by Brendan Maslauskas Dunn/Love and Rage
Several months ago, I was part of a discussion with a group of local activists that ended in the collective agreement to launch the Utica Social Forum which will be held June 3-5 at Utica’s Cornerstone Community Church at 500 Plant Street. The idea coincided with the launch of the Utica Activist Coalition, both of which were established to unite local community, student and activist groups and to also get new people involved in organizing and activism.
The Utica Social Forum (USF) was held once before – ten years ago to be exact – at Mohawk Valley Community College. Activists and residents came to network, teach each other, and build connections between different movements. The USF is a convention and gathering for local activists, community organizations and anyone who us interested to come together under the banner that “Another World is Possible” and “Another Utica is Necessary.” It is part of both the World Social Forum (WSF), which was established in 2001 in Brazil, and the broader global justice movement. It was first launched by activists who felt the need to have an international gathering for social movements, activists and organizations that represent the struggles and needs of the common people.
In stark contrast, the World Economic Forum, which can be seen as the antithesis of the WSF, is the annual gathering of the rich and powerful of the world in Davos, Switzerland to discuss decisions that will adversely impact billions of people around the world. There is no democratic input from those who are directly impacted b by this forum, as is often the case with organizations and meetings of global capital in the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and G8. The decision by activists that launched the WSF to name it such was a conscious, political act. The wealthy and powerful have their institutions and gatherings. And now, we have ours. Since 2001 the WSF has been held annually and rotates from country to country and multiple regional, national and local forums have been held all over the world.
The purpose of having a forum in Utica is to connect the many organizations, groups, and campaigns that make up the greater struggle for social, racial and economic justice locally, to network, and to build a more cohesive and unified movement locally. Since many people in Utica and the surrounding area feel disillusioned, detached and isolated from social movements across the country and around the world, this forum will provide people with the space to connect with the broader global justice movement and see that our struggles for justice on the local level are intricately connected to the broader global justice movement – whether it is the struggle of landless peasants in Brazil, immigrant justice activists across Europe, student activists in South Africa, or rebels and dreamers everywhere. Similarly, the conditions of poverty, institutionalized racism, unemployment and urban decay in Utica are not unique to this area – nor are these purely the byproduct of local corruption: they are the result of a global economic and political system that benefits the rich at the expense of the poor. When we organize locally, we need to see the injustices we face as part of a global oppressive system. We also need to see that the actions we take and the organizing we do as part of a global resistance, one that demands that “another world is possible.”
During the USF people will come together for a weekend of networking, community building, learning, lectures, workshops, skill shares and panel discussions. Fighting for a better world begins at home and it has to start at the grassroots. The USF will span over three days. There will be a film screening of the independent documentary “The Muslims I Know” on Friday, June 3 at 7:00 PM followed by a Q&A with the director Mara Ahmed and a panel discussion with local Muslims and activists. Organizers decided to kick off the USF with this event in response to the local and national rise in Islamophobia and bigotry directed towards Muslims, Arabs, refugees and immigrants.
On Saturday, June 4, attendees have a day long event (from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM) of multiple workshops and panel discussions to choose from. Workshops will address a large spectrum of topics, including war and peace, civil liberties and civil rights, racial justice, politics and social movements. More specifically, some workshops will cover progressive activism, the NAACP and NYCLU, lead poisoning in Utica, the Zapatistas in southern Mexico, US foreign policy, Black Lives Matter, union organizing with the IWW, launching a Ban the Box campaign locally, Love and Rage and independent journalism, student activism, and alternative political views.
In the afternoon, a panel discussion titled “Visions of Utica” will bring together the visionary ideas of several local activists as they discuss what a more just and equitable Utica would look like and how we can get there as a community. On Sunday, June 5th from 1:00 – 4:00 PM a “Peoples Movement Assembly” will be held. This is a creation of past social forums and acts as a space where people network and have dialogue around how exactly we will build a local movement and what the next steps we have to take are. The entire event is free and open to the public but donations are also welcomed.
The Utica Social Forum is happening at an exciting time because the World Social Forum, which has over the years connected countless movements, campaigns and social justice activists all over the world, will be held in North America for the very first time. The World Social Forum will be held in Montreal from the 9th to 14th of August. The USF is also acting as a kick-off event to gear up for the WSF in Montreal. At least a dozen people are planning on driving up to Montreal from Utica and we are hoping that more will join us. Information will be available at the USF for those interested in attending the WSF.
For anyone that is sick and tired of living in a system that is unjust, dis-empowering and undemocratic, for anyone that wants to take a stand, speak out, and organize for a better tomorrow, this is the forum for you. It begins, as our fellow activists in the Zapatista movement in Chiapas, Mexico say, “little by little.” And we will only create that world, another world that is not only possible, but probable, if we push to make that change. As the Zapatistas also say, “we make the road by walking” and “we walk by asking questions.” We have the capacity to make this change a reality but we need to do it through collective dialogue, action, and organization. Or, in a sense, we discover only what our future will look like through the collective action we undertake. I saw the potential for this in Utica ten years ago during the last Utica Social Forum and I know I will see it during the next one in June. The real question is, what will we do with our shared knowledge from the forum and how will we build that better world? How will we make our own road and how will we walk? The USF is where we begin that process and build on it though action and organization, little by little.