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Interviews: the Peoples Social Forum

June 30, 2014’s Ritch Whyman spoke to three organizers of the Peoples Social Forum about the importance of the conference and how people can get involved:
1) Who and what organisations/groups are involved in building the Peoples Social Forum?
Raul: Those involved in organising include community groups, racialized communities, Indigenous nations, labour, NGOs, students, workers from across Canada and Quebec.
Darius: Most unions, student organizations, Indigenous peoples and nations, lefty activists of all stripes, environmentalists, women's organizations, migrant justice organizers, artists, NGO's, and others who are just fed up with the direction of society.

2) The Forum is clearly inspired by Occupy, INM and the Quebec Student movement. Is it the hope that the forum can pull those inspired and active in those movements together?
Raul: The SF has its roots in Latin American activism, called “encuentros”, a meeting which emphasizes dialogue and exchange of ideas among activists in the global south with an emphasis on alternatives. From Canada yes, those movements have been a source of inspiration as an example of collective action and resistance. The SF seeks to bring together all progressive social movements to help bridge the links between local and national struggles and linking them to global issues with a emphases on collective action to challenge the status quo in this country.
Darius: The Forum is indeed inspired by the many mass movements that have rocked "Canada" these past few years.  But it is also very much inspired by the Social Forum movement which pre-dates these recent happenings.  The hope is that the Peoples Social Forum can pull together all our social movements to build together, identify points of unity that strengthen our diverse struggles and perspectives, build trust, build solidarity, and come out of the forum with plans for action and stronger bonds between all participating peoples.

3) It isn't often that activists from First Nations, Quebec and English Canada get together. How important to you is it that there is representation from all three?
Raul: The Social forum is at its strongest when diversity is at its core in terms of participation and representation. The representation from these groups and others like people of colour makes the SF unique in terms of movement building on a national level.
Darius: From my understanding this is the first time something like this is happening. This is truly historic in that sense. "Getting representation" can be very tokenistic and problematic. What is inspiring about the PSF is that the whole process from the beginning has been led by activists from all three. There is real and meaningful engagement from all of our communities towards this forum. And we are anticipating major participation from all three as well as from migrant communities who don't necessarily identify with these three boxes.

4)What sort of response are you getting for the Forum?
Darius: Hype around the forum has only been getting bigger as the dates approach. Registrations and workshop proposals are coming in on a daily basis.  New people are joining committees and caucuses. The regional expansion committees are forming. There is a lot of buzz and interest across the country and even to the south.
5) What is the response like outside of the usual places (bigger cities, established activist circles etc..). What kind of response from smaller town, rural areas, marginalised communities?
Darius: There are families from small towns that are registering. There are community groups at Jane and Finch planning their participation and mobilizing the hood. There are many Indigenous nations and reserves planning buses. Hype is building everywhere.
Ana: The response from Indigenous communities and grassroots people has been very enthusiastic. There is definitely an interest in participating in an event so large that has intentionally made the effort to engage people who are usually excluded from these sorts of events. There is a lot of knowledge held by traditional people and community-minded people and they are very eager to contribute to the discussion in August. The same is true for geographic areas that are also excluded: the plains, northern regions, and The North in particular. For many, the Social Forum represents the first time that Canadian society has actively encouraged and invited participation from the communities mentioned. It is exciting.

6)How does the forum fit into the ongoing fight against austerity, and cuts to programs?
Raul: A key component to challenging the neo liberal model is to build strong social movements across Canada that can engage in building a true participatory democracy. The SF is the only national project underway that attempts to do that by bringing together diverse groups that can challenge the status quo and propose alternatives.
Darius: Fighting austerity is one of the main focuses of the Peoples Social Forum. We know that many workshops will touch on the subject, and anticipate there will be several actions planned during the forum to challenge austerity economics. There will also be assemblies at which we will all come together to plan our fight-back against austerity.
Ana: The potential to examine during the Social Forum the neo-liberal model and its continual colonialization also draws settler society into a deeper understanding of what has been happening for hundreds of years in these territories. Participants at the PSF will make the connection between the historical struggles of Indigenous nations and the perils that Western models have for settler society as well.

7) Given the concern by many activists at the rightward drift of the NDP do you see the social forum as a place to discuss the building of a new political expression for the movements? Like Québec solidaire perhaps?
Raul: Lessons from other places like Latin America that have created progressive political parties is that first you need to build social movements that can then help build political parties not the other way around. So the discussion at the SF is more how do we build social movements not how to build political parties. This might be one of the reasons why the forum is free of political parties.

Darius: People are free to discuss these ideas at the forum. But it must be made clear that the Peoples Social Forum is strictly non-partisan and will not allow itself to become a platform for any politician or political party. It is about empowering grassroots movements and amplifying people's voices who are building the alternatives and fighting the economic and political status quo.
Ana: As we've said, the Forum gives us the opportunity to imagine new ways of living together and building a different society. Particularly from the Original Peoples' Caucus' perspective, this excludes the model of typical Western partisan politics and calls on us to re-implement traditional political structures. 

8) What role are the unions playing in the social forum.
Darius: Unions are helping in major ways.  They've supported the forum financially and are mobilizing their members to attend. They are also helping support everyone's participation by coordinating buses from nearly every major city in the country (especially in Ontario and Quebec).

9)What are people hoping will emerge from the social forum
Darius: I'm hoping that the forum unleashes a wave of social activism in Canadian society that effectively undermines the austerity agenda, neo-liberal capitalism, and ongoing colonialism.  I'm hoping to see organized labour regain it's fighting spirit.  I'm hoping to see all kinds of strategic alliances and solidarity between traditionally disconnected movements. I want to see decolonization and grassroots direct democracy in my lifetime and I hope this forum will be a significant contribution towards these ends, but that's just me.  There's thousands of people and so many movements coming, and all of us have our own reasons, our own aspirations, and our own goals for the forum, and that's what makes it special.
Ana: The Original Peoples' Caucus hopes to see a renewed commitment to the Peace and Friendship Treaties, and to the spirit and intent of our ancestors to live together in a good way. This means understanding that we have Inherent Rights to all that happens in our territories, rights that supercede all colonial laws. This also means the legislative and judicial rejection of the Doctrines of Discovery and Terra Nullius. 

10) What can people do to help build for the social forum?
Darius: Register! Propose a workshop! Organize an assembly!  Plan an action!  Join your local expansion committee!  Join a committee or caucus! Spread the word on social media. Talk to your friends, family, co-workers and neighbours and convince them to come. This event is only going to be as good as we make it. Let's build together. The future is ours.
Before the forum:
1. Get involved in the regional expansion commissions prior to the big event, in order to assure interest and buy-in from community and local organizations. Some regional forums will take place, parallel to the Ottawa event; others may happen simultaneously and be inter-connected through video conferencing or Skype. These are happening in Montreal, Quebec, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Regina, Edmonton, Halifax, and throughout Southern Ontario. Regional groups are establishing in Thunder Bay, Sackville, Charlottetown, Victoria, Yellowknife, and elsewhere.
2. Join one of the caucuses: Organized labour, Original People, Québec, People of Colour, Queer, (dis)Ability, Youth and Women.
3. Join one of the Committees: Communications, Logistics, Mobilization, Finance, Program, Culture
4. Prepare for the Caravans: Atlantic, Western, South-Western Ontario, Quebec, and the North are organizing caravans.  They will visit communities that are facing austerity measures, plant shut-downs, privatization of public services and resisting resource extraction on their lands, etc. People would then join the caravan and make their way to the Social Forum.  The notion is to link struggles and communities that are facing similar struggles, to involve communities that are normally out of reach and to bring messages from those communities, unions, and Indigenous Peoples to the Ottawa march. Independent journalists and bloggers will ride in the caravans collecting peoples’ stories on the way.
5. Build a Movement Assembly: Movement Assemblies are community gatherings, held during the Peoples’ Social Forum, designed for groups from across the country to develop collective political agreements, and actions. People make action plans in order to work together across issues on local, regional, and national fronts. Assemblies could form around such themes as: Fracking, Water, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Cuts to Public Services, Access to Housing, Migrant Justice etc.”
At the forum:
1. August 21st March on Parliament Hill: Caravans coming from across the country will meet up for the opening gathering on August 21, beginning at 3:00pm on Victoria Island, followed by a march to Parliament Hill to end in a beautiful participatory cultural presentation with music, dance, colour and thousands of people.
2. Two days of Workshops: At the University of Ottawa, and surrounding venues on several broad themes including: Indigenous Peoples’ rights; social/economic rights poverty; difficulty of organizing; defending public services; water and land; governance and democracy; women's rights; racism, homophobia; etc.
3. Movement Assemblies:Movement Assemblies are community gatherings, held during the Peoples’ Social Forum, designed for groups to develop collective political agreements, and actions. People make action plans in order to work together across issues on local, regional, and national fronts.
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