As Scott Johnson over at Powerline has noted, the Sixties seems to be making a comeback on the world stage. Consider Barack Obama’s pathetic response to the violence and racial posturing in Ferguson. “It was,” Johnson writes, “a statement full of the reigning leftist clichés, even retrieving the “anger” of “looting” and “carrying guns” from the dustbin of the sixties. Frantz Fanon must be making a comeback among the White House speechwriters. What next? Perhaps R.D. Laing and The Politics of Experience. You know, reality is crazy, man, and mental illness is a path to transcendence.
People looking for additional examples do not have far to seek. A friend just sent me a link to the program for the 2014 People’s Social Forum in Ottawa (that’s “Forum social des peuples” up where the language police reign): “Build together, win together! The future is Ours!” (“Ensemble pour gagner, l’avenir est à nous!”)
I confess that I am still of two minds about whether this is an elaborate hoax, à la the Sokal Affair, perhaps. What do you think? There’s the “indigenous friendship centre at the forum,” the “legal assistance” hot line prominently displayed in case ( I assume) you have immigration problems, and there’s the “people of colour Welcoming space.” Then there’s the “Dismantling Oppression” sidebar:
All participants in the Peoples Social ForumC are dedicated to sharing an op- pression– free space for dialogue and debate. Participants commit to open dialogue and communication in a respectful environment, free of all forms of harassment. Any acts of oppression weaken and divide us and cannot be tolerated.
Hoax? Or normal life on campus?
If you hurry, you might just be able to make the “Unity March” scheduled to start at 2:00 p.m. Ottawa time today. Celebrate “justice, dignity, health, democracy, freedom, equality, inherent rights, environmental protection,” etc., while listening to speakers Harsha Walia, Hassan Yussuff, Algonquin Grandmothers (my favorite), and Gabriel Nadeau Dubois.
It’s going to be a fun-filled three days up in the North Country. There are “Indigenous Walking Tours” and sessions on such imperative topics like “The politics of play,” “local food solutions,” “feminism: Women, society,” and—another excellent offering—“do you believe in money?” Tough luck if you don’t, I suppose, for then it will be difficult to “Register with the discount code ‘PSF2014’ to waive the booking fee.” Under the heading “Performance and Discussion” there’s “Art as Resistance,” while “Art Exhibits” advertises “Material Witness: art, activism & fibre— contemporary art exhibit.” It really is difficult to keep these things straight.
I thought ACORN had been dismantled by the exemplary activism of James O’Keefe, but no, ACORN is up in Ottawa gulling the natives with a session called “speaking out against poverty and the digital divide.” (Let me guess, free—i.e., taxpayer supported–broadband for all?) There are about 18 different sorts of yoga, “indigenous healing spaces” galore, and “Suffering-free writing for social change: writing tactics for activists.” Naturally there are anti-fracking sessions and plenty of calls for socialism, e.g., “Greece on the Brink: The crisis of capitalism and the socialist solution.” (Have you ever noticed how socialists and communists are always telling us that capitalism is in crisis but it turns out that capitalism is the economic engine paying them for the privilege? You’d think that would eventually sink in—but not at the People’s Social Forum! At 10:45 today you can find out that “Marx was Right!”)
The real meat—if that word is allowed—of the event is in the formal presentations or workshops. (Remember Kingsley Amis’s quip that so much of what was wrong with the 20th century could be summed up in the word “workshop”?) Here we have frank pleas for the politicization of education, e.g. “Involving youth in social justice through schools,” which shows how “Teachers aim for students to become involved in social justice at both the awareness and action levels and work with many community partners to see this happen.”
There’s lots about race, of course, the usual grumblings about “people of color,” but also this: “White people facing race,” which dilates on “White culture, whiteness, white supremacy. What does it feel like? sound like? look like? This is a space for white people to be accountabile (sic), learn with each other and for each other.”
There is also the required hermetic confect of sex and postmodern gibberish: “Homophobia and Transphobia: these fears that go straight to the heart,” “Queer activism after Worldpride: ending canada’s (sic) silence on international LGBTQ persecution,” and “strategies for lesbian workers in the face of heteronormativity in the workplace.” For the truly masochistic, there is also a talk by Naomi Klein, who will be at the University of Ottawa campus today from 1:00-2:15.
There is something comical as well as repellant about this little extravaganza up north. But most people, I suspect, will come away from perusing the program of the People’s Social Forum with a feeling compounded of sadness and pity with perhaps a dollop of contempt thrown in. The contempt comes from the fact that the participants, most of them, are the privileged beneficiaries of an economic and social system they despise or pretend to despise. The “indigenous” folks are there as window dressing, totems of impoverishment or disadvantage that the people running events like the People’s Social Forum require to enhance their feeling of moral superiority. Just how sad the whole event really is was summed up for me in the title of another session schedule for today: “Workshop on happiness!,” whose description begins “Unionism and happiness go hand in hand!” Enough said.