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A contribution to the debate on the future of the WSF

quarta-feira 16 de dezembro de 2020, por Chico Whitaker, Chico Whitaker Chico Whitaker

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This text, intended only as a small contribution to the debate on the future of the WSF

This text, intended only as a small contribution to the debate on the future of the WSF, has been transformed into a long commentary on a text by Óscar González César(1), from Mexico, a member of a group called itself the WSF Renewal Group, published last November 7 on the discussion list of the WSF International Council. Almost when finishing it I have added comments to the text of Francine Mestrum (2), also from Oscar’s Renewal Group, published more recently, on December 5th.

Before releasing his text, Oscar had sent it to me personally. I thanked him with some comments, thinking on stopping on this, so as not to return to a tiring discussion that has been going on for twenty years – even more tiring now under the pressure of the pandemic, especially on those of my age. I also remembered some unsuccessful attempts to clarify things with Boaventura de Souza Santos, also from Oscar’s Group. I have even wondered if that discussion would make sense when most of the participants in the World Social Forums are interested in knowing when and where the next one will be.

However, as I read Oscar’s text with more wandering, as well as a text from his Renewal Group, which included a distorted account of a WSF International Council – IC meeting in Montreal, (3) I realised that they were going further than I thought, and that it was necessary to write something about what they were saying.

This seemed even more necessary to me when I read Francine Mestrum’s text.

I was then impressed by the almost ferociousness with which she attacks the WSF and those who have participated in its creation, which she calls “founding fathers“,(4) inventing incredible things, like one of them one day exclaiming “with pride: ‘I am the Forum’“. Or saying that good proposals have been “rejected” at the WSF (it is not known who would have all this power), like the “Porto Alegre Manifesto” in 2005(5) and the “Bamako Call” in 2006.(6) Or incomprehensible things like “it was feared to talk about politics” in the IC (7).

The positions of Oscar and his group have taken shape a long time ago. They were mainly uncomfortable with the WSF Charter of Principles preventing Final Declarations of the Forums, as well as its International Council from taking political positions on its behalf. They insist on changing this Charter,(8) according to Francine “who is responsible for the impasse in which the WSF finds itself“. But they are also bothered by things that are not in the Charter, but are part of practices that are already traditional in the WSF process, such as the decision by consensus in the Council or the decision to organise the Forums essentially on the basis of activities that are self-managed by the participants. (9)

The problem is that these positions (Óscar’s and his group ones) would most likely lead to the disappearance of a WSF like the current one, as a space for exchanges, reflection and articulation for action, in the enormous quantity and diversity resulting from the very heterogeneity of civil society, which is the main guest of this event.

I, at least, and perhaps many others, would very much regret that this happened. Even more so because it is precisely now that it is much more necessary for social organisations and movements around the world to be able to count on meetings like those of the WSF, so that they can articulate their actions in the face of more serious threats than those we faced in 2001: the continuous and great increase in inequality in societies and between regions and countries; the growth of the ultra-right and the distortions it manages to make in the functioning of democracy; the possibility of an environmental collapse of the planet that could arrive to the extinction of the human species itself.

But I wondered whether it would be appropriate to disseminate this text now. The International Council is intensely busy with the preparation of a Virtual World Social Forum next January, which is a particularly difficult challenge, not from the point of view of the contents that would be discussed – so serious are they obvious to everyone – but in terms of how to make this discussion effective, since face-to-face meetings as usual are not yet possible, and the new instruments created for virtual communication are still being tested.

However, since the debate about the WSF future could already take place in the Virtual Forum next January, I believe that it is even more timely to publicise it now.

In this text I indicate the type of Forum to which the proposals of the Oscar Group would probably lead us, then the differences of vision about their way of seeing the struggle for “another possible world” and those that have prevailed at the WSF, and finally something that we remember little about: the role of the current WSF in the rear-guard of the action towards this “other world”.

I – What kind of Forum would the proposals of the Oscar Group lead to?

More than once Óscar González says, without half a word, that the WSF is a “failure”. And that the culprits are those he calls “our Brazilian alter-globalisation friends“. According to him, they are people of “good faith” but “romantics” and “dreamers“, with “attitudes based on dogmatism” and “ideological simulations”; they have created the WSF without “clear operational regulations on the conduct and self-government of this process“. He also says that they have “pulled out” their “experiment” “without government structures and hierarchies” that would allow them to move to a “unitary action in the name of the Forum“; (10) and he makes accusations – that would be serious, but I think I have not understood them – as “alignments with interests that overlap with a minimum welfare of the popular classes all over the world”.

Other statements by Óscar make us think that he does not really like “Brazilians“, perhaps because they believe that there can be joy in political action: after pointing out that “it was not an easy task to organise meetings of people with such diverse ideas and political cultures” to influence world changes, he says that they have created “a kind of party or political ‘carnival’“. (11)

But what would the WSF they propose look like? No doubt, considering the tone of Oscar’s statements (as well as Francine’s), it would be a Forum like many others – even like the Davos Economic Forum – that would appeal only to those registered as its followers: very well structured, without the confusions and improvisations or bad organisation of the WSFs, with large auditoriums in which lessons and guidance would be received, from above, from political leaders or famous intellectuals capable of talking about the really important things.(12) There would be clear hierarchies between well paid organisers and assistants and well-dressed receptionists; and “thematic axes” for the discussions, well defined even before the “convocation” of the participants, putting in the centre “and as a major priority the organisation of serious debates“. All of this will be possible thanks to a “leadership” of the Forum that is well qualified for this function and for choosing “priorities” for the eventual action of those who attend its “convocation”, “based on a clear definition of substantial themes or problems“.

The newest thing would be that this type of WSF would also launch itself into the struggle, with its own actions “in the name of the Forum“, taking clear positions to effectively “change the world” – since “no ‘other world’ is possible without the construction of a counter-power“, to quote Francine, who also says: “In the year 2001 the objective was clearly to build a counter-power to give voice to the social movements, so that they could respond to the voice coming from the World Economic Forum in Davos“.

In other words, let it be well understood, the WSF would be the “counter-power” itself, on the front line, as the voice of social movements and organisations, because – as Francine also says – nothing happens “spontaneously“, just as these movements cannot be “hindered in their political work by the richest and most powerful NGOs“, let alone by “Christian organisations (13) with a great fear of anything resembling politics“.

Disciplined militants would thus undoubtedly follow the words of order of such an enlightened “avant-garde“, obviously not allowing themselves to make jokes or “parties”; on the contrary, they would confront, perhaps with fists and teeth clenched in anger, their “enemies” and also those less “aware”, among themselves, of what “pure and hard reality” is, as Oscar says. The WSF “brand” would no longer designate a world meeting, but that new and powerful “global political subject“.

But I ask: what would the “renewed” WSF (or “SPG”, in these times when everything is transformed into an acronym…) do with the current WSF, which has already become a Common Good of Humanity, without an owner, and can therefore be used by those who find it useful, as was said in 2009 in Belem, Brazil, in the forum where this concept has been most discussed? (14) In the same line of questioning, I ask: what will the “owners” of the WSF do in the face of the trend – born immediately after the first WSF in 2001 and increasingly strong today – towards the multiplication of Social Forums, which we call the “WSF process”? (15) We should also ask: what will they do with the thematic Forums that are also taking over the WSF “brand”? (16)

In short, if we follow the ideas of Oscar and his Group, not only would there be major or minor changes to the WSF Charter of Principles. There would be a total change in the WSF character and nature (17), which would go on to lead the struggle for “another possible world”. And this with a vertical structure, according to the authoritarian vision of what the WSF should be – and therefore also the movement that would replace it – contrary to the values of “another possible world”, which we want to build already with methods consistent with those values.

And when the current WSF disappears, the space in the rear of the struggle that it ensures (what I am talking about later) will disappear with it, so that its participants can prepare it and then evaluate it in order to look for a bigger effectiveness -which is an irreplaceable role of the current WSF, at the same time as it welcomes, in its open horizontality, more and more people willing to participate.

II – The WSF as a political innovation

Innovating in policy practices is a requirement ¬ for all those who do not act bureaucratically, but seek to effectively achieve their objectives. And it is in this perspective that I have said, in some of my texts quoted by Oscar, that “it requires the abandonment of practices shaped by more than one hundred years of vertical political action“. I say in passing that he quotes me several times, but I do not recognise myself in all those quotes. (18)

On this subject I would like to point out, and for those interested, the book by one of the creators of the WSF, José Corrêa Leite, published in 2003, entitled “World Social Forum: The History of a Political Invention”.(19) In this book, he analyses how innovations have emerged at the WSF. The summary of the author’s doctoral thesis, at the Catholic University of São Paulo (my translation), clearly gives the meaning he sees in the WSF: “Recording a series of political phenomena, which go beyond national frameworks and shape a movement for global justice, we have focused on the World Social Forum, which appears as the exemplary institution of a new type of political practice, organised in a very different way from the previously existing ones: horizontal international organisation, formation of networks and affinity groups, rejection of representation, valorisation of diversity“.

In the book on the WSF that I wrote in 2005, (20) I tell things that have a lot to do with Corrêa Leite’s perspective, like the testimony of an experienced militant of the Communist Party of France. He had participated in the organisation of the European Social Forum in 2003 and a Local Social Forum in his city. In an workshop of another Local Social Forum, in the same year, in which I have also participated, he has said what happens with those who join that process: in the WSF we “learn to unlearn“.

In another paragraph of the book, I tell what I felt when I participated in meetings of the then “Organising Committee” of the first WSF: “everything happens as if under the table where the ideas for the organisation of the WSF are designed and we put our elbows to listen to the proposals, a huge octopus is hidden. Nourished by the practices of the “old world”, its long and strong tentacles continually reappear from all sides, trying to throw under the table everything new that is tried to be created, (…) repeating a thousand times the same manoeuvre with apparently new colours, (…) almost leading us to walk backwards”.

But even on the innovative character of the WSF, I would recommend another text, very recent (2020), by Sergio Haddad,(21) another of its creators and a great connoisseur of the work of Paulo Freire,(22) whose thinking has greatly influenced the organisation of the WSF, in the option of facilitating horizontal exchanges of knowledge and experience. The title of that text already says it clearly: “The World Social Forum as an educational space“.

It is interesting to note that exactly the perception of horizontality, which was already adopted by many movements before the WSF, seems to escape Oscar’s (as well as Francine’s) concerns completely, as in the mobilisations against the WTO in 1999 in Seattle, USA.(23) For Óscar, “Indignados” in Spain and “Occupy” in the United States, both innovatively horizontal, have been “relevant” in their time, as he said, but not because of their horizontality. And in saying that “by the way, they happened completely outside the Forum“, it should not be forgotten that the WSF, as a “horizontal international organisation“, as Corrêa Leite says, could have influenced, with its success, the very way in which these movements were organised – even if there were, long before the WSF, theories and experiments in non-directivity in social actions.

So, I have not identified what relevance he sees in “Occupy“, rather “Occupy Wall Street“, (24) when a large number of young people have set up a camp in front of the powerful New York Stock Exchange, to say aloud to those inside that they were the 1% exploring Humanity, but we are the remaining 99% and we want our rights to be respected. But it seems to me that it was not because they created this image, which helped many people in becoming aware of what is happening in the world today.

But it is possible that Oscar have seen relevance in “Indignados” for having led to the creation of the new party “Podemos“, which has managed to, so to speak, “organize” the natural irruption of the dissatisfaction of the Spanish people with their parties, claiming “they do not represent us“. This is what can be concluded from his vision of political action, when he says that it is essential to rethink the functions of the WSF International Council, which for him must be its “government“. Without referring, however, to one of the most important functions that the IC had in its history: to expand the WSF process (of multiplying “squares without owners”) to all corners of the world, even choosing by that criterion the country where to hold its meetings.

III – Differences of vision on how to see the struggle for “another possible world

Perhaps this issue is what most explains the difficulties of Oscar and his group with the WSF as it is. Because its very existence is due, among other things, to an awareness of the potential of civil society, as an autonomous and self-organised political actor,(25) after many centuries manipulated by political leaders and parties or used as cannon fodder for their armies. These potentialities are almost the ones that would effectively allow us to build the “other possible world”.

It seems that, for them, this will only be possible by the orders and work of fantastically lucid “leaders” of brave militants. Far be it from me to imagine that they expect to count, for this, on the homogenisation of society as that of a disciplined army, all dressed in identical uniforms, marching in parades to show strength and saluting their infallible leaders with perfectly equal gestures and steps, the whole troop trained and ready to kill and destroy, as the military like to do.

But even if they do not arrive at such meaningless simplifications today, what they propose is to fall – without political innovations like those the WSF began to experiment with 20 years ago – into the old models of political action, such as creating one more “political subject”, ready to compete for a hegemonic position with the others that already exist.

No one can be against the emergence of new “political subjects”, even less those who want to be “global”. If this is necessary, it should be created as soon as possible. Why not, for example, make the Assembly of Social Movements reappear – and announce it even within the free space of the WSF – calling it now a World Assembly, but autonomous in relation to the WSF? The one that has reappeared at each WSF, throughout its 20 years, was very “hung up” on the Forum, as if it depended on it to achieve its objectives. (26)

The problem therefore is not to do as the Spanish have done, who have created a new “national political subject”, but to try to transform the WSF itself into a “global political subject”, ceasing to fulfil its current role alongside the actors in the struggle for the “other possible world”.

What seems to escape Oscar and his group is that we will not arrive at the “other possible world” in one fell swoop – as with a coup d’état in which some people take over the richness of a country from one day to the next, with shots or, as today, with legal manoeuvres or even through distorted electoral processes. To reach our utopia, it will be necessary to fight relentlessly for a long time to overcome the domination of the world by capitalist logic and culture, consolidated over centuries in the minds and hearts of a large part of Humanity. Today, humanity is subject to the role of consumer of production, without limits, of a gigantic world machine of industrial production of material goods or only accounting for money itself, which has totally escaped the control of human beings but is totally dependent on trade and consumption.

In this logic and culture, the driving force behind human activities, in all sectors of life and in all places in the world – except among non “modernised” peoples – is the permanent and equally cruel competition between all, men and women, in a selfish individualism and the permanent search for business opportunities and profit wherever they exist, even if this is to the detriment of people’s lives and, with no return, of nature, with the aim of obtaining wealth of material goods even if they have just come out of misery.

And that is where civil society emerges as a multifaceted political actor, extremely heterogeneous and ungovernable, but capable, for that very reason, of making changes in all the meanders of the world in which we live. We will reach the “other possible world” only after a long time – it would be much better for Humanity and even for its survival as a species if it were not so extensive – in a cumulative process of “transition”, with victories and defeats and thousands of changes at all levels and of many types, each with its own rhythm, dimension, means and protagonists, affecting the economic, social, environmental, institutional, communication, cultural, etc., in a great diversity, demanding from great world or local mobilizations to individual conscientiousness objections. This is a real revolution, which will include many “reforms” as well as possible ruptures and qualitative changes, all of which having a special impact on the conscience of every citizen on the planet.

It is within this perspective that the fundamental and irreplaceable role that civil society can play in our struggle will be understood, as well as the importance of its entry as an autonomous actor: it is exactly because of its heterogeneity and only by its action that we will be able to obtain profound changes in the great diversity of aspects and dimensions of the life of society, required for this “transition” to the “other possible world”. (27)

So, in the struggle of this political actor, the “invention” of the “open space” of the WSF, capable of welcoming it in all its diversity, has been very timely. So would be the decision to keep it as an autonomous rear of that struggle.

IV – Why an autonomous rear-guard in the struggle for “another possible world”.

Every political struggle must have a space in its rear, where those who are going to launch the action can prepare it, by clearly setting their objectives, choosing the best strategy to achieve it, organizing the action with the distribution of tasks and responsibilities. Without this care, which is recommended in every good planning manual, the risk of failure is great. It will be necessary to improvise only when one realizes, already in the midst of action, that there were wrong decisions or surprises with things one has not managed to foresee – which is always possible, because no one can foresee everything.

In the same way, that space must also be available at the end of the action, so that it can be evaluated and lessons learned for the next actions, about the greater or lesser success of the decisions taken, before and during the action.

The best way to avoid very big mistakes is to involve those who take the actions in this decision and evaluation process. This is very difficult for governments and companies, which are able to separate and specialize dangerously in the functions of thinking and doing. That is why participatory planning has been “invented”, which is impossible in military actions, with their “collateral” effects, and very badly seen by authoritarian rulers.

One of the most important dimensions of the “invention” of the WSF is to have created this rear space, without command or direction from anyone or any organisation or party, to fulfil all these functions for all the extremely diversified actions necessary to build the “other possible world”. (28)

Furthermore, at the WSF, ways were found to enable those who are leading the different actions to discover convergences that will allow new alliances to be built. As well as a way to welcome, in its open horizontality, all those who want to approach and add their struggles to other broader and more decisive ones to change the world. And also, attracted to the WSFs by their message of hope and participating with their self-managed camps, hundreds or thousands of young citizens start to discover that they must participate in these struggles.

I would say that this rear-guard is not only useful, it is essential, as much as the action. They are complementary to each other. Reflection without action is as harmful as action without reflection. But it is not enough that each movement or organisation of civil society or each “political subject” created reflects, in isolation within its world, on its own struggles. It is necessary, in the face of the diversity and breadth of the construction of the “other possible world”, that these reflections rely on each other, autonomously, with what is learned and discovered in the heterogeneity of civil society, offered to all in open spaces like the WSFs. (29)

The WSF as a new instrument of political struggle began to exist (30) in January 2001, leading Ignace Ramonet, director of the French newspaper Le Monde Diplomatique, to write on the first page of its January 2001 issue, “The 21st century begins in Porto Alegre“. It would thus be almost a crime of lese-humanity to make this instrument disappear, as well as to let “global political subjects” try – pretentiously – to “direct” the action of civil society, from all over the world, which participates in the WSFs. Let its “facilitators” (and not “leaders“) continue to seek, at each Forum and drawing lessons from the previous ones, with the help of IC members available for that purpose, the best way to make them achieve their goal of supporting and defending the concrete action of the social movements and organisations on which the change of the world effectively depends, together with other political actors.

V – indications

For those interested in knowing a little more than what has been discussed during 20 years about the WSF, I have chosen three texts that I wrote with indications on this topic: one from 2003, (31) another from 2009 (32) and a third from 2019.(33)

The first, from 2003, “Notes for the debate on the WSF“, begins with the discussion on the difference between “movement” and “space”. In it I have tried to indicate the reasons why in the WSF the form of “space” has prevailed, when there were already those who wanted its transformation into “movement” – as the Oscar Reform Group would now prefer. So, as I said in 2003, the struggles for power to lead this movement would necessarily arise, making it necessary to set aside one of the principles of the WSF Charter, according to which this event is not a place for power disputes.

In the second one, in 2009, “The World Social Forums towards the other possible world” I have given a wider vision of what was, concretely, the WSF. It was my contribution to a seminar on the WSF that year at Sofia University in Tokyo, (34) with an audience most of whom were unaware of it.

In the third one, in 2019, “World Social Forum – possible perspectives“, written at the request of the Finnish magazine “Globalisations”, I made a special effort to remember the genesis of the decisions taken during 2000, before the first WSF, and which have formatted it, consolidating it the following year in its Charter of Principles.

In this last text, I have tried to show that these principles have been the progressive result of many reflections and discussions throughout the year in which the first WSF was prepared, with decisions taken, by consensus, by the representatives of eight Brazilian civil society organisations and movements, extremely diverse in terms of their objectives, areas of action and dimensions.

In this perspective, it can be said that The Charter has not been modified over the 20 years of the WSF, not because it would be a sacred tablet – impossible to change because it was received from a higher body, as those who do not like the Charter like to say – but because the guidelines it contains have guaranteed its success during that time and for that purpose have been written, based on the experience of the first WSF and its extension, which we call the “WSF process”. Modifying it, as the Renewal Group intends, would only be worthwhile if we could see that the premises of its Principles have been changed.

This 2019 text also explains why seven of the fourteen Principles of the Charter insist that the debates and exchanges made at the Forum should lead to decisions on concrete actions – which leads us to ask whether it has been read carefully by those who today propose that the WSF should become a “space for action”.

To complete a vision of what has been discussed about the WSF in its first years, I would even like to point out the book “The challenge of the World Social Forum – a way of seeing it” (35) I have already referred to it, which was published in 2005 and is easily accessible because it is available in six languages. In this book I present what I have discussed exhaustively, in dozens of interviews I have given and articles written up to that date, the doubts that started to be raised about what the WSF was and should be. But its subtitle “a way of seeing it” showed that I did not want to hide that there were different visions of the WSF.

In that book I also discuss other issues that make Oscar and his group uncomfortable, such as the decision by consensus. And I tell some curious things, such as the fact that this way of deciding has been adopted by the “Organising Committee” of the first WSFs as item 18 of a “Programmatic Agreement” of the eight entities that composed it, to guarantee their unity in the face of the challenges that awaited them in the preparation of the WSF of 2002. (36)

VI – A few more remarks, to conclude

There are many statements in Oscar’s text (as well as those in Francine’s text) that would merit comment. For example, when Oscar reveals his lack of knowledge about the history of the WSF by saying that it has been “sponsored by Lula Da Silva“(37). But this text is already too long. It would not be worth going into detail, not even when Oscar insists on referring to me, “with all due respect“, with many quotes from my texts,(38) as if I were the one most blamed for the failure of the WSF; or when he calls me one of his “leaders“, which shows that he does not know that there are no such “leaders” in the WSF as it is today (he surely hopes that they exist in a “renewed” WSF).

I prefer to call attention to one of the characteristics of the Social Forums, which I have already mentioned, which is joy. (39) This emerges not because someone has determined that it is so (joy cannot be imposed), but probably because people who come to the Forums are nourished by hope, finding so many others engaged in the same struggle. At the same time they feel free to do what they want, without fear of prohibitions (except propaganda of violence) or being forced to follow “directives” or “priorities”, as in movements and parties. And they leave the WSF loaded with energy. (40)

And as a conclusion I present the story of a self-organised workshop of the 2003 WSF, which has a lot to do with the classification of “failure” given to the WSF by Oscar Gonzales. I have found it by reading again some pages of the book “The Challenge of the World Social Forum” that I have quoted.

Under the title “Overcoming the logics of rivalry and power: a challenge for the World Social Forum“, this workshp has been proposed to those interested by the French association “Interactions”(41), and had 50 participants, who filled the room. They received a form with 6 questions, and the workshop followed the “inversion” method proposed by Paul Watzlawick, an American teacher from the Palo Alto School in California. Among his books was “How to Fail“, and another with the title “Make yourself unhappy“.

The participants of this workshop even drafted a text indicating what should be done to face the fact that “capitalism, imperialism, the G7, the big media and the multinationals did not succeed in preventing the emergence of a world civil and civic society and the success of their annual WSF meetings in Porto Alegre“. And they concluded that for these Forums to fail, “it will be necessary to count on our own forces” (…), “systematically exploring” the efforts that are emerging with this objective.

Although they had a lot of fun with this text, they decided not to divulge it, because of the misunderstandings that its ironies could create. And they have written a second text in which they have clearly stated their concerns, among which those linked to interpersonal relations in political action: “the relational quality, good coexistence, the festive dimension have been, since their rule, the main reasons for the success of the Forums“, unlike what happened in the 60s, with the “practices of professional militancy, desperately sad“.

Among the inadequacies that we know exist in the work of the International Council of the WSF, is that of not being able to widely disseminate all that is produced in the Forums. There are cases in which we really feel a lot of sorrow that this happens, because it has led to few people having read for example the “Final Declaration” of this workshop, one among the hundreds or maybe thousands that have been made in the WSF of 2003, with its 100.000 participants. (42)

Photo: Youth camp at the World Social Forum Thematic of Resistances, in Porto Alegre-RS, 2016. [Joka Madruga / Terra Sem Males]

1. “The renewal of the WSF and its International Councilâ€

2. “Another World Social Forum is possibleâ€

3. The WSF Renewal Group, by distorting the account of an episode at the IC meeting in Montreal after the 2018 WSF, has reminded me of trials and condemnations of sad memory. It says that the IC has been prevented by only one of its members – in order to respect the WSF Charter of Principles – from making a statement against the ongoing coup in Brazil. But it “forgets†to tell that on the very day before the IC had refused, also in order to respect the Charter, to declare its support, as IC, to a campaign presented by emissaries of the Palestinian resistance movement. In that case, the IC followed by consensus its practice, since perhaps 2003: such declarations are possible but signed by those of its members who want to do so, in the name of their organization and not in the name of the IC.

4. Besides repeating the distorted account of a meeting of the IC, made in the text of the Renewal Group, quoted in the previous note, Francine adds other falsehoods to attack those she calls the “founding fathers†of the WSF, saying that in the same meeting of the IC one of them has also “blocked†the IC from condemning “the refusal of the Canadian government to give visas to the African members for the forum in Montreal, or the assassination of Marielle Franco in Rio de Janeiro“. This clearly shows her contempt – or even anger – for these old WSF “facilitators†.

5. The “Porto Alegre Manifesto†was a document made public at the 5th edition of the WSF, in 2005, with 18 signatories who – according to Boaventura Souza Santos, one of those who signed it – were concerned, at an event that brought together 150,000 participants, “with the growing marginalisation of the WSF on the world stage“. Souza Santos wrote in a recent text that they knew that this was a breach of the WSF Charter of Principles. It was therefore already one onslaught against that Charter, as he insists on doing until now. But such a “Manifesto†has not become very known – perhaps only to the journalists in the hotel where it was launched – alongside hundreds of other proposals for action discussed at that Forum. Possibly because it has been done from above, consulting only those who have signed it.

6. The “Bamako Call†was a document presented also from above without respecting the Charter of Principles of the WSF, at the end of its African edition in Mali, in 2006, year in which “WSF events†were held almost concomitantly in three continents.

7. Francine Mestrum makes dialogue more difficult because she often expresses categorical, intolerant and definitive judgements in order to oppose others with whom she disagrees. She says for example that the WSF has “rejected†good proposals or classifies as “inadmissible†political positions of her own comrades in struggle. Moreover, it is not clear what the words “politics†or “political debate†mean to her.

8. Boaventura de Souza Santos even went so far as to state categorically and publicly, in an article in a major São Paulo newspaper, that finally at the WSF in Salvador, in 2018, the Charter would be modified. He was not present at the Council meeting after the WSF where this could eventually be discussed, but his allies have attempted to provoke such a discussion. However, due to a total lack of consensus on the matter, it has been postponed for another opportunity.

9. In fact, one of the characteristics of the WSFs is the way of programming the activities that will take place in it – always combined with the expectations of the local organizers of the WSFs – from large to small activities, self-organized by the movements and organizations of the civil society that register to participate in the Forums.

10. Óscar also says that it is “impossible to postpone a rethink of the very structure of the Forum“, in order to “count on the social strength and the agglutinating and unitary power that the WSF could and should be“, with “its potential global political force“.

11. He only failed to use the same comparison that was made, here clearly disdainful, on the WSF by the right-wing journalists: “it is a Woodstock of the left†.

12. It is interesting to note that Francine in fact gives more value to those at the top than to those at the bottom, by indicating that among the great losses of the WSF there were that of important intellectuals who, as she says, were part of the IC in the beginning (wrongly, because only 3 of the 7 she mentioned were in the IC) but moved away “since there were never any political debate“.

13. My personal experience with “Christians†is perhaps different, as with Cardinal Arns, who used to say: “the worst way to do politics is not to do politics“.

14. The 2009 WSF has been particularly rich in opening up new perspectives, such as the deeper consideration, in its debates, of the environmental question, and the incorporation, in the vision of “another possible world†, of a very transformative social objective, that of “Good Living“, thanks to the participation in the forum of a large number of indigenous people from all Latin America.

15. Francine Mestrum, in saying that “The different WSFs up to now have been events, not processes,†seems not to realise that what we call the “WSF process†is the concrete multiplication, at different levels, of Social Forums and now also of Thematic Forums. She prefers to see it only as what the work of the IC between world events should be, more intensively than we have achieved so far.

16. The Thematic Forums born in the WSF process tend to call themselves “World Social Forums†, followed by the theme of their specificity, such as the World Social Forum on Transforming Economies, the Migration one, the Antinuclear one (called World Social Forum after two editions in which it has been called Thematic Social Forum), the Health and Social Security one and the newly created Law and Democracy one. It’s no use asking their organisers to avoid the name “WSF†, even if their Forums are worldwide, in order not to create confusion with the biannual world event of the WSF process. It seems that the WSF “brand†attracts many people, and perhaps also its Charter of Principles. Will the new “owners†of this “brand†demand authoritatively that these Thematic Forums change their name, or judicially as in the disputes of the capitalist world?

17. It is perhaps worth transcribing here a few lines from the Introduction to my book “The Challenge of the World Social Forum†(which I mentioned in “V – Indications†, at the end of this text), about the “instrumental character of the WSF“: “it will not be through it that we will build the other possible world. It will not change the world. It will be the society that will change it (…) …It gives a specific contribution, different from that given by the other instruments of political action, and this difference characterises it as a means at the service of those instruments (…) Transforming it into a great political force capable of confronting neo-liberalism will force it to abdicate the functions it fulfils, ceasing to expand and take root throughout the world†. (…) And with its“experimentation with new political practices (…) it also has repercussions within the organisations that participate in it†, in order to democratise them.

18. I don’t recognize in my texts that Oscar quotes probably because he has translated them very freely, making me say what he thinks that I think.

19. Editora Perseu Abramo, S.Paulo 2003.

20. “The challenge of the World Social Forum – a way of seeing it†– Editoras Perseu Abramo and Loyola, S.Paulo 2005.

21. “The World Social Forum as an educational space†:

22. Sergio Haddad has published a book on Paulo Freire in 2019: “O Educador – um perfil de Paulo Freire“, Todavia Publishing House, São Paulo, 2019

23. This victorious action even led to the multiplication of networks at the WSF as a horizontal form of political articulation.

24. I was intrigued by Oscar’s reference to the “Occupy Wall Street†movement when I realised that his text had been published by the “Wall Street International Magazine†, which obviously is interested in echoing divergences within the WSF.

25. As already indicated in note 20.

26. It is for no other reason that the Assembly of Social Movements did everything was possible to have its activities programmed between the last ones of the WSF, so that its “Declarations†were seen as a collective in charge of the WSF “Final Documents†, since it was prevented to do it by its Charter of Principles. I remember having read precisely this in a Associated France Press article, which was shown to me by Bernard Cassen (a WSF founder that was not “Brazilian†…), sitting next to me in the audience of the final session of the 2004 Forum, in India. In which, coincidentally, someone from the Assembly of Social Movements managed to pass his “Declaration†, behind the Event Steering Table of that session, to one of its members who, uninformed, read it to all people present…

27. In the WSF dynamics there is space to launch big mobilisations based on proposals from its participants, without the need for the WSF to coordinate them as WSF. Such has been the case of the 2003 mobilisations against the invasion of Iraq. A proposal by Italian organisations and movements that emerged at the first European Social Forum in Florence has won, at that Forum and at the following World Social Forums, more and more supporters all over the world, without the need for the WSF IC to take on the role of “convenor†. Due to its strength and opportunity and to the horizontal relations between organisations, 15 million people took to the streets all over the world to demand Peace. The invasion has not been prevented but an important step has been taken to build the anti-war consciousness that the world needs to effectively achieve it.

28. Even when preparing slogans to be repeated at demonstrations, I have seen, in well-organised movements, “slogan-creating†groups spending a lot of time identifying the best proposals, so that a collective voice would have a strong impact.

29. This perspective of popular education makes it possible to better understand the title of the article I have quoted from Sergio Haddad, “The WSF as an educational space“.

30. Until then, civil society did not have its own space for global meetings and for advocacy. The other actors already had their own spaces of interconnection and reflection on their action, even at the planetary level.

31. https://senospermitemsonhar.wordpress.com/2020/11/10/notas-para-o-debate-sobre-o-forum-social-mundial-chico-whitaker/



32. https://senospermitemsonhar.wordpress.com/2020/10/13/les-forums-sociaux-mondiaux-vers-un-autre-monde-possible-chico-whitaker/

33. https://senospermitemsonhar.wordpress.com/2020/06/24/world-social-forum-possible-perspectives-chico-whitaker/


34. I had been invited to this event together with Christophe Aguiton, another WSF IC member, after the great success of the WSF in Belem in the same year, with 150,000 participants, including Japanese.

35. Editoras Perseu Abramo and Loyola, S.Paulo 2005.

36. The unifying power of this way of deciding in diversity has allowed half of the members of the 2001 WSF Organising Committee to continue to meet systematically until today, in the greatest friendship and mutual trust, without competition between its members. When the WSFs have moved to other countries in the world, it has created the GRAP – Group of Reflection and Support to the WSF Process, with self-organised activities in several WSFs. Carrying out seminars and making publications, as well as incorporating other people with the same perspectives, it has become simply the Collective 660, from the number of the building where it currently meets, that is the headquarter of one of its members organisation and where the first WSF secretariat was installed. This Collective continues to interact with former participants of the WSF all over the world, with whom it has recently organised a “Global Dialogue for Systemic Change†, still in progress, and will be able to carry out activities at the Virtual World Social Forum next January. It is also launching, in December 2020, with other organisations, a “Call for an Eco-Social Transition in Brazil†.

37. Lula participated as a citizen in the 2001 and 2002 WSFs, and assumed the Presidency of the Brazilian Republic in 2003.

38. As I have already said, without recognizing myself in many of the citations.

39. With reference to the joy that permeates the WSF, perhaps a Brazilian specificity contributed to it: in the years preceding the first WSF, a phrase from Lula’s electoral campaign, which was victorious two years later, was widely repeated in Brazil: “without fear of being happy“.

40. As Susan George, vice-president of ATTAC-France, told me when she left Porto Alegre after the first WSF: “I have accumulated energy for at least six months†.

41. This workshop has been animated by the French philosopher and activist Patrick Viveret.

42. I am grateful to Oscar for taking me to re-read some of my 2005 book in order to write this text. I have remembered many exciting or funny moments of the WSF, as well as many of the friends I made around the world, with whom I have shared the enthusiasm of fighting for “another possible world†.