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NYC Social Forum Proposal

NYC Social Forum Proposal


At the same time that the United Nations held its
conference on
Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related
Intolerance in
Durban, South Africa late last summer, several other
groups held what
they called the Durban Social Forum. In a
statement, the Forum declared that, despite the nominal
end of
apartheid in South Africa, "[h]alf of all children in
rural areas go
hungry every day · and South Africa now has the
greatest divide
between rich and poor of any country in the world." The
U.N.-sponsored
conference, they believed, neither adequately addressed
these
conditions nor the structures behind them.
Furthermore, groups like
the Durban Social Forum have begun to recognize these
same structures
of apartheid beyond their local circumstances, in the
increasingly global world order. They recognized what
some have
called, "global apartheid."

As the majority of New York City residents know, this
sort of "global
apartheid" does not stop when it reaches U.S. borders.
New York City
is both a center of economic
and political power, and a city divided by drastic
inequalities. The
struggles of the unemployed, under-employed, and
working poor of New
York, who are
disproportionately and overwhelmingly people of color
and immigrants,
are a local continuation of struggles for basic
survival, sustainable
development, and genuinely
democratic, non-imperialist self-determination that are
going on
worldwide. Most of us contend with increased social and
economic
marginalization as we confront rising unemployment,
jobs that fail to
provide a living wage and benefits, severe shortages of
affordable and
decent housing, pervasive homelessness, a failing and
increasingly
privatized public education system, overall drastic
cuts in social
services, including inadequate access to healthcare,
soaring HIV/AIDS
rates, and neighborhoods tormented by police brutality
and a rapidly
expanding prison-industrial complex.

It is in this city and against this devastating
backdrop that the
World Economic Forum (WEF) will be holding its annual
meeting from
January 31st to February 4th, 2002, marking the first
time the meeting
will be held outside the WEF's home of Davos,
Switzerland. The WEF,
which was established in 1971 and is a leading
proponent of neoliberal
globalization, is funded by roughly one thousand of the
world's
richest and most powerful multinational corporations;
its membership
is composed of CEOs as well as heads of state, trade
ministers, and
intellectual elites. According to the WEF, their
annual global
summits define the global political, economic, and
business agenda for
the year. But often its decisions reach beyond the
year: its 1982
annual meeting was instrumental in spearheading the
formation of the
World Trade Organization (WTO).

Simultaneous to this year's World Economic Forum in New
York City, a
World Social Forum (WSF) will be held in Porto Alegre,
Brazil. This
social forum, which is in its second year and which
provided a model
for the forums in Durban as well as Genoa during this
summer's Group
of 8 (G8) meeting, was organized in direct opposition
to the model of
the Economic Forum. Last year's WSF drew hundreds of
delegates from
organizations worldwide, with most of its participants
coming from
Central and South America. The following is an excerpt
from the "Porto
Alegre Call for Mobilization":

"We are women and men, farmers, workers, unemployed,
professionals,
students, blacks and indigenous peoples, coming from
the South and
from the North, committed to struggle for people's
rights, freedom,
security, employment and education. We are fighting
against the
hegemony of finance, the destruction of our cultures,
the
monopolization of knowledge, mass media, and
communication, the
degradation of nature, and the destruction of the
quality of life by
multinational corporations and anti-democratic
policies.
Participative democratic experiences÷like that of Porto
Alegre÷show us
that a concrete alternative is possible. We affirm the
supremacy of
human, ecological and social rights over the demands of
finance and
investors."

Social forums, like Porto Alegre's, are different than
traditional
conferences. First of all, there can be a high number
of
participating organizations, providing an opportunity
for many
different groups to come into contact with each other
and develop a
unified front against the neoliberal policies of the
World Economic
Forum and its allies (i.e. the WTO, IMF, World Bank,
G8). Secondly,
instead of panels and workshops fronted by a few
"talking heads," the
forum sessions are organized around broad themes of
discussion that
allow all delegates to participate, while non-delegates
listen in. A
typical theme might take the form of a question like,
"How to
construct an equal system of production of goods and
services for
all?" The delegates bring a range of specific and
concrete replies to
such a question. These forums, then, work to open
dialogues on a non-
hierarchical, democratic basis; the dialogues
themselves present an
alternative to the monologue of a forum like the WEF.

In light of the World Economic Forum's upcoming visit,
a small group
of activists committed to opposing neoliberal
globalization and
working for global justice have discussed the potential
for a New York
City-based Social Forum. We are asking progressive
organizations to
participate both in organizing such a forum and
defining its vision.
We believe that an event of this sort presents a
historic opportunity
to
build greater solidarity among diverse social and
political forces
dedicated to global economic, racial, gender, and
environmental
justice.

In addition, if you are already organizing something
that addresses
the WEF's visit (or just falls at the same time),
please let us know
so we can publicize it
and avoid scheduling conflicts.

Thank you.