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CPATH at US Social Forum 2007
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The U.S. Social Forum convened in Atlanta, GA, June 27 - July 1, 2007.  CPATH Fellow Lily Walkover presented on globalization and health.  Her report and photos follow.

Another World is Possible -- Another US is Necessary!
A CPATH report by Lily Walkover

It was summer in Atlanta, and the sun beat down on 4,000 people marching and dancing, singing and shouting, laughing and planning.  They came to fight for indigenous rights, to support the people of the Gulf Coast as they continue to struggle and rebuild, to question the prison-industrial complex, to discuss issues of immigration, labor, war and peace, discrimination and movement-building.  This was the opening march of the first-ever United States Social Forum, one of many offshoots of the World Social Forums.  The Social Forums began in 2001, as a response to the World Economic Forum, and with the intention of laying plans to build a different world.  The overriding message of the US Social Forum was that the most glaring problems deserve the most attention – and especially those that are so glaring, so constant that we learn not to see them everyday.  Not only should the structure of our society, both local and global, be questioned, but the very foundations must be moved.  And this was a meeting of those who intend to be part of that motion. 

 

Nearly 10,000 attendees came through Atlanta between June 27 and July 1, 2007.  There were women in pressed business suits chatting with men covered head-to-toe in activist patches; there were students, professionals, grandmothers, infants, poets, managers, and everyone in between.  At a talk on the history of the Highlander Center, a man played ‘wade in the water’ on his trumpet to bring the crowd to attention.  At the Yes! Magazine reception, Alice Lovelace, who provided both the seed and the roots of this first-ever US Forum, performed her poetry.  One of the most energizing aspects of the Forum was the number of people involved in teaching, organizing, and running it; there were very few observers.  Even the event security was partly composed of volunteers.  At the presentations, at the plenaries, at the issue tents, the concerts, the opening march, the smaller demonstrations, the receptions, activists traded ideas and built networks. 

 

I attended the Forum because CPATH had been invited to speak on a panel called “Access to essential medicines: advocating locally and globally,” as well as for the International People’s Health University (IPHU), a program being run concurrently with the larger Forum.  The access to medicines panel included representatives from CPATH, the American Medical Students Association (AMSA), Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM), and Global Justice.  It was held in the Renaissance Hotel, at the northern end of downtown Atlanta, and drew a smaller crowd for its distance from the center.  Because of the small setting, we turned the panel into something more like a directed conversation.  The participants included a prison activist and prospective nursing student, director of a local branch of the AARP, and a variety of health professionals.  We talked about the pharmaceutical industry, about the history of intellectual property rights, and about the various ways that each of our groups is working to ensure access to essential medicines around the world. 

 

The International People’s Health University – separate from but connected to the Forum – was a function of the The People’s Health Movement (PHM).  PHM organizes Health Universities around the world, wherever enough health advocates have gathered to warrant a course.  This IPHU was a five-day program, attempting to cover everything from the history of PHM and the fight for health as a human right to issues of trade, militarism, privatization of water, and indigenous rights as they intersect with public health.  CPATH

CPATH at the U.S. Social Forum
collage3.jpg
 Top row (left to right):  Health advocates at the opening march, Lily Walkover (CPATH) speaking on trade and health, the International People's Health University
Middle row:  Tanya Wansom (AMSA) speaking on Abbott and Thailand, working groups, IPHU students present their plans for Another World
Bottom row:  4,000 marched at the opening parade, the summer haze of downtown Atlanta, IPHU students and organizers celebrate a week well spent  

presented on the second day, in conjunction with a talk by Tanya Wansom of AMSA on Abbott’s bullying of the Thai government (after the new Thai government issued a compulsory license for Kaletra, an important anti-retroviral produced by Abbott, the drug company withdrew its existing drugs from the Thai market).  The Thai case study helped to illuminate the background on the strong links between trade and health provided by the CPATH presentation.  The CPATH slideshow is online (below) at the CPATH website. The slideshows for both talks, as well as a variety of material from the other four days of the IPHU can be found online at http://phmovement.org/iphu/en/atlanta/progr.  Each day’s learning session was followed by break-out discussion groups, which worked to plan activities for the new PHM USA chapter. 

 

As I sat on the train, watching ATL international airport approach and the city where Martin Luther King, Jr. was born and raised fade behind me, a middle-aged woman with pearl earrings and a perfectly coifed blonde bob asked me what had been accomplished at the Forum.  What plans had we made?  Although a calendar had been announced, I wasn’t sure ‘we’ had really made many plans.  People met one another, I told her; they met, and saw what others were doing, and got a new idea, or a new sense of a broader movement, or a new contact for their next event or rally or project.  And maybe no road map for Another World was revealed, but the conversations of 10,000 people gathering in one hot sticky center of the American south add up to something significant.  I smiled at other folks from the Forum as I dragged my bags back and forth through the airport, watching as we disseminated back out into the world, ready to continue pushing and pulling on the foundations.

Click here for CPATH presentation at IPHU

Bringing a Public Health Voice to Global Trade and Sustainable Development
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Ellen R. Shaffer and Joe Brenner, Co-Directors
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