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The Consensus Dilemma for Changes at the World Social Forum

terça-feira 19 de julho de 2022, por Rita Freire, Rita Freire Rita Freire Rita Freire

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In September 2022, the International Council will hold a seminar in Tunis on the future and how to influence the direction of the global scene

Photographier: Ole Peterson

The World Social Forum was created not to distinguish who decides from who participates. There is a Letter, in an intelligent thesis, that has protected the process until today of transforming something that belongs to everyone into a movement of a few. The limit to participation is basically defined by the anti-neoliberal position. If there are doubts about being against it, don’t come to the WSF. Besides, the WSF gives you the space in the events, to participate, organize yours or articulate with others within it, with some symbolic contribution. This centralized events agenda is defined by an International Council that announces the centralized forum every two years and creates rules for its own expansion or renewal. In theory, the decisions stop there. They do not advance to the field of political positions in the name of the process or even of the council itself.

In September 2022, the International Council will hold a seminar in Tunis to discuss precisely this: how to influence the direction of the global scene if no one knows where or where the WSF gathers forces to influence? And how do you translate your warnings to society?

There have already been situations in which all Council members, without exception, agreed that it was necessary to take a stand. Examples of Brazilian motives were the coup against Dilma Rousseff in 2016 and the murder of Marielle in 2018. But some members disagreed with the issuance of documents on behalf of the meeting, invoking the Charter of Principles. Whoever wanted to, would sign them as an organization.

With individual subscriptions, such documents lost relevance because they were not from the International Council of the WSF, as a collective political subject. Such situations made it clear that there will always be someone with the possibility of stopping joint decision-making tendencies. And veto is what the United States uses in the UN Security Council to not put an end to apartheid imposed by Israel on the Palestinian people. Veto is the power of a few to decide for all - the opposite of what the Charter of Principles advocates. And nobody in the WSF wants to be the censor of the political voice of a process.

Solutions to protect the rule of consensus, one of the foundations of the WSF, without confusing it with unanimity, will have to be sought, otherwise the WSF itself, through its members, will denounce itself. Francine Mestrum, an active member of the group and of the Council, has already written an article in four languages ​​describing the forum as a corpse of civil society. She admits only some hope that the near-death state will be reversed with changes in the process from the debate with other political and social voices.

Also impatient is one of the founders of the WSF, Oded Grajew, who sees only two possible paths at the crossroads: either the WSF starts to act as a political subject that makes decisions for all or preserves the horizontality - which he historically defends - of movement space. In his opinion, the Council needs to decide between the two directions, and soon. So as not to dam even more a process that has been reproduced for more than 20 years, with or without the International Council.

As the Brazilian band Titãs says, despite all the ailments, “the pulse still pulses”, but it needs oxygen. In 20 years, today’s world is not that future lawyer it was in 2001. And given the worsening of global aggression and the times of the public forums of the internet, it is a challenge to influence changes when not even the WSF decision-making processes are sufficiently public, shared, understood or accepted.

Proposals such as that of sociologist Boaventura Souza Santos, of rotating the Council, half of which are external organizations, is good on the one hand, because it requires seeking out those organizations that are currently indifferent to the process. I also agree with him on the pedagogical suggestion of explaining divergent positions in decision-making. But Boaventura’s proposal still has the problem of organizing the Forum as an assembly that directs participation in the event, given that the WSF has historically brought together thousands of independent activities, many organized by different cultures and political formats. How to channel all this energy if there is no adherence to the proposed model? From the details of the proposal, which includes the election of a leading couple at each time, it is difficult to recognize the forum that was imposed by the meeting of the diversity of voices and struggles.

The 18 declarations read at the WSF 2022 Final Assembly in Mexico alone bring at least three times the number of urgent manifestations and calls that the Council would have to accept and sign below - From the rights of people to the rights of the planet. Many assembler experiences have already failed to return to documents in which everything needs to fit, but which end up serving only for registration, without effectiveness. To establish advocacy strategies that engage the process in global actions, it will be necessary to renegotiate in the International Council what is consensus, today confused with unanimity.

The Council created a group to propose alternatives before the Tunis seminar. His work is in itself the first test of the possibility of consensus, as he will need to analyze divergent proposals and propose common solutions.

Wherever this work goes, some problems need to be overcome or they will remain camouflaged after Tunis, and one of them is precisely the non-transparent modus operandi of CI. Minority positions contrary to a proposal for broad adhesion should be registered and everything should have been made public, preserving only sensitive situations to political exposure. Transparency would help the WSF to better understand and deal with its obstacles.

Another problem with current practices is the diversion of urgent decisions towards a collection of signatures and consultations - which usually lead to nothing and defeat the purpose of a Council demonstration. A public page of attendance would suffice and a document resulting from that meeting would not need signatures, but the note of reservations or eventual disagreements.

This poses another question about public decisions. It sends the WSF Charter of Principles that no one can speak on behalf of the forum. Assuming that the Charter is not tampered with, it will be up to the working group to clarify that speaking on behalf of the WSF is different from speaking on behalf of a meeting of the International Council of the WSF. There is not even the slightest sense in preventing the Council from expressing what it has decided and informing how it produced its decisions in this process.

Finally, it is necessary to remember that the International Council cannot replace the WSF as a place for a broad, inclusive, mobilizing and articulated debate between organizations and movements interested in a certain theme or action. Nothing in the IC should bear fruit without the corresponding mobilizations in centralized events. It is about the legitimacy of the proposals, as they are aimed at engaging and producing actions.

There are ways for the WSF to build its influence, freeing the Council itself from censorship and crystallization. Only the legitimacy of social struggles is not dispensable, the food that sustains changes and decisions. As a Brazilian saying goes, at home where there is no bread, everyone screams and no one is right.

If Tunis does not open the way to political advocacy, despite being a serious problem, it will not decree the death of the WSF, which will probably resist the prediction. But it is worth considering, with the support of the Council itself but disconnected from its limitations, the testing of an alternative punctual forum, with differentiated methods, such as a political and social laboratory, which can demonstrate whether another WSF is possible and in fact more suitable for to mobilize and express those who fight for another possible world.