At first sight, the only applicable description of the first US Social Forum would be chaos. Utterly overwhelming. Ten thousand people mill about the Atlanta Civic Center and its environs, trying to choose between dozens of workshops, issue-themed tents, merchandise and information tables, meetings, and plain old socializing.
It is a scene perhaps best captured in fragments rather than full sentences. Organizers. Housing. Immigrant workers. Vision. Prison abolition. Puppets. Speeches, newspapers, fliers, banners, flags, books, shirts. Laughter. Dance parties. Water. Media. Fundraisers. Collaboration. Resisting state and interpersonal violence. Imagining.
Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Colombia, Cuba, Puerto Rico, ghetto, barrio, reservation. The city. Youth. Networking. Strategy.
It is people running into old friends from across the country as they roll into Atlanta in buses from the Southwest to the Northeast. It is the sweaty hugs and warm handshakes of new friends collaborating on old projects, of people meeting others doing the exact same work across the country or complimentary work across town. It is a place of impassioned and often impromptu speeches. Spirited marches, ad hoc press conferences, and clever street theater seem as ubiquitous as the 1,000 panels taking place. The social forum is a gathering of veterans–of wars and of movements.
The forum can easily feel like just another conference, only supersized. The schmoozing, the talking heads, the exchanging of cards and brochures–it’s all here, just on a bigger scale. People trying to call attention to their cause or organization pass out flyers announcing the workshops they are organizing. There are many different workshop tracks to choose from, both from themes the forum organizers decided upon or the self-organized tracks groups have collaborated on to organize. It would be easy to pick a track and only see people interested in workers rights, urban community organizing, Palestine, transformative justice, or rebuilding the Gulf Coast. In that, the Social Forum is a conference of conferences for a movement of movements.
A bird’s eye view of the social forum would reveal an energy and excitement for something more. That desire is not just for an alternative to the Bush regime’s sinking ship. At its best, the desire stretches for a new way of conducting politics and social movement based on but not duplicative of what has come before. It is a call to build a left that is grassroots and democratic, visionary and strategic, a left that manages to have unity without sacrificing its political principles. If, as the World Social Forum slogan puts it, Another World Is Possible, the US Social Forum proclaims that Another US is Necessary.