Yesterday was the official beginning of the 2010 US Social Forum, but I think today could be more aptly described as the beginning. The beginning of something different, something new and exciting, something sustainable and equitable, something worth fighting for. I say this for several reasons, but the one I will highlight today is in light of the workshops that I attended.

My first workshop of the day was of particular interest to me not only because of its implications for the work of progressive activists, especially youth activists, but also because of how unique and exciting it purported to be. And after coming out of that session, I can say that it did not disappoint! The workshop was titled: “Other Worlds Are Possible: Visionary Fiction, Organizing and Imagining the Future.” An intriguing title for a workshop to say the least, but it did not stop there. All of the attendees of the workshop broke up into four smaller groups and we were each tasked with a literary exercise, with the mission being to draft a visionary fiction story. In case you do not know what I mean by “visionary fiction,” it is fiction but with the intended purpose of creating social change. And since it is labeled as “visionary,” the story often takes place in the future, in either an imagined utopia, dystopia, or some other combination. Needless to say, each of our groups came up with some very intriguing stories, and one group was so excited about theirs that they declared that they had already shared with each other their contact information and are going to be the first to publish a group-written visionary fiction work! It was inspiring to see and hear everyone’s creative energies and social/economic/political aspirations pour out onto the page and it makes me wonder what students could do with this exercise.

The second workshop I attended was about students organizing social movements. It was not as high-flying and speculative as my first workshop but it was nevertheless essential. It mostly consisted of a discussion amongst the student activists and their allies about what has worked and what has not and strategies for how to combat common challenges facing student organizing around broader social movements (e.g. ending of capitalism, bringing about of socialism, etc.) . It was an insightful discussion coming from those on the frontlines and there were two recurring themes that I gleamed from it. The first was that engaging average students on these issues is incredibly important yet is quite difficult, depending on the issue, how it is framed and the kind of opposition the issue faces. The second was that in order for us to better engage students on our issues and create the kind of world we wish to inhabit, then we need to work better together through communication, collaboration and cooperation. One attendee specifically cited a presentation at this year’s TED conference in the hopes of providing some guidance about the role us activists could play in organizing students around various social movements: TED: How to Start a Movement. He elaborated and said that student activists and organizations could learn quite a lot about how to build a movement with each other from the observations listed in this video. I could not agree with him more! The need for these observations to be translated into discernible action for various activists and groups to take is growing, and time is not our side.

All in all though, despite their sometimes being more questions than answers at the end of these workshops, the 2nd US Social Forum is off to a great start, and stay tuned for more updates from AID’s delegation at the USSF in the days to come. I am sure it will only get better from here!