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The Boston Social Forum

The “structural adjustment” programs that big corporations, wealthy governments, and international lenders imposed on much of Latin America, Africa, and Asia in the 1980’s and 1990’s are now being applied back home in the U.S. In order to reduce the deficit while still funding the largest military machine the world has seen, the federal government has slashed funding for housing, education, health care, and environmental protection. State governments have followed suit, putting increasing pressure on counties, cities, and towns to privatize everything from prisons to public hospitals to municipal water systems. The wave of privatization has resulted in the loss of union jobs, higher fees for vital services, and a lack of accountability for how public money is spent and basic needs are met. Non-profits are left scrambling to try to meet the needs of people who used to depend on government programs that have now been scaled back or eliminated, and find themselves competing for the same grants and appealing to the same donors to help them through each new crisis.

Meanwhile, progressive social movements in this country find themselves fragmented and lacking a vision for the future. Daily struggles against new wars, new funding cuts, new court rulings, and new arrests leave activists unable to develop a coherent response to the broad assault on the public sector, civil liberties, civil rights, and international law.

In response to this crisis, over fifty labor, environmental, peace, human rights, civil rights, neighborhood, and women’s groups came to organize the Boston Social Forum, which will bring thousands of activists from throughout New England and around the world together at the University of Massachusetts in Boston from July 23-25 to share their ideas and experiences, build new networks and alliances, and articulate an alternative vision for our collective future. Modeled on the World Social Forum, which has brought tens of thousands of activists from social movements around the world together in Porto Allegre, Brazil, and Mumbai, India, together to share their strategies, analysis, and proposals, the Boston Social Forum will be the first major social forum in North America.

Prominent writers, artists, and activists like Winona LaDuke, Angela Davis, Medea Benjamin, Tom Goldtooth, Jim Hightower, Manning Marable, and Harry Belafonte. But the most important conversations will take place between people from radically different walks of life finding common ground. Where else will a union organizer from Rome, a single mother holding down three jobs, the only out lesbian from a high school in rural Utah, an organic farmer from Maine, a college student who spent the winter working for Howard Dean in Iowa and New Hampshire, a South African poet, a seventeen year old rapper, a homeless Vietnam veteran, a campesino woman tortured by the Colombian Army, and an Ivy League economics professor sit down together to explore the inks between the struggles they all face and then spend the night dancing to hip-hop and Afro-Cuban jazz?

Ours will be an open-ended process ­ we will not be hammering out a manifesto, adopting a platform, or issuing a five-year plan. We are uniting around common questions rather than ideology: What kind of future do e want for Boston? For our region? For our nation? Fr the world? What is our vision of a better society? As Suren Moodliar of the North American Alliance for Fair Employment says, “We don’t have the answers but we know who does.” Those answers will emerge from conversations between people from different communities, different movements, and different cultures. Events at the Boston Social Forum will include:

— A benefit concert featuring Billy Bragg, theFoundation, Nora York, and others . . .

— The Active Arts Conference helping young people explore hip-hop music, art, and culture as a positive force for social change . . .

— Over 500 workshops and discussions on a broad range of issues including but not limited to climate change, corporate accountability, health care, education, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered liberation, criminal justice, immigration, labor, environmental justice, nonviolence, peace, labor, global justice, water privatization, and women’s liberation.

— An International Peace and Human Rights conference with delegations from Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America

— Presentations by Hasan Barghouthi, Zia Mian, Rep.Dennis Kucinich, Walden Bello, Dennis Brutus, Phyllis Bennis, Danny Glover, Sonia Sanchez, Aichan Vanaik,Pervez Hoobody, Paul Farmer, Diane Dujon, FelixArroyo, Eric Mann, Rabbi Michael Lerner, and others.

— A dramatic recreation of Fannie Lou Hamer’s speech to the 1964 Democratic Convention by activists connected with the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party

— Art, music, drama, and films

— A summit of progressive journalists working tocreate a new national media network (see http://summitnet04.com/ for more information.)

and much more!

The Boston Social Forum won’t be just a conference, it will be a living experiment in real democracy.

We are at a crucial moment right now — environmental protections are being rolled back, our military is occupying two nations, social services are under assault, public utilities are being privatized, civil liberties and civil rights are being eroded. The Boston Social Forum will present us with a chance to build new alliances with activists from other movements, to strategize together, and to assert that” Another world is possible!” And necessary!

Sean Donahue directs the Corporations and Militarism Project of the Massachusetts Anti-Corporate Clearinghouse and is a contributor to CounterPunch’s forthcoming book on the 2004 elections, Dime’s Worth of Difference: Beyond the Politics of Lesser Evils. He can be reached at: wrldhealer@yahoo.com

For more information on the Boston Social Forum go to (http://www.bostonsocialforum.org.)

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