New York City Social Forum
WHAT IS A "SOCIAL FORUM"?
A social forum is an open, participatory gathering intended to bring together a wide variety of people and organizations from a wide variety of struggles to share new ideas as well as organizational and technical skills and techniques. A social forum is really just a simple concept for building sustainable and respectable communications and social connections between diverse groups struggling against exploitation, oppression, capitalism, and the state.
Social forums offer an opportunity to "cross-fertilize" these political and social struggles, to rub shoulders with other groups and organizations that may share similar concerns, and more importantly to work toward common strategies for ACTION.
CONFERENCE VERSUS DIALOGUE
Social forums are not conferences in the usual sense. Conferences traditionally offer ONE WAY communications between "experts" or "specialists" in the fields of scholarship or social struggle- directed primarily AT those who care to listen. Conferences have their place within political and social struggles, in that they fulfill much needed theoretical purposes.
What a social forum offers instead is a participatory medium of communication between and among diverse and autonomous social movements, (for instance, an anti-gentrification group networking with an anti-eviction group within the same community). There is, of course, always a need for analysis and theoretical investigation, but many social forums have been criticized for an over-emphasis on theory (much of the criticism of the World Social Forum has centered on just this). This concern notwithstanding, for a social forum to truly be "representative" requires a broad enough brush stroke that everyone feels involved (including scholars!), but narrow enough that concrete work gets done, like networking and coalition building.
The concept of "non ownership" implies that no one group or organization, or type of political tendency, can own the social forum idea as its central identity ("oh, thatís THE social forum group") or even as a group directly connected with it in anything other than a participating way. Rather, the social forum derives it's legitimacy from the pluralism and diversity of the proceedings.
This may seem difficult (at best) to accomplish, but must be stressed in order that specific groups canít co-opt the thing (and use the idea as currency for itís own pursuits) or take a disproportionate amount of credit for its part. This non-ownership of the social forum is what gives it legitimacy in regards to bringing so many different groups together, some of which may be political rivals, or outright hostile to one another.