An invitation to be heard in Lewiston

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If you believe the world values transactions and not relationships, the Maine Social Forum is for you.

Do you think that the world has become too wedded to corporate interests? Would you like to see a future Maine in which environmental, justice and peace issues have more influence in Washington, Augusta and your hometown? If you do, then you should be in Lewiston the weekend of July 28-30. That’s when the Maine Social Forum will be in town. It will be held at the Bates Mill, Kennedy Park and the Marsden Hartley Cultural Center at the Lewiston Public Library. It is a free event.

In a world where carefully orchestrated public events have become the norm, social forums offer a refreshing venue for the expression of the political grassroots. They are a relatively new movement. The first world social forum was in Brazil in 2001. There have been other social forums held in various places around the globe in the last few years in such places as Ethiopia, Australia and Boston.

The Lewiston event will follow the charter of principles that the World Social Forum adopted in 2001. The first principle lays out the vision as “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 among Humankind and between it and the Earth.” Sound idealistic? You bet. That’s the whole point.

Social forums are supposed to be a place where non-elites can gather and express a bottom-up, as opposed to a top-down, vision of the future. Globalization is bound to be discussed. It is easy to find cheerleaders for it, such as much of the mainstream media. However globalization also produces negative effects which are all too often glibly rationalized by the people and institutions that have benefited from it. That’s why social forums are needed; they can provide alternative viewpoints which ultimately help balance out the public discourse.

Local and regional economics are inevitable topics at social forums. A report (“Getting By: Maine Livable Wages in 2004”) released by the Maine Center for Economic Policy shows how difficult it is for many to make ends meet. In Androscoggin County, a single parent with one child needed an annual income of $29,027 for their basic monthly needs. The equivalent hourly wage was $13.96. For Oxford and Franklin counties, the numbers were $24,747 for basic monthly needs for a single parent with one child and an equivalent hourly wage of $11.90. Maine’s minimum wage, although recently raised, is still nowhere near what it needs to be for many citizens.

If your basic monthly needs are not being met by your job, how do you make up the difference? The study states that Maine working families get public assistance, work multiple jobs, use credit and go into debt, work under the table, barter and go without. All of this is done in one of the richest countries in the world. Does this seem right to you?

This injustice is particularly glaring, given a recent study in executive compensation. The study was done by the Corporate Library, a Portland-based company that analyzes compensation information and the governance of U.S. top corporations. Their report (“Pay for Failure: The Compensation Committees Responsible”) shows the gap between performance and pay over the past five years for 11 major corporations. In particular, it states “that compensation committees authorized a total of $865 million in pay to CEOs who presided over an aggregate loss of $640 billion in shareholder value.” To be fair, most corporations don’t operate this way. However the study should trigger a public debate about the internal dynamics of corporations and the legitimacy of them in our society.

In today’s world too many people believe that their voice doesn’t count. There is a widely-held perception that the powerful simply will not listen to the concerns of average people. All a politician wants is your vote and the only thing that a business wants is your money. Once the election is over, or the purchase is made, the connection is essentially over. The logical deduction is that the world values transactions, not relationships. A social forum is a place to resist that conclusion.

Besides intellectual stimulation, the Maine Social Forum is scheduled to offer a film festival, art and storytelling. If you want to suggest a workshop, film, panel or presentation, have your organization endorse the forum, volunteer or help in other ways, all you have to do is go to their Web site (www.mainesocialforum.org) and follow the links. It’s that simple. Another world is possible. Inclusiveness and authenticity are encouraged.

Karl Trautman is the chairperson of the Department of Social Sciences at Central Maine Community College. He was a policy analyst with the Michigan Legislature from 1997 to 2001.

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