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Covid-19 triggered a new anti-globalisation dynamic

segunda-feira 11 de janeiro de 2021, por Sergio Ferrari, Sergio Ferrari Sergio Ferrari Sergio Ferrari

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« Common and comprehensive responses to the global crisis » - Carminda Mac Lorin, member of the International Council of the World Social Forum and Executive Director of the NGO Katalizo

Twenty years after its first session in Porto Alegre, Brazil (January 25-30 2001), a new and very special stage of the World Social Forum (WSF) is looming on the horizon. This time, unlike all previous sessions, the WSF will not have a physical location. As a result of the pandemic, from January 23 to 31 2021, the thousands of participants will meet virtually. While for the organizers, the instruction launched in 2001 « Another world is possible » remains valid, the methodology for designing it must be reinvented and its contents updated.

« The global pandemic society demands from us, more than ever, global, creative, innovative and convergent responses, » says Carminda Mac Lorin. A social activist in the student and Occupy (the Indignant) mobilizations in Canada, she was one of the most active members of anti-globalization collectives in her country. The same ones who convened two national social forums (2007 and 2009) and the 2016 World Social Forum in Montreal. A member of the International Council (IC) of the WSF, director of the NGO Katalizo, Carminda Mac Lorin - who has just completed a PhD in Applied Human Sciences - represents a youth sector that was born in the heat of the new virtual social challenges and continues to advocate for an aggiornamento of the movement and alterglobalist ideals. Interview.

Carminda Mac Lorin. Photo: Katalizo.

Q : The last World Social Forum was held in March 2018 in Salvador de Bahia (a city in north-eastern Brazil), where it brought together 80,000 participants. Nevertheless, since then and until today, the WSF seems to have had little presence on the scene of the international debate…

Carminda Mac Lorin (CML) : Each forum session is followed by moments of calm. These are very intense meetings that concentrate and consume a lot of energy and then require breaks. The outcome of the WSF in Salvador de Bahia was very positive, with a large presence of women, young people and ethnic minorities. In 2019, the International Council, which decides where each session is held, met in Bogotá to evaluate the convening of a next WSF in Mexico. We were in this process when, unexpectedly, the new global pandemic crisis erupted. Paradoxically, it propelled, in an explosive way, a new participation. If, until then, it was unthinkable for some of the members of the Council to imagine operating online, the logic changed rapidly. Recently, virtual meetings have multiplied. This year has also seen a very interesting phenomenon : dialogue – and consultation – between the various organisations, multiple networks and thematic forums (such as those on education or migration, etc.). The Council meetings were then opened up, broadening participation to these other actors. At the same time, it was decided to set up a facilitation group, with the participation of more than 40 people, social representatives from many countries, which specifically deals with the organization of the next virtual WSF 2021. This opens up an enormous possibility to see the global differently. And it creates the opportunity to really bring together local experiences and reflections from a broader, truly global perspective.

WSF de Salvador, Bahia. Opening march on March 13, 2018. Photo: Sergio Ferrari.

FSM 2018. Calls to resist is to create to resist is to transform.

WSF de Salvador, Bahia. Opening march on March 13, 2018. Photo: Sergio Ferrari.

The "COVID-19" tsunami

Q : Were you talking about the pandemic ? Global social life has been profoundly disrupted. « Telework » has become the almost predominant form of human work in many areas. At the same time, associative, trade union and political activism, including parliamentary activity, is to a large extent practised online. Does this particular situation also force us to think about the future of alterglobalism in new ways ?

CML : Without any doubt. And we are already experiencing this transformation. Last October, we held the Social Forum of Transforming Economies, entirely in virtual form (https://transformadora.org/en). We also lived the beautiful collective experience of the Viral Open Space launched after a few days of preparation, which was a success, with almost 60 self-organized activities (https://www.viralopenspace.net/en/). We convened it with the instruction « Let’s deconfine our imagination around the world ! ». An example of the potential of the virtual, which shows a new speed for exchanges, reflection and proposals. However, I am not saying that we can replace all the richness of human contacts and face-to-face mobilization. But if I look back, I see that from the struggle of the Indignants and Occupy, several years ago, we had already incorporated this methodology. And that, despite these new methods of contact and communication, we had also developed strong friendships and personal relationships. But to come back to the question : the pandemic is causing a tsunami for all human life, for methods of social participation and, no doubt, leads to reinventing and redrawing the utopias to which the WSF invites us.

Q : What are the main challenges for the WSF, in the last week of January 2021, to strengthen this process, which began in 2001 in Porto Alegre ?

CML : The first one, essential, is that it is realized, that it really exists. That will already be a huge first success. Or, to put it better, it would be THE great success. The number of participants may also reflect a signal for the future. At the end of December, there were already about 1,000 participants from various countries (https://join.wsf2021.net/). It will also be important to evaluate the diversity and quality of the proposed activities. It should be remembered that the WSF will start on Saturday January 23 with a virtual march and an opening session. From the 24th to the 29th, there will be self-organized activities as well as sessions corresponding to the thematic spaces. The penultimate day, January 30 , will be dedicated to convergences, assemblies and action movements. And we will devote the closing session, on January 31, to the Agora of the Futures to take note of initiatives (struggles, actions, campaigns, etc.), proposals, and share agendas. The main thematic axes that have been defined are : climate-ecology : peace and war ; social justice and democracy, economic justice ; society and diversity ; communication-education and culture (https://wsf2021.net/espacios-tematicos/). And a transversal reflection will be carried out on the future of the Forum itself.

The form of this virtual WSF is so original that it will also be essential to reflect on methodologies. Let them inspire confluences, convergences, common actions, questioning the traditional ways of thinking, practicing and living social action. We need something new to achieve the changes we dream of.

Internal contradictions, a « well known » reality

Q : The last few months have seen the emergence of different groups of reflection and public debate within the WSF. One example is the self-titled Renovator Group, which brings together international prominent figures (www.foranewwsf.org). Does it express any political contradictions in terms of funding ? Do you perceive these tensions ?

CML : It’s clear that I feel them. This is not a new phenomenon. It reflects tensions that have always existed. They are related to the way of understanding the WSF – as a space or as a decision-making body ; to the different conceptions of political temporalities among various actors within the WSF ; to whether or not the WSF should issue final or political statements. But I would like to clarify one point : some of these tensions are basically experienced within the International Council. Experience tells us that when forums are launched and held, they adopt their own dynamics that go far beyond the visions that may exist in a small group. It is essential to always differentiate between the forum as a process and the International Council.

One of the main themes of my doctoral thesis was precisely transnational spaces of social mobilization. In it, I identified dichotomies and paradoxes that are difficult to reconcile. However, although irreconcilable, they act as a driving force for the forums and the process underway.

Perhaps this debate now appears, in the light of the virtual functioning, as a more acute confrontation. In an open online meeting, with 50 people each speaking their own language, from different countries and continents, the expression of ideas is not always a simple exercise.

Q : A global pandemic, a global crisis, confronts social movements with the fact of reflecting together on essential themes, such as the role of health as a public good, public services in general, the role of States, the very meaning of governance, etc. These themes are as important in Canada as they are in Argentina, Switzerland, India, Brazil, Spain or the United States, i.e. all over the world.

CML : Without any doubt. It is crucial to seek answers that are articulated at the global level. The challenges transcend borders. Key issues such as the pandemic crisis and its economic aftermath, the climate crisis, the tensions that are still present at the international level in many regions, which involve the war-peace binomial, require joint reflection and responses. As movements and social actors, we have much to learn. We are living in a historical moment, where it is essential to show sufficient humility to learn from each other and to leave aside egos that can block collective processes. No one has recipes that are already applicable, perfect, unique. And this is as true for the forum as it is for other existing international spaces.

Q : What will be the priorities after the virtual WSF at the end of January ?

CML : The prospect is to assess whether, at the end of 2021 or the beginning of 2022, we can hold the face-to-face WSF in Mexico, although it is impossible to ensure this today. I think it is crucial to continue to move forward, step by step. There is an ongoing process that has been operating for many years, with ups and downs. But this process lacks a body. For example, it was very difficult to establish the relationship between Tunis 2015 and Montreal 2016. We have tried to strengthen this continuity between Montreal and Salvador de Bahia, but we cannot say that we have fully succeeded. This is one of our great challenges : to ensure this continuity, not always having to start almost from scratch, to extend the outcomes and results that will be the founding contents for the next meetings. And we will try to improve this between this virtual convocation at the end of January 2021 and the next WSF in Mexico. We must ensure that our common practice feeds global responses from and for a human society in crisis.