As many in the United States are gathering to celebrate Independence Day, an event I attended last week has me thinking a lot more about the necessity of interdependence…
Last week four other Sojourners staff members and I journeyed to Atlanta for the first ever U.S. Social Forum, whose motto was “Another World is Possible. Another U.S. is Necessary!” It was a gathering of activists who commit “to challenge corporate globalization, its neoliberal policies, and the growing poverty, repression, and war that increasingly defines the dominant global capitalist economic and political systems.” With somewhere between 10 and 20 thousand participants, it was a great carnival of peoples’ movements, and an invitation to learn how our government’s policies and the actions of corporations can disrupt and destroy the lives of those on the bottom.
What I found so hopeful was that the workshops were largely led by ordinary folks who cared deeply about the issues because they had been personally affected by them. For instance, veterans offered ways to build the antiwar movement, farm workers shared stories of poor wages and working conditions, and people of color being displaced by gentrification discussed strategies for achieving affordable housing in their neighborhoods.
Disinterested “experts,” a fixture inside the Washington-area beltway, were nowhere to be found. Media-savvy pundits were absent as well. Instead, there were impassioned people talking about harsh realities not up for discussion in Washington or featured in the 24-hour news cycle:
- The unintended results of our uncritical embrace of the global free market, including illegal migration
- Our exorbitant defense budget and military presence throughout the world
- The torturing of detainees in Guantanamo, Iraq, and elsewhere
- The state of the Palestinian people and the U.S.’s financial and military support of Israel
- That with over 2.3 million prisoners, a majority of whom are people of color, the United States has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world
- The privatization of public goods such as water and schools
- The toxic effects of environmental racism
Those outside the power structures—including many participants at USSF 2007—often provide the strongest critique of them, largely because their disenfranchisement leaves them with nothing to lose. They are free to speak the truth as they see it in ways that many of us are not, which can be a liberating (if slow) process for all involved.
Certainly, the forum had its problems, particularly from a Christian perspective. Some of the participants demonstrated support for violence, celebrated an “anything and everything goes” understanding of sexual expression, and practiced silly, new-age style spirituality. It made me thankful for Sojourners, and its long history of presenting a radical biblical alternative to both the Religious Right and the activist Left. That being said, these movements often do a better job than churches and faith-based groups do of letting the poor speak for themselves.
The forum was an invitation for people to look around and realize, as Marvin Gaye put it, “What’s going on” in our communities and throughout the world, and an opportunity to organize for change. I pray that the church will side with and celebrate the poor among us, and that we can work together to seek alternatives to the commodification of human life through the market and its domination through militarism.
Tim Kumfer is the executive assistant at Sojourners/Call to Renewal.