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Viral Open Space

Future of World Social Forum Input24

    

This text is an extended edit of an intervention I was asked to give in the digital event on the “Future of World Social Forum” as part of the Viral Open Space 23rd of May 2020.

 

The question I was asked to give my reflections on was:

 

What then, in the above contexts – of the actually-existing and emerging world, and of alterglobalism and emerging world social movement within which the WSF exists and of which it is one constituent part –, can and should the WSF now try and become?  How should it redefine itself ?

 

Dear all.

 

First of all I would like to thank Jai Sen and Gustave Massiah for preparing and setting up this discussion.

 

I will speak as the international coordinator of The Norwegian Social Forum - a network of around 70+ social movements, civil society organizations, trade unions, and more in Norway. This intervention by itself, as well as our overall commitment, makes the Norwegian Social Forum an actor in this process, as opposed to being merely an open space for its participants. Still as international coordinator I can't claim to speak on behalf of neither the NSF as such nor of all our participating entities. But I will try to share personal reflections based on the experiences I have gained in my activities for the Norwegian Social Forum.


The Norwegian Social Forum has tried to engage with the WSF as well as the International council since Tunis 2013.

 

We understand the WSF as a truly important space for global networking, coordinating and strategizing. Although we have generally not experienced it's International Council as the most efficient space when it comes to articulating and embolstering the strategic purpose and relevance of the World Social Forum,

 

We therefore invited several people connected with the WSF process to discuss the future of the WSF at the Norwegian Social Forum in 2016. Amongst these were people connected with the Iraqi Social Forum as well as Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative (ICSSI), a regional platform developed as part of the WSF process in 2009. From this discussion we wrote a letter that was presented before the IC meeting in Porto Alegre january 2017. I will include a small excerpt from the letter here. I have also attached the letter in total to this intervention.

 

...Instead of discussing only the last World Social Forum or upcoming World Social Forum event, we think it is necessary to move the focus of discussions to the relevance of the Word Social Forum as a global process.

 

In this perspective, we feel there is a need to exchange experiences about how to develop the vision and practice of the World Social Forum, as much as possible, at all levels where this process exists. Essential in the discussion we propose are the local, regional and thematic processes that act under the World Social Forum charter of principles. They need to be further involved in this discussion, which should not be limited to International Council members, large organizations or facilitating organs.

 

Following up this initiative we invited representatives working, or connected, with; Iraqi, Kurdistan, Zambia and Nepal Social Forum as well as Internet Social Forum, WSF on migration, extractive industries and on Transformative Economies, to continue this conversation in Oslo in September 2019. What we met was a multitude of vibrant national and thematic social forums. We discussed the path forward for the WSF process as such, and the role of the national and thematic, as well as regional, social forums in these processes. We followed up this discussion in the first Viral Open Space in March this year. And we are very happy to be able to continue this conversation today in the second edition of the VOS.

 

Without proposing to represent all those who have joined these discussions invited to by the Norwegian Social Forum, many of us share a belief that there is a need for the WSF to be reimagined and reconstructed from below. Connected with this is an understanding that all the vibrant processes that still are interconnected through different branches of the WSF could play a vital role in such a process. Not only those with Social Forum in their name, if not all interested and willing movements, networks and alliances that have been born out of the forum, or have found it an important place for strategizing and connecting across themes and territories.

 

As the COVID-19 crisis continues around the world, we enter yet another phase of the fight against neo-liberal globalization. And we find ourselves in a different moment of struggle. For many the struggle is one of survival. Once again when a global crisis hits us, the protective measures are most accessible for the few, and out of reach for all too many. And we see, in Brazil, India and the USA amongst other places, how the disparity of the effects of the virus itself, and even more of the secondary impacts, are enforced by right wing populist politics. In many ways one may say that the current crisis sheds and intensifies the spotlight on global inequalities in all its brutality.

 

This forces us to also turn this moment into a moment of reflection, strategizing and mobilizing. And we observe, and partially participate in, multiplying initiatives for global outreach and connectivity. Old struggles find new contexts and old initiatives find new ways to reconnect. New paths are trodden and new initiatives are born.  

 

So what then is the new role of the World Social Forum in all of this? Should we understand the new initiatives as alternatives, heirs, or even competitors, to a WSF that so many have claimed is laying on its deathbed, and by some already declared dead and buried?

 

I suggest not. Quite contrary the WSF must be, as it has been, the space for the multitudes of old and new struggles, initiatives and alternatives to meet, inspire and learn from each other. An open space to form new initiatives and networks. And to strategize and coordinate.

 

A WSF with the capacity to encompass all networks and movements, old as well as new ones, will not be a competitor to these, but an opportunity for all to come together and connect across thematics, perspectives and territories. Where, if not in the space of the World Social Forum, may the multitude of movements, networks and initiatives come together to strengthen each other by sharing analyses and experiences? And to connect with different struggles and alternatives?  

 

And if the organizing and facilitating bodies are able to set up the space in such a way that networking, strategizing and coordinating are made easier. Then the WSF may gain relevance once again, and be a space to build political strength for its participants. Not by expressing one voice or one coordinated action. But by consolidating a multitude of multilayered interconnected voices in diversified, yet shared and common, struggles. Enabling the participants to return home with reinvigorated political strength found in new networks, strategies and coordinated campaigns and initiatives. Connecting local and territorial struggles and alternatives in a global context .

 

And it may be that it is in the methodology of an open space combined with the gravity to attract and encompass important parts of this multitude, that the true strength and uniqueness of the World Social Forum lies. 

 

So far from being a has been, these times with a resurgence of global connectivity and initiatives shows us that the need for the World Social Forum as a common and multiversal space is more dire than ever. Still the WSF of the future may be quite different than the editions of the past.

 

It may even be that the WSF as a singular biennial global event may have surpassed its time. For one it is quite impossible for activists and social movements to move around the globe to attend such an event every second year. It will necessarily be regional, at best continental, at base. With only the affluent and professionals who are able to travel, giving it a glaze of globality.

 

In addition to that, the all encompassing climate crisis combined with the current, and potentially future, pandemics, makes it hard to claim credibility based on flying tens of thousands, not to envision hundreds of thousands, around the globe every second year. Especially if the benefits and strategic relevance for the participants are vague. And in a time when digital communication is making global strategic discussions and connectivity accessible from our own localities and livingrooms.

 

And supposedly very few, if any, of the past editions of the World Social Forum has been truly global. And those editions that we regard as the most successful in hindsight, gathering more than hundred thousand participants. One may surmise that their success was due to their regional and continental gravity based on the ability to place the local, national, regional and continental struggles, and calls for alternatives, within a global context. Rather than being truly successful as global spaces in themselves. Their successes may be understood as a result of the ability to give global relevance and a sense of solidarity to the struggles and movements in the territories in which they were situated.

 

Maybe then the reconstruction of the WSF must be as multiple processes and events situated in different territories. Instead of being one global event every second year - future World Social Forums may be more regional and continental in physical attendance, while maintaining its  globality in scope.

 

There may be one event in Mexico next year, another year maybe one in Iraq or Zambia. There was a proposed one in Nepal this year, but the process has been interrupted by the current crisis. Still it displays a very interesting initiative amongst different contemporary vibrant processes. From a Norwegian point of view it could even be possible to envision a new European Social Forum built out of the different processes and networks affiliated with the WSF in Europe.

 

And it is within these interconnected and multilayered processes one may find hope for a revived World Social Forum. Not in one single edition, but in the many. Even if each minor edition may mainly attract activists and movements from their own territory, or continent. They are also interconnected with global networks and processes in- and outside the World Social Forum.

 

They could bolster their political relevance and impact by connecting the territorial issues in a global context, sharing common methodologies for strategy and coordination. And transfer organizational experiences and skills between events, made accessible globally through open source community driven digital tools for communication.    

 

And perhaps then, in a not too distant future, may it once again make sense to call for a truly global World Social Forum. Organized and orchestrated from below, from the multitudes of interrelated processes that together constitutes the totality of the World Social Forum.

 

To conclude by paraphrasing a Zapatist proverb; A World Social Forum that contains many world social forums - intersectional, interconnected, and multilayered.  

 

In solidarity


Ole Mikal Yong Pedersen
International coordinator

Norwegian Social Forum