Cue the white smoke, we have a pope! Er, I mean a location, and a date. After two days of meetings that ranged from tense and acrimonious to joyful and celebratory, participants at the planning meeting for Canada's first ever People's Social Forum managed to arrive at a consensus.
Held in Edmonton on the 2nd and 3rd of July, this planning meeting followed on the heels of the hugely successful first preparatory meeting which took place in Ottawa in January. While the attendance was around 50 people, short of the 150 who descended on Ottawa, key organizers from across the spectrum of social movements were there.
Despite the logistical difficulties of getting to Edmonton, the Quebec caucus was the largest in attendance, and organized labour was heavily represented within it. In the words of Antoni Shelton from the Ontario Federation of Labour, "labour support and participation from Quebec has been strong, now the rest of us need to step it up." Shelton argued labour rights should be central to this process, and strongly articulated the need to resist the attack on labour and the Rand Formula in Canada, which he described as the "lifeblood of union movement."
In addition to heavy representation from labour, including several delegates from the CSN, Quebec's second largest labour federation, who came with promises of full organizational support, the Quebec delegation included the two co-founders of Idle No More Quebec, a representative of the Quebec Women's Federation, former student movement spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, Michel Lambert and Roger Rashi from Alternatives, the Montreal-based international solidarity NGO which has been spearheading the project, and a number of other activists representing various groups and constituencies.
While the second day saw decisions made on all the key points needed to move the forum project forward, the prognosis was not always so rosy. Tensions were briefly inflamed as the meeting got underway on the night of the 2nd, when two delegates made statements to the effect that Alberta's struggles were more important than those in other provinces, that there was too much Quebec involvement in the process, and that all immigrants were colonizers.
These statements did not sit well with others, including Nadeau-Dubois and Shelton. Nadeau-Dubois went to the microphone to make the point that we all have struggles, and must work together without dividing ourselves on such a silly basis as whose struggles are more important than others. Meanwhile, Shelton made a powerful intervention referencing the fact that as a black man, his ancestors were brought here against there will, and were equally the victims of colonialism. "As a slave nation, when we talk about the perfect Canada, this is often left out of the discussion."
Thankfully, rifts were patched up by the next day and work could begin in earnest on making the critical choices needed for the Forum project to proceed. First up was the proposed text of the People's Social Forum charter. This was adopted unanimously after some changes proposed by the Indigenous caucus were added, and will be available online shortly.
From there, Antoni Shelton gave a strong speech in favour of the OFL's proposal to hold the Forum in Ottawa. Centrally located, politically and spiritually significant as the seat of government and site of Chief Theresa Spence's hunger strike, possessed of the type of infrastructure required to accommodate the over 10,000 people expected and accessible from the population centres of Toronto and Montreal. It seemed like a no-brainer, and broad consensus was immediately apparent. Concerns were raised that it excluded the West, which were allayed by a commitment to hold the next forum out West, and fundraise heavily to ensure equal access for activists from all parts of the country.
Meanwhile, a time-frame was swiftly narrowed down to late August or early September of 2014. In the interests of increasing accessibility for students, and ensuring access to university resources like classrooms, the decision was made that the Forum would take place in late August, with a date to be fixed by the organizing committee and depending upon available venues.
To the surprise of everyone, the meeting ended an hour ahead of schedule, with all the points we needed to cover agreed upon by unanimous consent. The mood was positive and upbeat as participants left, feeling like they had accomplished what they came here to do.
"We have waited a long, long time for such a strong convergence of social movements," said Nadeau-Dubois. "And I'm thrilled to see such broad support for this kind of project, which will unite activists from across Canada."
I am too, and I hope you'll join us in Ottawa in late August of 2014. It will be unlike anything Canada has ever seen.
I am currently on a crowd-funded journalism trip which started with the People's Social Forum assembly and is continuing with the Tar Sands Healing Walk, where I am writing these words from a lakeside tent in Fort McMurray. I'm still short of what I need to fund my transport back to Edmonton so if you can, please consider throwing a couple bucks in the hat. Alternatively, sharing the link on twitter or Facebook is also incredibly helpful.
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