulling strings. The U.S. Social Forum represented what people can build as a social movement, and by remembering it 10 years later, we can build stronger, more long-lasting infrastructure driven by the needs and desires of our people.

The USSF created physical and political space for a convergence of our multitudes, working on many battlefronts, to see one another as a rising social movement in alignment with global liberation movements that name capitalism and white supremacy as root causes to our colonized conditions that need to be eliminated. We created a space to build a new imagination for our political movements in the 21st century.

Many more accomplishments were achieved than we have synthesized here, please contribute your memories and reflections by sending stories to join at projectsouth.org <mailto:join at projectsouth.org> 


 <http://projectsouth.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/USSF_report.pdf> The First US Social Forum: Report from the Anchor Organization

*        Read this 16-page report for more detailed descriptions of the organizing before, during, and after the first USSF

 <https://www.ussocialforum.net/sites/default/files/ussf-all.pdf> The United States Social Forum: Perspectives of a Movement

*        31 Chapters edited by the USSF Book Committee (Marina Karides, Walda Katz-Fishman, Rose Brewer, Jerome Scott, and Alice Lovelace. Full book downloadable online at link

Articles that covered the first US Social Forum:

*        USSF: We Saw Another World in Atlanta;  <http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/stand-up-to-corporate-power/ussf-we-saw-another-world-in-atlanta> Yes Magazine

*         <http://blog.thesietch.org/2007/12/11/hip-hop-bridges-the-green-divide/> Hip Hop Bridges the Green Divide, The Stietch Blog




Stephanie Guilloud

Project South, Co-Director


office: 404.622.0602

cell: 404.936.2399

9 Gammon Ave. Atlanta GA 30315

www.projectsouth.org <http://www.projectsouth.org> 

stephanie at projectsouth.org <mailto:stephanie at projectsouth.org> 

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