Toward the end of July, I ventured into the belly of the beast for the Boston Social Forum and the first two days of Democratic National Convention protests.Four years ago, when the World Social Forum began in Porto Alegre, Brazil, the idea was to bring together organizations and individuals from around the world opposed to corporate globalization. Organizers reasoned that the world elite had forums and other institutions to hash out their vision of the world, so social movements needed something of our own.
Ever since, social forums have been successful at bringing together movements on a global scale. Until late July, the other part of the social forum process — regionalizing forums — had yet to take off in North America. The Boston Social Forum changed that.
Its success was evident immediately. Two years worth of organizing, which began with only a handful of groups and grew to over 70 made it clear that a pluralistic left is alive and well in New England.
Some 600 talks and workshops took place during the three-day forum. But it was as much about what took place outside the workshops as inside. There were as many as 100 tables with books, pens, stickers, shirts and other left-wing paraphernalia scattered throughout the University of Massachusetts campus. The wide variety of political organizations with tables — from Oxfam to Socialism and Liberation, South End Press to The Nation magazine — kept political discussion lively. The enthusiasm to distribute political literature was impressive, although these efforts might be better directed towards the less politically involved in order to expand the left.
Other tables focused on alternative economic/political development such as selling Fair Trade products and promoting Palestinian olive oil.
Inside the workshops I had the good fortune to hear Yannick Etienne, a Haitian activist. She discussed her organization’s — Batay Ouvriye — attempts to stop the development of an export-processing zone in Ouananinthe, near Haiti’s border with the Dominican Republic. Unsuccessful in their efforts to block the World Bank funded export processing zone, they helped organize the workers. The employer Grupo M, which mainly supplies Levis, was not happy.
On March 2, just after President Jean Bertrand Aristide was ousted, 34 union members were fired for union activities. The Dominican military also intervened and roughed up some workers. If that wasn’t enough the paramilitaries that had just helped oust Aristide broke up a strike the following day. Etienne ended the talk by highlighting the importance of international solidarity in her campaign. After international pressure the 34 workers were reinstated with back pay and some other demands were met. The World Bank even contacted organizers pleading for an end to the international pressure.
At a time when the Canadian government is occupying Haiti and after reading a just released report by the Institute For Justice And Democracy In Haiti detailing the killing of more than 50Aristide supporters, plus deaths of unaccounted thousands, her comments struck a chord.
On Sunday afternoon, Act Now to Stop War and Racism (ANSWER), organized a march against the occupations of Iraq, Palestine and Haiti. The 3000 or so protesters focused on the Democratic and Republican parties’ complicity in aggressive U.S. foreign policy. “Kerry, Bush, Exxon, Shell, take your war and go to hell,” was a popular chant. The march’s atmosphere was more tense than I’m used to, probably due to the police in robot style gear walking alongside the demonstration.
Just to march to the Fleet Center, where the DNC was to meet, ANSWER had to sue the city. Another reason for the high level of tension may have been the discomfort of challenging the Democrats at a time when most of the U.S left seems to be focused on “anybody but Bush.”
The main event on the Monday was organized by the Black Tea Society, an anarchist dominated group. Concerns about the appropriateness of criticizing the Democrats didn’t seem to worry the Black Tea Society. They preferred to march under a lead banner that read, “Government is slavery.” Not surprisingly only about 250 people showed up. After some chanting of “What’s the solution? People’s revolution. What’s the reaction? Direct action” I decided to get a feel for what Democrat supporters were thinking.
A small group of unionized carpenters who were promoting a boycott of a non-union retailer seemed completely unaware of John Kerry’s foreign policy.A Kerry supporter I talked to on the subway, who gave his name as Arthur F., told me the difference between the Democrats and Republicans was the Democrats cared more about educating the population. Arthur wasn’t worried about Kerry’s comments that Bush has been too easy on Venezuela’s democratically elected president Hugo Chavez.
I asked his thoughts on Kerry’s 100 per cent support for Israel’s wall, a section of which was ruled unconstitutional by the Israeli Supreme Court and illegal in its entirety by the international court of justice. He became uncomfortable, though not critical of Kerry. On Iraq, Arthur opposed the invasion, though he now supports Kerry’s call to send more troops. The occupation has become necessary, he said. I didn’t have a chance to ask him about Kerry’s lack of interest in the Kyoto protocol or the international court.
All in all it was an interesting weekend.