Socialism offers the alternative

Activists gathered from across the U.S. and other countries at Socialism 2008 (Charles Jenks | SW)Activists gathered from across the U.S. and other countries at Socialism 2008 (Charles Jenks | SW)

SOME 1,000 activists from across the U.S. turned out to Socialism 2008, a weekend of revolutionary politics, debate and entertainment in Chicago June 19-22.

Sponsored annually by the Center for Economic Research and Social Change, publisher of Haymarket Books and the International Socialist Review, and the International Socialist Organization (ISO), publisher of Socialist Worker, Socialism 2008 brought voices together from some of today's most important struggles.

Veterans building opposition to the U.S. occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan were an important part of the conference events. Members of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), including Camilo Mejía--the first active-duty soldier to go public with his decision to refuse redeployment to Iraq--Adrienne Kinne and Phil Aliff, were on hand to discuss "Building a New GI Resistance Movement," along with other IVAW members who participated in an open mic speak out against occupation.

"Over the last six months or so, I've really started to get involved in the antiwar movement in central Texas, and members of the ISO have been really supportive of us," said Greg Foster, vice president of the Austin, Texas, chapter of IVAW. "I've been really impressed by the number of IVAW members here and the support that the conference has given to us, and how many of the talks have been directed to the things I'm working on in the antiwar movement, from the history of the antiwar movement to the occupations that we're a part of [fighting] right now."

Leading independent journalists, including Jeremy Scahill, Amira Hass, Salam Talib, Jeffrey St. Clair and Joshua Frank, were on hand to discuss some of the stories and struggles that the mainstream media rarely pays attention to--from the U.S. government's continued reliance on mercenaries in Iraq, to the brutal war being waged daily against Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli government, to the grassroots fights against racism and environmental destruction in America's heartland.

Activists from struggles across the U.S. came to share lessons they've learned in fighting for justice in their own communities--from the struggle for immigrant rights, to the fight of the labor activists known as the Freightliner Five, to those taking on the machinery of the death penalty and criminal injustice system.

"This conference is one of the greatest ones I have been to," said Lawrence Foster, the grandfather of Kenneth Foster, Jr. Through the efforts of activists across the country, Kenneth won a commutation last year within hours of his scheduled execution in Texas, when Gov. Rick Perry responded to the pleas of supporters who pointed out that Kenneth was to be put to death for the crime of driving a car connected to a murder.

In addition to speaking about Kenneth's case on a panel titled "Jim Crow Justice: From the Jena Courthouse to the Texas Death House," Lawrence read solidarity greetings to the conference from a member of Texas' DRIVE movement--a group of death row prisoners who use protest to fight against capital punishment even from their cells.

"I have enjoyed each and every moment of the conference, and the support that we get and have gotten is greatly appreciated," he added. "I'm elated to have been offered the opportunity to have come here."

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OTHER MEETINGS focused on radical history and the socialist tradition--including "Trotsky's Struggle Against Stalinism" and "What Would Socialism Be Like?"--as part of an attempt to begin rebuilding the American left.

The conference was also a focal point for discussions about developments in movements around the globe, and included representatives of the Mahalla textile workers' strike in Egypt, struggles in Latin America and the fight to shut down the U.S. gulag in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

As independent journalist Dahr Jamail, author of Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches From an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq, commented, "Last year was my first conference, and when I was asked to come to this one, I didn't hesitate.

"The energy here--and not just people coming to get information and hear people talk, but the connections that are made, the work that's done at this conference and the ground that's laid, so that work can continue on to the next year--is just invaluable. I think the ISO is playing a critical role in supporting IVAW and supporting anti-death penalty work--all these different issues.

"To me, this is like ground zero of where all that's happening, so it's always inspiring to come and just be around that."