Friday, July 27, 2007

USSF in The Nation

marjorie says...

Since I've been such a lame-o when it comes to writing a reflection about the USSF, I thought I'd post this article from The Nation, which is quite good. I agree very much with his assessment. And for those of you who don't know, Michael Leon Guerrero is the former Co-Director of SWOP. He was with us here in Albuquerque for well over a decade. And of course, the People's Freedom Caravan began with our two buses here in the Q.

A Grassroots Social Forum

The Nation
August 13, 2007 (subscription only)

Imagine a racism workshop--not a touchy-feely "prejudice reduction" workshop but an all-out emotional and cathartic conversation on race. Now imagine a church service--not a solemn devotion but the kind of rocking, joyous communion that shakes the floorboards. Now imagine, lofted above the congregation, a sea of protest banners. The orations are secular; the pulpit is political.

This pretty much captures the spirit that dominated the first US Social Forum, held in Atlanta June 27-July 1. Having appropriately fine-tuned the World Social Forum motto to fit the host country ("Another World Is Possible, Another US Is Necessary"), this gathering-- with more than 900 workshops conducted in the Atlanta Civic Center, local hotels and theaters, and drawing some 12,000 registered attendees--made only partial concession to dry political strategy; it was a locus of progressive dreams and activist chutzpah.

"Our national dilemma today is not technological retardation but moral deficiency. We have a moral deficiency in establishing priorities when putting our technological advances to work for the common good," said iconic civil rights activist Joseph Lowery at the opening-day march. The crowd left from the State Capitol and wound down Peachtree Street, the main business thoroughfare of the city, as bankers, clerks and secretaries gathered on steps and watched in wonder. A crowd of a couple thousand was a rare display, even in a city accustomed to conferences and rallies. Lowery had positioned the spirit of the marchers vis-à-vis the American Republic to a
T: The problem was the need for an America less stingy, less conceited and altogether less thuggish.

The Civic Center sits blocks away from Task Force for the Homeless, which was also the site of a forum-sponsored art exhibit. The visibility of the homeless was much commented upon; invisible, however, were Atlanta public officials. The only Democratic presidential candidate to send representatives was Dennis Kucinich--who supports and in fact co-wrote universal healthcare reform bill HR 676, which was touted by several activist groups. The opening parade was too big a spectacle to be ignored by the press, but thereafter, the forum disappeared from the media, apart from a few rather trivializing articles.

What did it mean to sponsor a social forum in the United States--in the city of Martin Luther King Jr., but also in the heart of conservative Dixie? In Georgia, a state with heinous immigration policies? What the national media missed was that this meeting was big news among America's grassroots organizers, who focused on issues such as immigration, gentrification, homelessness and prison reform.

It was commented on from the first day that the US forum was different from previous World Social Forums. There was a notable absence of political scientists, philosophers, policy heads and large NGOs. While all fifty states and several countries were represented, the largest US contingents came from the Southeast and Southwest. There was a large Latino contingent, and most sessions at the forum were translated from English into Spanish, or vice versa. Hundreds of participants arrived via the "Freedom Caravan,"
commemorating the civil rights Freedom Rides of 1961. Buses that began in Albuquerque linked with others in Texas, the ravaged Gulf Coast and historic points in the Deep South such as Selma, Alabama, symbolically connecting the Gulf Coast with other seminal places in activist history.

A considerable number of attendees had never been to a World Social Forum--and often expressed scant familiarity with those gatherings. Most said they were in Atlanta to support a local group that practiced "bottom up" organizing. The workshops on antiglobalization and other world issues were accompanied by US-specific workshops on resisting the privatization of schools, building a black-Latino coalition and finding alternatives to foundation support, as well as a slew conducted by or addressing the concerns of hip-hop enthusiasts.

Nation-specific social forums are not new. The process initiated in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 2001 has already led to national and regional social forums throughout Europe and Latin America. According to researchers Jennifer Hadden and Sidney Tarrow, "In Italy alone, one of us found hundreds of local and regional social forums." Yet social forums have received relatively little publicity in the United States, and for the first few years at least, relatively few US citizens participated in the world conclaves. This is ironic, considering that the anti-WTO protest of 1999, familiarly known as the Battle in Seattle, was the major impetus behind the initiation of the social forums--the five-day gatherings being a "positive"
alternative to anti-WTO agitation.

The WSF International Counsel began talking with US activists about a US event as far back as 2003. Grassroots Global Justice, a California group that focuses on US trade policy, was integral to those early discussions.
Executive director Michael Leon Guerrero remembers, "We saw that it was very important that grassroots efforts taking place in the United States receive more visibility in the international community.... Many of our colleagues in other parts of the world have little knowledge of conditions here, and they often do not know there are organizations working for social change here.
But we thought it best at that time to delay a US forum. We found that the level of understanding wasn't high enough. We were getting too many questions like, How will this be different from any other conference?"

Eventually, a date was set for a US Social Forum: the summer of 2006. An organizing committee accepted bids from grassroots groups throughout the country; the finalists were Albuquerque, San Francisco and Atlanta. "I think we were swayed by Atlanta primarily for moral reasons," remembers Guerrero.
Project South of Atlanta became the lead USSF administrator. "We fought for it," says Jerome Scott of Project South. "The South bears a legacy of slavery and oppression, but also a legacy of resistance that no one can deny. There's no place better than the South to show that we can be--that we deserve to be--a part of the Global South."

Then Katrina struck. The floodwaters that demolished the Gulf Coast in 2005 stole the energies of numerous grassroots organizations. In particular, Project South was overwhelmed by its own relief work with Katrina refugees displaced in Atlanta. Walda Katz Fishman of Project South anticipated the first US Social Forum as the place "to start connecting the dots of a US justice movement--something visible, something national. We have allies worldwide, but you can't go from being local to global. First, you've got to be national. We did some tough wrangling over the decision to delay it, but I think it was necessary."

"Katrina still hurts," said an audience member at the Gulf Coast plenary. If the workshops were the nuts and bolts of the forum, the plenaries were the Oprah Winfrey version, charged and emotional auditorium gatherings. However, the Katrina panel, which included speakers on the black-brown coalition, marked a register of emotional turmoil that exceeded that of any protest at the USSF against the Iraq War. Panelist after panelist accused the government of indifference, racism, exploiting the hurricane as a gentrification scheme; some went so far as to use the words "murder" and even "genocide."

No wonder the Gulf Coast plenary brought many audience members to tears.
There were a number of Katrina warriors and veterans in the crowd; many belonged to groups that still have tentacles on the Gulf or that counsel Katrina refugees in their own communities. The decimation of the coast and its reconstruction affect the issues that grassroots activists take most personally, and see as their own: housing, healthcare, gentrification, community rights, wages and workers' rights.

Doubtless the disaster would be much worse without their efforts. There is nonetheless a sense of having failed to promote the cause of Katrina survivors. The country still has not confronted the implications of having several hundred thousand former Gulf Coast residents displaced and scattered across the country--largely because of government neglect of the levees--while in many cases their home communities are being gentrified.
From a bird's-eye view, Gulf Coast "reconstruction" looks a lot like homegrown neoliberalism.

The plenary discussion on a potential black-Latino coalition reached a climax when Daniel Castellanos of the Alliance for Guest Workers for Dignity described his journey from impoverishment in Peru to substandard employment in New Orleans. "I saw so many African-Americans, and I asked, Why aren't they getting this work?" he said. Then a dramatic pause. Instead of a lecture on how Bush's post-Katrina suspension of worker protections resulted in an influx of cheap immigrant labor, he delivered the big picture: "It's very clear. They want us to fight--they want the African-American and Latino communities to fight!" The crowd erupted in chants of approval.

The USSF may have been at its strongest in workshops combining information, practical experience and a human touch. Colin Rajah of the National Network of Immigrant Rights conducted a workshop titled "Trade and Migration:
Exploring the Intersection of Trade and Immigration Policies." Rajah's lecture on free-trade economics was accompanied by live testimonials from "NAFTA survivors." Says Rajah, "Even though we have different groups looking at trade and immigration issues, they are interlinked in a US foreign policy that seeks to accomplish two things: to open up markets and control those markets and, second, to manage and control the immigrant labor flow. I work for an immigrant rights organization, but to do my work effectively I need to be very savvy about trade policy. Trade and immigration work together to create a funnel effect, regulating the immigrant flow in ways that benefit multinational corporations. It's not coincidental that Operation Gatekeeper [the 1994 security initiative that fenced the US-Mexico border near San Diego] and NAFTA were implemented months apart." Testimonials that made the human impact of free-trade policies on immigrants real were provided by (among others) a former employee of a sweatshop operated by Levi Strauss before the company outsourced to China and a representative of a coalition of immigrant tomato pickers in Immokalee, Florida, who led a successful protest for wages and health benefits against Taco Bell. "The real solution is to look at trade and immigration patterns together," says Rajah.

If by some miracle the USSF did receive widespread media attention--if, say, every plenary were broadcast on national TV--would it galvanize a hidden majority of closet or disenfranchised radicals? Or would the rhetorical excesses of aspects of the forum provoke dismay, or laughter? Social forums could be called "orgies of idealism," and thus would be easy to mock. But the few forum-related articles in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution were characterized less by condescension than simple befuddlement. "Marchers Take Beefs to the Streets," ran the headline of a June 28 article that detailed few of their "beefs" in particular. A confusing article published during the forum began, "Karl Marx...held court Thursday the US Social Forum" (the sixth paragraph finally explained that Marx was an actor in a performance), and summed up the week's events as "a Woodstock for the globally conscious set, sans drugs."

In addition to potential scoffing from without, there were treacherous fault lines within. Candido Grzybowski, one of the original founders of the World Social Forum, who now sits on the WSF International Council, said efforts to encourage groups to combine workshops often merely resulted in "two workshops in the same room," an apt metaphor for the doggedness and insularity of activists who, accustomed to oppositional stances, are often loath to compromise. The agendas that make up social forums do compete--for attention. The forum itself is left of center, but where is the center of the forum? At the final plenary Native American activists were insulted when time limitations resulted in a speaker being cut short. In the context of the forum--a space for dialogue on race, justice and stories of oppression--the move struck the first Americans as hugely symbolic. They reacted by flooding the stage and performing a healing ritual. The conflict was resolved; in fact, it was resolved with admirable grace. But the incident underscores the problems of building a movement between spheres of regional activism and among oppressed communities.

That said, there was a freshness to the USSF. It was a coming together of activists who operate under the radar in the United States, who brought something new to the table: an army of small organizations devoted to their communities, whose efforts rarely make the evening news, acting locally but
(potentially) connecting globally. The atmosphere was distinctly "hands on"
and tutorial--political science and strategy took a back seat to insider knowledge. For instance, the Ruckus Society conducted workshops on violent and nonviolent protest, including one on "Blockades: How to Effectively Hold Your Ground," just as other groups conducted workshops on maneuvering through the criminal justice system, the practical minutiae of voter organizing, immigrant organizing and resisting college military recruitment programs. There was an identifiable thrust behind the workshops considered as a whole: Teach organizing techniques that participants can then take home and use in their own communities.

It helped--greatly--that the planning and implementation of the USSF was a model of multicultural cooperation. The majority of the administrative personnel as well as the plenary speakers were women and people of color. It was not an environment where activists and minorities were lectured to by "others"--scholars, whites, representatives of establishment NGOs. "Where was the color in Seattle?" was a common joke that parodied the 1999 Battle in Seattle, implying that antiglobalization activism and its offshoots were the domain of a privileged white middle class. The USSF reversed that impression, bringing white activists initially inspired by the WTO protests together with radicalized blacks, Latinos and indigenous Americans.

The USSF won the respect of the participants by mirroring their own grassroots efforts. It was funded with a $900,000 budget--peanuts in today's world--from sponsors, donors and registration fees, and it depended largely on the volunteer efforts of grassroots groups. For most of the implementation stage, the forum employed only three full-time staffers. If the seventh World Social Forum, held in Nairobi this past January, was by some accounts corrupted by commercial sponsors, the USSF was smaller, humbler and underfunded, but also untainted.

Although much ire at the gathering was directed against the United States, American pragmatism was in evidence in Atlanta. World Social Forums have been called confusing; in Atlanta the forum provided a space in which groups were able to make the connections they needed without the burden of having to sign off on every agenda or defend every plenary statement. The spirit of community and the welding of alliances was encouraging. "A disappointment of the grassroots left was that while there was a big response to Katrina, it wasn't an organized response," says Guerrero of Grassroots Global Justice.
"If Hurricane Katrina hit today, the response would be very different. From all the relationships that have developed here in terms of communication, infrastructure, the feeling of solidarity, we could put out a general call and create a unified response. This forum has created a different situation; there could be a much higher level of coordination."

A number of groups concerned with housing and urban issues decided to coordinate their efforts and drew up a collective "Right to the City."
Thirteen domestic workers' rights organizations from various parts of the country (New York, Los Angeles, Washington, San Francisco) voted to form a domestic workers' alliance. "We have those regions in our domestic workers'
alliance thus far. And we know of other cities where organizing is happening. We're hoping our example will inspire them," says Ai-jen Poo of Domestic Workers United.

This is movement--perhaps not "a movement" but movement-building. The best that interested parties can do now is find ways to facilitate and sustain those links until the next US Social Forum, in 2010.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Potter Phenomenon

Mikaela says:
We write a lot here on m-pyre about community and the things that bring people together.

This predisposition has got me pondering the global phenomenon of a millions and millions of people holding their breath in anticipation of getting their hands ... on a book.

A book!

Kids lining up outside of bookstores around the world for midnight distribution on the release date (which is generating a lot of controversy in Israel, since the release is on the Sabbath). For a book!

Lola Lorber, 14, wears a wizard's hat while reading "Jane Eyre" as she waits in the prepaid line to pick up her copy of J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" at Books of Wonder bookstore in New York on Friday. -- AP

Isn't this amazing?!?

I've been wracking my brain to think of a similar instance. The Star Wars movies? Lord of the Rings?

The fact that there have been 7 books helps build the anticipation and readership with each new installment. The fact that the movies don't suck and pull in fans who wouldn't normally read helps. The power of the stories, characters, and writing helps. The secrecy and integrity of the author and publishing houses have helped more than we know.

But still... it's a little overwhelming. And it's about reading! Reading is fun? Reading engenders community? Wow! We've lived to see the day.

It's got major capitalism implications, too. As far as I can figure (with very little research), the first 6 books have sold 325 copies worldwide, in over 60 languages. The 6th book sold 9 million copies in the U.K. and U.S. in its first 24 hours!

The 7th book has broken all pre-order sales records, with 2.2 and 1.4 million sales from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, respectively. The American publisher (Scholastic) has published 12 million of the latest and final book in the series, its largest-ever print run.

The first 4 movies have earned $3.5 billion in global ticket sales. The 5th movie took in $77.4 million the first weekend and is expected to rake in $1 billion worldwide.

So if you figure that the books sell for an average of $10 each that's $3.25 billion in book sales w/o the 7th book, compared to $3.5 billion for movie ticket sales for the first 4 movies.

All of this from a book!

Here at my office, where we toil away all day in silence, hardly ever chatting or even saying hello, we just had a 15 minute spontaneous conversation about books just from speaking the word Potter.

And best of all, all those millions of Book 7 are being printed on recycled paper after a successful lobbying effort by an environmental group in Canada, which got the support of the author, and now all the publishing houses have agreed to do so, saving untold acres of forests. That's the power of consumer pressure!

Harry Potter, boy wizard, community builder, saver of trees. He's made so many millions of us so very happy.

With hours to go,


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Buy a blogging car!

Maggie says:
One day soon, fair readers, I will be able to write about things unrelated to huge life decisions and moves. But that day will not be here this month. And on that note...

Remember back in the day when I wrote about my cute new bumper stickers? Do you want them for yourself? Do you figure you might as well buy the 1989 Saab Turbo 900 the stickers are attached to while you're at it?

Well it's your lucky day!

I'm selling my car rather than traveling with it. I love this car. It was my quirky, nerdy, weird, single-girl car. (Although it's not girly, guys, never fear!) But I'm not single anymore, and the car belongs in New Mexico.

And on that note... here's my craigslist ad. Spread the word and help my blogging car find a new owner!

More Movie Madness ... Domes and Shootouts

Mikaela says:
This Friday marks the kickoff for not one but TWO film festivals done Q-style: Domefest and the Duke City Shootout.

Did you know Albuquerque is a Dome Capitol of the world? We have one of the best venues and preeminent artists of full-dome visual presentations, and we're sharing them with the world this weekend.

Domefest 2007 runs Friday through Sunday, with public screenings throughout, at the Lodestar Dome housed in the Natural History Museum in Old Town.

Here are the highlights:

3D Stereo Fulldome Show
Friday, July 20 @ LodeStar
See a host of full-color 3D stereo content from the best of both the CG and the real world. The 3D stereo demo will include original animations by collection of invited artists as well as a performance of astronomical and other scientific imagery.
Public screenings at 8:30, 9:30 & 10:30pm

2007 Juried Show & Domie Awards
Saturday, July 21 @ LodeStar
Take a 40-minute ride through the best and boldest immersive art, science, entertainment and experimentation made for fulldome. The show is comprised of short works, up to four minutes

Public screenings at 8:30, 9:30 & 10:30pm

Interactive Immersive Art Performances
Sunday, July 22 @ LodeStar
The world premiere of J. Walt Adamczyk’s “Spontaneous Fantasia” real-time fulldome performance art.
Public screenings at 8:30, 9:30 & 10:30pm

Fulldome Show Screenings
Saturday & Sunday, July 21-22 @ LodeStar
Producers of up to four recent fulldome shows screen their work. Two shows will be presented each day.
Public screenings at 1, 2, 3 & 4pm

Duke City Shootout starts this Friday, too, at 7 pm with a dramatic Shotgun Start, taking place this year at the Albuquerque Studios in Mesa del Sol. After that, there's a Green Screen kickoff party at Carom Club. Finals Night w/ movie screenings & winner announcements on Saturday, July 28 at 7 pm in Kiva Auditorium.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.- In a few days, seven screenwriter/directors from around the country will begin the week-long race to shoot, edit and premier their 12-minute screenplay as part of the Duke City Shootout, which will take place in Albuquerque July 20-28.

Opening Night Gala- FRIDAY, JULY 20, 8 p.m. (Carom Club, Third and Central)
The Duke City Shootout will be going "green" this year with a green carpet and green screen action. Get in front of the screen for a chance to be part of Duke City Shootout History. Screen available from 8 to 10 p.m. In addition, the first 200 green screeners will get a ticket for a green chile burger and a beer from our sponsor Santa Fe Brewing Company. Green menu and drink specials.

Insomnia Lounge- JULY 22-28 (ABQ Hyatt Sendero Ballroom)
Hang out, chill, play. Immerse yourself in a free-form mix of emerging media ,story writing, games, animation, interactive art and sound. Connect to create with other artists, live in the lounge. Plug into the latest in digital technology with professional speakers and hands-on demos from Apple, Intel, Adobe and Sony. Bring your laptops, DVD's, hard drives and mini-DV camcorders to share finished works and your ongoing projects. We bring the FireWire, you the binary code. Insomnia is open free to the public.

MiniCini Moviemaking Competition - JULY 22-27 (Insomnia Lounge)
Anyone can join the digital revolution, and vie for cool prizes. Aspiring filmmakers of any age can participate in the Shootout's "MiniCini" competition sponsored by Intel. Participants have five days to write, shoot and edit a three-minute movie around a predetermined theme. Winners receive a 15" Apple MacBook Pro.

GAMESLAM- JULY 23-27 (Insomnia Lounge at the ABQ Hyatt)
Game on! Gear up for a five-day game design clinic and competition at the Shootout's Insomnia Lounge. Participants are trained then issued a game design challenge. They create a game concept and design to pitch on Friday to a panel of game development pros. Spaces are limited.

Gala Premier- SATURDAY, JULY 28, 7 p.m. (Kiva Auditorium)
And the winner is... The public views the seven new Duke City Shootout movies filmed the previous week. Prizes are awarded, the 48 hour film festival winner and MiniCini competition winners are announced.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Film Festival Time!

Mikaela says:
Tonight's your chance to view the results of this year's 48 Hour Film Festival. Remember the mockumentary Stare Down? I sure do!

Last year was a blast at the Guild. This year may be more ... formal ... at the Kimo Theatre downtown.

Meet me there!

Filmmaking teams from throughout the New Mexico area successfully completed a weekend of filmmaking. Films were due on Sunday, July 15, and the last few minutes before the deadline saw filmmakers, operating on little sleep and lots of adrenaline, rushing to get their films in on time.

Date: Tuesday, July 17th
Time: Group A will screen at 7pm
Group B will screen at 9:15pm
Place: KiMo Theater, 423 Central Ave. NW, Albuquerque
Notes: Buy Tix at the door of the KiMo for $9.
Wet your appetite for local theatre-making, because next week's the Duke City Shootout.


Thursday, July 12, 2007

Celebrating Maggie Mae

marjorie says...

As you all know by now, Maggie is leaving Albuquerque for good (although she is *not* leaving m-pyre!). Mikaela and I have decided to reserve our mourning for after she is gone and enjoy our last weeks of having Maggie right down the road from us. And part of that includes, of course, a time and a place for all of you who know and love Maggie to come say goodbye. Since we don't have all of your email addresses or phone is an open invitation. If you would like to drop by to get one more dose of that magnificent Maggie Mae smile, you'll have your chance on Saturday evening, July 21. It's BYOB, BYOF, BYOS, all that stuff. :-)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Checking out the clouds...

marjorie says...

Who says you need a plane or a helicopter to fly? I want to be this guy!!

Friday, July 06, 2007

UPDATE: Deathly Hollow Waiting

Mikaela says:
I am on tenderhooks.

I can't sit still. I've checked my Amazon pre-order (Feb. 1, baby!).

There's nothing interesting on the web.

There's nothing to do but wait.

Tick tock, tick tock.

I've re-read the last two books to prepare for the movie and newest installment and last book of the series (sob).

Oh, Harry. I hope you're gaining strength and maturity, cause you've kinda bugged me the last few books.

Here's what I'm dying to know:

  • Are they really not going to school next year? What kind of a message is that??? Should our kids similarly be thinking of skipping their senior year to fight Al Queda (or George W. for that matter, a much bigger evil in my opinion)? Ummm... no?
  • Is Dumbledore really dead? Was it an Obi-Wan Kanobi kinda thing? Is he even stronger now, able to help out from the other side like Harry's parents when he squared off against Voldemort in the cemetary?
  • How much kissing do we have to endure from Ron & Hermione? Ewwww...
  • Will Ginny finally get to play a bigger role? She's been set up as one of the more talented witches, she's been taken over by Voldemort for a semester, and she's Harry's love interest. She better get to kick some ASS in this book. Harry breaking up with her to protect her? Eye roll. She needs to come to HIS rescue, especially because LOVE has been set up as the one thing Harry has over Voldemort. How many times has Dumbledore said that? Actually, having Ginny sacrifice herself for Harry like Harry's mom did would be a cool twist. Harry: The Hero Who Lives Because of the Kick-ass Women Who Love Him. That would redeem him some in my eyes. And it would balance that obsessed focus that's been given to Harry's father versus his mother. Bad boys bleh. Heroic, strong women, oh yeah.
From my planner's perspective, I'm fascinated by the latest ploy from Amazon. They've set up a competition to see which town in America has the most pre-orders. They're listed here. The Harry-est town gets a sizeable donation to a local charity. Kinda cool. Global capitalism go! (Yes, that was sarcasm.)

And the winner is ...

Falls Church, VA! Residents of Falls Church ordered more copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows from per capita than any other town in America. As a result of Falls Church's "Harry-ness," is donating a $5,000 gift certificate to The Mary Riley Styles Public Library Foundation Trust of Falls Church.

The top 10 Harry-est Towns in the U.S.

  1. Falls Church, VA
  2. Gig Harbor, WA
  3. Fairfax, VA
  4. Vienna, VA
  5. Katy, TX,
  6. Media, PA,
  7. Issaquah, WA,
  8. Snohomish, WA,
  9. Doylestown, PA, and
  10. Fairport, NY used the most recent U.S. Census data and included all U.S. towns and cities with a population of more than 5,000 people.