If one political concept dominated the proceedings of the US Social Forum, it was horizontalism. Organizers mentioned it in relation to media access, workshop panelists offered it as an alternative to top-down NGOs and political parties and participants already engaged in politics employed it as a measurement of their own groups’ internal functioning. To some, horizontalism represented more of an abstract democratic sense informed by anarchist sentiments. For others, it meant thinking through power relations that operate inside the new structures they sought to set up – frequently things like cooperatives, community supported agriculture or community gardens. Kandace Vallejo an organizer with the Student Farmworker Alliance (SFA) offered a more concrete definition.
We’ve lived so long under the spell of hierarchy—from god-kings to feudal lords to party bosses—that only recently have we awakened to see not only that “regular” citizens have the capacity for self-governance, but that without their engagement our huge global crises cannot be addressed. The changes needed for human society simply to survive, let alone thrive, are so profound that the only way we will move toward them is if we ourselves, regular citizens, feel meaningful ownership of solutions through direct engagement. Our problems are too big, interrelated, and pervasive to yield to directives from on high.
—Frances Moore Lappé, excerpt from Time for Progressives to Grow Up