'Another world is possible': Peoples' Social Forum demands change

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The Peoples' Social Forum (PSF) in Toronto drew progressives to Ryerson's campus this weekend for discussions and workshops on everything from austerity to anti-racism.

The PSF is a counter-summit to the Pan American economic summit, just as the World Social Forum is a counter to the World Economic Forum.

"We have our own vision and we're organizing this to show that there is opposition to that economic forum and to the people present at that forum and to their agenda," said Darius Mirshahi, one of the PSF organizers.

The forum had a total of 560 registered participants according to Sakura Saunders, another organizer.

It featured a closing keynote panel with Judy Rebick, founder of rabble.ca; Hassan Husseini, a labour activist; Linda McQuaig, journalist and NDP candidate; Kimalee Phillip, an anti-colonial activist; Syed Hussan, an activist with No One is Illegal and Tantoo Cardinal, actress and member of the Order of Canada. 

Phillip, who stepped in last minute to fill in for Amaju Nangwaya, elicited a standing ovation after her heart-wrenching address where she highlighted victims of anti-black racism.

"Over 50 per cent of people who have been killed by the police who have experienced mental health histories have been black men," she said.

"Earlier yesterday, I attended a vigil to honour the spirit of an African man [Andrew Loku] who was supposedly wielding a weapon -- a hammer. A hammer that has yet to be found," she continued, "Within seconds his life was ripped away by Toronto Police Services."

"Another world is not only possible, we must demand her existence," concluded Phillip, imploring change.

Hussan's keynote criticized Canadian nationalism:

"There's this thing called Canadian that we really need to come to terms with. This Canadian is strong and he -- and it is a he -- fought in the war of 1812. This Canadian goes to war, like it is at war in the Ukraine and Syria," he said. "This Canadian is racist because that's why this country celebrated the anniversary of John A MacDonald. This Canadian is opposed to communism. That's why $3 millions have been spent to build a 5,000 square metre memorial to the victims of communism."

Earlier in the day, Hussan also ran a workshop titled 'Unemployment, Racisms and the Temporary Foreign Workers Program' where he countered the myth that temporary foreign workers are "stealing" Canadian jobs.

McQuaig, the author of The Trouble with Billionaires, criticized the influence of wealth in politics and the rise of corporate power.

She used the example of John Paulson, a hedge fund manager. 

"In 2009, he made, in one year, $3.7 billion. That was his income. And he made it by betting on the sub-prime mortgage market which helped push the world into a recession from which we still have not fully recovered," she said.

McQuaig likened that to making the same amount of money as 80,000 nurses -- an example of an average income.

"In what moral universe is that guy worth the same as 80,000 nurses?" McQuaig asked to cheers from the crowd.

She also claimed that the fossil fuel lobby is the strongest set of interest there has ever been.

Husseini used his time to commemorate the acts of solidarity last year during the attacks on Gaza, and to reflect on Canada's all-party consensus in support of Israel.

He used that to segue into the current "consensus around capitalist austerity."

"A great deal of the rhetoric that we see from our political elite is not one that really truly fundamentally challenges the power of capital or the austerity agenda," he said.

He listed the pitfalls of this as including lowering wages, eroding pensions, attacking public services and the healthcare system as well as a shrinking public sector and the exploitation of migrant workers.

Cardinal, who closed the keynote, crafted her address in the form of a story.

She ended the night with a feel-good tale of how humans believe lies about how their species, race, tribe or individual family is somehow superior to the rest of creation.

She also made a nod to climate change.

"I think mother earth is teaching moment by moment with each new disaster," she said.

The forum featured nearly 70 workshops throughout the day that were scheduled in what Mirshahi describes as a "bottom up" approach. The organizers didn't organize the content but simply had groups send in workshop proposals and set them up with rooms.

"The purpose of the Peoples' Social Forum is to connect movements and communities and campaigns across regions," said Mirshahi, who described the event as a venue for different movements to intersect.


Megan Devlin is rabble's news intern for 2015. She hails from Toronto, but she's starting her Masters in Journalism in Vancouver. She got her start in journalism working at the Western Gazette where she was a news editor for volume 107 and online associate editor for volume 108.

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