Boston Social Forum 2004

5,000+ participants, 550+ events, 3 days


Boston Social Forum FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

updated 5/17/04

These Frequently Asked Questions are based on real questions that we have been getting around the BSF process, and the answers that we developed over the 18 months of our work so far. It covers all the basics about what we are doing, why we are doing it, and how we are doing it, in an easy-to-read q&a format. It was written and reviewed by the BSF admin team, and it is modeled after existing World Social Forum FAQs.

There are four sections: Goals & Outcomes; Organization; Program & Content; Who is Involved?

1. Goals & Outcomes

What is the Boston Social Forum?

In open and democratic space where progressive activists, organizations, and interested members of the general public, can gather for three days–July 23-25, 2004. The Boston Social Forum (BSF) is a forum within the World Social Forum (WSF) process.

What is the Boston Social Forum not?

The BSF is not an organization. It is not a coalition. It is not an alliance. It is not a congress. It is not a conference.

What does the Boston Social Forum do?

As an open space, and in keeping with the WSF Charter of Principles, the Boston Social Forum encourages its participants to do a variety of things: network, exchange ideas, debate, make alliances, identify and/or launch campaigns and projects, plan for the future, do performance, display art, etc.

What does the Boston Social Forum not do?

As an open space, the BSF does not make decisions.

It does not call or sponsor actions.

It does not issue statements.

What if participants want to make decisions, call/sponsor actions, or issue statements?

BSF participants are free to do these things, and many others—just not in the name of the BSF.

Will there be a point where Social Forums within the WSF process make decisions, call/sponsor actions, or issue statements?

Perhaps, and there have already been movements within the World Social Forum process to do precisely these things, but at the point where Social Forums do such things, they will cease to be Social Forums. They will transform into whatever large numbers of Social Forum participants agree will be the next stage of the global movements against neoliberalism and militarism.

So the Boston Social Forum does nothing?

Quite the reverse. Its very existence is an important political statement. The success of the Boston Social Forum will prove to the public-at-large that there is a progressive movement in the U.S., that it has broad visionary ideas across the spectrum of human knowledge, and that they should consider joining it. The Forum itself will encourage social sectors, organizations and individuals who normally don’t work together to network with each other, and build alliances that will make our movements stronger and broader. It will also put the government and corporations on notice that alternative globalization movements are entering a new and more mature phase through which progressives can become a majoritarian political force.

What is the goal of the BSF?

The main goal of the BSF is to hold a landmark event that will allow progressive activists from many social sectors to gather together in a convivial environment to express their ideas and visions for a better world across the spectrum of human knowledge—with an eye towards helping build a bigger, broader and more powerful progressive movement in Boston and New England over the next couple of years. The BSF is using the diverse energies coming together as a result of the holding of the Democratic National Convention in Boston to showcase the progressive movement.

2. Organization
What is the BSF process?

The BSF process is the huge logistical effort involved with putting on the first major Social Forum in North America to closely follow the WSF model. It draws on the lessons learned from other local forums that have been held in the US & Canada.

Is the BSF process an organization?

No. The BSF process is a logistical effort organized by the coalition of organizations that form the BSF planning committee.

How is the BSF process organized?

The BSF process has been organized in a nearly identical form to the World Social Forum process. The initial core of BSF organizers spent many months seeking out large numbers of local community-based organizations and unions and asked them to commit to working on the BSF process by joining the BSF planning committee. The planning committee is the deliberative body of the BSF effort. Each member-organization is entitled to send representatives to planning committee meetings, and carries one vote, although the committee strives for consensus on all but the most contentious issues. It has empowered a number of working groups, committees and teams to do all the work necessary to make the BSF a success. The largest working group is the program working group. There is also a smaller working group that has focused on outreach. All day-to-day work is carried out by an administrative team of BSF staff and volunteers that agree to take a lead role in BSF organizing and do significant amounts of work for the BSF each week. There is fundraising team that raises all money for the BSF process. There is a media team that works on BSF public relations, message development and on grassroots media during the BSF itself. There is a housing team that works on providing housing for out-of-town BSF attendees. There is also a web team that does the large amount of work necessary to keep the BSF website current and content-rich.

How does the program working group run?

The program working group includes representatives of BSF planning committee member-organizations and other interested individuals from outside the BSF effort that are responsible for making sure that the BSF has an engaging and exciting program of events, and that works to ensure that these events fall within the WSF model as spelled out in the WSF Charter of Principles. Much of the agenda of the program working group has been to organize event “tracks” for the BSF program. These tracks are organized by track committees that report out to the program working group.

Do political parties participate in the Boston Social Forum process?

No. Following the model of the World Social Forum, the BSF process excludes political parties. Individual politicians may participate in the BSF proceedings; however, the BSF planning committee has decided that their roles should not be different from that of any other participant and that politicians may not use the BSF to further their electoral campaigns.

Why don’t all the BSF flyers and promotional materials reflect all the major issues, points of view, and concerns of BSF process participants?

As the BSF process takes hold, many organizations are promoting the BSF. They are encouraged to do so autonomously of the main planning bodies…as long as they do not do so in the name of the entire BSF. This means that many organizations are likely to emphasize only those aspects of the BSF with which they are most concerned.

How does the administrative team run?

As a huge logistical effort, the BSF cannot come to fruition without constant work by a dedicated core of paid staff and volunteers from BSF planning committee member-organizations. The admin team is made up of over a dozen people who have agreed to undertake this level of work, and who have proven track records with established progressive organizations. Admin team members commit to spending at least 10 hours a week on the team’s work. The team meets weekly and makes sure that every major area of BSF organizing is on schedule, and has responsible point people getting all necessary work done in a timely fashion. When emergencies arise, it is the admin team that will rush in to “take care of business.” The team oversees BSF staff, develops workplans in all areas of BSF organizing, makes sure BSF meetings are properly facilitated, and generally keeps the entire BSF effort moving forward every day. It reports its progress to the BSF planning committee during regular planning committee meetings.

What organization is the fiscal sponsor of the BSF process?

The Campaign on Contingent Work (CCW), a labor-community non-profit based in Boston’s Chinatown is the fiscal sponsor of the BSF process. CCW also initiated the BSF process in November 2002, and provided the bulk of its staffing during the first year of the process.

What will happen to the BSF process after the BSF?

The formal BSF process will end the moment the BSF is over. Its many organizers will have to get together to decide how best to follow up on the BSF, and to evaluate its successes and shortcomings. Hopefully, the spirit of the BSF will continue to inspire social movements in Boston, New England and elsewhere long after the Forum itself has ended.

3. Program & Content

There is a lot wrong with Boston/New England/the World, why don’t you do…? Why don’t you organize…?

The Boston Social Forum provides you and/or your organization with opportunities to present your priorities, strategies and solutions. It also provides access to many progressive social sectors, organizations and individuals to whom you can make the case for your analysis. To maintain the space for you to do so, the Forum has not been organized to come up with authoritative statements, programs or solutions that claim to speak for everyone.

What is a (program) track?

A track is an organizational device the BSF effort uses to make sure that all major areas of human knowledge have BSF events that relate to them from a progressive perspective. Each track brings together workshops and other events that focus on a major issue area or problem such as peace, social justice, economic inequality, etc.

Can each BSF event only fall within one track?

No. In fact, the BSF process encourages events to cut across any number of tracks in the best spirit of the WSF process. However, track committees take responsibility for organizing a core group of events that fall within a particular subject area to guarantee that all major areas of human knowledge are covered at the BSF.

Does each event have to fall under a track?

No. There is no requirement that each individual event at the BSF be part of the track system. There’ll be a catch-all “no-track” section of the BSF program guide for events that can’t be easily pigeonholed.

Is there a maximum number of tracks?

In theory, we can handle about 60 tracks with the facilities we have—if one assumes, for the sake of argument, that each track consists of one panel and a number of workshops and performance pieces or exhibits. Currently we have over 30 tracks.

Is there a minimum number of events that can be considered a track?

More than one event of any kind could conceivably constitute a track.

What is a track committee?

Individuals and organizations with expertise in a given subject area that work with the BSF program working group to help put events together on a specific issue area constitute a track committee. Most of these committees are being run by folks in the Boston area, but some will be run from elsewhere. These “track committees” also field proposals coming in via the BSF website and take pains to include them in the BSF program unless they are not in the spirit of the WSF Charter of Principles, or contravene the “Program Guidelines” developed by the program working group. In addition, the track committees are responsible for finding ways to hold events that cut across different areas of human knowledge (and other tracks) and encourage networking across social sectors in the best tradition of the WSF process. Each track committee is required to have point people that report out their work to the BSF program working group, which in turn will pass polished proposals for the BSF schedule to the BSF planning committee. Where the planning committee finds “holes” in the BSF schedule—i.e., areas of human knowledge that are not covered by events at the BSF—it can ask the BSF admin team to spend any available work time trying to fill those holes.

Is a track committee an autonomous organization?

No. The BSF process is not an organization, and neither are any of its teams or committees. If people who work together in any capacity wish to form a new organization, they are obviously free to do so, but outside the BSF process.

Does every track have to have a committee to organize it?

No. Track organizers, particularly those from outside the Boston area, may find it simpler to have an ad hoc group of people put it together via email or phone—without ever meeting face-to-face or constituting an official track committee.

What is a special event?

A special event is any BSF event that falls outside the general BSF practice, as established over the last many months, for holding events at the BSF.

Is there a limit to the number of special events at the BSF?

Definitely. Each BSF event we do outside the established BSF events format, let’s say an outdoor event, requires extra logistical work on the part of many people. It is far easier for BSF staff and volunteers to plug events into existing framework than it is to build an addition to the framework. That said, the BSF is holding a number of special events.

What is a benefit?

A benefit is any event that raises money for the BSF. Many of these events are happening in the months leading up to the BSF and during the period of the BSF.

What is a theme?

Themes are major ideas or concepts that help define what the BSF is all about. They are used to help explain the BSF to the public and focus many of the discussions about what we are trying to accomplish through the BSF.

How did the themes come about?

The program working group identified major cross-cutting issues and sent them onto the media team and planning committee for further development. The planning committee is still working on the precise language for the themes.

4. Who is Involved?

Who is invited to participate?

All progressive organizations that reject corporate globalization, militarism and that accept the World Social Forum’s Charter of Principles, are invited to participate in the Boston Social Forum. Interested members of the general public are also invited to attend the forum.

How are you doing the outreach to organizations?

Over the last year or so, the BSF organizers have contacted most major Boston-area organizations that do work on the problems associated with corporate globalization and militarism. These include area unions, immigrant organizations, people of color organizations, faith-based and peace movement organizations. Other organizations working on public health issues, social service advocacy and provision, education, etc. have also been approached. If you know of anyone who should be involved, please send an e-mail to

Further outreach has been done by organizations working on the BSF programming.

Why haven’t folks in my community heard about the BSF?

If they haven't, please be sure to inform them and contact us ( to build links. Your ideas on how your community may plug in and use the social forum are important to the organizers. Many unions, community-based organizations and worker advocacy organizations are doing outreach to communities. In addition, the BSF media team is organizing a major publicity drive to reach community-based newspapers, magazines, TV and radio stations.