by Mallory Knodel
Organizing for the second United States Social Forum (USSF) is increasing in intensity as the forum – to be held at Cobo Hall and Hart Plaza in Detroit, June 22 – 26, 2010 – approaches. Deep debate broke out among its organizers over the political paradox of corporate social networking and its role in progressive organizing. Should there be a link to corporate, social networking websites such as Twitter and Facebook on the USSF website’s homepage?
The USSF is a grassroots movement in the tradition of the World Social Forum (WSF) and was conceived in the throes of the international anti-globalization movement of the late 1990s. The first WSF gathering was held in Brazil in 2001 and quickly became an activist’s utopia: maintaining open space for democratic convergence to address global crisis in the face of late-stage capitalism. Its slogan “Another World is Possible” highlighted the social forum movement’s emphasis on creating alternatives to capitalism. The history of the WSF and other forum events are not without controversy. The most common criticism aimed at dominant NGOs (non-governmental organizations) involving accusations that non-profit participation precludes a fully democratic process. The WSF model spread across the globe taking on many local and thematic forms and gathering hundreds of thousands of participants each year to address issues of human rights, poverty, land reform, identity politics, and alternative systems of resource sharing and collaboration. Many activists still maintain that the social forum is not so much a movement as it is a place of convergence, a completely free and unrestricted open space. As the open space model has developed, it has incorporated examples of “open virtual space,” such as the “Expanded Format” of the Belem WSF in 2009, where self-organized activities were held via video/audio conferencing and internet chat. Continue reading