November 25, 2002

Social Forum Focuses on Global, Local Connections

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The Ithaca Social Forum gave its participants the opportunity to discuss how citizens can affect changes in their communities that can influence global affairs. Inspired by the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, the forum was held at The First Presbyterian Church on Friday, and later at The First Baptist Church and The Unitarian Church of Ithaca on Saturday.

The purpose of the forum was to “provide a space for reflection and debate, a space in which progressive individuals and groups in our community could create a common vision of our goals and examine our various options, and to create an environment in which everyone could get to know one another, and to build solidarity,” said Prof. Satya Mohanty, English, who was one of the event’s organizers.

The forum featured organizations from the Cornell community, the Ithaca College community and the Ithaca community. Event sponsors included the Cornell Forum for Justice and Peace, the Ithaca Coalition for Global Justice, the Citizens’ Planning Alliance and the Public Service Center at Cornell.

The groups held smaller discussions in which those attending the event were encouraged to participate and share their views.

“This is an opportunity for activists and organizers to dialogue about issues that are beyond our daily preoccupations and to imagine a society and community which works for social justice,” said Leonardo Vargas-Mendez, an event organizer.

The forum also featured Michael Albert, social activist and editor of Z-magazine, as its keynote speaker. Albert addressed issues such as alternative economic visions and shared his views on the war against Iraq.

Many people said they enjoyed the group and workshop discussions.

The discussions “were wonderful because there were a lot of people who spoke out and it really seemed like people were willing to work hard to create a better [educational] system,” said local Ithaca resident Deena Berke, who attended a workshop on education.

The forum’s participants also reacted positively to Albert’s talks.

“[Michael Albert] is an extraordinarily creative and political thinker,” said Mohanty, who had previously conducted an interview with Albert in which topics such the war against Iraq, U.S. foreign policy and the economy were addressed.

Mohanty added, “He was able to communicate effectively without using technical language or unnecessary abstractions. He spoke as effectively to Ph.D. students as to high school students and average people on the street.”

Albert’s talks were each followed by one hour of discussion in which people were encouraged to participate and voice their questions and ideas.

“People were energized [by his talks],” Mohanty said.

Organizers felt that their efforts were successful.

“We wanted to create an open democratic space for dialogue and interaction, and that was what was accomplished,” Vargas-Mendez said.

“So much goes on in Ithaca, on the college campuses and downtown. Now, concrete steps are being made to bring people together to make connections between local and global issues,” added Lucas Shapiro, an Ithaca College student.

Archived article by Priya Ravishankar