WILLIAMS BAY, Wisc. – Here on the rustic lakeshore George Williams-Lake Geneva campus of Aurora University, about 235 scholars and activists came together May 31 to June 2 for RadFest 2002. The event is the latest in a series of annual gatherings that have been held throughout Wisconsin.

RadFest is sponsored by the A.E. Havens Center for the Study of Social Structures and Social Change. Its director, Patrick Barrett, said that “the central goal of the conference is to provide an opportunity for progressive activists, organizers and intellectuals to come together to discuss issues of mutual interest and concern, strengthen networks and devise strategies for progressive social, economic and political change.”

Barrett noted that RadFest is growing. Last year’s event drew about 200 people and this year’s was the largest to date. Barrett calls it “an important annual gathering for progressives.”

The opening plenary this year, featuring such well-known national figures as Global Exchange’s Medea Benjamin and Middle East activist Rania Masri, addressed the recent extremes of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and Central Asia, and was immediately followed by a workshop offering on the post-Sept. 11 world.

The various workshops were devoted to issues such as gay and lesbian rights, tax policy and religious freedom, as well as strategy and skill-building sessions.

But “the subtext of RadFest is the media,” said communications expert Robert McChesney, author of Rich Media, Poor Democracy. McChesney has spoken at every RadFest since 1999. The foreign policy plenary, for example, “discussed how media have given distorted impressions of events overseas,” he said.

Numerous workshops were devoted to such issues as the intrusion of corporate marketing into public education, which University of Illinois expert Dan Cook called “an aggressive commercial colonization of our children.” Others focused on the building of progressive media alternatives.

A hopeful note was sounded at the second conference plenary, which concerned progressive strategy and featured Benjamin, David Newby of the South Central Wisconsin Coalition of Labor (AFL-CIO), Madison-based Nation columnist John Nichols, Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) and the Green Party’s George Martin. “We’re all here to see how we can make this a bigger movement when we leave here,” said Martin.

The authors can be reached at babette37@juno.com


Fred Gaboury
Fred Gaboury

Fred Gaboury was a member of the Editorial Board of the print edition of  People’s Weekly World/Nuestro Mundo and wrote frequently on economic, labor and political issues. Gaboury died in 2004. Here is a small selection of Fred’s significant writings: Eight days in May Birmingham and the struggle for civil rights; Remembering the Rev. James Orange; Memphis 1968: We remember; June 19, 1953: The murder of the Rosenbergs; World Bank and International Monetary Fund strangle economies of Third World countries