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(en) US, Buffalo anarchist Organizers Participate in the 2nd US Social Forum

Date Wed, 30 Jun 2010 14:23:16 +0300

Just after sunrise on Tuesday, June 22nd a group of ten activists gathered outside of the Lafeyette Ave. Presbyterian Church. This group of Buffalo organizers was on their way to participate in one of the largest gatherings of left-wing organizers in the United States. They were going to participate in the US Social Forum. The organizations that participated in the delegation included the Coalition for Economic Justice, People United for Sustainable Housing, the WNY Council on Occupational Safety and Health, Buffalo Class Action, Buffalo Tenants United, and Buffalo Indymedia. Traveling with these delegates was a group of another 20 activists from the Vermont Worker Center. ---- After a six hour drive, the activists arrived in Detroit just in time to participate in the Opening Celebration for the Forum.

Over 5,000 people, with many thousands more still arriving, marched through Detroit announcing their presence and the beginning of this national gathering of social justice organizers. A bloc of indigenous activists led the march which included labor organizers, environmental justice groups, community organizations, tenants and homeless movements, and left wing ideological groups. In the end, over 15,000 activists would take part in the week’s events. The US Social Forum had begun, and for many people in the United States, this would be the first day they heard of the convergence.

What Is the US Social Forum?

The US Social Forum is a gathering place for social justice organizers throughout the country. It’s a space for activists from a wide variety of people’s movements to share and learn from each other’s experiences. It’s a space to build unity and debate new questions. But, most importantly to many at this year’s Forum, it’s a place to build and strengthen movements. The Forum stands in contrast to meetings like the Group of 20, held this weekend in Toronto. At the G20 meeting, sweeping economic decisions are made that will affect the lives of millions of people. However, this meeting will not include those peoples’ voices. The Social Forum on the other hand represent a space of grassroots discussion and decision making, where every day people organize to have a say in the decisions that have such profound impacts on their lives. At hundreds of workshops, presentations, panel discussions, and rallies people from throughout the US build an agenda that adequately addresses the needs of everyday people. This is the US Social. Surrounding these workshops and discussions is a nearly constant cultural display of poetry, music, visual art, and spectacular parties.

Take Back the Land, Housing is a Right Not a Market

At the Social Forum, each participating individual will often find themselves pulled between a number of different events and movements. I was no different. I found that if I wanted to have any real take away from the event, I needed to really consciously plan out what workshops I would participate in and why. I chose to focus on three different movements and spent my time trying to find the workshops representing those issues. The three movements I was drawn to were the tenants and housing movement, the labor movement, and anarchist movements.

The workshops that I participated in around housing were organized by a movement calling itself Take Back the Land. The organizers of this movement had an incredibly inspiring vision. They believe that housing should be a right to all people, and that there should be direct community control over any decisions regarding housing. To achieve this, they feel that housing needs to be de-commodified. By this they mean that housing should no longer be a commodity that can be bought and sold, and more importantly, manipulated by massive market forces. It isn’t until housing is no longer a market meant to profit landlords, realtors, and financial institutions that we can achieve the goal of housing as a right.

The inspirational vision that Take Back the Land has for the future of housing is matched by its equally inspirational strategy. Take Back the Land has made direct action central to their strategy. They believe that housing will be de-commodified when the homeless, tenants, and community members take over that housing for community use. This has meant that in numerous cities Take Back the Land has organized homeless people to occupy and squat unused housing while organizing tenants to resist, and sometimes blockade, their evictions. Their movement to “elevate housing to a human right” found many supporters at the US Social Forum.

Organize the Unorganized!

The international labor movement was also very visible throughout the entire Social Forum. Massive unions stood alongside small workplace committees with the demand that an economy that makes the needs of working people the central priority. A workshop organized by the Retail Action Project talked about organizing retail workers. This group of workers has largely been non-union throughout the United States. The Retail Action Project talked about some of their victories organizing this massive workforce and the need for efforts by local labor movements to take part in new and experimental forms of organizing workers that are often considered impossible to organize. These supposedly impossible to organize groups of workers include retail workers, restaurant workers, and many other massive industries in the service sector.

The other workshop was organized by the Service Employees International Union, Local One. This conversation was about the necessity to build a stronger and move organized labor movement. They called on people in the room to organize unions if they didn’t already have one and participate more actively in their union if they did. The topic moved on to cover some of the important issues for labor at the moment, and what they could do to build a more powerful movement. One of the ideas mentioned was to target and defy some of the laws set to constrict the actions that labor is allowed to take including solidarity striking and the illegality of some strategic industries to strike.

Anarchist Participation

As a member of Buffalo Class Action, I was immediately interested in participating on some level with the organized anarchist movement. The anarchist presence at the US Social Forum was highly visible and a part of many conversations. This was an important signal that the anarchists participating in US movements have begun to move away from self-isolation to direct participation and a refusal to be ghettoized out of broader peoples’ movements.

Much of the anarchist presence at the Forum was organized by a group called “A New World from Below”. This group organized a space for people to sleep, free dinners, open discussions, and put together a newspaper of anarchist-related workshops and discussions going on throughout the week. This paper and gathering space gave the anarchist movement a visibility that many other groups lacked and showed the growing importance of anarchism to US movements.

One of the workshops publicized by the paper was a discussion that I helped to organize. The discussion included Buffalo Class Action as well as Common Action and the Northeast Federation of Anarchist Communists, anarchist groups from the Northwest and Northeast United States respectively. The conversation was an introduction to the South American idea of especifismo which calls for anarchists to create specific ideological organizations that can argue for a coherent anarchism while participating in broader peoples’ movements.

Possibilities for Buffalo

My participation at the US Social Forum was with the intent to bring back some possible solutions or organizing opportunities to Buffalo. As fun as the event was on its own, it has the explicit purpose of building movements. To me, that meant looking for specific and concrete proposals for Buffalo. There are a few possibilities that my experience at the Social Forum indicated for our cities movements.

First, the Take Back the Land Movement’s conversations around direct action to solve immediate housing problems and the de-commodification of housing to solve the long-term inequality of housing seemed like amazing proposals. I believe that we should find ways to adapt these ideas to be useful and applicable to the Buffalo housing rights movement. Direct action in the form of housing and land occupations, as well as eviction blockades should be frequent conversations popping up in the housing movement. I hope that both Buffalo Tenants United and People United for Sustainable Housing begin having conversations about elevating housing to the level of a human right.

Second, I do believe that there are many opportunities to expand the labor movement. Many of the more experimental forms of organizing were being funded and put together by Area Labor Federations. These possibilities include organizing retail workers, restaurant workers, unemployed people, immigrant workers, and simply general worker centers. These types of organizing efforts could find ways to effectively organize tens of thousands of non-union workers in the Buffalo area, and even without immediate results in unionizing those industries they would help to re-build a culture of unionism for us.

Finally, what I believe is one of the most immediately realizable goals – a Buffalo Social Forum. While it was inspirational and fun to meet with thousands of activists from around the globe, I don’t often find myself working with many of those people. However, there are dozens of organizers within the city of Buffalo that I work with on a near constant basis, but never have these sort of conversations. I think that it would be a worthwhile effort to begin organizing a Buffalo Social Forum to help us begin to build a more unified peoples’ movement in Buffalo. The Forum could act as an opportunity for some collective action, massive recruitment, and important dialogue between movements. I hope that we can begin mobilizing some movement on these fronts and others and see that the massive effort that went into organizing the US Social Forum proves to be worth it on the ground.
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