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Opening up the International Council of the World Social Forum

On September 12 the the International Council of the World Social Forum opened its virtual doors, for the second time in three months, in order to listen to other global movements and organisations. The objective is to broaden the group that is now preparing a possible new planetary event in Mexico City.

It was an extremely useful meeting, with up to 80 participants. And the first and clear conclusion that has to be drawn from this is that yes, there still is a huge interest for this WSF process, the WSF still has a huge potential, and no, we cannot allow this potential to get lost. For those who thought the Forum was dying or those who wanted it to die, this is a hard but very positive lesson.

It is not possible to give a summary of more than three hours of dialogue and discussion. And clearly and inevitably, some of the old divergences came through, though they may only have been understood by those who have been in the process for years. There are those who do not want to change anything, or only want to change within the existing framework – we call them the gattopardistas – and those who want some fresh air in the far from democratic and transparent structures. Those who read on this website will know I belong to this last group.

What follows are therefore my strictly personal impressions.

The major objective of the WSF, I think, should be to give shape to a global political subject. This is at the core of the divergences within the International Council, but there were many voices today to ask just that. A WSF that can speak with one voice, not eliminating the diversity, but seeking among all diverse opinions a common ground.

Because my impression was there is not much divergence in our analysis of the crisis. We have to fight capitalism, patriarchy, racism and the climate crisis that is a consequence of it. This world needs radical changes and the time left is very short.

There is a strong demand for a new internationalism. Even if many people stressed, very rightly, the crucial importance of local actions, these have to be articulated at the global level. Whatever the development level of our countries, the main concerns of people are very similar, the main problems of most of our countries are similar.

The other major potential of the WSF is its transversal character. Climate justice is linked to social justice, to human rights and to democracy. We cannot solve these problems if we do not tackle capitalism, if we do not fight racism and inequalities. This coronacrisis has shown that health care is not just a matter of good doctors and medicines, it is also a matter of decent housing, of the availability of clean water and other social services. It should be an important task of the WSF to bring these different sectors together.

So no, the WSF is not an end in itself. It is indeed a tool, and we should clearly define what kind of tool, to do just what? It is so much more than opening the doors to movements, let them self-organise and close the door again when they have left. The WSF should help them discover the others, should organise dialogues between them, should work together with the movements to get the best out of everyone. Its task is to actively promote convergence, to articulate local, national, regional and global actions.

It certainly is not an easy task, but the WSF is indeed useless if it does not try to do this. If it does not try to help the movements to get to the global level so that their demands can be heard, linked to other demands, and get more weight. The WSF can give more visibility to the different struggles and show the interlinkages. But all this does not happen spontaneously, it requires action from the central and global level, at the service of the movements. Movements participating in the forum should have the feeling they are not alone, they are acting together with others and with the help of the WSF.

After twenty years, the WSF remains a powerful idea. It has lost many of its intellectuals, because they have passed away or because they have lost interest in an event that is now afraid of politics and of politicization. That should change again. The WSF must be a space where intellectuals and grassroots movements can meet and interact, where they can enrich each other.

The WSF has always been an ideal place for celebrating our solidarity, but it should go beyond the fancy-fair, it should re-become political, it should politically exist in interaction with the outside world. This is what is needed if it really wants to have a useful role.

That is why I want to finish with a very important question that was put at the end of the meeting. Is there ever a synthesis made of all contributions? We also speak of a ‘process’, but is there a process? What do we really learn from each other if we only listen and then maybe forget? And stick to our own beliefs?

A huge amount of work is waiting for us, this synthesis is work for the IC. The IC will than have to see how to proceed, not as individual movements or single persons, but as a collective. That collective can hopefully organise a new world social forum, with lots of movements from all over the world, and that collective can than speak for itself. Yes, we celebrate our diversity, but that should not be coterminous with depoliticization or fragmentation. We need a common platform.

Thanks to all participants of today, you have made this meeting very worthwhile.