Social Forum kicks off Defeat Bush week

BOSTON – Expressing many of the same themes as the delegates to the Democratic National Convention, over 4,000 people came together to discuss the issues of the day in the Boston Social Forum (BSF) held at the University of Massachusetts July 23-25.

The participants, who included students and youth, trade unionists, and environmental and peace activists, took part in over 600 workshops covering a wide range of issues. The BSF follows the model of the World Social Forum and looks to provide “a meeting place for reflective thinking, democratic debate of ideas, formulation of proposals, free exchange of experiences and interlinking for effective action by groups and movements … committed to building a society centered on the human person.”

While most of the workshops were organized by various groupings, ranging from the Communist Party and Young Communist League to Pax Christi, Jobs with Justice and the Service Employees Union, a number of events were held forum-wide. Among these were an International Peace Conference and the Active Arts Youth Conference.

The International Peace Conference featured participants from Britain, Korea, Japan, Pakistan, and India as well as the U.S.

Lydia Caballero, a convention delegate from Weslaco, Texas, urged BSF participants to call the White House as well as their senators and representative in Congress and urge that Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), the House Majority Leader, be arrested for his actions, which she called criminal. DeLay is under investigation by the House Ethics Committee. He is accused of using his congressional office for partisan political purposes and trading votes in return for pushing legislation that benefitted individual corporations.

Cabellero also urged people to make sure that John Kerry lifts the travel ban to Cuba, saying, “It’s in the national platform” of the Democratic Party.

Cindy Buhl, an aide to Massachusetts Congressman James McGovern, agreed with Caballero, noting that Congress has voted to lift the travel ban to Cuba “for five years in a row.”

Rachel Hereford and Rachel Merolla, friends and students at Tufts University, visited Cuba last year through their school. Merolla called the new Bush administration restrictions against Cuban Americans visiting their families on the socialist island “horrendous.” She emphasized, “We should be working on rebuilding ties between the USA and Cuba.”

Hereford said she came to the BSF “to learn about what different organizations are doing against U.S. government policies.” She said there is a “need for unity to defeat the International Monetary Fund” and its policies. While Hereford wasn’t sure if taking part in the electoral process made any difference, Merolla said she would “vote for Kerry to get Bush out.”

“I am scared to death” that the GOP and Bush administration operatives will use electronic voting to steal the elections, said Helen Raisz, a grandmother of six from Farmington, Conn. Raisz, a supporter of Dennis Kucinich’s run for the presidency, told the World that there are “two different poles here – fear and hope” and disagreed with those at the BSF who equated Sen. Kerry and George W. Bush. “There is a world of difference” between them, she said. She told this writer she was glad that Sen. John Edwards, “a son of a millworker,” was also on the ticket and remembered an African American woman approaching him and saying, “My father worked with your father” in the mills.

The author can be reached at j.a.cruz @ comcast.net.