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Left Forum Will Draw Thousands of Activists to Pace University

By Julie Shapiro | March 17, 2011 2:23pm
Cornel West, writer and activist, will speak at the Left Forum Friday night.
Cornel West, writer and activist, will speak at the Left Forum Friday night.
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Richard Alan Hannon/Getty Images

By Julie Shapiro

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

LOWER MANHATTAN — The timing for this year's Left Forum could hardly be better.

The annual conference on revolutions large and small, held at Pace University starting Friday, has no shortage of timely topics to cover, from the popular uprising in Egypt to the battle of public workers in Madison, Wis.

"The conference got really large this year unexpectedly," said Seth Adler,  coordinator of the Left Forum. "There was just this outpouring."

Last year, the Left Forum featured 500 speakers and drew more than 3,000 attendees. This year, nearly 1,200 speakers will fly in from all over the world, and Adler is bracing for thousands of additional participants.

Writer and social critic Barbara Ehrenreich will speak at the Left Forum.
Writer and social critic Barbara Ehrenreich will speak at the Left Forum.
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Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

The top speakers this year include provocative writer Cornel West, social critic Barbara Ehrenreich and Malalai Joya, a former politician in Afghanistan known for speaking out against the Taliban.

In previous years, many of the Left Forum panels were academic or theoretical, Adler said. This year, there is a panel of journalists who witnessed the Cairo protests, a panel of Wisconsin natives affected by the anti-union movement there and a panel of community organizers who will describe a recent rise in Islamaphobia.

The conference will also take on local New York issues, including charter schools, Columbia University's expansion in Harlem, the increasing cost of living in the city and Mayor Michael Bloomberg's environmental policies.

The theme of the conference, presciently picked many months ago, is "Towards a Politics of Solidarity."

Adler said he had worried the theme was too old-fashioned and cliché — until he watched the swelling riots in Tahrir Square and the accompanying outpouring of support in New York.

"The times have changed all of a sudden," Adler said. "There's this feeling that, no, folks aren't that different in different parts of the world. These types of connections are calling out."

This is the third year the Left Forum has been held at Pace University, but it has its roots back in the Socialist Scholars Conference in the 1960s. Every year, the Left Forum brings activists together to take a step back from their day-to-day work and see what others are doing in different fields all over the world.

Adler expects this to be the largest Left Forum yet.

The Left Forum runs from Friday at 6:30 p.m. to Sunday at 7:30 p.m. at Pace University, 1 Pace Plaza. Registration costs $60 for all three days, and less expensive options are available for single days and low-income attendees.