USSF in Detroit, June, 2010, MDS members

USSF in Detroit, June, 2010, MDS members


Movement for a Democratic Society, Workshop Report and Reflection from the Social Forum by alan haber

Today, Bastille Day, a revolutionary day in France, a day to remember the rising of the people, and the opening of the political prison, and the fall of the royalists. May that day come again, soon in our time, that the multitudes arise, and the political prisoners in our country and world wide are freed and democracy prevails over the oligarchs and monopolists, masters of war and makers of the big guns. It is our mission. The end of the system of war and creation of a culture of peace and non-violence for the children of the world, “..a society free from poverty ignorance, war, exploitation, racism and sexism…” as it says on our membership card.

The United States Social Forum in Detroit, June 22-26 was indeed a surge of energy in that mission. A thousand workshops, 50 peoples assemblies, 5 plenarys, art and culture, day and night. thousands of people. Inspiring diversity. Their web, ussf2010.org will give a comprehensive report.

The forum was exhilarating and exhausting, and with the 4th of July close on its heals, parading and reflecting on our right to rebel, and its celebration, and then real life and other urgencies and agonies intervening, time has flown. What i hoped would be a more immediate report has waited to now, on the 14th of July, and summoning that revolutionary resonance, it is due time to push “send”.

i hope you will find it useful and sufficient to prompt your “active participation” in the movement for a democratic society.

Before our Movement for a Democratic Society workshop, i attended two others that were very relevant, one on local organization form, and one on statewide common program.

Wednesday morning, i attended a workshop of the “arc109” community in Chicago, “re-imagining the movement,” Hearing how a well developed, consciously learning from experience, local political group operates, was encouraging. The are models from which to learn, what works at the local level, how networks of relationship can draw people from many diverse questions to think and act together, different approaches the “the national questions”, unity and diversity. Chapter building is on the agenda in every place where we are, so this was a good start for the forum.

On Wednesday afternoon, there was a “people’s movement assembly” inviting all peace and justice activists from Michigan. Many came. We developed a statewide plan of “mobilizing Michigan’s millions,” presuming a much deeper discontent than has expressed itself, promoting a statewide march. “a moveable peace: creating the commons,” from the war system to the peace system. This was seen as a model appropriate for other states, as part of a national mobilization, in 3 time stages, this 4th of july to the next, 2011, next summer july 4 to labor day, 2011, , and labor day 2011 to election day 2012, a long campaign, creating, nurturing, linking in every community a “commons place” for considering a common “peace and justice program,” for dramatic presentation to governor, legislature and world media public.

The social forum, as those who were there can testify, hosted a beyond-abundance of excellence. On Thursday afternoon, when our workshop and organization meeting was scheduled, so also was scheduled, the SDS campus workshop, Organization for a Free Society workshop, Iranian workshop, the anti-war people’s movement assembly with Labor Against the War and Military Families Speak Out, the education people’s movement assembly, War Resisters League and Courage to Resist, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and Midnight Notes, for instance, in all of which we had friends indicating wish to come. except….

So the mds workshop attracted those who picked us out of the hundred and more alternative beacons, and had no other prior commitment.
We promised to deal with organization: “What forms of political (and other) association are adequate for our needs in these times.” i printed a thousand leaflets and was able to distribute nearly 500. The mds outreach statement was on one side, with improved graphics, strengthening the fist and making the heart fuller, and, on the other side, the workshop outline was printed, as proposed to the social forum for participation.

Of course, nothing went according to outline. An extreme tornado laden storm closed the East Coast air-lanes and Devra Morice, who would have facilitated the discussion and agenda, could not attend, and she had the multiple copies of the constitution that we were to discuss. No plane or train out of New York at the critical time. She was also slated to deliver a “not quite a chapter report,” So the order of the day was improvise.

We did well enough in attendance to have a great discussion, (more than a minyan) with presence from Kansas City, Denver, Berkeley, San Diego, Houston, Austin, Atlanta, New York, Cleveland, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Montpellier in France, and with connections in Russia, and in Iraq, and regrets from an Iranian who was interested but otherwise obligated. We also had a beautiful span of generations. One, beside me, from the first generation of sds, long working in an Atlanta radio station, came with his grand daughter, a dynamo of a student at a school in Wisconsin.

The elder was a retired minister, older than me. He began, in our go around, with a challenge, propelled by 25 years of frustration: are we really trying to organize a third force in American politics, are we serious about contending with power? challenging the Democrats and Republicans monopoly in politics. He had worked with the greens and was dissatisfied. Can we take on the corporations? bring down the oligarchs? He seemed satisfied, as the discussion progressed, that we were doing what others weren’t and were dealing with the right questions, corporate control of globalization, climate change, environment, re-localization, inter-organization relations, etc, to be relevant in Kansas City. Life long commitments and being inspired by what the old sds envisioned were also on our plus side.

One from the old sds put forth a 3 fold perspective, emphasizing the direct democratic possibility of new communications, the need to challenge the banking system monopoly control of the privatized money system which accepts usury as usual, and the global population growth that looms over all programs we consider.

A self described, “non-representative youth” among us was totally angry about more than he could say in 4 points, British Petroleum, the bank bail out, war rip-off and Katrina policy and 9/11, for starters, and impatient with non-violence, peace and harmony. Anger was a motivator to get off your ass and do something, The system was so corrupted, it should all come down and people start over.

As to how, Bob Meola conveyed an exposition of non-violence, as a means and social goal, like democracy, “in all areas of our common life.” He had also spoken at the War Resisters League workshop, meeting at the same time as ours. This statement is attached below.

A man from Cleveland worked on foreclosures, evictions, help for the uninsured and poor people’s economics. It reminded me of the Cleveland erap project (sds economic research and action project) and that the abolition of poverty is still the bottom line. Help is needed in Cleveland. (Afterwards, back in Ann Arbor i chanced to meet 4 young people visiting from Cleveland, not “political” at all, knowing nothing of the social forum, and hearing what went on and the ideal of mds and peace and justice, were quick and happy to join. Maybe help is at hand.)

We got a report on the local and wider struggle for democracy in the Service Employees International Union, and some reflections on the limitations and frustrations of “the union” as an instrument of the working class, and yet, that what there is, operating in a legally restrained collective bargaining model, and with no labor or workers party or independent political association, in America, or internationally, which is what we need, and again is our mission.

An interesting discussion ensued following the question of our aspiring to be a global network/organization/association and our presumption of democracy and democratic secular state forms. Traditional, tribal, clan based and religious rooted societies don’t operate in that model and yet can operate very well, and fairly, along traditional lines of conflict resolution and decision making, The old ways are not always fair, but also not inherently the enemy of fair. The strong indigenous people presence at the social forum gave voice to those usually silenced by the hegemony and occupation of empire.

When we got to our actual preamble and constitutional document, 2 recurrent questions again were raised.

1. It says we are “people on the left.” Do we want to say we are only the left, and not drawing from the right or the vast many who do not live at all in that left-right political paradigm of dualism? Neither left nor right, but forward? new paradigm? “progressive” has its problems too.

2. Do we really want the exclusionist clause: “apologists” for dictators are not welcome? What makes one an “apologists”, rather than a realist. dealing with what is? Are we not friends of Cuba, Venezuela, Palestine, in its various factions, none of which are exactly “democratic.” Is it not better to have discussion and critique of each situation in its own terms, and not presume some universal test or semantic purity.

All present endured a full reading of the constitution, transfixed by its riveting rhetoric and ingenious combinations of best practices.

Consensus agreed that we had still too few members to conduct formal organization business and elections. All present were invited to join the movement for a democratic society, and to join the organizing committee.

Membership cards had been printed, in an iww union shop, and 1000 cards were brought to the social forum, and distributed to the organizing team.
$1 to join, a symbolic amount of money, pledging a lifetime of commitment.

[Periodic dues were not set. Contributions are welcome. The mds web site has a “join” and “pay money” button. www.movementforademocraticsociety.org, or membership requests and joining dues and money can be sent to: “mds, p.o.box 7213, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48107. ]

Our basic “adequate to meet our needs” organization structure establishes working groups or “secretariats” with collective leadership in 5 areas: on membership, actions, education, inter-organization relations, and media, with “chapters” of 5 or more members, either local geographical chapters , and non-local or multi-local project oriented or affinity chapters. and a “council of representatives.” and a “convention.” Association and liaison with other, allied organizations and groups is part of the form and function.

No quorum was set to call or conduct a convention. Informally, it was “nodded to” that maybe when half or a quarter of the cards are signed up, we’ll have enough going for a proper convention. Until then we will continue to operate as an open organizing collective/team/group/committee.

On the “education” part, we had intended, in our formal agenda, to discuss a paper from “Cloudy” beginning a telling of the political story “from the old sds to the new mds.” This draft paper is also included as an attachment. It can be considered the beginning of our “internal education” program, inviting comments, for amplification, clarification, refinement, editing, etc, for possible release as an “external education” document.

A student spoke, far clearer than my generation did at her age, on the experience of the undemocratic university and the demand/insistence for change, “You can’t foster democracy out of tyranny,” as she sucinctly put it. She later went off to another workshop on creating the democratic university and came back before we were over to report on the meeting, which began planning October education focused actions. .

I spoke of the “campaign for the commons” in Ann Arbor and our local organization model of a Town Meeting, and cooperation across multiple organization loyalties. I also reported on the cross-silo model i heard in the ‘arc workshop,” and the Michigan state-wide strategy, within a national mobilization focused on 2012, and intending to create a “commons-based” independent political presence.

I also offered a report from the 50th anniversary Reunion of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, on what happened in Raleigh, the follow up “legacy project” to collect copies of all the documents and recollections of the sncc activity, an association of “children of sncc” being in touch with each other and stimulated one another’s creativity and activism, and the young people’s project, based in high schools, leading a campaign for a constitution amendment to guarantee the right to quality public education for everyone in America, as a federal responsibility, challenging existing “sharecropper education” and the school-to-prison beltway. The activist continuations group following the sncc reunion, provisionally called the “non-violent political coordinating committee, set out an organizing plan to link progressive activists, provide an activist training facility, scholarly committee to help think though difficult questions, and a legal aid team. Unfortunately, others from ex-sncc who had intended to come, could not come, variously for reasons of health, finances and local urgencies. The draft discussion outline of this perspective is attached.

The workshop meeting ended in good cheer and warmth to one another, some joining and some waitings-to-see. For the organizers there was satisfaction that we had gotten through it, and were ready for next steps. We got a nice photo of organizers by our poster. see below

Later in the forum i participated in a workshop on “Creating a nuclear weapons free zone in the middle east” and Israel/Palestine Peace.

Odile Hugonot Haber and I also directed a workshop on “the peace table” and a citizen initiative for a “cease fire! and come to the table to talk” world peace meeting, which we call the “megiddo peace project,” a global/local art for peace action, transforming armageddon.

There is more to tell of the forum. This is enough.

In our 4th of July parade in Ann Arbor, Michigan, i marched with the Gray Panthers, We put out a leaflet, “1,2,3, for democracy,”
promoting organizing campaigns for “medicare for all,” “challenging corporate power” via constitutional amendment, and creating an “Ann Arbor Community Commons,” downtown, for everyone. We distributed a thousand leaflets, none were left, to the outstretched arms of an eager general public. There was a lot of affirmation to one or another, or all of the 3 points. i saw a ready public; not many said “no” to what we offered.

Now is a ready time. Illusion of system competence and compassion is shattered in the experience of Katrina and banking rip off and British Petroleum.
pollution. Eyes are open, The emperor is naked. People are seeking. Now is a time when decisive, determinative change is possible. The inclusive political union of a movement for democratic society is but a decision away.

i invite others who were at the workshop to add your comments, and whoever sees this report, to respond. Say what you have been doing and join the movement building process this workshop advanced. mds-organizers has a google group to discuss planning, conference calls, follow-up activities.

thank you for reading this.

alan haber