US Social Forum 2015

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June 25-29, 2015

Philadelphia, PA

Thursday June 25th

Building and Maintaining an Anti-Oppression Community Building Skill Set

Move to amend

By its very nature, community building is anti-oppression. It's about working for something, rather than working against something. Anti-oppression is something you'll do for the rest of your life. Be prepared to screw up on a regular basis. You'll have time to go back and fix your mistakes.

If you live in the rural south and you're not white, then you know race is an issue. If you are white, then you probably know someone who's in the Klan.

Racism is institutional. If you're white and you're not constantly trying to weed out institutionalized racism, then you're going to be affected by it. If you have a conscious position against oppression, then you have an obligation to do the work.

Who's the image of power and success in this country? An old white guy in a suit. We all possess some form of power; why do we only have one image of power?

Principals of community:

  • Work in the context of community. We're all thinkers, workers, and teachers. Be sure to give everyone a voice and room to speak.
  • Bring your whole self. Who you are shapes what you bring. Welcomed, recognized, and validated are the keys to being inclusive. Our culture likes to use shame and blame to limit power.
  • Stay in it with people. Take the time to work issues out. Acknowledge when you screw up.
  • Do your work. Try to do all you can, to be as whole as possible. It's not all about your validation.

The change process can be good or bad. Each change is a period of instability that takes you from one status quo to another. Change involves chaos, until you get the new process worked out. If we're doing well, then we're creating chaos every day. You have to stay grounded in chaos to win.

You need shared principals, and they have to be shared with the community.

Everyone contributes to collective vision. Your vision needs to be clear and personal to you. Individual visions overlap, but they'll never overlap completely. As an exercise, have everyone draw their vision on a sheet of paper. After three minutes, pass your paper to the left, and draw for another three minutes. What do the drawings look like when they've gone full circle?

Visions are something you can use for the long term. A vision helps you judge how you're doing.

Within a group, there must be individual accountability and shared power. The group has to decide how power will be shared.

All of us have some degree of privilege; there are ways to use that privilege strategically, to your advantage. How can you use your privilege to dismantle obstacles for people who don't have it?

Saying "color is a problem" is a way of strengthening white supremacy. This prevents you from building power with people who are different.

Move to amend isn't just about getting the money out of politics. It's also about community and movement building. Community and movement building are part of our education curriculum

When trying to build a mass movement, it helps to learn about past mass movements. Building a mass movement is hard, but it can be done. White supremacy sticks around because it's profitable. Capitalism works well with white supremacy, because white supremacy makes money.

Equality and justice are not the same thing. Equality just means "the same"; justice is something different.

How can you reach out to new groups? Go to a few of their meetings and participate. Eventually, they'll get to know you, and ask where you came from.

Bubbles and bricks is an exercise to tell the difference between personal pain and oppression. Analyze the conditions that are making you feel bad, and try to figure out how those feelings are stored. Does the memory weigh you down like a brick? Then it's probably oppression. Does it seem incredibly real for a second, then disappear like a bubble? Then it's probably personal pain. The goal is to turn all your memories of pain into bubbles. Personal pain is finite; oppression is chronic. You can end personal pain by yourself, but it takes a movement to fix oppression.

Connecting Global Movements for Networked Justice


(This presentation started with a couple of interactive exercises. Later, we broke into smaller groups. I joined a group that discussed technology and the labor movement.)

Major media will not tell the story of worker struggles. We need our own alternative media to spread the word about the struggles of working people. The internet gives us a way to build international solidarity. Consider an iPhone; the raw materials are mined in one country, fabricated in another, assembled in another, then shipped back to the US and sold. Workers in many countries are involved in this process, and there's opportunity for international solidarity. There are migrant workers all over the world.

Uber has been attempting to use technology to create an unregulated cab company. The technology might be new, but the idea of capitalists strategizing in their own best interests is not. Capitalists like technology, because they can make more money from fewer works. The system is interested in generating profits; it's not interested in improving the lives of ordinary people. Websites that focus on labor issues: and http://www.labortech. net/.

NAFTA had a huge, and very negative, impact on people in Mexico. Why haven't there been any documentaries about this?

Our unions are "business unions". They don't want to stand up to corporations; they want workers to compromise. Historically, general strikes have been a very effective way of getting concessions from companies, but the major unions no longer support them.

Thursday Plenary

Without a people's movement, the 2016 elections mean nothing to the people.

Our schools are being turned into corporate money making machines. Schools aren't about having our kids learn; they're about turning them into good consumers. Opting out of standardized tests is one way to fight back. This prevents corporations from making money from the testing, and from mining data about our kids.

Those invested in the system will tell you that you're being too angry, but we all have a principle of self-defense.

When the police arrested Dylan Roof, why did the put a bullet proof vest on him, to protect him?

Defending yourself is not a crime. It's not weird, or strange, or wrong. If you don't believe in self-defense, you'll never see an end to the madness we have today. The people running the system are not our friends. We can't rely on the system to look out for us.

We need to know what we're fighting for, and how to fight for it. The two-party system has shown us what they won't do.

We have the power to create another world. It's possible through collective actions that we all take. There is power in unity. This movement is the solution to the crisis of militarism and extremism. We are not a footnote in the oligarchy system.

People support healthcare, education, and downsizing the military. For the cost of the F-35 fighter system (about a trillion dollars), we could pay for college education for everyone in America for the next ten years.

Social movements have always been the source of important changes. Power concedes nothing without demands, and it's time for us to start making demands. It's time to replace the lesser evil with the greater good. The next presidential election should be nothing but a referendum on our broken system.

We're here because of a deep commitment from the Philadelphia organizing committee. It's a key point in a larger organizing process.

All US social forums have occurred in the shadow of capitalist crises. The first USSF was held after hurricane Katrina. The second forum was in Detroit, amid a struggle for water. It's our duty and responsibility to build a movement.

Ohio started losing jobs in 2001, and current employment levels are lower than they were in 2001. There are lots of tax cuts for the wealthy, but very few for the lower classes. Our state legislators cut social programs, and they don't care about consequences for the people. Every time we've tried to keep what we've had, we've lost. You can't move things forward if you're constantly struggling to keep what you have.

Every empire needs bodies, so the empire wants to regulate what we can do with our bodies. The desire to control reproductive rights comes from white supremacy. Slave owners forced women to breed, to provide more slaves.

Neo-liberalism got rid of our working class. Rich white bodies are the only ones the system needs. If you don't have laborers and workers, then you don't need to provide them with a social safety net.

Look up the phrase "demographic winter". It's the idea that white civilization will end, unless more white women have kids. And our system kills and imprisons the black ones.

You can't understand local dynamics unless you understand global dynamics. Globally, all of the issues we're working on are integrated. We have to connect capitalism with the history of US imperialism. We owe it to the rest of the world.

Trade agreements aren't about trade; they're about maintaining the global balance of power. It's their power against ours. Keep in mind who we are fighting with, and who we have to struggle against.

The same jerks who got is into Iraq are now advising congress on how to fight isis. Our military industrial complex is all about creating more enemies, so they can sell more weapons. They are stealing from the rest of us. The people who caused our Nation's problems probably won't be the ones to fix them.

Today, our politics are dictated to use. We have a corporate left party and a corporate right party, and they're not concerned with local issues. The politics of America are based on the mythology of America. Our massacres, killings, and destruction don't come from people who disobey orders; they come from those who obey. Our government is just a system where people have power over other people.

Friday June 26th

Taking the US to the World Court on Human Rights

Human Rights network

What are human rights? They're focused on people. It's the right for everyone to have what they need to be okay. They came out of the United Nation's Declaration of Human rights. Eleanor Roosevelt had a lot of influence in the UN's Universal Declaration of Human rights. The UN didn't come up with this on their own. Human rights weren't invented by imperialist countries; they're a work in progress.

In America, human rights originated with the bill of rights. However, the bill of rights applied only to white, male landowners. After world war II, countries wanted to prevent that carnage from happening again. In 1945, some wanted traditional rights, like freedom of speech and free association. Others wanted to include material needs, like the right to feed your family. Western Europe and Eastern Europe had different understandings of what human rights were, and these differences prevented the formation of legally binding laws. The universal declaration of human rights was the compromise. In merging the two views, we came up with a set of principles rather than a set of laws.

It became a compromise because of African-American agitation at the UN. How can you have human rights in a world committed to racism, colonialism, and white supremacy. They lobbied for a declaration that took a position against racism.

Things that are missing from the universal declaration of human rights: the right to self-determination, and the right to collective actions.

The NAACP put forward a petition in 1947. The US delegation kind of freaked out. They knew that the senate would not ratify something legally binding that took a position against racism. But the US was also afraid that the UN would unravel; they wanted they UN to further their own strategic interests. Eleanor Roosevelt severed ties with the NAACP over their UN protests.

Human rights are a very recent development. They wouldn't be an issue if it wasn't for oppression.

In 1948, the US decided that human rights were a potentially dangerous thing. They showed the ideological inconsistencies in western culture.

The US abandoned the idea of human rights in the 1950s. This is why Montgomery became a civil rights issue, rather than a human rights issue. Civil rights could be portrayed as a domestic issue, whereas human rights would turn Montgomery into an international issue. We still talk about civil rights and what's constitutional in the United States. There are limitations to civil rights. Human rights offers us a much broader framework. Civil rights can be reinterpreted by the states.

How do human rights give us opportunities to build movements of oppressed peoples all across the world? Are the groups that stand in the way of civil rights the same ones that stand in the way of human rights?

The UN is a useful space to struggle in, but the principles of people-centered human rights will come from the people themselves. It's important to expose the United State's inconsistencies in the global arena.

When talking about human rights, there's a people-centered approach and a statecentered approach. We put too much emphasis on the state-centered approach. Human rights is an evolving part of how we articulate what belongs to us.

Here are a couple of United Nations instruments:

  • Elimination of all forces of racial discrimination.
  • Civil and political rights.
  • Economic, social, and cultural rights
  • The rights of women
  • Prohibition of torture

The United States has ratified to some of these instruments, but not all of them. Ratification is a formal agreement; the Senate has to sign on. The United States never dreamed there would be a group advocating for human rights on an international level.

We've ratified the agreement on torture, but have substantially broken it. We've ratified the one on racial discrimination, but not the one on the rights of women and children. The United States has been very selective about what it's ratified. However, if you don't have access to all human rights, then you still have oppression.

When a nation ratifies a UN instrument, they're expected to produce compliance reports, and there's a period where review committees examine these reports. The review committee comes up with a set of observations. We can leverage opportunities in this process. When the United States submits a report, other organizations can also submit reports. It's not an accessible process, and this is something the Human Rights Network is working to change.

In 2014, the US came up for review on the three treaties it ratified. A number of people, including Trayvon Martin's mother, went to testify about the US's compliance with the instrument on racial discrimination. The Ferguson killings happened while the review was taking place. You can deny a statistic in a report, but you can't deny a grieving mother.

In Nov 2014, the US was reviewed on their compliance with the torture instrument. More people testified, including a former Guantanamo detainee.

In the US, there's a lack of conversation about human rights.

Winning means that we don't leave anyone out. Don't be afraid to demand what is yours.

Racism is the Disease, Revolution is the Cure: the State and the Struggle Against Police Brutality

Party for Socialism and Liberation

The Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) is a revolutionary social party, with branches around the country.

Police brutality and racism has been part of the United States for hundreds of years. It's a fundamental part of the state. The state is a coercive force; the cops, the courts, the prisons. The state has the power to commit violence, without going to jail. The state emerged out of necessity, over the division of the haves and the have nots.

Factory owners can call police to arrest strikers, but strikers can't call the police to arrest factory owners. Landlords can call police to arrest deadbeat tenants, but tenants can't call the police to arrest deadbeat landlords.

Revolution is a very abstract word. Repression is deeply encoded in the DNA of our government. The rise of the state can be tied to the solidification of the slave system, the eradication of native Americans, and maintaining the wealth of colonists.

The First American Regiment was one of the first military groups in the United States, which came out of the Militia Acts. This was a response to native American's self-defense. The US military's purpose was taking land from native Americans, and eradication of native American peoples.

1691 was the year in which "white" appeared as a legal designation; this happened in Virginia. Virginia's introduction of white and black categories was meant to solidify the system of slavery.

Slave owners were afraid of revolts; that the slaves might rise up against them. Settlers wanted to limit the free black population.

Federalist #10 said that the most durable form of division was that of rich and poor, and it offered no solution to this problem. Essentially, you need a republic to repress the poor people. Every rights struggle in the United States has been a life or death struggle. Most of these rights can be taken back. What's not guaranteed by the constitution can be taken away.

In 20 years, it would be nice to be talking about how we've worked together, cooperatively and collectively.

Changing elected officials or parties doesn't change racial oppression. The state protects the profits of the rich at the expense of the poor. To solve these problems, we need a new system, one which puts working people first.

It's important to study societies where revolution has taken place. It's hard to protect a successful revolution from overthrow. At first, the 1917 Russian revolution was very good at serving the people. They were immediately attacked by counterrevolutionary armies. The Soviet Union survived for 74 years, and became the second most powerful country in the world. The Soviet Union was eventually undermined by excessive military expenses. It wasn't a failure; it was just a first attempt to overthrow capitalism.

The Soviet and Cuban revolutions gained popularity because of reforms that benefited the people. The CIA responded to the Cuban revolution with terrorism. Over 2000 were injured in public bombings. Cubans responded by establishing local defense committees. Out of eleven million Cubans, eight million joined these defense committees.

The Cuban government guaranteed health care, which resulted in a very low infant mortality rate. All of this was accomplished, despite a US blockade of Cuba. Socialism is the first system where the ruling class is not a small exploitative minority.

Comment: It's probably not a great idea to use the Soviet system as an example of something to follow. Many workers were killed in concentration camps. The Soviet system was as imperialist as the US. The Soviet Union has a history of enslaving workers.

There are lots of negative points about the Soviet Union, but there are positive points. You can see a bad football game, but still like football.

Comment: Cuba and the USSR both had issues with white supremacy.

Comment: Accessibility is important when organizing. The people you're working with have to understand what you're talking about. History repeats, so it's important to know.

Cuba has had a tough time, and people have been forced to leave the country. The US blockade had an effect there. The worldwide financial crisis did too, because it was a global crisis.

Comment: The system creates all of these problems so that people won't unite. If we unite, there's no financial organization that can beat us.

Comment: There's a lot of fraction and tension. There are words that get in the way of the work. We need love and respect to unite. As human beings, love is our major challenge.

Comment: Socialism is a hope. We shouldn't get hung up on past failures, except to understand why they failed. You can't let history weigh you down.

Question: Could you tie slavery to the prison industrial complex?

Oppression of black people is one thing they have in common. Before, the system tried to make black people work as much as possible. Now, we have a system that tries to keep black people from working at all. As if blacks are a surplus population.

Saturday June 27th

Advancing the Solidarity Economy Movement - Connecting Cities and Regions for Economic Justice

Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance

Philadelphia has about forty thousand vacant lots. 25% of these are owned by one of five public agencies. Some are privately owned (by a person or LLC). Thirty thousand are abandoned and tax delinquent.

Debt on a tax-delinquent property might have been privatized. Someone living there may have squatters rights to the property (also called "adverse possession"), but they may inherit the privatized debt.

In 2011, Philadelphia starting changing its policies for dealing with abandoned properties. There are land banks, to streamline access to vacant land. State laws give land banks the power to clear debt, and the power to intervene at sheriff's sales (by getting first bid).

Neighborhood associations are often enthusiastic about existing garden efforts, but they can be resistant to newcomers. What kind of foods are people growing in these gardens? It varies. Some are based on individuals, but others are based on sharing. There's a lot of consideration given to where the food goes. For urban gardeners, self-determination is a more useful metric than profitability.

We started a project of mapping worker co-ops in Brooklyn. This started out as an effort to let people in the solidarity economy movement know what others were doing. Later, it turned into a directory. It's also served as a tool to develop the solidarity economy (e.g., allowing someone to look for gaps, and to figure out how to fill them). Knowing who the different groups are also facilitates skill sharing.

Organizing infrastructure is necessary, but how do you make it sexy?

Question: How do you pay for running a co-op network?

People need to join organizations and pay dues.

Comment: Participatory budgeting is active in NYC. In my town, we pitched participatory budgeting as a way to get city council off the budget hot seat.

Question: What are the keys to getting co-ops to work together?

We started with a steering committee, to see what people wanted. By itself, this process took years. It involved education, building knowledge, and building trust. Question: We're trying to get our university to divest from fossil fuels, but where should that money go instead?

There are about 500 such campaigns going on across the world. So far, about 21 universities have divested. Other universities have pledged to divest millions of dollars. You don't want that money re-invested in things like prisons or McDonalds.

We knew what we were fighting against, but sometimes we lacked clarity about what we were fighting for. Ultimately, we want to transition away from fossil fuels to clean energy. Preferably clean energy that comes from communities, and from communityowned resources.

Cooperation Jackson has done a lot of work towards building solidarity economies, and changing the city's power structure. We began with a process of sharing history, building relationships, and building trust.

Once you've divested from fossil fuels, how do you re-invest? We wanted to have money invested in financial cooperatives. These financial cooperatives are anchored in different grass-roots projects. The idea is to find loan sources, and connect them with projects. Often, these loans follow terms set by the borrower, rather than having the lender exclusively set terms. Finance can be a tool for people, rather than people being a tool for finance.

Question: How does the loan process work?

Money is loaned out. The surplus from community enterprises goes back into the fund, so it can be loaned out again. The goal is to fund projects, and get them to a point where they have sustained capital. Interest rates are lower, because it's not an extractive process.

Question: Does collateralized debt have a place in this model?

We have a non-extractive model, so things like asset seizure aren't part of the terms. Project success is more important than having the money returned.

Look up: Data Commons Co-operative.

Ideas for starting a cooperative enterprise:

  1. Map out what industries are in the area, and what industries are no longer there. If an industry moved out of the area, can you leverage what they've left behind?
  2. Map out what resources and infrastructure are available.
  3. Given an understanding of what you have to work with, decide which industries are likely to be the most effective, and figure out what to put your efforts behind.

Saturday Plenary

Mass Incarceration and Political Prisoner Panel

Black people make up 13% of the general population, but 75% of the prison population. My son was imprisoned for five years. Behind bars, he turned into a jailhouse lawyer, and protested the treatment of prisoners. Sixteen years later, he's still in prison, a member of the Dallas six.

In prison, the elderly are still considered threats, and they're held unnecessarily. We have prisoners who've been in solitary confinement for 40 years, because they're considered threats to the prison plantation system.

Women are the newest target. Poverty is the main source of crime, and women are very susceptible. No one deserves to be tortured or degraded. Bodies are not cash crops.

On August 24th there is a court date for the Dallas Six. We want to pack the court, since the county is stuck in the 1950s.

Prisons are money-making institutions, first and foremost. They have nothing to do with corrections, or with making things right. In prison, speaking out against injustice only makes you a target for more abuse.

When you know something is wrong, you can't ignore it, or rely on someone else to clean it up. It's our right and our duty to confront our government when it's wrong. Our government tries to trick people. They say there'd be chaos if the government wasn't here to protect you. Well, there's plenty of chaos, and we've been tricked into not fighting back.

People are regularly released from prison, after decades of incarceration, because new evidence is found, proving the state is wrong. How can you trust a government like that?

In the Declaration of Independence, who was the preamble talking about? Native Americans? Slaves being brought over from Africa? Women? These documents are a lie.

We have about 2.5 million people in prison, because the state is making a point. The state wants to convince people that we're criminals. No one has killed more people than the ones who run this country. They'll even put you in jail if you refuse to go to war and kill. We know who the criminals are, and they're not us. Going along with the program won't protect you. When something threatens you, your only solution is to eliminate the threat. What do you have to lose by fighting back? Our government is a bully, and they're only interested in easy targets.

I'm from Delaware. There are more corporations chartered in Delaware than there are people in Delaware. There were race riots when I was a kid, and they put us under martial law for months. The same thing happened in Newark, NJ when they put the city under martial law for two weeks. I know people who started off with five-year sentences, and ended up with 800-year sentences, all because of minor infractions. In Delaware, the best paying job for prisoners is $65/month. Often, you're doing labor for pennies per hour.

The US has more people locked up than India or China. The US has 300 million people. India and China have more than a billion each.

How do you expect stolen people to get justice on stolen land?

The prison system is booming. The way our laws are written, the private prison system can mistreat you all they want. You're not allowed to sue them. The prison pipeline is real, and we need to be concerned about our kids.

Justice is what you buy, and it doesn't matter what level of the legal system we're talking about. If you have enough money, you'll get out.

I've been to prison several times, for selling drugs. Never for a violent crime. I've gotten jury notices while I was in prison. I've gotten hit and run notices while I was in prison. I got a jail sentence for missing a warrant hearing, and I missed the warrant hearing because I was in prison.

If you care about your friends, never let them go to their parole officer by themselves. Parole officers are not your friends, and they're not your advocates.

Mental health services don't exist for people on parole. If you tell you're parole office that you're feeling bad and want to hurt yourself, they'll say "sorry, I can't help you".

The transition out of incarceration is hard. They don't teach you any skills while you're in prison, so what do you do when you get out? There are no programs. The hardest thing for a person that gets out of prison is to stay out of prison. Especially if you've been locked up more than once. People need support when they get out, especially when it comes to dealing with parole officers.

Drug addiction is a problem. You can get almost anything you want from the pill line, if you know what to ask for. If your friend gets out of prison, you should talk to them, ask if they've been using the pill line.

In prison, you're always told where to go, what to do, and when to do it. This is the biggest challenge when you get out. Outside, you have to figure this stuff out for yourself, and dealing with that is a challenge.

Sunday June 28th

Building Community Legal Support

Up against the law

Up against the law ( is a legal collective, founded in 2001. We're interested in building legal support for community organizations. When people hear the term "legal support", they generally think of lawyers and the NLG. You don't need to be a lawyer to provide legal support. Legal support includes jail solidarity, event briefing and de-briefing, and raising bail funds. Some types of legal support can be done by anyone: filming arrests, finding out where people are being held. Other things require a lawyer. For example, filing a lawsuit or appearing at a trial. There's lots of middle ground. Training legal observer, tracking arrestees, de-briefing arrestees, and connecting them with legal support.

Legal collectives empower communities with knowledge, and help them find ways of employing legal resistance.

"Legal" and "illegal" are not synonyms for "good" and "bad".

Our work is grounded in mutual support. When we work with a protest group, we're on their side. We follow an empowerment model. We often train people in groups that we work with.

Often, police don't respect your rights. Knowing what your rights are gives you more power. We give trainings; for example, what to do if you have an encounter with the police. Don't consent to a search, ask to see the warrant, assert your right to remain silent. We find ourselves giving these trainings to younger and younger groups, even to middle schoolers.

During activist training, we'll teach people about their rights on the ground. You don't need to pay the state for a permit to express your rights. Before engaging in civil disobedience, get people's names, contact numbers, and medical needs. You'll need this information if there are arrests.

During an action, legal observers will spend most of their time looking at cops. How many officers are there? Are there horses? What are the officers doing? Are they roughing someone up? Arresting them?

We have a hotline where people can report arrests, and provide information. We often provide jail support. We try to organize bail, so that people aren't sent off to county jails. After an arrest, we'll help people understand the charges, what they're options are, and what the future process will look like.

We follow an affinity model, and try to maintain confidence with the people we're working with. We also build relationships with movement lawyers. There are lots of bad lawyers out there, so we try to vet them. We encourage relationships between attorneys and the groups we work with. Good movement attorneys are up to their eyeballs in work, and people need to understand the workload these attorneys are under.

We've built a relationship with the public defender's office. Often, we can relieve their workload by doing some of the case gruntwork (gathering information, etc). We also remind people that what they want is more important than what their lawyer wants, even if the lawyer is a public defender. There's a fine balance between getting what you want and respecting your lawyer's needs. We also collect and screen evidence for lawyers; we know which pieces of evidence will be most useful to them. Sometimes, we act as buffers between defendants and lawyers.

Originally, many activists represented themselves pro-se. Charges have gotten more severe, and sentences have gotten much longer. Our groups haven't gone away, so the state has raised the stakes. Protest groups still haven't backed down, and the state is raising the stakes again. Now, even a knowledgeable person doesn't know enough to handle all of the charges and appeals.

There used to be group charges. Now, judges are refusing to consolidate cases, forcing everyone to have individual trials.

Baltimore didn't have legal collectives. The city's public defenders have been really engaged; they've even been doing "know your rights" training.

Police often plant drugs on arrestees. Often, it's the same amount of drugs, and the same dollar amount.