King County Open House Engages Seattle Activists in Preparation for the Pacific Northwest Social Forum


Photography by Rashad Barber, Dione Johnson, and Tomás A. Madrigal

Written by Rashad Barber, Edited by Tomás Alberto Madrigal.

Seattle, WA – About 30 people gathered at the Beacon Hill Library on July 13, 2014 for the King County Social Forum Informational Open House. Folks from across many struggles in King County and beyond came together to learn about the social forum process and to envision the role of the Social Forum and PMA process in King County in anticipation of the Pacific Northwest Social Forum taking place in Portland this weekend on September 26-28, 2014.

The Social Forum is, according to the World Social Forum Charter,

an open meeting place for reflective thinking, democratic debate of ideas, formulation of proposals, free exchange of experiences and interlinking for effective action by groups and movements of civil society that are opposed to neoliberalism and to domination of the world by capital and any form of imperialism, and are committed to building a planetary society directed toward fruitful relationships.


Central to the work of the Social Forum is the People’s Movement Assembly which is a democratic process that allows diverse groups of people to gather to analyze the current political moment, to envision where the community would like to move and to come up with actions that will help bring the movement forward.

The road to the Pacific Northwest Social Forum began with a People’s Movement Assembly in Bellingham, Washington in January of 2014 where over 90 people from the entire region came together to meet and begin the work towards working together. The second People’s Movement Assembly took place in Lynden, Washington and was specific to indigenous farm workers from Mexico working in Skagit and Whatcom counties. The third People’s Movement Assembly was convened in Tacoma, Washington where over 200 people came together to think about immigrant rights and ending detentions and deportations. Each of these PMA’s moved the political work in the region forward through community actions.

A major goal of the preceding PMA’s was to build momentum for this weekend’s Pacific Northwest Social Forum and to encourage actions for those participating in the democratic process. The first PMA in Bellingham set the stage to have more PMA’s targeting specific populations including farm workers and immigrants leading up to the Pacific Northwest Social Forum. The second PMA in Lynden led to several farm worker actions that made the needs of farm workers more visible and challenged racial profiling violations by Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) against farm workers along the northern border. Participants even led a work stoppage against low piece-rate wages and mistreatment in the raspberry fields of Lynden. The third PMA in Tacoma led to increased direct actions led by immigrants against the Tacoma Northwest Detention Center and ICE.

These actions generated through the democratic process of the People’s Movement Assembly empowered the participating stakeholders to practice their leadership and to build alliances with other like-minded people and grassroots organizations. The goal of the Pacific Northwest Social Forum is to develop a plan for the region that takes into account what was learned both through the PMA process and in actual struggles occurring in the region in order for the community to develop a process for collective self-determination.


In Seattle, several folks showed up early to the library, where we assembled together for a brief meet and greet. Preceding the event folks had formed an intentional spiritual circle led by a native elder from the Swinomish tribe just outside of the library. This simple yet powerful activity created an atmosphere of unity and stood as a cultural symbol of how the diverse people of King County can come together to pay homage to the ancestors and move beyond legacies of oppression we have inherited as we look to work towards a vision that would benefit the generations to come.


Inside the library, the open house was filled with a spirit of comradery and cooperation, as we shared food before moving into the agenda. The open house laid out goals for the gathering, contextualized the history around the social forum process, and offered an open discussion for how the Social Forum process could be used locally to build community power.


The event was opened with storytelling by a Swinomish elder regarding the sanctity and the ramifications of the important work we were about to begin. The storytelling was followed by a cultural performance by local hip hop artist Rogue Pinay.


Folks who had participated in the World Social Forum shared their experience and explained the nuts and bolts of direct democracy. Participants were oriented towards the work that they would do in small groups simulating the longer People’s Movement Assembly process.


During the breakout sessions, people were assigned to one of three groups where they were requested to engage in a “mini” People Movement Assembly. Participants came up with responses to five questions:

  1. What are the main issues affecting King County?
  2. What are the opportunities for collaboration?
  3. What are the barriers preventing collaboration?
  4. What do we need to build a more intersectional collaborative movement?
  5. And how can the social forum process & PMA’s be useful to us locally?


The gathering was vital in showing participants just how robust the political work that was already being done in King County was and how deeply all of these struggles for liberation were interconnected and at times in conflict with each other. Through the PMA process, participants were able to identify opportunities for communities of struggle to move beyond reactionary tactics and to take a more offensive approach.


Folks at the open house committed to build stronger relationships between grassroots organizations and social movements that are currently thriving in King County and to reconvene at the Pacific Northwest Social Forum in Portland, which is taking place this weekend.


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