Chavez answers your questions
BBC World's Talking Point is fielding questions from the audience for President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Post your own question to him here. So far most of them are pretty congratulatory. "I love your stance, etc". I wonder if the Chavez camp is fielding the questions too. Either way, I doubt the BBC would ask, "OK, once and for all. Did you rig the elections?" no matter who posed the question.
Here's what I would like to know:
A major part of the World Social Forum will take place in your capital city Caracas in January 2006. You were the star speaker at last year's World Social Forum in Brazil, which attracted more than 100,000 activists from around the world. And you quoted outcomes from the Forum in your speech at the UN Summit in September. As a head of state, how have you become such a popular figure among activists, and what do you hope the Forum will achieve in 2006?
World Social Forum x 3
It's hello-time for the 6th World Social Forum. It's being held in three different cities this time, January 2006. Pick a location near you: Caracas (Venezuela), Karachi (Pakistan) and Bamako (Mali). They're calling it a "polycentric" forum, an adjective so fair it probably took an entire committee to agree on. My guess is most of the action will be in Venezuela.
If you'd like to organise and register activities at the Forum, alone or with other organisations, you've got a few weeks to do it on the different Forum websites.
I'm hoping to go to Caracas so I might say hello to my pal Chavez again. He was the star speaker of the last WSF in Porto Alegre, and no doubt he will be the star at the next. He wouldn't have it any other way. Would anyone like to bet on Castro making a surprise appearance?
How will the global left respond to being personal guests of the rebellious Chavez government? How will it influence the process and the outcomes? This is going to be very interesting to follow.
North American Social Forum
North American activists are struggling to find a good way to hold a regional social forum in North America. "Activists in the US face the irony of living in the most powerful country but also having the most disempowered citizenry," say Thomas Ponniah and Marc Becker in a summary of the discussion delegates had at the World Social Forum in Brazil this year.
How to engage youth and people of colour, and how to pay for the whole shebang were major issues of concern... An interesting piece that shows the North American Forum is still some way off, and why.
Through creative chaos
One more comment on the Porto Alegre Consensus Manifesto, the ‘12 recommendations… which, if they were applied, would permit citizens to at last seize control again of their future.’
Just another organisational dog-fight between lefties? Actually, this is one of the most important arguments that the left is having today, about the nature of people power and change, and whether the left have learnt anything at all since the last time around.
More forum feedback
Here's a pretty interesting critique of the World Social Forum from Alex Callinicos and Chris Nineham in the UK on ZNet. They mention how Lula's grand appearance and strong worker's party (PT) presence flouts the official WSF rules that ban "party representations" from participating in the Forum. They've also got a bone to pick with organisers about the the themes, the agenda, and the outcome. So do Kim Foltz, Suren Moodliar and Jason Pramas in their very thorough (long) report in six parts.
Porto Alegre Manifesto in English
Previous posts in this blog speak of the Porto Alegre Consensus Manifesto. Basically, this is a World Social Forum document that was drafted and signed by 19 high profile thinkers. The idea was for Forum participants to agree on clear set of goals for world economic reform. The result has been controversy about whether or not the Forum should have a manifesto, and whether it should have been drafted in this (some say) top-down way. Does it represent the views of the Forum? What should we think if it does?
Here's a list of the first 19 who signed. Recognise any of the names?
Aminata Traoré, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Eduardo Galeano, José Saramago, François Houtart, Boaventura de Sousa Santos, Armand Mattelart, Roberto Savio, Riccardo Petrella, Ignacio Ramonet, Bernard Cassen, Samir Amin, Atilio Boron, Samuel Ruiz Garcia, Tariq Ali, Frei Betto, Emir Sader, Walden Bello, Immanuel Wallerstein.
Until now, there hasn't been an English version on the web. This is a rough translation from Spanish, courtesy of Daniel Bloch in New York (click below).
Has DAVOS got the message?
Could the torch of progress have passed from Porto Alegre to Davos? Davos! Four years ago, Davos was the gathering of a neo-liberal elite who apparently believed that their networking helped markets to run the world while putting government on the run. The hyper-confidence of what my friend the late Paul Hirst called the ‘hyper-globalisers’ was punctured by huge, peaceful mobilisation at Seattle and then, in a very different way, by vicious conspiratorial mass-violence on 9/11.
Now, it seems, the notorious penny has dropped for the rich and wealthy. Simon Zadek who blogged Davos for the second time for openDemocracy reports how he could not get away from people talking about the need for better global government. Africa, development, AIDS, even accountability, are on the tongues of the Davosites.
And at Porto Alegre? The World Social Forum seems to be repeating itself as a protest in search of a strategy. Solana, just back (see below), thinks it should just be itself as a space for learning and practical exchange. Its sheer size suggests this is right. But the lavish praise for Chavez’s populism shows that the WSF is even more prone to glamour than Davos and less intelligent. (On Chavez, just compare Roger Burbach of CENSA with Ivan Briscoe in openDemocracy.)
There is a counter-argument: that the spaces the WSF creates (for women, in its regional meetings such as the Middle East, in its attention to open-source) provides a framework for progressive politics that could not have happened without it. Fred Halliday may see the dustbin-lid of history. But is he just seeing the rhetoric? Below it are new forms of future life taking shape, as personified in the three portraits of forum activists?
Oh yes? The time for an easy assumption of superiority is over. Who is doing more to combat global inequality now?
Next Year's Forum
Final decisions on next year's meeting will be taken in April, but it looks more than likely that the World Social Forum in 2006 will be chopped up and spread out to different regions of the world. It's not clear how these meetings would differ from the regional social forums that already exist. In 2007, the organising committee has promised that Africa will host the Forum.
You can read the announcement in English here, but note that they have confused the dates a little.
And some numbers: More than 200,000 people took part in the Forum opening march in Porto Alegre. In total, there have been 155,000 participants, of whom 35,000 stayed in the Youth Camp and 6,880 were lecturers. People from 135 countries have been involved in 2,500 activities and 2,800 volunteers helped in the event.
Time to Get Practical
I’ve been discussing forum experiences with people over the past few days. It’s not just me who felt the Forum in 2003 was more emotionally charged, more inspiring, more energising.
I’ve been here all week, and yet I feel like I haven’t been here at all. I didn’t meet dozens of new friends and colleagues, and I wasn’t really inspired by more than one or two of the events (and I do speak both Spanish and Portuguese). Most nights I was even too tired to stay awake for the salsa in the Cuba tent at 2am.
James called it an “intellectual bust”, and Caspar offered a more nuanced position. But it’s hard to know exactly where to direct criticism when no one can really say with conviction what the forum is for.
Events were repetitive, and largely pointless. Neither organisers nor attendees seemed to have put much thought into what was supposed to come out of the meetings, and there was seldom dialogue off the panels.
The meeting tents were very far away from each other in sweltering heat, and the youth camp was so integrated with the recreational areas, that you were more likely to meet Brazilian “WSF tourists” who came to hang out, than dedicated activists from organisations around the world.
I think the three global goodies of the forum are: 1) Learning from the experience and knowledge of others, 2) Planning and organising campaigns and events together, 3) Networking with other organisations
If I were organising the WSF, I would abolish the eleven “thematic terrains” (with names no one can remember), and substitute them with just three spaces....
Fred Halliday: Bin the WSF?
Oh Dear. Fred Halliday in Sunday's Observer in the UK, on why he thinks the World Social Forum belongs in the "Third Dustbin of History". I don't think he's arguing that all activists need PhDs before they're worth listening to. But he is on a quest for "tougher" thinking, and on that it's hard to disagree.