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WSF 7 Years

A seminar organised by the wsf 7 years group: Alternative Information Center Jeruzalem-Bethelehem, Enda, Ethos, Centre for Civil Society (Durban), Center of Indian Trade Unions (Cetri), Cetri, International Press Service, Kepa, Liberdade Brasil, NIGD, Paolo Freire Institute, Program on Democracy and Global Transformation

NIGD helped organize a 3-session seminar that reflected on the rise and fall of social movements, and their relationship to the WSF and broader social forum processes.  Here are some rather rough notes.  (I think recordings or transcriptions of small group discussions, presentations, and debates is forthcoming?)

WSF 7 Years (1) - the Future of the Movements

Description: Assessing Global Mobilisation:
Have global movements changed their tactics, their ways of mobilizing or pushing for change?
If so, why? what happened?
Has the phase of mass mobilization passed? If so, why? What has replaced it?
In what parts of the world, and around what issues?
What kind of tactics are they now pursuing?
Assessing Democratic objectives and practice:
Have protest movements based on mass mobilization turned into 'global democratization movements'? Have our movements similarly become more democratic? In what ways?

We began with small group discussions on the rise and fall of social movements, and then came back into a plenary session to discuss these issues.

Teivo Teivainen began by asking whether movements have increased?  Are they more democratic?  Do they practice what they preach.

Jan Aart Scholte pointed to movement gains: a critique of capitalism (challenging the FTAA, etc.), repoliticization of social movements, gaining space for subordinated peoples, increased cross-cultural awareness, and deeper transnational connections and networks.

Immanuel Wallerstein noted that social movements have a unique history in each country, but globally he sees a peak in 1968 that slowly declined until it began to rise again with the Zapatista revolt in 1994.  Subsequently, he sees movements taking a definite upwards course, and the WSF is an expression of that.  Now anti-neoliberalism is a given.  The discussion has moved from stating that another world is possible to asking what other kind is possible, and what will it look like?  He viewed these as positive, constructive debates.

Boaventura de Sousa Santos saw movements passing from a period of individual actions to one of inter-movement building through collaboration.  This has increased the scale of action.  He made 3 main points:
1. We are facing an extreme temporality.  We need to act now, or the world will collapse.
2. Theory vs. practice. Practice has not been fully theorized. We can visualize, but have not theorized.
3. Exclusion.  Too often debates do not leave small rooms.
4. Knowledge is power.

Discussion: Issues we face include the problem of the ngo-ification de-radicalizing social movements.  We need to take advantage of spaces to build citizenship.  We have to exist on an international media stage. It is a problem that CNN focuses on Davos, but not us.  Emergence of new movements in Africa.  In the 1960s after the success of anti-colonial movements, these issues went to the back burner until they reemerged in the 1990s with neoliberalism.  Africa lacks state backing, but draws on the power of the people.

WSF 7 Years (2) - the Future Movements of the Forum

Description :  After 7 years of social fora all around the world, we find ourselves increasingly in a moment of self-reflection, around different questions. How can the Forum be made politically more useful? In how far is the Forum a process tie-ing together the experiences in local and regional process and how should we relate to other initiatives and spaces, as for example the autonomous spaces around the Forum? To what extent is the world social forum reproducing exclusions and practices of the neocolonial capitalist order, and how can these be overcome?

Again, we began our work in small groups.  Aníbal Quijano began the plenary discussion with reflections on how to maneuver between centralized bureaucracy and chaos.  We need to be united, he stressed.  We don’t need a centralized oppressive state.  We need organization.  Like gas in a tube, it becomes a strong force under pressure.  How do we learn to organize in this new historical period?  Our questions need to be new.

General comments from report backs from small groups and discussion:

The forum itself is important because we get to know each other, but we need to go beyond that.  Is there need for a permanent space?  Personal contact is important (and we lose that with virtual meetings).  We need concrete campaigns.  We need to go beyond our own groups, to rebuild alternatives.

How do we democratize the forum?  There is a lack of input.  It’s too academic–seminars, but we also need something more concrete like alliance building.  Maybe we should end each day with a recap and prepare for the next day.  Can we make the forum more grassroots?  Make the forum a platform for world community members.  Build from bottom up.  We need more democratic funding.

We need more accountability and transparency.  We need a set of organizing principals.

There is an important question of resources.  How and from where do we get funds for the forum?  We need to see the forum as a process, not as an end.  Nairobi was not easy–there were a lot of problems with funds, infrastructure, etc. The main success was to come to Africa.  It will make social movements here different.

Importance of solidarity economy.  If a worker coop could do this, we need to get it from there.

Teivo ended by analyzing different relations of power.  By denying that there are relations of power, we hid transparency.  We have asked that the IC debates be made public, and we are trying to do this.

WSF 7 Years (3) - Relations with Progressive Political Parties and Governments: Independence or Hypocrisy?

Description: Whilst political parties are specifically excluded from WSF participation, invited political leaders  have  contributed to, and arguably on occasion dominated, instances of the WSF. Direct and indirect financial support has also been accepted from local and national governments. Within the wider debate about the politicisation of the WSF itself, this session will focus specifically on balancing relations with "likeminded" players from the government sector.

This panel was dominated by long speeches by government representatives, plagued with problems with the translation system, and dropping audience energy levels as it became dark in the room.  Some brief summary notes:

Left parties are in danger when civil society has no space.  We need to build together in a common strategy of transformation.

The forum is not just reflection, but has also created concrete and important results, tho not always so visible.  The horizontal and vertical are in tension, but maybe we need both to create spaces in state so civil society agenda can be expressed.

Power dynamics exist both in political parties and in social movements.  We have common dreams, but civil society must be autonomous and stay as watch dog.  An autonomous civil society is important not only with right-wing governments and dictatorships, but also with the left.  Sometimes we think that because words are the same there are common goals, but actions are not always the same.

Politicians should come to the WSF–but to listen.  Media often covers stuff just because of the politicians.  We need to use these elite power connections because the media does not listen to people.

Civil society must always press government.  For leftist governments, to help because governments are always under pressure.

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