This new century began with great promise. On the eve of the millennium thousands of protesters gathered on the streets of Seattle and brought the efforts of powerful global elites to a halt. Seemingly coming out of nowhere, the protesters unleashed a new energy, challenging the idea that Earth and her resources were to be used and abused in the service of unrestrained development. What became known as the neo-liberal agenda to reshape the world to benefit corporate elites was confronted directly by people who had been working for years to protect neighborhoods, safeguard the natural world and establish justice.
On the heels of the Battle of Seattle the first World Social Forum was held in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in January 2001 to directly counter the elite gathering at the World Economic Forum in Davos,. The Social Forum brought together civil society groups from around the world to share ideas, strategies and hopes. In a democratic, open space format, people came together in the belief that “Another world is possible.”
Over the decade the annual WSF has grown and matured, establishing regional gatherings such as the 2nd USSF held in Detroit in June 2010. This February the WSF met in Dakar, Senegal, as the world was riveted by the democratic forces in Egypt breaking free of decades of repression.
The promise of the Battle of Seattle and the first WSF were soon lost in the explosions of September 11, 2001. The neo-liberal forces in the U.S,A., under the leadership of Bush and Cheney, unleashed a politics of fear and greed that twisted our country into one of the most violent and repressive regimes on the globe. With doctrinaire ideas like pre-emptive war, we invaded countries that had done nothing to us, killing hundreds of thousand of people. We justified torture, the abandonment of basic rights and any claim to representing decency.
This aggressive use of military might was combined with an assault on the public sphere. In the name of more efficient private enterprise, all areas of common life were turned over to corporate profit seekers. From janitors to soldiers the functions of government became the province of big business. The public square was eroded, distorted and diminished.
As the decade wore on, fear gradually gave way to questioning and unrestrained greed led to near financial collapse. The candidacy of Barak Obama evoked longings for a more decent, productive and compassionate country. He promised Change and Hope. Now, two years into the Obama administration, it is clear that the changes we need go far beyond the capacity of any elected official. The forces of military might and corporate interests are too deeply in control of the representatives of democracy.
More and more, people are realizing that something new must be created if we are to take our place within the family of nations and create a country where all human beings are loved, welcome, productive and cared for as they grow.
This change has been building in the neighborhoods and towns across America as people struggle to create new ideas on how to make a living, how to educate our children and how to care for our health and well-being. These small efforts exploded on the streets of Detroit last June at the 2nd USSF, proclaiming not only that another world is possible, but another world is happening here in Detroit and around the country.
It is among those working to create this world anew that the energies unleashed in Tunisia and Egypt resonate most deeply. It is an energy that is now gaining strength on the streets in Wisconsin.
We should have no illusions about the difficulties and dangers ahead. But those of us who care about justice surely recognize that this is a new moment, filled with possibilities.