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last modified September 20, 2020 by facilitfsm

Francine Mestrum


Oded Grajew, one of the founders of the World Social Forum wrote an interesting note (see below) on the importance of our diversity.

I gladly react to it, in my own personal name.

Let me first of all say it is very positive to have these emerging discussions. These are the only thing that can help us to make progress.

Oded starts by saying the WSF is ‘un espacio’, ‘a space’. Yes, but we all know this is problematic. First of all semantically. I do not know Portuguese buy I do know that in English ‘a space’ is empty, while in French ‘un espace’ is full. So we have to know whether we want a full or an empty space.

Next to that, there is the other question: a space for what? For meeting? For action? For reflection? Or what? Many of our differences of opinion have to do with these first questions. We should not only discuss this in depth but also try to find a compromise. We should stop having the same discussions over and over again.

Oded states that the WSF works on a great number of areas, yes indeed, and that is, I think, precisely where the WSF can play a role. The global networks on housing, on debt, on peace… do not need the WSF to meet and work on their strategies and actions. The WSF is only useful if it can help these movements to meet each other, to actively promote encounters, exchange of knowledge, common strategies and actions. If the WSF does not want to play that role, it has no real usefulness.

The WSF shelters an enormous diversity of social actors, again, yes indeed. However, diversity as such is not a positive value, it can only become so if a mutual understanding is developed, if there is an exchange of information, if encounters are organised, if movements of different sectors learn of the insights of other sectors, if they learn what the different strands of thinking are and how to react on them. Otherwise, diversity is a brake on action, it then becomes a tool for fragmentation and depoliticization. All movements are different, as all individuals are different, but these differences only can be valued and valorised once put in contact to others and under the umbrella of the universality of humankind or the common ground for radical anti-capitalist action.

There is not a single path nor a single action for the WSF: again, I fully agree. The WSF can be a social and strategic value if we use it for that, if we see it as a learning process. The WSF has to promote convergence, promote the search for common platforms, otherwise it becomes a tool at the service of our dominant system.

The WSF was born as a reaction to the World Economic Forum in Davos. Those who follow these yearly events will know there is also a huge diversity, but also a common ground. All participants know in what direction they are going, the WSF organises conferences where guidelines are given, where a new global narrative is developed, always in the same direction. That is what the WSF also has to do. After a WSF event, movements should go home, not only with a stronger motivation, but also with new insights and a better awareness of what can be done together with other movements.

In his ‘Homo Deus’ Yuval Noah Harari describes human beings as being ‘superior’ by their capacity to cooperate in large groups. And not by coincidence, he recalls, this is what the powers that be will always try to hinder and make impossible. Individuals have no power, only cooperating groups can build power. This is the reason why we have to be very careful when we celebrate our diversity. Yes, it is our wealth, but it can only become our victory if we put the different pieces together, if we look for common ground, if we act on the basis of that common ground. And this does never happen spontaneously, it never falls out of the sky, it has to be worked at, not by a central power, but by an entity that shelters the diversity and looks for the common concerns, an entity that, together with the individual movements, can look for what they share.

Let us be honest with ourselves, dear friends, what did we achieve in the past twenty years? I would say we strengthened our consciousness of the deep crisis we are in, of the need to act and of the need to act together. Let us develop the tools to do just that. The coming 20 years may then be different. It is an urgent task.