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Activists converge on Ottawa

People’s Social Forum creates space for conversation

People’s Social Forum coordinators Darius Mirshahi (left), Ana Collins and Nicole Maylor. Credit: Julie Cruikshank

A social forum bringing more than 9,000 activists to Ottawa has a strong focus on LGBT voices and inclusion, organizers say.

The People’s Social Forum, taking place Aug 20 to 24, will bring together activists for a five-day event that includes workshops, assemblies and a march from the Pont du Portage Bridge to Parliament Hill.

Of the almost 500 French and English workshops being offered, many focus on LGBT and gender issues, including health and social services in the LGBT community and a discussion examining the Village in Montreal as an example of successful bilingual organizing within the gay community, says coordinator Ana Collins.

Social forums were inspired by the World Economic Forums held every year in Switzerland, Collins says. The first World Social Forum was held in Brazil in 2001. Since then, in addition to the annual World Forum, regional and grassroots forums have been held around the world.

“I think it’s going to be a real injection of different energy that [Ottawa] sort of lacks,” Collins says. “With social forums there is no goal except to . . . provide a space to showcase people’s ideas.” She says the forum’s organizational structure is inspired by the way ideas are shared in indigenous cultures. “It’s a movement-building process designed to build relationships and get people working together in a society that often works against that.”  

LGBT programming at the forum includes a conversation about youth homelessness in Canada, a discussion on aging in the gay community, a workshop on how unions have affected LGBT rights, and a discussion on how to create trans-inclusive movements. A number of sexuality- and gender-themed workshops are being held by the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN), a Quebec trade union.

All of the workshops will be very conversational, Collins says, encouraging participants to brainstorm solutions to social problems. A number of keynote speakers will take part in a panel discussion at the forum, including out lesbian MP Libby Davies and trans activist Gabrielle Bouchard.

Social forums are particularly important as a way for activists to come together and share common ground, says Collins, who is indigenous. “I think a lot of us . . . we do a lot of work in our communities and then we do a lot of outreach work. And the outreach work is exhausting, whereas the work in our own community tends to feed us and help our work.”

Forming relationships with other activists, particularly internationally, can allow movements to grow, she says. “Once those relationships are formed, moving forward becomes, I think, less exhausting because you have more people who are backing you.”

Following a traditional Algonquin sunrise ceremony on Aug 20, the first two days of the forum will focus on workshops. The People’s Unity March will take place during the afternoon of Thursday, Aug 21, followed by assemblies held on Saturday and Sunday where participants can share what they’ve accomplished during the week.

The forum ends at noon on Sunday, Aug 22, to give participants a chance to see the Capital Pride parade. 

Collins says she hopes the forum will teach participants that working together is possible. “I want to see those relationships build between people who haven’t worked together in the past and understand that we can work together and make things easier, make our struggles and the work we do easier.”