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« Fred Halliday: Bin the WSF? | Main | Next Year's Forum »

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....

The first would be for participants to plan and attend events geared towards learning and sharing experiences – whether a lecture on economics or an account of child labour in India.

The second space would be for participants to invite and consult others on actual campaigns in their region or internationally (like the March 20th global protests against Iraq war, or WTO coming to Hong Kong)

The third space would be for active and targeted networking between organisations based on different criteria: internet-based organisations, indigenous groups, landless people, etc.

There would be a separate and smaller space for discussion about the WSF process, and participants would have an opportunity to share their views with the organisers and help determine the course of future forums.

The idea would be to stop treating the WSF as an act of resistance in itself (as amazing and positive as this gathering is) and begin using it more actively as a tool to create campaigns and networks for change. So much energy is spent creating the Forum, it’s crucial it doesn’t become a distraction from the real matters at hand.

Ezeqiuel Adamovsky says the past few forums have been about "strategy". I don't think this has been clear to participants. If the strategising does not become more implicit in the design of the forum, it will stagnate completely.

However - strategising ala the Porto Alegre Consensus is misguided. Rather than unite participants around a common manifesto, it is more likely to divide activists between those who agree with the principals in the way they're outlined and those who don’t (not to mention the split between those who don't think the forum should have a manifesto and those who do.)

Coming up with broad political consensus on highly complex global issues could invite more of the kind of rhetoric that Fred Halliday mocks in his Observer article on the WSF and WEF on Sunday:

“… a ritual incantantion of 'no war' that avoids any substantive engagement with problems of international peace and security, or reflection on how positively to help peoples in zones of conflict; a set of vague, unthought out, uncosted and often dangerous utopian ideas about an alternative world.”


Most people here will nod if you ask them if the common enemy is neo-liberal global capitalism (or imperialism, take your pick), but on a practical level, the enemies different groups are fighting in their home-countries have real names, addresses, and price tags. The WSF should take them on one by one, and not all in one bite.

February 3, 2005 in World Social Forum | Permalink


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Here's another article about the Porto Alegre Consensus, and why it is divisive:


Posted by: Solana Larsen | 8 Feb 2005 17:27:47

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