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Tuesday, April 19, 2005

a funny thing happened: the meaning of "forum"

From yesterday's Crimson:
"The HSF has a history of extreme action and because they are not officially recognized as a student group, they gain what officiality they have through association with clubs like the Dems," Downer said. "They are able to continue their extreme agenda by using clubs like the College Dems as a front."
Mr. Downer is shrewd to try to split campus progressives down the middle here, not least by falsely characterizing the HSF as a kind of splinter group. Harvard Social Forum, as I understand it, is meant to be a base and a tool and an umbrella for all sorts of progressive discussion and action on campus. Their association with the Harvard Democrats is not out of a desire to officialize (I don't quite get this claim--HSF does not technically become "official" in Harvard terms through its association with other groups), nor out of a desire to be legitimate: the point is to create precisely a forum where issues of social justice can be discussed and addressed on and around campus by a variety of groups on campus whose structure and enterprises don't often allow for the pooling of resources and the sharing of ideas...

After all, the "Forum" began as a productive weekend-long conference on socially-minded topics before it bloomed into the group it is now, and that model for dialogue and comradeship, which in theory is still the bedrock of HSF, is a much-welcome antidote to the identity and partisan politics that insidiously divide this campus and prevent it from productive and cooperative action. Yes, the Forum is heavily focused on progressive, liberal issues and activism, but its "unofficial" mandate is to encourage interaction across all sorts of lines. It is important to remember that as a forum ("a public meeting place for open discussion" says the dictionary)--and one with considerably more potential for student dialogue than Harvard's other Forum, over at the IOP--HSF invites all sorts of participants into its meetings at 45 Mt. Auburn St. Here's who's in--excuse the length!...

Asian American Association * Association of Black Harvard Women * BGLTSA * Black
Student Association * Burma Action Movement * Coalition for an Anti-Sexist
Harvard * Coalition Against Sexual Violence * College Democrats * Democracy
Matters * Darfur Action Group * Diversity and Distinction * Democracy Matters *
Environmental Action Committee * First-Year Urban Program * Fuerza Latina *
Harvard AIDS Coalition * Harvard Fair Trade Initiative * Harvard International
Development Organization * Harvard Initiative for Peace & Justice * Harvard
Progressive Advocacy Group * Harvard Remixed * H-Bomb Magazine * Latinas Unidas
* Movement for a Democratic Harvard * Perspective * Present! * Progressive
Jewish Alliance * Progressive Student Labor Movement * Race, Culture, Diversity
Initiative * Radcliffe Union of Students * SASSI-WOOFCLUBS * Socialist
Alternative * Society of Arab Students * Spoken Word Society * Students for

On paper at least, politics for HSF is clearly less about partisanship than it is about addressing social and political ills through collective action of all sorts, from ethnic and cultural approaches to artistic ones. Even the Harvard Republicans are invited "to contribute to the decision making process of HSF," if they're daring enough to test the Forum on its principles (in good faith of course). And if, as Mr. Gollis and others claim, the HSF needs some reform, it is precisely the venue where discussions about campus activism, and certainly the organization's own development, can be discussed by diverse campus actors.

This Wednesday at 9 PM in fact, the Forum will host its general open meeting, where I hear there'll be discussion on its role in recent events, and its future role in campus activism. A group as proudly democratic as this needs dissent and differing points-of-view to fulfill its mission, and hopefully people will be willing to speak up if they disagree--and some will. And if all the blaring and flag-waving can die down (on all sides) for the sake of better social progress and campus understanding, perhaps the Republican Club (and what some might call its own "extreme" friends at Harvard) will come too. It may be too much to hope that such participation would be the beginning of a better understanding at Harvard. In the meantime we can at least hope for an end to the partisan ploys and concerns and mindsets that often make our political system its own impediment to change. Right?


At 8:50 AM, Blogger andrew golis said...

I agree strongly about what you characterize HSF's unofficial mandate to be. I just worry that they aren't fulfilling it. The problem, more than anything, is that the people who are choosing the run the structure of HSF all tend to be of a certain type. The organization was founded as a type of inherent contradiction: an umbrella group with an anti-opression ideology. Because of the fact that the only people who go to these meetings are the more radical types, as opposed to the Dems or HPAG or BSA or Fuerza Latina types, the organization tends to veer toward their ideology and away from the ideology of the rest of the members.

That's the tough thing. If HSF were just another occassionally frustrating activist group, the Dems and others who disagree would just bale and not think twice. BUT, because of the fact that there is this other charge that could be SO amazing if done right (and has been amazing at times), there is a hesitance to leave. Reform, reform, reform. I'm going on Wednesday night.


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