What’s Going On? The USSF, Grassroots Activism, and Situated Knowledge

By Marina Karides,
Member of the USSF Documentation Committee
(get the PDF)

“You look at the course of the world and we’re heading toward an oligarchy. The primary reason to have this forum is to return society back to the people.” –Member of the USSF National Planning Committee, September 2007

It is common radical, leftist, and progressive knowledge that the first United States Social Forum (USSF), while almost totally neglected in mainstream press and media (even as we marched and met under the nose of CNN in downtown Atlanta) was a flat out success, receiving rave reviews in many independent media presses. Rave reviews for what?

• I’ve never seen any diversity like this. It’s not just white folks. I want to see groups like this keep coming together and growing.
• They were young and old, multiracial, men and women, gay and straight, immigrant and native, and overwhelmingly working class.
• Members of the [World Social Forum] International Council were here. They said this presented a great challenge to them because it was the best Social Forum they ever saw.
• No Forum in recent memory has better expressed the 
potential of the process than the recent U.S. Social Forum

The above quotes taken from contributions posted to the listserv, WorldSocialForum-Discuss@openspaceforum.net, acknowledge the diversity and organizational success of the USSF. I consider why and how the USSF became a milestone in social forum organizing and a new chapter for US political movements. What explains the diversity and inclusiveness? And the color that was missing in Seattle?

I also address is the debate over space and actor that influence so many discussion of what the social forum process is suppose to be. In exploring the success of the USSF and this debate I trace the experience of Power U for Social Change, a grassroots organization working for housing rights and economic justice in Miami, Florida, report on the Global Day of Action (GDA) as it happened in the US, and rely on my notes and transcriptions of NPC meetings and on analytical lenses of political economy and feminist sociology. I use AbdouMaliq Simone’s book, For the City Yet to Come, (2004, Duke University Press) which examines life and survival in African cities and black feminist thought as articulated by Pat Hill Collins in Black Feminist Thought (1990, Allyn and Unwin, Ltd.), to think through the processes and practices of the National Planning Committee (NPC).

The Process

What makes the social forum process so striking for grassroots organizing is its participatory democracy style of politics. While the NPC, composed of 50 groups facilitated the organizing process that created the space for dialogue and action, the events, session, tents, workshops were sponsored by the groups that attended the USSF. This is especially unique to the US context where so often gatherings of activists that cut across movement building sectors are dictated by funding organizations. The USSF was determinately grassroots—not only because of the participatory control over programming developed through the first World Social Forum but also because of who was there.

Grassroots Global Justice Alliance (GGJ) is a national organization of local and national community grounded organizations that along with Project South provided the lion’s share of time, energy, and resources for organizing the USSF. Grounded in base building organizations, GGJ is largely responsible for the unique character of US engagement in the forum process. For many, the observation was that working class people of color dominated the event. Yet this is a broad swath of US society who may communicate with a variety and several identities– indigenous, Chicana, queer, Korean-American, low-income, Haitian, feminist, domestic worker, housing activist, black, brown, poor to start. Particularly noteworthy is that this diversity was previously unseen in US history of political mobilizations. There was a palpable power gained from it, a sort of seizure of control from the white middle class that has in recent decades dominated the US left’s ideological landscape and public meaning of “activism,” “organizing,” and “social justice.”

Despite the diversity and all the rave reviews of the USSF, there has been concern that the process of organizing was too intentional. That is, given the commitment of the forum to providing an open space where expression of all ideologies and forms of organizing that oppose neo-liberalism can come together and dialogue, the USSF was driven by base-building organizations with a particular agenda. This work locates the “intent” of the organizing efforts of the USSF and what it means to move forward in US social activism.

Without a doubt, those who attended were mobilized, which demonstrates how the forums are processes more than events. Months and years before the five-day event that took place in early summer Atlanta, groups and organizations around the US were learning about this new planetary space of social justice, the forums that were occurring around the world, deciding whether it was fruitful to participate, and how it may or may not connect to their struggles on the ground. For many organizations that work for liberation and justice, most with a shoestring budget in their small corner of the US, participating in the USSF was a decision of committing limited time and resources.

That 1000 organizations did register and more than 15,000 persons participated tells us not only that the mobilizing efforts of the NPC were successful and savvy but that a collective meeting of US groups in struggle against the severity of the current capitalist moment was in demand. The WSF was birthed in 2001 in Porto Alegre, Brazil with hundreds, maybe thousands, of regional, national, and local social forum spinoffs since then. It reached the US as a concrete national project in about 2004 and materialized in 2007 after several regional and city level forums.

Unfortunately, that we are at a historical conjecture or in the “middle of a whirlwind” is becoming evident to many Americans not because of the widening of the social forum process or the rise of an alter-globalization movement, or the increased politicization at the grassroots, but because of the Democratic presidential nomination race between a black man and a white woman and the possibility of new race or gender in the White House. For many Americans too, the financial hit they have been taking in their wages, loss of employment, and increased cost of living feels like a bad storm they are hoping to get through. The open space that the social forum process is premised upon is itself a teaching tool for building a broader understanding of current conditions and identifying the locus of change in the grassroots and not in electoral politics.

The Debate

The WSF has been under study and in debate by a growing cadre of scholars and activists who tend to participate in the forum, attending and organizing events that debate the future of the forum. There are several centers around the world (CACIM in India and the Center for Civil Society in South Africa) that have built been up around studying and participating in the social forums and building with local mass movements. Many of the current theoreticians who examine the WSF take up some very important questions in locating (or dislocating) the WSF in the history of the left (De Sousa Santos) and in debating the forum’s current crossroads push for more or less political unity and declarations (Whitaker, Bello). With concerns being raised as to the utility of the forums, the USSF was a major boost to forum promoters, confirming its necessity as an organizing vehicle and place for political exchange.

Chico Whitaker, one of the early founders of the WSF, supports the social forum as a space for activist exchanges of ideas, strategies, and deepening movements understanding the neo-liberal context. Articulacion Feminista Marcusor, a Latin American feminist network with early involvement in the WSF also emphasizes the forums as a location for dialogue over definitions of democracy and over the political meaning of the forum and methods by which to successful challenge and alter globalization. These sorts of discussions were evident throughout the USSF– in the coffeehouses, around and in the Atlanta Civic Center, in programmed sessions, informally in the streets, in open rooms provided for impromptu or follow up meetings, and even in the corporate hotels.

Disparate participants and organizations, that are locally engaged to fight capital’s decrepitude in their cities and towns, more intensely appreciated that their ongoing grassroots struggles were similar and were met with similar disinterest by governments and corporations. The recognition of the systematic inequality perpetrated across the nation could have caused groups to flounder at the size of the neo-liberal project and depth of racism and gender abuse and weakness of labor rights, environmental injustices and disingenuous government policies. But that’s not what happened—despite years of sectarianism, the sense from the NPC, participants, and writers in the WSF, is that social movements came away more united and with a greater consciousness of the interrelationship of their struggles.

Yet the USSF was also a highly charged program of action. In the larger debates of the forum process—the Whitaker position that calls for maintaining the social forum process as an open space of collective exchange is contrasted to Walden Bello’s position that calls for a more concentrated action or voice from the WSF. The USSF has been described as “ a movement” rather than “a space” and guided by an intent to move the US forum process towards concrete steps for political action. There certainly was all kinds of movement happening at the USSF, a national alliance of domestic workers formed, indigenous tribes from various regions met and joined together, urban organizing groups moved forward as the Right to the City alliance, and the Women’s Caucus continues as node for US women’s groups to share and promote actions.

A Global Day of Action

The press for action in and around the WSF was reflected in the internationally coordinated Global Day of Action (GDA). Coming on the heels of the USSF, rather than a single World Social Forum (WSF), the International Committee of the WSF decided that coordinated events, throughout the world, at the end of January 2008, would help ground the global organizing of the social forum process in local context. The website includes an interactive map of all the GDA events that occurred throughout the world.

The national GDA events demonstrate even further that the US grassroots and their communities have taken the WSF process to heart. Although the limits of the GDA, as Cindy Wiesner of GGJ, reflects, was “that there has not been a centralized demand,” so that the connection among events was not necessarily clear, numerous events grounded in community issues took place in the US during the week of the GDA. The actions were as wide and diverse as the US itself. Some of the issues covered and demands made by US organizers include: Boston Jobs with Justice’s teach-in on the Colombia free trade agreement and then a funeral procession to the Colombian Consulate; the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights held a press conference at their national conference in Houston, Texas supporting the SEIU janitors’ struggle; Southwest Workers Union organized a march to the Alamo calling for Human Rights for All, highlighting the campaign against the Wall of Death being built on the US-Mexican border in San Antonio, Texas; Portland, Oregon Jobs with Justice presented a street theater in the mall on the Colombia free trade agreement; Vermont Workers Center organized a week of actions demanding “End the War and Bring the Troops Home Now! Healthcare is a Right! Climate Justice!”; Indigenous Environmental Network affiliates organized a number of actions for climate justice; Jobs with Justice coalitions organized actions for workers’ right to organize and against the vicious atrocities experienced by workers at Smithfields’ hog processing plant in North Carolina, and in the city of the first USSF, the Georgia Citizens Coalition on Hunger and Project South organized a poor people’s caravan through historic sites in Atlanta that ended with a Poor People’s Assembly.

Three events in New York City include Domestic Workers United which launched a state legislative campaign for the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights with a press conference and a convening of domestic workers, and two around the issues of land and housing—Community Voices Heard organized an action for housing rights and solidarity with people of the Gulf Coast and Make the Road NY held a powerful action to force city officials to reform regulations regarding tenant protection from asthma triggers.

A national self-recognition of the grassroots and its place in world activism emerged from the forum in Atlanta. And the actions on January 26th proved that US social movements are able to coordinate nationally and in concert with a global struggle. Tom Goldtooth of Indigenous Environmental Network and member of GGJ explained:

As the base-building groups in the belly of the beast, we are the local voice and struggle against globalization and by taking action on January 26, we are raising the consciousness in our communities to help them understand how to link our struggles with our brothers and sisters in the Global South.

This was the first the GDA held by the WSF, and how to make this international coordination of events more publicly visible is certainly another one of its challenges. What is very weighty, and deserves more thorough thought and reverence is the unification in the cries for justice in barrios and maquilas, in the North and the South, in little mountain villages, small islands, and desert plains. This collective shout against the system, corporate injustice, hegemony, ideological and otherwise, will not be shut up and so the future portends to be very exciting indeed.

Housing

The right to safe housing and land figured centrally to several GDA events in the US and many of them focused on the crises in New Orleans and the US Gulf Coast. As the marginalized and poor experience neo-liberal rounds of enclosures throughout the world, urban dwellers in the US are fighting for their basic right to housing. The struggle for ownership and control of land is certainly the struggle of late capitalism as argued decades ago by French social theorists Henri Lefebvre.

At their GDA event Direct Action for Rights and Equality presented performance art at a flea market in Providence, RI to protest gentrification and express solidarity to stop the demolition of public housing in New Orleans. In San Francisco several groups convened including POWER, St. Peter’s Housing Committee, and Just Cause to hold a vigil at Senator Dianne Feinstein’s home in solidarity with the people of the New Orleans on housing issues. And in the city of New Orleans, the New Orleans Folks and Black Workers for Justice targeted Louisiana Senator David Vitter, the Senate Banking Committee to stop the destruction of public housing and demand passage of the Gulf Coast Recovery Act.

The Global Meaning of Resistance in Miami

In the so called land of rich and plenty, housing in terms of affordable and safe homes but also in terms of community and neighborhood control over development is at an unprecedented low. One place that captures the convergence of hotbed issues in the US including migration, housing, and land rights is Miami, Florida. In fact, anyone interested in grassroots organizing, global politics, and the social forum process should be watching Miami.

In the last decade several grassroots groups including Take Back the Land, the Miami Workers Center, and Power U Center for Social Change sprouted and have been responding to the gentrification of neighborhoods and the removal of families and communities, primarily African American and Latino, from their homes to make way for large corporate development. Organized by Power U, the GDA in Miami, attended by these organizations as well as South Florida’s Jobs With Justice, was a celebratory event. After three years in struggle, Power U, won its battle against city commissioners and Crosswinds, a development group, that had planned to build up-scale condominiums on a large sector of land in Overtown, a historic African American community in Miami. The plot of land was renamed Sankofa, an African term meaning “reclaim our past so we can move forward,” that captures the very special history of Miami’s rich neighborhood of Overtown.

Overtown, like many lively and historic black communities in the US, such as the Treme in New Orleans and Westside in Chattanooga, had suffered greatly with the large interstate highways that “incidentally” divided thriving black neighborhoods. A black neighborhood formed during the era of segregation during which African Americans were pulled and pushed to Miami to work on the construction of the railroad, Overtown is well known for hosting the African American entertainers that would play in the elite hotels of Miami Beach.

The global connectedness of Miami is hard to miss—a majority migrant population, the nexus for financial transactions between North and South America, and inescapable effects of Cuban politics on the city’s culture. As Denise Perry, Power U’s co-founder and director states, “Miami is a unique place politically around race, class, and global perspectives.” The city government’s current eagerness to expand Miami’s global reach and define it as “world class global city” or a center of neo-liberalism is destroying the lives and homes of low-income people and workers and neighborhoods like Overtown. City leaders embraced the worst architectural practices, constructing tall monotonous structures that give no consideration to street life, community facilities, and the cultural vitality of its neighborhoods. Housing prices are spiraling downwards across the US and faster in Florida than in any other state but with lost jobs and wages this will not solve Miami’s affordable housing crisis. According to a 2007 report by the Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy, in Miami housing prices grew twenty percent higher than wages between 2002 and 2006.

Miami’s officials’ greed for global centrality, provoked several occasions in which the global connection of Power U struggles to the rest of the world were made vivid. Towners, as members of Overtown refer to themselves, were immersed in global struggles when the Ministerial meetings of the Free Trade Association of the Americas (FTAA) came to town in November 2003. Working together with two other major grassroots organizations in the South Florida region, the Coalition of Immokolee Workers (CIW) and Miami Workers Center, they came together as RootCause to lead the FTAA fight in Miami. Perry sees this event as “a critical moment and opportunity” for poor and low income African Americans that built the organizations connections to a global justice movement. Not only did it reorient how they understood the struggles they face in Miami but organizing for and participating in the FTAA protests helped them to appreciate themselves as a movement among movements as they hosted the national and international groups and organizations that arrived to Miami to join in the protests. The People’s Tribunal, which put the FTAA to trial with numerous international guests attesting to the intensification of poverty and injustices it would render in each of their nations and communities, was a particularly internationalizing experience for Power U. In addition, both the 34 mile march completed by RootCause to represent the 34 countries that would have been subject to trade agreements, and the community impact report collectively produced by groups, effectively supported a global political education of and for the community.

A second turning point for Power U and the grassroots organizations of Miami was the United States Social Forum, Perry explains,

The USSF was the first time we participated in the social forum, it was a huge eye opening for our staff, humbling and inspiring, and caused us to reflect on how we can be more apart of making another world possible. Meeting other organizations and looking at our work, how do we move into the space of being more deliberate around our youth organizing and member political education?

Power U’s experience shows how participation in the USSF supports grassroots organizations even though it meant a huge expenditure of time and resources. It also suggests that listening to other organizations concerns and struggles and dialogue and exchange with them are considered beneficial for future movement building. The organization’s location in Miami and a site of the FTAA struggles accents an appreciation of the global context for Power U, but one of the key themes in Perry’s discussion is the recognition that their efforts in long neglected Overtown, Miami is part of a global struggle against neo-liberalism.

The GDA celebration of Power U’s victory was a multi-media, poetic, and spiritual affair and resulted from the organization’s participation in the USSF. For Power U, it represents a third node in the organizations local global nexus. At the Sankofa ceremony, I overheard talk on the street of a Miami Social Forum—maybe a fourth step for Power U’s local-global linkages.

Power U’s experience at the USSF and its GDA captures what groups like it are beginning to create in the US. While many reviews of US activism saw it splintering into identity based politics and formations through the eighties, another aspect to consider is how engaged activists had to be locally to weather the waves of neo-liberalism. The USSF has helped these organizations lift their ear from the ground so to speak, and hear the connections that exist between their struggles.

Power U’s lessons from the USSF certainly suggest the benefit of dialogue and the value of sharing thoughts in an open space not dictated by a particular political mission other than having the US grassroots meet collectively by their own programming. But underlying the USSF was a need to proceed—while there was no particular direction—socialist, anarchist, or even anti-capitalist dictated, movement forward was what many groups came seeking.

Situated Knowledge and Collective Memory

For some, like Whitaker, the USSF compromised the tenant of open space. Several have argued that the emphasis given to the leadership of base building organizations or working class people of color shadowed the organizing process of the USSF from groups that otherwise would have joined. As many writers on the WSF and on horizontal politics generally point out: the open space promise of the WSF to ensure inclusiveness often leads to more participation by the privileged as long term and institutionalized social inequalities continue to replicate themselves so that many forums, particularly in the US, have been white and middle class. Yet as Thomas Ponniah expresses, the USSF was one of the most racially and ethnically diverse forums, comparable only to the Mumbai WSF in 2004 that was recognized for ethnic and class inclusiveness.

So what happened in the organizing process of the USSF that resulted in this highly diverse but grassroots dominated social forum– that a process that was exclusionary overall was inclusive of many who are typically excluded? Was it so much a deliberate outreach strategy on the part of USSF organizers?

I turn to the NPC’s collective timeline that was constructed in the first face-to-face NPC meeting after the USSF. I use the collective timeline to consider the process of planning the USSF from the perspectives of the organizers, rather than attempting to make truth claims on what happened when.

It was somewhere between October 2006 and January 2007 that the committee that organized the USSF congealed, of the organizations listed as members of the NPC it was approximately only 15 organizations that really put in the time, resources, and commitment to make the USSF happen at all. The process behind the scenes seems to demonstrate that there was a lot less intentionality in organizing the forum and more of a will and practice towards getting tasks accomplished that brought groups in rather than push them out.

While the USSF organizers may have strategized to gain grassroots involvement, the process to get engaged “was a work under construction.” Rather than intentional it was elusive, and elusive to all. Many grassroots organizations that were part of the active 15 had initial difficulty in getting engaged. In pasting together this process through the collective memory, it was understood that:

The process was not haphazard but it was pieced together step by step, with repeated meetings on structure.

While organizations signed on to the USSF, it was a different job to have members act.
As an NPC member states:

How do we get folks to have more ownership? We went through that special period, we were trying to figure structure. We don’t know how to tell groups how to get on board. A lot of it was us holding things down how people became chairs. It was not political.

While many of these organizations were base building they came from various regions, worked in different sectors, and had scarcely organized collaboratively. The formation of the NPC as a decision making body that was also responsibly for carrying out tasks, came after months of debate. Rather than organizing a forum, the early organizers of the USSF spent extensive time debating structure. In fact one of the NPC reps explained that her organization implored her not to dare come back from another NPC and tell us that all you talked about was structure.

Interestingly, the extensive time taken to engage in political dialogue regarding hierarchy and organizational structure shows grounding the USSF was a space for vetting political positions. Those long discussions over structure speaks volume on the importance of space for discussions on political meanings and clearly had their worth in creating a backbone from which to move forward. As an NPC member reflected:

It became an issue of communications, and gatekeeping. We did not have personal and political trust and this is an outcome of what the discussion over structure was to me. There was a volunteeristic will for things to happen, to work, and it was out of the sheer—we had to get it done. The stakes and exhaustion were high. And we did not treat each other in camaraderie. We were trying to figure it out. It was a huge learning curve. We were asked to work with each other and feel ourselves in the process.

It is significant that although the process of garnering strength for a USSF social forum started almost four years ago, it was not until March 2007, 3 months prior to the event, that:

The spirit in the room, in March, is when people left with a greater belief that the forum might happen.

The above is just a sketch for thinking about what it meant to organize the USSF. The struggle over structure had to do with finding a way to meet the criteria set out by the WSF as an egalitarian and open space and also creating a situation to provoke collective action. It also had a lot to do with which groups were putting in the work and staying on top of the communication. Finally, the local organizing committee in Atlanta and the NPC also had its share of tension that from Atlanta’s perspective was connected to the negative stereotypes of the South that brought doubt on the local infrastructure. Yet all social movements in the US that have fomented change nationally started in the South.

African Cities and the USSF

Working across sectors to secure an event that had no precedent in the US but required significant resources and time makes the success of the USSF particularly curious. How does trust get built, when there are no formal structures or past practices to assure it?

AbdoulMalik’s Simone’s (2004) study of life and survival in African cities is usefully applied to understanding the success of the USSF. Granted, comparing social-economic relations in urban Africa to relationships among organizers and activist sectors in the US is a bit of a stretch. Yet, both sets of relations are shaped outside the traditional structures of government and capital and may be the basis of future forms of associations “for the city yet to come,” and for a US yet to come.

In most African nations where there is a limited state, or a state stripped by neo-liberalism and IMF structural adjusment policies and so having limited resources, African urban residents create spaces for livelihoods outside the government and the limitation of capitalist production. First, as Simone points out, the Africanization of the urban is reflected in the imagination of the population to develop informal forms of housing, services, and education that sustain urban Africans economically as well as provide political form. Second, their independent economic forms are also based on their networks of informal exchange. In other words if urban residents engaged only with others in their quarter of the city, they could not sustain livelihoods as resources might wane there. Instead they gain by moving throughout the city and region and expanding their associations. With no formal system to safeguard economic exchange, the networks of connection are based on extended family systems or invented as such based on history and memory. Mostly, the networks and associations formed and continually forming rely on repeated successful transactions that eventually confirm trust and permit growth.

The establishment of the USSF process similarly relied on repeated transaction or tasks accomplished by various members of the NPC that started the process of establishing trust. And this trust developed beyond traditional activist sectors, extending networks outside of their “quarters” or issues. The future of building a program of collaborative social justice in the US will rely on groups and organizations extending beyond their usual body politics and into building alliances with other sectors and political leanings. Yet in the case of African cities, Simone argues that urban residents could draw from long held practices of associations and independent networking and their collective resistance to colonization. On what could the organizers of the USSF build?

Here I draw on black feminist thought and its articulation of situated knowledge as discussed by Patricia Hill-Collins (1990). The NPC of the USSF were almost all people of color, or more correctly with the exception of a few white women and a white man in all the meetings I attended or joined in conference calls those present and doing the work were Indigenous, African American, Latinas/Latinos, Asian and South Asian American, Chicana/Chicano, and Pacific Islander. In addition a good percentage, at least 6 percent, were queer, gay, or lesbian. The majority were women and therefore situated at the margins of US society in terms of race, gender, and, for many, class.

Many heralding the success of the USSF or criticizing it for too much intentionality pointed to the domination of base-building organizations or working class people of color. The people active in organizing the USSF and the power behind it are women of color—an analysis absent in both criticisms and applause for the USSF. Feminists active in the forum have brought much attention to the gender bias and the neglect of feminist perspectives in the social forums. The USSF is unique among the world’s forums not only because of the high level of diversity that has garnered much attention but also because it is probably the only forum where women of color have been primary organizers. Analyses of the European Social Forum suggest that even when women of color were present, their voices were not heard nor were their concerns visible in the programming. This does not discount or underestimate the enormous efforts of the men involved in the USSF or nose-dive into politics of identity but as one of the central men organizers states:

It was the leadership of the young women, it has been a long time coming. It exceeded expectation.

I suggest that the situated knowledge of these women who deeply understand intersectionality, “the connections between various types of oppression” provided the foundation to build networks of trust and organize across sectors and regions. Although these women’s experiences and thoughts are not monolithic and vary based on class, ethnicity, education, demographic area, sexual orientation, age, etc., what they do have in common is being situated within oppressive locations that generate common experiences.

Hill Collins (2000) explains that while black women live and work inside the mainstream system, they are not fully accepted in that system and this gives them an outsider-within perspective on oppression–a space where resistance and agency is enacted. In other words, their location in a society that is organized by racism, gender discrimination, class inequality situates them in social and economic locations where new knowledges can be produced.

The US Yet to Come

By now the marginalization of women in larger left struggles should be hackneyed information, but in case not, here is a broad stroke to remind you that their experiences as significant actors and leaders in a host of social justice movements have been unappreciated, underappreciated, or invisible to many of the men who dominated movements and those who write about them. Just as the efforts and experience of women of color often have been missed by the feminist movements in this country.

That is why the large presence of African, Latina, Indigenous, Asian, South Asian, and Pacific Islander women mattered in the USSF organizing process. The USSF organizing process was driven by situated knowledge. While there may have been a tendency to privilege attendance by base building organizations such as Power U in the USSF outreach strategy, this was clearly due to many of the organizers’s situated knowledge. Living at the margins of privilege, they recognized that white middle class organizations would dominate the process had the grassroots not made efforts to maintain some control. In one NPC preparatory meeting we sketched out the worst-case scenarios that the USSF could be. A theme that appeared in most of the humorous small group sketches was a concern that an organized forum with sufficient infrastructure could not be created to the chagrin of the grassroots USSF and the pompousness of well-funded US organizations.

More than intentionality, the organizing process of the USSF was a pieced together process built on a common location and practice of trust in the marginal that permits for particular insights into hierarchical power and how to beat that system. While the space for dialogue and the discursive meaning of such concepts of global democracy were less visible than at that the global level, the USSF did open space for discussion between activist sectors and across US regions that did not exist prior. With a foundation of grassroots established, future US social forums, the next one scheduled for 2010, location to be announced, may have an even broader representation of the US society including the white working class and poor, rural folks and agricultural sectors, traditional academics and scholars, and larger social justice organizations.

Can the situated knowledge of the Democratic Party presidential candidate, with experience in one of the axes of oppression, change the politics of the US? With that much economic privilege it is hard to see how either would come to appreciate the daily lives of most of us. Also, the political maneuvering that candidates undertake makes deep social change from their position next to impossible. What the experience of marginalization of the Democratic candidate may provide is an ear to the grassroots and an opportunity for us to mandate progressive programs. Alice Lovelace, lead organizer of the USSF, remarked that a wave change and activity proceeds after a nation or region holds a social forum. There is no doubt that the US is experiencing this wave and that this change can drive the new political movements that we will be witnessing in this nation.

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One Response to “What’s Going On? The USSF, Grassroots Activism, and Situated Knowledge”

  1. Changing the Story » Blog Archive » Will You Join Us in the Middle of A Whirlwind? Says:

    […] Karides on the US Social Forum: The establishment of the USSF process relied on repeated transaction or tasks accomplished by […]

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