Dispatches from the US Social Forum

The US Social Forum kicked off yesterday in Detroit, and has already offered eye-opening experiences galore. Bringing together 15,000 people from across the country and coordinating roughly 1,000 separate workshops spanning a wide variety of compelling issues, the Social Forum promises something for everyone. For my part, I've found it positively scintillating.

In partnership with the Defending Dissent Foundation, Emma and I helped facilitate a workshop this morning on "Tools to Fight the Surveillance State."  We shared analysis about how government spying has grown even worse than the sum of its various parts, including the PATRIOT Act, the NSA's unconstitutional warrantless wiretapping scheme, the FBI's infiltration of activist and religious networks under the 2008 Mukasey guidelines, and the integration of state and local police through SARs, fusion centers, and 287(g) local immigration enforcement programs.  In addition to learning a great deal about the struggles encountered by activists around the country, we also identified a number of potential coalition partners for our local campaigns seeking legislative limits on law enforcement authorities, as well as several potential collaborators on our FOIA campaign seeking transparency into fusion centers.

A second workshop hosted by the Rights Working Group offered an opportunity to discuss racial profiling issues, and the opportunities they offer to bring communities together across demographic and ideological divisions. One especially interesting notion to me was the tension between responses to Arizona emphasizing comprehensive immigration reform, on the one hand, while resigning solutions to stop profiling as it impacts various communities of color, on the other. Beyond simply talking about "black-brown tension," we even had a live opportunity to talk some attendees through some of the concerns underlying that tension, which was a useful experience to share with other organizers.

After completing our workshops, I enjoyed a chance to catch up with former DC housemates, colleagues from the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights, longtime mentors, and a small army of activists I've never had a chance to meet before. A fascinating conversation with arts professor Dan Wang from Chicago offered an inspiring finish to a wonderful day.

I'm looking very forward to tomorrow. The various events I've witnessed here have all been inspiring, as well as informative—and finding partners with whom to collaborate seems as difficult as shooting fish in a barrel. While I'm excited about the chance to address the National South Asian Bar Association's conference in Boston this weekend, I must confess feeling a bit sad about needing to leave Detroit Friday morning.

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It's truly awesome to see the left to take back constitutional violations as an issue. Unfortunately the US intelligence security state has been spying on and harassing dissidents for nearly 100 years. Because it was only happening to a few of us, there was really nowhere to turn for support. Now that they seem to be doing it to the entire population we finally have a critical mass to oppose it. I write about my own close enounter with US intelligence in my recent memoir THE MOST REVOLUTIONARY ACT: MEMOIR OF AN AMERICAN REFUGEE (I currently live in exile in New Zealand).