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Social Foruns - Challenges and New Perspectives

sexta-feira 16 de novembro de 2007, por Chico Whitaker,

Photo: WSF 2004

The decision of holding the World Social Forum on exactly the same days
as the Davos World Economic Forum was in fact something of a
"counter-communications operation:" The global media, which is entirely
attuned to what global elites are doing and saying. would be obliged to
open at least a little space to those who were contradicting these
global elites at a simultaneous meeting time about alternatives for the
future of the world.

The WSF organizers won the bet, and the WSF got some media coverage. Yet
communication with the world continues to be a big challenge to the WSF
process. We are still fighting to make the WSF better known and
experienced all over the world, and to make the majorities aware that
"another world" is not only possible but it is necessary and urgent.

A good example of this difficulty is the distorted information about the
WSF International Council decisions after its meeting in Nairobi, in
January 2007, regarding the continuation of the WSF process in 2008 and
2009. With very little information, those who preferred to see the WSF
disappear said that its International Council did not know what to do,
specially considering the lower attendance at the Nairobi Forum compared
with earlier ones. That is to say, the claim was that the process was
getting weaker.

In fact, even with fewer participants at this Forum it was a big step
forward to increase the African civil society political participation
and articulation at the continental level. The Council decided to
promote a Global Day of Action in January 2008, the 26th, with multiple,
diversified and auto-organized activities all over the world; and then
with a new centralized World Social Forum in 2009, in a place then to be
defined, and then it was decided after the subsequent IC meeting to have
the 2009 Forum: in the Amazon Region, more specifically in the Brazilian
city of Belem do Pará.

Nor did the global media pay much attention to the evolving regional,
national and local plans announced at the IC meeting. So, very little
was said before and after the United States Social Forum that was
realized in Atlanta in June 2007, at the very heart of the country that
so dominates the world today. Such information as this shows that
instead of weakening, the WSF process is even speeding up, as more and
more plan to participate in the 2008 Global Day of Action and to
participate in the 2009 WSF in the Amazon region.

Unfortunately for me I could not come to the United States Social Forum.
I read nevertheless many reports, commentaries and evaluations
disseminated through the internet. So, I could see that it was a very
successful Forum, as a space where multiple and diverse organizations
that are fighting for "another United States" - specially at the
grassroots level - could exchange information and ideas, learn about
each other, and mutually identify convergences and plan more articulated
common activities and struggles. It seemed to me that the majority of
those that came to the USSF left it with very much enthusiasm.

But I would like to make a comment about something that, from my point
of view, can have a negative effect on the continuation of the process.
I saw reports that there was a final resolution that participants at the
USSF were called upon to endorse. As this type of resolution or
proposition tends to appear in many Forums, it would be perhaps useful
to deepen this question. Its with the same preoccupation with the
future, I would also like in this paper to indicate some new
possibilities that are emerging in relation to the activities to be
organized in connection with the 2008 Global Day of Action.

Final Declarations

The question of final declarations or resolutions is not new in the WSF
process. It accompanied the process since its beginning, in the
discussion of how to ensure its character of space facilitating the
emergence and articulation of as many as possible actions to change the
world, and, at the same time, how to facilitate and deepen the
engagement of the Forum’s participants in the actions and articulations
proposed in it.

Some participants consider that to ensure the engagement in actions, the
Social Forum process should have a political mobilizing program, defined
in a final declaration of each meeting, as an all activists’ meetings or
assemblies. This preoccupation increases naturally as the time passes
and as we do not see how our process is effectively changing the world.
Many of us become impatient. Many of us become more and more anxious to
obtain results, in the struggle to defeat those who - calmly or
violently - impose injustices. Many of us think that we cannot only
organize more and more meetings but we must do more to increase our own
power in the face of the enormous dominating power.

Others, like myself, think that the Social Forums are not this power but
only spaces - open spaces - that facilitate the building of this power.
The power to change things will be the one of the organizations and
movements of the society. This position is that the Forums must function
as big nests making possible interrelations and articulations among our
many organizations and movements, in mutual respect of their diversity.
This common space would make possible the appearance of new ideas,
propositions and convergences, overcoming the sectoral limits and the
local or national dimensions of the struggles, reaching to the planetary
level. Such propositions should gain as soon as possible their own
dynamics and force, and an autonomy liberated from the dependence of the
place (the nest) where they appeared. In this perspective, this space -
continuously at the disposition of those wanting to reinforce their own
actions, or those wanting to come again to the nest to evaluate what is
happening and build new alliances - must host as many propositions as
possible, diversified in colors and sizes, as the struggles for a new
world must be multiple and diversified, and grow at all levels of
complexity and aims.

Proposals of final declarations of the Forums - wished by those
preoccupied with results, saying definitely what must be done - appear
sometimes as an initiative of respected intellectuals, whose analysis
prove to them that we know already how to change the world or, more
frequently, as an initiative of important social movements, in meetings
called Social Movements Assembly - or People’s Assembly, as it happened
in Atlanta. All networks or social organizations can do such final
meetings in the Forums, to close their discussions with decisions about
the continuity of their struggles. It is even desirable. The problem is
when some - like the Social Movements Assembly - are organized as the
only one on the last day or immediately after its end.

According to the principle of relational horizontality - one of the main
characteristics of the Forums’ organization - all initiatives,
propositions and declarations of the participants have the same
importance. But if one of the assemblies has the privilege of being the
only one at is final day, it appears necessarily as a final activity of
the entire Forum, or its most important assembly, where final decisions
will be adopted by all participants, that is to say, as the Social
Forum’s final declaration.

That is effectively how the Social Movements Assembly declaration is
understood specially by the media, in spite of the WSF Charter of
Principles. This Charter forcefully rejects final declarations exactly
to avoid the possibility of synthesizing the Forums’ discussions and
interchanges in some necessarily limited conclusions, or to put the rich
diversity of the participants action under some specific banners.

The Movement to Action

In fact those proposing such "final" declarations are calling - their
declarations are usually named "calls"- all the participants of the
Forums to engage themselves in the action they propose. When this
occurs, we run the risk of seeing fewer and fewer initiatives coming to
light, as well as fewer and fewer people attracted to the Forums,
because people do not want to be obliged to participate in actions with
which they don’t agree necessarily or completely. This is the result of
advancing actions by hijacking the nest.

It would be a pity if we made our diversity disappear or our mutual help
be destroyed, or our mutual reinforcement be destroyed, or our nest to
be destroyed, exactly when we begin to be understood - from the end of
the last century - that many of us were too isolated in our struggles
and now can be reinforced if we unite with others. The real question to
be solved is how to ensure open spaces to meet - the Forums - and, at
the same time, in parallel, how to engage and articulate with those who
are ready to continue their action or begin new ones after leaving the

The methodology adopted in the Nairobi WSF intended to answer this
question, making possible the interchange in the first three days to sit
together the fourth day - in as many as possible small or big meetings -
to plan the actions that were discussed and proposed earlier. This
method gave some results but not sufficient results, with some probable
positive exceptions. We had many "planning" workshops in the morning and
more than twenty plenaries in the afternoon, but in the plenaries people
could only be informed about what was planned in the morning, with less
possibility to engage themselves in other proposals, and not even to
eventually combine actions.

The final Social Movements Assembly took place also at the end of the
Nairobi Forum. But independently of its being or its not being
considered, the Social Forum final assembly, it seems that it was not a
good solution to the problem we must solve. In a discussion list about
the WSF this text of Stellan Vinthagen [1], referring to the Social
Movements Assembly held in Nairobi, shows clearly that we must think a
little more about the method used in any assembly or plenary:

... That proposal of statement is read and after that a "debate" on the
statement is opened with the opportunity of making changes. Within
minutes the line of people who wanted to speak in Nairobi was filled and
the interventions were very loosely connected to the statement. Mostly
it was a line of monologues, announcements, anti-neoliberal speeches,
congratulations on various struggles in the world, salutes of
slum-dwellers in Nairobi and of the successful WSF in Kenya, etc... It
was not bad in itself, but it wasn’t a political debate about how to do
global action campaigns or build a strategy for the movement of
movements. As time passed, less and less peopled stayed on, and at the
end of it, the chair of the meeting announced in front of the couple of
hundreds that where left that the statement was adopted...

Ideas for the 2008 Global Day of Action

The call for this Day of Action states: [2]

We are millions of women and men, organisations, networks, movements,
trade unions from all parts of the world; we come from villages,
regions, rural zones, urban centres; we are of all ages, peoples,
cultures, beliefs, but we are united by the strong conviction that
With all the richness of our plurality and diversity and our
alternatives and proposals, we struggle against neo-liberalism, war,
colonialism, racism and patriarchy which produce violence, exploitation,
exclusion, poverty, hunger and ecological disaster and deprive people of
human rights.

We commit ourselves to a week of action which will culminate in a Global
Day of Mobilisation and Action on January 26, 2008.
With our diversity which is our strength, we invite all men and women to
undertake throughout this week creative actions, activities, events and
convergences focusing on the issues and expressed in the ways they choose.

There are already plenty of ideas about the activities to be realized on
26th January 2008, in the frame of the Global Day of Action: regional
and local forums, festivals, music and theater spectacles, protest
marches, etc. The proposal of linking each of these activities with
others in other continents, can also create a dense web of relations,
all over the world, of people fighting to overcome the present
neoliberal domination. One idea is being developed in Brazil that could
create the possibility of participation for many people, opening also
perspectives for the future: the organization of "fairs of actions to
change the world".

The fairs are based in the practice of the stalls that tend to be used
in all Forums, where the organizations and movements show what they are
doing and answer to questions about their actions, as well as
disseminate written information about them. The potentiality of these
stalls to facilitate intercommunication among Forum participants, more
directly and freely than in the workshop discussions or conferences,
were made clear by the organizers of the 2007 Melbourne Social Forum, in
Australia, calling people to use stalls in the Forum:

"In previous years the stalls have been a highlight and we’d like to
have a great array of stalls run by Melbourne’s activist community again
this year. Stalls are a great way of having a presence at the event: to
share knowledge with people, to sell your progressive goods, to find
volunteers and interested people, and to let the community know about
the important work your organisation is doing. It is (...) a great
opportunity for some exposure for your group."

In this perspective, such a fair as a one-day event is easier to
organize than a local social forum, in every little city or every region
of bigger cities. All movements and organizations that are working for
"another world" can be identified and invited, becoming then better
known by the others and interchanging knowledge, experiences and
information more easily than in Forums. Markets for the solidarity
economy can be organized, as well as innovative experiences of social
money. And new action articulations can born as in the Forums. Combined
with spectacles of music or dance or even theater groups, the fair can
also attract the population, making it possible to disseminate more
widely the WSF message.

This type of event could be then organized every year, at the date of
the Social Forums at the world level, becoming a local tradition. And it
would be possible also to use the internet so that the participants of
the fair could follow what is being discussed, what is happening and
what is being proposed worldwide, opening the possibility of a genuine
world campaign and worldwide social Forum.

[1] Activist-scholar from War Resisters International and School of
Global Studies, Gothenburg University

[2] see www.wsf2008.net