Thoughts on the US Social Forum

Submitted by Felice Gelman


This is huge!  Thousands of people, cavernous spaces in the Cobo Hall convention as well as events scattered rather widely around the city of Detroit – offering the opportunity for very substantial daily walks.


A great spirit from a clearly devastated city and many signs of grassroots rebuilding.  Vast numbers of vacant crumbling homes, vacant lots – and large numbers of beautiful community gardens, areas of rebuilding with local stores.  Near the Cass Methodist Church, where we are staying, for example, the excellent local bakery opened thirteen years ago by getting the community to “pre-buy” its bread.  Every $3 contributed was good for $1 of bread after the bakery opened.  They raised $40,000 to open and had 1,000 people at their opening party.  Needless to say, they have continued to thrive on that community support, reciprocated by their community giving (like the free shuttle they sponsored between the bakery and Cobo Hall.


 Worth noting – two very hot tracks here –  justice for immigrants and people of color, and justice for Palestine.  Many many workshops on both areas, very well attended.

Here are some ideas/thoughts from workshops on each of those subjects.


Immigrant Justice:

How to create alliances/connections between resistance to immigration laws and fighting the prison/industrial comples. The key questions were the tensions between abolition and reform and how to deal with the question of what is criminal?


Presenters were:


The Arizona Repeal Coalition whose campaign is the Right to Live, Love and Work.  They are working at the grassroots level to repeal all the anti-immigration laws.  Have been using the tools of petitioning and canvassing to build meetings of 30-90 people. 


No More Deaths – Tucson which has focused on the militarization of the border since 2003.  They have been doing documentation of abusive border control practices and pressing for reform.  However, Arizona law actually states that enforcement is designed to terrorize people into leaving the state, so reform is problematic.   They believe that SB 1070 merely codifies practices that are used widely elsewhere. 


The Border Action Network which is a grassroots human rights organization started in 1999.  They began with militant anti-border actions, but learned that those actions were met by widespread law enforcement abuse of immigrant communities.  They shifted their focus to become a member-based organization of immigrant communities with a focus on human rights advocacy and documentation as well as doing work in the courts. 


Interestingly, one of the presenters cited the example of the abolitionist movement in the 19th century as a model.  That movement established a baseline position that slavery must end – an uncompromising moral position.  It then worked to develop winnable objectives that did not compromise that baseline position.  These included social support for people struggling with the consequences of government policies, and working on developing a non-compliance campaign.  A non-compliance petition is planned for the end of July when SB 1070 is formally implemented.   One key success was getting the city of Flagstaff to sue the state to overturn SB 1070.   This was accomplished in part by bringing 300 undocumented people to the city council meeting to demand the lawsuit. 


Justice for Palestine:

There were 50 (!) workshops on this subject, focusing on different areas.  The ones I went to were primarily about ending the siege of Gaza and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign. 


Efforts to break the siege of Gaza right now are focused almost entirely on bringing another flotilla of boats to challenge the Israeli blockade.   Boats are being organized in the Middle East, Europe, Canada and – yes – the United States.   This will require an enormous and rapid fundraising effort but it seems like the will is there.  In response to the last flotilla and world reaction to Israel’s massacre of participants, Israel and the US are “easing” the siege.  That means, essentially, feeding the 1.5 million people imprisoned inside Gaza a little better.  However, people are still unable to leave to pursue their education, receive medical treatment (some are allowed out but more are denied and left to die), or to see their families and friends elsewhere in the world – a right virtually all of us enjoy.  Also, and even more important, businesses in Gaza are unable to function because they cannot purchase supplies and cannot export finished products.  This means that the population is almost entirely dependant on handouts.    I think we could adopt the slogan of the Arizona Repeal Coalition – people in Gaza need the Right to Live, Love and Work where they choose. 


The effort to organize boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel until the occupation is ended, Israel extends equal treatment to its own citizens of Palestinian descent, and complies with international law is gaining an enormous head of steam.   The most stunning action recently was the success in blocking the unloading of an Israeli cargo ship in California.  This was achieved by an alliance of community organizations and labor that picketed the docks.  The longshoremen refused to cross the picket lines.


There was intensive discussion of a variety of other initiatives:  academic boycott (Israeli universities are intimately involved in maintaining the occupation through their research), cultural boycott (the Israeli government has an explicit campaign to use cultural groups to “rebrand” Israel and divert attention from its violations of international and human rights law).   This includes asking artists not to perform in Israel (which has had a number of successes this year), and protesting cultural events in the US and elsewhere funded by the Israeli government.  There is also a consumer boycott of Israeli projects – like the Codepink led boycott of Ahava beauty products, which are produced in Israeli settlements in the West Bank from materials mined from Palestinian lands.   Or the protest against H&M stores who this year decided to open 3 stores in Israeli that are built on destroyed Palestinian villages.   There are also a number of divestment campaigns.  Students at several large universities have taken votes on divesting university funds from companies that profit from the occupation.   Jewish Voice for Peace has just launched a campaign among teachers, professors, and others in the academic world to urge their pension fund TIAA CREF to divest from companies that benefit from the occupation. 

This is a far from inclusive list of all the efforts underway.  The key is that virtually all of them have substantial community support and can take meaningful action without having to beg elected officials to stand for justice.


If you’ve read this far, you are probably amazed at all the energy and initiatives that are underway.  This is just a teaspoonful of the ocean of organizing activity that was discussed at the social forum.  It was clear that, whatever progressive action you want to be involved in, your allies are numerous and they are overflowing with creative ideas.   






Nassim Elashi co-founder of The Holy Land Trust, sentenced to 65 years.


When the Holy Lnad Foundation was ncorporated in 1989 myintention was to help the Paletsinian indigenous people who have been facing continuing economic distress.  The most enjoyable part of my life was knowing I could sign a check to assist hundreds of Palestinian families after their homes were demolished, giving scholarships to high performing students, giving assistance to orphans and needy families.   We gave them hope and life.  The occupation was giving them death and destruction.  And we are termed criminal.  That is irony.


Became the largest Muslim charity in the US, providing aid to Muslims in theMiddle East, Bosnia, and the United States.   The defamation began in the 1990s and the maerial support law was passed in response to this defamation.   In December 2001, The Holy Land Foundation was sht down by executive order on secret evidence.  Claimed that the money was used to support schools to creatsuicide ombers. 


By 2004, the prosecutorial narrative completely chaned.  The indictment said that the foundation did provide charity, but thru channels controlled by Hamas.


In first trial in 2007, argument was that humanitarian aid was provided to Palestinian families with the intent to win their support but to secretly encourage them to become suicide bomber.  The only testimony came from an anonymous Israeli agent who claimed he could “smell Hamas.”  Since  his identity was secret, it was very hard to cross examine him.


Translations were faulty, images were used that had no connection to the HLF.   The FBI agent testified that these men were Hamas supporters because they had some relatives who were. 


Testimony was also given that none of the channels used for contributions were on the terrorist list and many well known international NGOs used the same channels.


The jury deliberated 19 days and did not return any guilty verdicts. A mistrial was declared.  IN 2008 the case was retried.  Same witnesses and testimony resulted in a guilty verdict on all counts afater 9 days of deliberation.


Has not seen her father since October. This was because a guard complained when his young son with Downs Syndrome violated a guard’s order so he could give him father a final hug.


Now in a communications monitoring unit, where communication with outside world is restriced.  Gets two 15 min. phone calls/week, 2 visit/month behind plexiglass – all monitored in DC.   But because of the incident with his son, he cannot see any family for a year.