Ideas for changing the world

Nicole Colson reports on the Socialism 2010 conference held in Chicago--a gathering of important left voices and activists in both the U.S. and the world.

A plenary session at Socialism 2010 in Chicago (Udai Basavaraj | SW)A plenary session at Socialism 2010 in Chicago (Udai Basavaraj | SW)

NEARLY 1,000 activists turned out for Socialism 2010 in Chicago for several days of revolutionary politics and debate June 17-20.

Sponsored 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 SocialistWorker.org, Socialism 2010 brought together activists from struggles going on around the U.S. and across the globe.

A highlight of the weekend for many was a session called "Breaking the Siege of Gaza"--a panel featuring Viva Palestina organizer and Gaza Freedom Flotilla participant Kevin Ovenden, who was onboard the Mavi Marmara when it was attacked by Israel commandos; writer, filmmaker and author Tariq Ali; Middle East scholar Gilbert Achcar; and International Socialist Review editor Ahmed Shawki.

Ovenden took the stage to a standing ovation and thunderous applause. "A new phase of struggle is born, but at a terrible, almost unbearable price," said Ovenden. Referring to those killed and wounded by Israel, he continued, "[T]heir blood was not shed in vain, because the tide has turned, and we must seize this time to make a lasting change in Palestine, the Middle East and around the world."

Describing attack on the flotilla at the hands of Israel, Ovenden called for international solidarity and a rejection of Israel's claim that it was "attacked." "I'm reminded of what Malcolm X might have made of this," he said, "You see, we didn't land on Israel. Israel landed on us. And it is because we collectively defied and resisted Israeli terror that this event has had such an impact."

"This is the Sharpeville, the Soweto, of the Palestine Solidarity Movement...All movements need activists, but we cannot simply be a movement of activists. We must become a movement of people, of social forces, of the mass democratic forces, above all in the Middle East, which can transform the lives of the Palestinian people," Ovenden continued.

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IN ADDITION to meetings on the Middle East, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. politics, the environment and the economy, sessions devoted to education on Marxist theory, like "Is Marxism a Science?" and "Marxism and the Dialectic," drew standing-room only crowds of people.

Other standouts included Kevin Coval and the Young Chicago Authors performing "Louder Than a Bomb: The People's Open Mic," and Haymarket author and actor Wallace Shawn reading from his book Essays on the importance of art and the struggle for a different kind of world.

Meanwhile, The Nation sportswriter and Haymarket author Dave Zirin talked about the intersection between sports and politics at a meeting titled "Here Come Los Suns: Sports and Resistance to Arizona's SB 1070."

Shermeeka Mason, who traveled from Rochester, N.Y., to attend the conference for the first time, explained:

I've been involved in the [International Socialist Organization] in Rochester for a while...This is the first big political conference I've been to, so I wanted to take things in and see what I could learn. I've learned so much at every talk that I went to...I saw that this organization, out of all the organizations that I've been involved with--these people are very passionate about what they do.

That's what I got out of the conference. This is not people playing around. This is not just people jumping on a bandwagon. There's history behind it, there's an intellectualism behind it, and people take those ideas and theories and put them into action. And that's what I want to do.

"Socialism 2010 is the most important thing that's going to happen on the left in this country all year," added Matthew Camp, who drove more than 16 hours with a group from Texas, "which makes it well worth the distance traveled to come here--to be with comrades and be in rooms full of people who aspire to the same things. Bottom line is: it's fantastic."

Paul LeBlanc, author of Lenin and the Revolutionary Party among other books, said, "There's a level of political seriousness and a tremendous energy that bodes well for this country and for its growing socialist movement."

Another highlight of the conference was the announcement of a new Web site, WeAreMany.org, sponsored by the Center for Economic Research and Social Change, which aims to bring together the voices of struggle, through audio and video recordings. (Several recordings of conference talks are available at the site, and a full archive will be up in the coming weeks.)

As organizer Sharon Smith stated at the final rally of the weekend, "At this juncture of history, when the cry for struggle is everywhere we look, the need for politics is just as urgent--making the need for building a political organization much more obvious than it has been in the past."