The Peoples Social Forum: A Choreography of Resistance by Hannah Hadikin
Awesome! Simply Awesome! If there was one way to describe the Peoples Social Forum, this would be it. This 4-day gathering opened with a traditional Algonquin ceremony welcoming all who had travelled far and wide to meet in Ottawa, August 21 – 24, at a truly historic gathering. Some three thousand individuals from dozens of social movement sectors converged in a united force to share, to learn, to exchange ideas, to build alliances, to engage in creative discussions for the overall purpose of opposing neoliberal agendas intent on the restructuring of society to the detriment of all.
The hundreds of workshops, presentations, panels, demonstrations, arts and cultural activities all had an overarching message: We stand together and honour each other’s struggles for dignity, justice and peace. “ We come together with open hearts and open minds in open space to share and learn…to get inspired, connect across work and distance, and see ourselves as part of a larger force”.
Movement assemblies such as the Peoples Social Forum (PSF) have deep roots involving thousands of people who see the interconnectedness of struggles and who look to building together a better future for all. Traditionally these assemblies represent grassroots people’s organizations committed to challenging corporate capitalism and dominant neoliberal economic agendas. Several social forums have been held globally with the first in Porto Allegra, Brazil, (2001) under the banner ‘Another World is Possible’. Earlier, there was the Women’s March against poverty and violence (1995), with its sequel in 2000, along with the People’s Summit of the America’s (2001) and other popular student and trade union mobilizations in Quebec and elsewhere.
On the PSF opening day, thousands of activists, led by Indigenous youth, marched to Parliament Hill under a mosaic of multi-coloured banners and flags, sending Harper’s government a strong message of people’s unity against their corporate agenda of austerity, privatization and repressive legislation designed to eradicate social benefits secured in past struggles.
Workshops by inspiring presenters and facilitators, offered an exciting array of choices including: Economy, Community, Communications, Climate, Earth, Food, Gender, Work, Migration, International, Knowledge, Control, and Media among others. The workshops aimed to educate, provide an analysis and develop action plans on working together across the critical issues on local, regional and national fronts. This impressive process captured the diversity of movements, organizations and communities from coast to coast to coast and First Nations across territories. My personal choices included workshops on building anti-imperialist, anti-colonization movements; solidarity with the people of Palestine; Indigenous direct action, dissent and land defence; Canada and the global south; strategies for defeating the Conservatives and right wing policies; opposing militarism, Canada’s role in the Ukraine etc. The final day saw half-day assemblies which provided the opportunity to share the ideas garnered, strategies and solutions for solidarity and bridging work, coalition building, inspiring stories of resistance, joint and supportive actions, to be continued after the PSF. Through out, I felt the vibrant spirit of commitment to sustained, anti-war, anti-imperialist actions. The interconnectedness of our struggles was very apparent and we will build better futures together.
Some of the specific highlights for me included a photo exhibit put on by Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East which featured a compelling exhibition presenting the stories of blacks in apartheid-era South Africa, the Palestinian and the Indigenous peoples of Canada. It was striking to note, the stark similarities of these peoples and their struggle for human rights, social justice and peace.
The Women’s Caucus recognized, shared and celebrated the crucial role women play in creating movements and actions across the country and the around the world in opposing austerity, conservatism, colonialism, racism, sexism and violence. Participating in this caucus was also a highlight as I heard the voices and vision of feminists to build stronger women’s movements in communities and continued dedication for collective action.
Although the daily agenda was filled to the brim, new friendships were forged, over cups of Ecuadorian free trade coffee and delicious empanadas served at one of the many food kiosks, over at the stands of leftist books by independent booksellers committed to social justice giving a voice to those who are often without a platform, or over a plate of delicious food offered by “Food Not Lawns” young people.
NGO’s and a wide spectrum of social justice and environmental groups, including VOW offered vast quantities of information and engaging conversations. An exciting feature included an impressive selection of films, mostly by independent film makers and perhaps as enticement, these were generally accompanied by chocolate cake in the foyer! Vendors in strategic places through out the Carlton University campus offered a beautiful array art and crafts. Should one tire and in need of some quiet solitude to re-coup from the intensity of all the activity, a Healing Space was available. Childcare was offered on site with a wide array of activities.
The Peoples Social Forum concluded with a reporting of recommendations and a call to action from each of the “Movement Assemblies”.
“During the social forum, we shared the sprouts of a new vision of society, based on social and environmental justice, self-determination of Indigenous Peoples, human rights, democracy, equality between individuals and between Peoples, the inclusion of all generations, solidarity, and a new economic paradigm serving, people, not the opposite…we want a society that fights against the disparities between the rich and the poor, men and women, whites and people of colour, ….we know the importance of promoting, loudly and clearly, a different model of society. It is not only a question of opposing the Conservatives, our movement must go beyond this electoral deadlines because it is also a question of regaining control over our collective future…We must show that another vision for our society is not only possible, but necessary…the change we wish to see is our responsibility and the scale of this change depends on our involvement” (Social Movement Convergence, August 24, 2014)