By guest blogger Tammy Bang Luu, senior organizer with the Labor/Community Strategy Center
What is the value of the US Social Forum? Does it have any real social impact? These are questions that I’ve heard since the US Social Forum began in 2007 in Atlanta, inspired by the World Social Forum, which has attracted thousands of social change activists to cities like Mumbai, India; Porto Alegre, Brazil; and Nairobi, Kenya.
No one doubted the symbolic value of bringing together the largest and most diverse gathering of social justice organizations and activists seen in decades in the US. That first gathering in Atlanta brought together more than 12,000 people representing 1,000 organizations. It sent a powerful message about the diversity and breadth of our social movements.
Larger still was this year’s US Social Forum in Detroit, which attracted more than 18,000 people, representing more than 1,800 organizations. At least 300 or those organizations were from California!
But given the enormous resources that are mobilized for the Social Forum, the test has been whether it can produce a real advance for the movement on the ground, a breakthrough in transformative organizing.
Just last week, that question was answered with a resounding yes.
On July 1st, New York Governor David Patterson signed the first-ever Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. The organizing work of the amazing women from the Domestic Workers United (DWU) in New York City has now secured guaranteed basic work standards and protections for 200,000 nannies, caregivers, and housekeepers in Metro NYC, and another 70,000 statewide, all of whom are explicitly excluded from the National Labor Relations Act of 1935. This victory for domestic workers is a vital step in shining light on women’s invisible labor and opening up avenues for collective action.
This victory was advanced during the first Social Forum in Atlanta, where Domestic Workers United used the convergence to form the first National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), comprised of 30 member organizations in 14 cities around the country.
In my interview with Ai-jen Poo, executive director of the NDWA and a founder of the DWU, she talked about how the Social Forum “is a precious space” to figure out how we, as a movement, can chart the path towards progressive change so that we can be “more than the sum of our parts.”
I’m excited to see what the NDWA will do with the victory in New York City. The California Household Worker Rights Coalition, a member of NDWA, is working to pass a similar Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in CA.
And in another US Social Forum first, NDWA joined a broader formation of workers at the Excluded Workers Congress held in Detroit. This is the first time that domestic workers, farmworkers, day laborers, taxi cab drivers, and formerly incarcerated people have come together to advance a transformative agenda for workers categorically excluded from federal labor protections.
Now that’s the power of social movement convergence.
“Another World is Possible. Another U.S. is Necessary!’
Tammy Bang Luu is a senior organizer with the Labor/Community Strategy Center, a former Women’s Foundation grant partner, and on the National Planning Committee of the US Social Forum and the coordinating committee of Grassroots Global Justice Alliance.