Last month, over a thousand trade unionists, human rights activists, students, miners, environmentalists, artists, left thinkers and journalists gathered on a campus in the heart of Moscow. It was Russia's first ever Social Forum, designed to develop strategies, exchange ideas, and build a new movement for democracy and social change--as has been done in recent years in Brazil, India and Italy.
Longtime political activist and journalist--and contributor to The Nation--Boris Kagarlitsky's report from the frontlines of this unprecedented event is published below. (As Director of the Institute of Globalization Studies, Kagarlitsky was one of the key organizers of the Forum.)
His analysis of what the Forum means for the future of opposition in Russia--and for the upsurge of new social movements and the left in that country--is an invaluable counter to the conventional wisdom about Putin's Russia.
I'm delighted to report that the two teenage girls detained without charge and held in a Pennsylvania detention center for six weeks after being called would-be suicide bombers despite any supporting evidence have been released. Many thanks to all Nation readers who responded to this blog and sent letters in their support. This is a small victory in the fight against the prosecutorial excesses allowed by the PATRIOT ACT and a huge victory for the girls, their families and their supporters.
The labor movement is not about one individual or one moment in time. It goes on, regardless. But there are some individuals who rise through the ranks of the movement at the right moment and define it â€“ or, as was the case with Miguel Contreras, redefine it. The tireless chief of Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, whose death Friday from a heart attack at age 52 shocked union activists in California and across the country, transformed a struggling local coalition into a dynamic force for economic justice and political change.
At a time when the national AFL-CIO was only beginning to recognize the need to reach out to the immigrant workers who were fast becoming the backbone of the hotel, restaurant, health care and construction industries, Contreras put the Los Angeles federation in the forefront of campaigns to organize Latino and Asian-American workers. And he turned those newly-organized workers, and their families and neighbors, into a voting bloc with the potential to change not just Los Angeles county but California.
The son of migrant laborers who was drawn into the union movement by Cesar Chavez, Contreras took over the Los Angeles County Federation in 1996, when its member unions had about 650,000 members. Today, they have more than 800,000. The incredible growth of the LA Fed under Contreras's leadership was noticed quickly, and his ideas about organizing immigrants and flexing political muscle inspired activists nationwide. "People across the country look at LA as a model of success," Anna Burger, of the Service Employees International Union, a key ally of Contreras, told the Los Angeles Times.
Just when you thought it might be impossible for the Bush administration and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay to stoop any lower, they have sunk to a new depth. They are now, in the well-chosen words of one member of the U.S. House, "using America's fighting men and women as human shields to pass pork-laden legislation."
The administration and its chief congressional ally hijacked the resolution for supplemental funding of the U.S. occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and added to the measure a laundry list of giveaways to special interests and bad policies. In addition to packing in all sorts of new immigration rules and expenditures, which should have been dealt with on their own merits rather than buried in an "emergency" spending bill, they also included money for a "wish-list" of Pentagon boondoggles that have nothing to do with helping the troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan -- let alone getting them home alive.
Unfortunately, most Democrats went along with this abuse of the legislative process, making themselves partners in an ugly and unwarranted diversion of taxpayer dollars. The final House vote in favor of the $82 billion package was 368-58. Supporting the "emergency" bill were 225 Republicans and 143 Democrats; opposing it were 54 Democrats, three Republicans and Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders.
In her Mother's Day Proclamation of 1870, Julia Ward Howe--the woman who is credited with founding the holiday--wrote : "In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask...that a general congress of women without limit of nationality may be appointed...to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace."
A hundred and thirty-five Mother's Days later, the feisty and fiercely intelligent women of Code Pink--the largest women-initiated, antiwar activist group in the country--are fulfilling Howe's call to action. Founded in 2002 during the run-up to war in Iraq, Code Pink has grabbed the nation's attention with some of the boldest, most direct, creative (and good-humored) protests against the war.
Among our favorite Code Pink actions: their four-month vigil in front of the White House; the "pink slip" campaign; crashing the RNC three nights in a row; interrupting hearings to demand the firing of Donald Rumsfeld, and, later, to protest the nomination of John Bolton.
Remember what Bush was like before bin Laden?