Thursday, July 5, 2007

Another World is Possible-Another United States is Necessary:United States Social Forum

(Kaleema H. Nur, one of ten thousand participants that attended the first United States Social Forum in Atlanta, GA June 2-July 1, 2007.)

In January, 2001 the first World Social Forum was held in Porto Alegre, Brazil. The Forum was intended to provide "reflective thinking, democratic debate of ideas, formulation of proposals, free exchange of experiences and interlinking for effective action, by groups and movements of civil society." Seven years later activists in the United States followed suit and successfully planned and implemented a World Social Forum in the United States. Over 10,000 individuals concerned about the "corporate globalization, neo-liberal policies, and the growing poverty, repression and war that increasingly defines the dominant global capitalist economic and political systems." Over 950 workshops were featured at the Social Forum and were spread around numerous venues around the city.

I was only able to attend one day that included a workshop that addressed pornography and a plenary comprised of a panel that waxed eloquently on sexual and gender oppression. While the facilitator of the pornography workshop appeared to be skilled, she was challenged by a group of individuals that for the most part did not have a foundation or analysis on pornography. Furthermore, they were not particularly interested in the facilitator's agenda which was to talk about pornography from a global perspective that included sex trafficking. In addition, participants did not understand, nor were they clear about the distinction between erotica and pornography which made it difficult to have a discussion with any clarity. There were also generational issues going on that resulted in some tension between some of the younger participants and the facilitator who appeared to be in her early 50s. In the time allocated it was not possible to work through all the issues and to get to the issue at hand.

I attended a Saturday plenary at which Suzanne Pharr, Southerners on New Ground, served as moderator for the following panelists: Andrea Smith (INCITE! and Women of Coor Against Violence),Mia Mingus (Georgians for Choice, Inc.), Loretta Ross (Sister Song, Inc.), Imani Henry (International Action Center/F.I.E.R.C.E.) and Elizabeth Martinez (author of six books and instructor at a community college). The primary focus was,"How do we challenge gender and sexual oppression in all its expressions so that our communities and our movements can come together to fight for and win economic, racial and gender justice and human liberation?"

The first speaker, Andrea Smith spoke about how hetero-patriarchy keeps white supremacy in place and the need to dismantle heterosexual patriarchy. Mia Mingus talked about her disability and queerness are both tools for liberation. She challenged the audiences concepts of ablelism and invited us to move beyond our discomfort with disabled persons. Loretta Ross, one of the individuals that helped to organize the largest march in the history of this country talked about the colonialism of our minds and some of the reactionary behaviors that prevent movement unity and perpetuates dysfunctionality. She reminded us that feminism is about power and the ability to control ones own life. Furthermore, the rights that young women are able to enjoy are a result of the women's movement and feminism. The fact that they are not willing to claim the titles of feminist is not acceptable. Imani Henry informed the audience about the Cuban 5, being held in U.S. prisons after being rail roaded to prison. Another group he mentioned is the Jersey 4. He was very effective at rallying the audience.

I purchased a number of books while at the conference. One of the pamphlets that I am looking forward to reading was free. It is titled, "Reproductive Justice Briefing Book: Primer on Reproductive Justce and Social Change" This collection of essays cover a range of topics all relating to reproductive justice. Happy reading!

Activism is alive and well in the United States!

Deepening Our Engagement in the World - General Assembly 2007

Service of the Living Tradition traditionally highlights ministers transitions. Here, John Weston leads the processional of ministers at the General Assembly 2007 Steven Atkinson in forefront and Margaret Beard in background are two of the Meadville Lombard Theological School ministers that received preliminary fellowship at General Assembly.

on the left (to be identified) on right is Rev. Lauren Smith
L-R Carol Smith and Adele Smith Penniman both retiring ministers were recognized for their years of ministry.

Above - L - R Michael Tino and Archene Turner also received preliminary fellowship and are graduates of Meadville Lombard Theological School.

(Left to Right:Dr. Qiyamah A. Rahman, Dr. Amina Wadud and Rev. Alma Crawford)

The soon to be Reverend Doctor Qiyamah A. Rahman at the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly in Portland, Oregon June, 2007 in gorgeous green!

Minister's Days at General Assembly is held every year prior to General Assembly and is attended primarily by religious professionals such as ministers, religious educators and seminarians. This year, over 700 gathered to hear keynote speaker, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, United Church of Christ minister and to attend various workshops designed to enhance skills development and coax renewal and imaginative ministries. Besides being the leader of a successful congregation of about seven thousand, Wright is an amazing historian specializing in African American linguistics, musicology, Black liberation theology and Africanisms in American culture. Wright's constant reminder that "difference does not mean deficient" appears to stem from the failure of some individuals interested in diversity that unfortunately view the "other" as deficient. Wright shared his own journey to grow. While Wright's congregation has grown by leaps and bounds it is predominantly European American. Wright's presentation clearly reflects his intense training that comes out of the African American religious experience. One of the many profound concepts that he shared was the reminder to integrate body, mind and spirit in religion. He reminded the participants that the enlightenment period caused theologians to overly emphasize rational thought and to distrust feelings and emotions. Thus, deconstructing the rational and non-rational is an important way to reconnect to the authentic self. He also encouraged the group to "preach against the text." I understood that to mean that there are circumstances and teachings in the Bible that are inaccurate and go against healthy human development. In future posts I will be examining some of the violence directed against women in the Bible.

Deepening my engagement in the world as a Unitarian Universalist soon-to-be-minister and activist prompted my attendance at the 2007 Unitarian Universalist General Assembly this year as I prepare for my journey to Cape Town, South Africa. Several thousand Unitarian Universalists from around the world convened from around the country and world for the annual business meeting of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. Hundreds of workshops educated, entertained and informed participants.

One of my favorite workshops had a title to the effect, Islam and Gender:The Slippery Slope of Multifaith Dialogues, was designed to facilitate multi-religious understandings among Muslims and non-Muslims. An Islamic scholar,activist and friend, Dr. Amina Wadud, delivered the presentation. She provided an excellent overview on Islam and reminded the audience that Islam and Muslims are not monolithic and that we cannot make assumptions and generalize about Muslims. However, a lot of this destructive stereotyping has been prevalent since 911. Wadud reminded us that Muslims view themselves as both agents and servants of God. However, she noted that women's agency was categorically denied by patriarchy in Islam. She reminded the audience that the concept of Tawhid in Islam refers to the Oneness of God which is central to Islam. Wadud discussed the commodification of Islam and gender and the two elements that are seeking to control Muslim women and their discourses. They are neo-conservative wealthy Muslims and Islamaphobes, that is, those that hate Muslims. Wadud encouraged participation in interfaith healing efforts that are inclusive and not merely tolerant of different religious beliefs. During a question and answer session a participant inquired about her preferred translation for the Quran. Wadud favors the Muhammad Asaid translation.

For a good read on Islam and gender issues, get a copy of Wadud's latest book, Inside the Gender Jihad.