Activism: US Social Forum - We Need Unity in Action

Anyone who has done any organizing knows how difficult it is to move the Left from talk to action. Physician, writer and organizer Susan Rosenthal works for social change with International Health Workers for People Over Profit.
by Susan Rosenthal (from her blog)

Amazingly diverse. Frustratingly fragmented. The recent US Social Forum showed both of these faces.

Under the banner, “Another World is Possible. Another US is Necessary,” between 10,000 and 15,000 people of all ages, colors, sexual and political persuasions converged on Detroit, June 22 -26.

The shear size of the event was overwhelming, with more than 1,000 workshops to choose from, nearly 50 People’s Movement Assemblies and multiple performances, cultural events and parties.

I attended some useful workshops featuring campaigns to stop cuts to public services and cross-border organizing around issues of common concern. The sharing of information and experiences was inspiring, and many of us exchanged contact information for continuing cooperation.

The goal of the Forum, in the words of the organizers, was to engage in “a political process through which we work to align and strengthen our communities, weaving ourselves into a movement that transcends oppression and opposition, increasing our collective power and resilience.” Unfortunately, when put to the test, these words failed to materialize into action.

On the Friday, I had just left a workshop on building labor-community alliances when I saw a group of medics employed by the Detroit Fire Department demonstrating against cuts to the city’s emergency medical service. The Fire Department and the medics’ rally were both located directly across the street from Cobo Hall, the main venue of the Forum.

I joined the medics and suggested that we bring their bullhorn into Cobo Hall and gather a crowd to swell the rally – it was lunch break and no workshops were in session. To my surprise, we had a difficult time rounding up even a dozen people out of the thousands that heard our appeal for a show of solidarity.

In front of Cobo Hall, I saw a small march being organized behind the banner “Migrant Rights are Human Rights.” I appealed to the people at the front of the march to swing by our corner, stay a minute or two to chant with us, and then proceed on their way. They marched by us but did not stop, missing the opportunity to build support for their cause by supporting someone else’s cause.

My heart sank, as I overheard one of the medics say, “There are 5,000 people over there, why don’t they support us?” Fortunately, we were able to gather a dozen or so enthusiastic supporters who chanted at the top of their lungs. The medics were extremely grateful.

Actions speak louder than words

We could have done much more. The Forum could have featured the medics’ fight by asking them to speak at a workshop, organizing a massive rally outside the Fire Department and collecting thousands of signatures to petition Detroit City Council. Such actions would have brought life to our words.

Capitalism is trying to solve its financial problems by attacking all workers. This attack takes multiple forms: cuts to health, education and social services; attacks on immigrant rights; racist and anti-gay legislation; loss of reproductive rights; foreclosures; police repression; attacks on unions; and attacks on our working conditions.

We can defend our rights only by fighting back as a class. “An injury to one is an injury to all” means that we must treat every battle as our own.

I urge you to support Detroit’s Emergency Medical Service workers by signing their online petition.

If they win, we all win. If we let them go down, we will surely follow.
Susan Rosenthal MD is the author of SICK and SICKER: Essays on Class, Health and Health Care. She writes about labor, especially health workers, and social justice at

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails