"Who produces knowledge about the WSF? And for whom?” These were initial questions, proposed by the organizers of the session, “Decolonizing the WSF,” held on March 28th, which attracted people from various countries interested in discussing the process in which the World Social Forum has been building. In spite of being a project which originated in South America, it has become quite Europeanized, according to proponents of the debate, which was a critical discussion on knowledge and power, and on the structures which produce them in and around the WSF, looking into which powers are included and which have been marginalized, according to one of the organizers, Hilde Stephansen of Goldsmiths, University of London, who also coordinated the workshop. “In the beginning, the Forum was important for networking between social movements, and it was successful as such, but it is important to recognize the history of European colonization and its effects, which imposed a system of knowledge and political practices that produced heirarchies such as racism, and machismo, which also exist within the Forum.”
Christian Schröder e Hilde Stephansen
To give voice to those who do not have a voice - although this was the original mandate of the WSF, it is also a product of a dominant civilization, according to Janet Conway, professor of Brock University, in Canada, and author of the book, Edges of Global Justice – The World Social Forum and Its ’Others’. “The Indigenous of the Americas have always been present, mainly, at the WSF of 2009, in Belem,” remembers Janet, "they were highly regarded, but their knowledge is not being considered when searching for solutions to the actual crisis of civilization we are experiencing. The WSF discusses democracy from the point of view of the State, never taking into account knowledge that comes from long ago.” For the Canadian researcher, although the WSF has enabled the coming together of a diversity of existing movements, with a strong socialist, anarchist and feminist presence, it is also a victim of its own heirarchies and exclusions, reflecting the relations of colonial, capitalistic and patriarchical power which structure the world as a whole. Rose Brewer, of the “Gender Justice Working Group” of the U.S., spoke in agreement with Janet. She referred to the African Diaspora, particularly in Brazil. “The Brazilian slums, where the majority of the black people live, were not in the WSF; in American universities, the blacks are not included. The production of knowledge designed to transform the world does not take into consideration the knowledge of African people."
Rose Brewer e Janet Conway
Ashok Chowdhury, of the "National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers & New Trade Union Initiative" and Madhuresh Kumar, of the "National Alliance of Peoples’ Movements & CACIM” spoke on behalf of India. According to them, the WSF was a good experience for their country, an opportunity to encounter other movements of the poor, the workers and the indigenous people. At the same time, they agree that British colonization imposed a system of knowledge that does not take into account the knowledge of these people. "Even the idea of a civil society is a concept which comes from Europe,” said Madhuresh.
The experience of communication at the WSF was recalled by Rita Freire, of Ciranda, who participated in the organization of the 3rd World Social Forum of Free Media, held at the WSF. She said that although media-activists are working with concepts of free knowledge and shared communication, they are concepts which are still being developed and are under debate and it is not a matter of reproducing formulas for coverage or for technological tools.
With regard to the concept of shared communication, covering a fight does not simply mean “to speak for it,” but to take action in order that the struggle can express itself and has a means to communicate. She cited an example related to the environmental struggle in Brazil, which began to express itself more clearly when its indigenous population started to make joint campaigns with free media and the social networks in order to denounce the impact of major projects in the Amazon region.
The session, which was praised for being the only part of the WSF where there was a reflection on its own process, was also criticized by attendees for its organization. It was criticized firstly for having been held completely in English, since there was no possibility of translation, a fact which led several people to withdraw. "We cannot decolonize, using the same method as the colonizer," said a German participant. "We listened to ’experts’ who were able to speak and now we have very little time in which to intervene.” This participant defended the idea that the WSF be organized in an open way like the "Occupys". A Tunisian participant even said that the WSF is “another possible lie” and that its people are tired of being misled. According to this participant, the organization of the Forum in Tunisia did everything to exclude the Islamists from the process, because it does not admit that there exists a left within Islam, “what it offers us is European progress.” The crisis of representation within the democracy of the western states was fairly laid out, with inquiries regarding who was there to represent whom.
Another important point is the question of funding for the WSF. “Who can pay 1000 euros in order to participate?” questioned one participant. For Christian Schröder, this discussion is very important for the future of the Forum if we want to change the world. “These are small, rather sensitive things which can easily be changed, such as having transparency with regard to resources,” he said. “Who is talking to governments, to the foundations that are financing the process? People have the right to know which resources are available and how they can be used, such information should be given to the movements and to everyone who wants to be involved in the process of the WSF.”
For proponents, the session was very important, “there was a variety of opinions, participation from different countries, reflecting on knowledge and its practice,” said Christian. “We internalize certain structures and reproduce them without thinking.” For Hilde, there remained the conclusion that there is a lot of knowledge, not just academic knowledge but knowledge about who we are, where we came from and how this affects our thinking, what we see, what we hear and also what we don’t see and hear. Within the WSF and in the universe of social movements there is knowledge from the indigenous people, from people of African descent, from the forest-dwelling people, knowledge that is circulating, and being reproduced but is not being recognized by the dominant systems, by the academic world or by the media. And the story that we are telling about the WSF, the theory that we are creating about the WSF, does not take into account such knowledge.