The United States Social Forum (USSF) in San Jose, CA from June 24-28, 2015 showed that serious social activists are hungry to fight the deep deficiencies of our current economic and political system…and hungry to build an eco-humanist alternative to it, to meet the true needs of our planet and humanity.
Hungry to Fight
Stating its belief that “there is a strategic need to unite the struggles of oppressed, exploited, and dispossessed”, the USSF created a space for learning, dialogue, tactics, and intersectional joint action to take on the malaise that affects the bulk of society: the exploitative, oppressive, and alienating capitalist system.
Workshops, People’s Movement Assemblies (PMAs), plenaries, films, and cultural events addressing the ills of our current system dominated the US Social Forum in San Jose. The USSF thus confronted the exploitation of workers and the oppression of people of color, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, women, the disabled, seniors and youth. It attacked blunt police brutality, the effects of life and death militarization, and the grinding poverty of the homeless and of the dispossessed.
Human Agenda, for example, in its workshop “Immigration: What’s Next?” analyzed how economic boycotts may be an effective tool for change. Human Agenda was also able to persuade UFW co-founder Dolores Huerta to the USSF. With Phatima Paulino, moderator Michelle Cordoba, and attorney Ruth Silver-Taube participating in the same plenary, dozens of tactics and strategies from the past and for the present were offered up as methods to advance the struggle for human rights of women, people of color, and immigrants, in particular. Dolores Huerta received a standing ovation by the 140 people in attendance for her 85 years of constant struggle to advance human rights.
Dialogues on inaccessibility to quality health care, food, housing, education, and culture were held side by side with numerous workshops and actions on the destruction of our environment, from pollution to fracking to pesticides to predatory water usage.
Electoral and legal strategies including the election of candidates, electoral campaigns, the Richmond Progressive Alliance, constitutional reform, and proportional representation accompanied calls for strategic and tactical actions such as labor and community organizing, ending racism, boycotts, direct action, tax and debt resistance, and non-violent communication and resistance, using such mediums as the internet, art, the spoken word, radio, theater, and diverse forms of cultural organizing and expression. A direct boycott action at Costco yielded immediate success.
Noting the global and systemic nature of the current neoliberal capitalist economic system, internationalists took principled positions seeking justice in Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, and Palestine, and sought support for the democratic and egalitarian experiments taking place in Venezuela and Cuba.
The myth that the current economic and political system in the United States is sustainable, democratic, and egalitarian was shredded like beef in a meat grinder. Concrete analyses and actions to debunk, confront, and overcome the myth were the order of the days, on June 24-28, 2015, in San Jose.
Hungry to Build
A smaller but equally significant segment of the US Social Forum addressed the fact that unless we create new alternative structures and institutions, we simply re-produce the harmful structures of our current economic and political system on a daily basis. What structures and institutions can we build that actually incorporate our values--institutions that are not exploitative, inequitable, uncooperative, unkind, and unsustainable?
Relevant dialogues and presentations advocated for the rights of nature; for building local peace economies; for creating a financial system for the benefit of the public, not for private profit; for co-learning and co-creating our future; for a path to a sustainable and just economy; and for political action for systemic change.
Clear the Deck
Four Human Agenda board members played a key role in four different PMAs and plenaries to promote the notion that truly, “Another World Is Possible”, the name of two of the PMAs in which Human Agenda participated.
The Human Agenda vision and values for a better world, CLEAR the DECKS, were widely commended, with scores of participants (of the 140 attending these events) requesting further information. The human needs-based CLEAR vision of equal gender participation in CARE work, of responsible human activity through LABOR producing goods and services truly needed by society with reduced working hours at a living wage, of EDUCATION for life with reliable information, of AUTONOMY in democratic participatory decision-making in all important spheres of life, and of REALIZATION of self and therefore society by having time and resources for our passions, was widely accepted as a way to reduce oppression and alienation and create the conditions for a well-rounded life. While all of these constitute human need fulfilling activity, only one (labor) is deemed worthy of value (remuneration) in today’s society.
The DECKS values of Human Agenda, as the basis of new economic, political, and social institutions, were also well-received. Institutions and actions that are Democratic, Equitable, Cooperative, Kind, and Sustainable are seen as having values that are the antithesis of the values of Wall Street, multinational corporations, and our federal electoral system, the key institutions that dominate our lives today.
A Way Forward: Eco-Humanism
In What Then Must Be Done? Gar Alperovitz analyzes economic institutions in the U.S. that have democratized wealth and areas that could be democratized. These include (1) socialized enterprises and services (e.g. GM in 2008; the need for single payer health care), (2) public banks and financial institutions (e.g. the Bank of South Dakota), (3) the commons (e.g. federal, state, and municipal ownership of land, natural resources, utilities, and services), and (4) worker-owned, union, housing, and consumer cooperatives.
With respect to cooperatives, the Mondragon Cooperatives in Northern Spain, the new service and industrial cooperatives in Cuba, the cooperatives in former Yugoslavia, and the Arizmendi Bakeries in the Bay Area were showcased at the USSF as successful examples using DECKS values.
At the final PMA of the USSF on June 28, after reviewing a precise and comprehensive list of true human needs, participants were asked what it would take to build new-eco-humanist institutions (that meet the need of the planet and of people) in five areas. Incorporating the criteria of social ownership, DECKS, and individual responsibility, small group dialogue led to entirely new institutions for the United States in the areas of food, housing, education, water, and local energy.
It was concluded that we need to build and advocate for new institutions based on a new vision and new values that re-create our society and planet to make our society and planet healthy. To do this, to the extent that each one of us can, we need to need to move our human actions from fight to build. After creating that other world we will no longer need to fight, but rather live in the fair and cooperative world we seek.
Planting the Seeds for the Future
While participating in the “Conscious Consumption, Conscious Living” PMA it became clear to Human Agenda that to be effective agents for change, serious activists need to operate on multiple levels. It is quintessential that we change our daily habits of how much and what we consume in order to save our planet, but ultimately saving the world requires much more, a deep and solemn commitment to transform ourselves and our current social reality.
The theory of change which emerged from the 4 PMAs in which Human Agenda participated prior to the US Social Forum, and which was widely affirmed at the US Social Forum itself, includes the following:
Struggle against oppression and build movements. Fight against existing oppression at all levels. In a multi-generational, multi-racial, multi-sectorial struggle led by the most oppressed and alienated, we need to build a powerful movement of movements of conscious organized individuals connected to a common vision.
Envision the new society. Clarify and champion a CLEAR vision based on a revolution of DECKS values: Democracy, Equality, Cooperation, Kindness, and Sustainability.
Eco-humanize our structures and institutions, brick by brick. New economic, political, and social institutions incorporating social ownership, DECKS values, and individual responsibility need to be developed like cooperatives, public banks, commons, the state sector, land trusts, deep democracy, and true cultural freedom. Specific new institutions need to be developed to meet specific human and planetary needs.
Democratize political power—and then keep it. Creating trust over time, consistently build the foundations and power of participatory democracy in all of our institutions.
Socialize the self. Be the change we want to see. This includes conscious, optimal, solidarity consumption from DECKS-valued institutions; the transformation of the daily institutions we participate in to incorporate DECKS values; the creation of new such value-based institutions; and caring for ourselves and our loved ones so that we do not burn out.
Challenges and Opportunities for the United States Social Forum
The 2015 polycentric United States Social Forum was a huge success given the titanic challenges it faced. With virtually no institutional support to carry forward the US Social Forums of Atlanta in 2006 and Detroit in 2015, thousands of activists in Philadelphia, Jackson, San Jose, and Mexico gathered to learn, dialogue, strategize, vision, and plan struggles against the current juggernaut and to create alternatives to it. The lack of institutional support led to delays and contradictions in planning and execution of the USSF, but on the whole the USSF provided thousands of young and committed activists the experience and space for regeneration and focus in the fight for people’s hegemony.
In 2016 as the US Social Forum moves forward with its Assembly of Assemblies, and as the World Social Forum convenes in Montreal, let us rely upon the trust, energy, and experience we have built in 2015 to move us forward. Another world is possible. Let’s fight for it, and build it.