Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Peoples Movement Assembly...a process for mass organizing

Peoples Movement Assembly...a process for mass organizing

For us at Southwest Workers Union, the PMA grew embryonically at the time of 1990-92 with the crystalizing into reality of the SW Network for Environmental & Economic Justice (SNEEJ) in 1992. The moment coincided with the formation and organization of the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The formation of the network was a culmination of a vision that came out of the 'Mango Lane' discussions center on the status of the Chican@ movement in 1979. The vision centered on the geo-political lands of the southwest United States, Indigenous sovereignty, The illegal US-Mexico border line and its militarization, environmental and other forms of racism, and the NAFTA as a neo-liberal program to further dislocate communities of people turning them into migrants, youth power and movement building, and cross-border organizing on all northern Mexico border states and all southwest US border states. Nearly a hundred grassroots, from small to large, organizations formed the power base of SNEEJ headquartered in Albuquerque, NM and hosted initially by SWOP (SW Organizing Project-Jeanne Gauna) and headed by Richard Moore. Twenty two organizations founded the SNEEJ in its first Assembly (PMA) in April 1992.

SNEEJ took on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other state agencies for their environmental racism policies and practices, and the other front of struggle was for border justice in the fight against NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement). In the Environmental Racism front of struggle the process led up to the First National people of Color EJ Leadership Summit. The Summit in many ways was the early development of the United States Social Forum we just did not know it. Why did we not have that clarity of future forecast to know where the mass movement organizing process was taking us? The other development was on the bi-national US-Mexico border region that we broke up into parallel bi-national corridors: Pacific; Arisonora; Chihuahua desert; cuahuiltejas; and gulf coast. The bi-national assemblies organized along the border states begin to take shape more a social movement assemblies and less and less training workshops as they were called then. The methodology for facilitation started to look more and more a facilitated assembly process with full participation of all equally, and less of a trainer of trainers model being used at the time. The bi-national corridor social movement assemblies begin to analyze and develop transnational organizing strategies and moreover a geo-political against neo-liberalism rising from the grassroots experience and putting a human face to globalization. It was this experience on the ground that led SNEEJ and others to participate in the 1999 World Trade organization (WTO) meeting in Seattle, Washington. Later between 2001-2006 SNEEJ organized, mobilized and coordinated simultaneous international bridge 'occupations' in as many as five major points on the US-Mexico borders. Each bridge blockage saw as many as 1,500 people and the small occupations at 300-500. People came from either side of the US-Mexico borders, did the day long march and occupation of the international bridges, and then gathered to hold a bi-national social movements assemblies by bi-national corridors. Occupations were happening in Mexico, in Oaxaca with the teachers' union and later the community uprising, based on the concept of occupation and peoples movement assemblies. The International gatherings against the Free Trade Areas of the Americas (FTAA) were happening in La Habana, Cuba and the World Social Forum (2001) and the Americas Social Forum in 2004. The Continental Assembly of Social movements became one of the main vehicles used to mobilize in all countries in the global south and north and it defeated the FTAA in Mar de Plata, Agentina.

The Battle of Seattle against that shut down the WTO was a turning point not only nationally in the Untied States but internationally as well. The organizing in Brazil took off after Seattle on the road to the first ever World Social Forum. A new way of organizing was growing in social movements and not by political parties and affiliation. Social movements immediately carved a space at the first WSF in the organizing of an action space to accompany the open space of the principles of the WSF. The Social Movements Assembly took place after the WSF. At the time the Social Movements Assembly was not seen as part of the Social Forum process.

In the process of landing global justice and the social forum process in the United States, after Seattle and through the 9-11 days and its repressive aftermath 2003 was the turn around of the lost ground by the global & social justice movements and in June 2003 at the gathering of the Jobs with Justice national network in Miami served as the backdrop the the meeting of the International Council of the World Social Forum process, where grassroots global justice presented the proposal for a first ever US Social Forum. Later that year Miami was site of the FTAA summit and the Roots Cause March by Coalition of Immokalee workers; Power U and Miami Workers Center. The important of this moment and march was the crystallization of the global social justice movement in the United States. The battle against WTO in Cancun also took place that year. It was a watershed moment for social movement building in the global south & north.

After the national consulta in April 2004 in DC, the 20-40 representatives agreed that there was a need for a Social Forum in the US and that they were committed to working towards the organizing of the first ever US Social Forum. At the national consulta meeting it was decided GGJA should 'Shepard' the USSF process. Two US Social Forums later, after Atlanta in 2007 and Detroit in 2011, the social movements have grown geometrically both in breath and depth. By this I mean that one PMA blossomed into dozens of PMA's organized by the participants of that first PMA. The PMA grew out of the Southeast Social Forum in Raleigh-Durham in June 2006, held the first assembly entitled: Black & Brown Dialogues for alliance building. More than 200-300 people participated in that dialogue representing social movements mainly in the South and the Southwest United States. The next PMA took place in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua Mexico twin city with El Paso, Texas on the Texas-Mexico border. The Border Social Forum was held there in October 2006, with 1,000 people participating in the social movement assembly that read a synthesis statement at the end of the PMA. Next in the PMA process and trajectory was the USSF I in Atlanta had an estimated 2,000 people at the PMA for two hours on a Sunday morning. The PMA there read over 50 resolutions presented by grassroots social movements organizations for approval of the general assembly of delegates. All the PMA experiences led the working group and the co chairs of the PMA process associated with the National Planning Committee of the USSF, to organize a series of 40 PMA's before the USSF II in Detroit, 54 PMA's were held during the USSF II, and after where now numerous PMA's have been organized and held with great successes as other PMA's are in the process of happening. In the USSF I and USSF II, Freedom Caravans were organized from the Southwest, South and other regions and we defined as 'traveling PMA's'. The Freedom Caravans carried hundreds of activists and stopped at dozens of cities, organized actions and build relations on the way to Atlanta and then later to Detroit.

The PMA experience at the USSF II in Detroit culminated in several critical accomplishments and social movement impact. The best case study for this impact on the social movement can be seen in the Detroit experience. While at the beginning, the Detroit groups were working separately, through the implementation and holding PMA's they have achieved a unified movement, making the USSF II a transformative moment. By this time the PMA had realized over 200 PMA's in all parts and regions of the United States. At the USSF II the PMA process organized the ASSEMBLY OF ASSEMBLIES. It is a body of representative organizations from all or most of the PMA's (54) that took place during the USSF II. It was the Assembly of Assemblies that drew the 'Fronts of Struggle' coming out of the thematic tracks established for USSF II. It was this A of A that synthesized the outcomes of each PMA and each front of struggle. It was then the Synthesis Commission that took all the input and documentation from the A of A to come out with the PMA synthesis statement that was read and approved at the National PMA that ended the USSF II in Detroit.

The PMA co-chairs organized a PMA gathering post-USSF II in Atlanta in february 2011 to synthesize the PMA experience and trajectory and define the future of the PMA process. Springing from that meeting it affirmed the co-chair model of coordination and the need for a core group (for coordination purposes) of the PMA and the continuity to the Assembly of Assemblies group. So, today following up on consolidating the PMA process, a national meeting has been called and organized including the Assembly of Assemblies group, the core group, and the co chairs. The meeting will take place in Atlanta on March 22-25, 2012 to plot the direction and plan of action for the PMA in 2012-2014.

One key question for the PMA is how to build and hold power at the grassroots community level. How do we build alternative communities based on community governance. Community governance is simply self-help development, decision making and in a word self- determination. Another challenge is how does the PMA hold and accumulate knowledge, share knowledge, create emulation not competition, within the social movement mass movement building process. How do we prevent co-optation of community power, leadership, and movement by the political parties in view of the upcoming Presidential elections (see paper on elections). Finally how does the social movement and the PMA as a vehicle develop and build another world now, possible only by building an other United States immediately. What form, approach, methodology and shape does this process take? How do we build and create identity within and between independent communities. How do we shape a new governance for the 21st Century as social movements.

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