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WSF -20 YEARS AND MEMORY


It is written at the National Stadium in Santiago where the Pinochet regime imprisoned and murdered thousands of political opponents:


"A PEOPLE WITHOUT MEMORY IS A PEOPLE WITHOUT FUTURE"


The celebration of 20 years and the discussion about the future of the World Social Forum encouraged me to share a little of the memory and history of this important initiative. I think it can help to reflect on the present and the future, for those who have followed this story from the beginning and for those who have incorporated themselves over time.

It was in January 2000 in Paris with my wife, Mara. The World Economic Forum was in all the media proclaiming the triumph of neoliberalism and accusing opponents of having no alternative proposal. My extreme discomfort made me have an idea: since there is the World Economic Forum that proclaims that the neoliberal economy will solve all our social problems, why not create a World Social Forum that privileges social conditions, that shows that there are alternatives, that a another model of economy and society is possible and that would bring together those who believe in this idea to articulate themselves, reduce our fragmentation, form alliances and partnerships to gain political power and strength to make their proposals feasible, to make changes. And that it was held at the same time in Davos to show that we need and have choices to make.

I shared the idea with Mara, my wife. I asked her if the idea was not too crazy, too ambitious. She gave me a lot of strength to continue. I called my friend Chico Whitaker (for whom I always had a lot of respect and admiration) who, coincidentally, was in Paris with his wife, Estela. Chico had been a political asylum in France and still had a family there. He liked the idea and we decided to go and talk to our well-known Bernard Cassen, from Attac and Le Monde Diplomatique. It was me, Mara, Chico and Estela. Bernard also liked the idea and suggested Porto Alegre for its innovative social policies as a forum site. Back in Brazil, I called my acquaintances Raul Pont, mayor of Porto Alegre, and Olívio Dutra, governor of Rio Grande do Sul. Both liked the idea and pledged to provide logistical support.

Chico, as the Brazilian Justice and Peace Commission, and I, representing Cives, gathered in the office of the Ethos Institute (entity that I presided at the time) in São Paulo representatives of CUT, MST, Attac Brasil, Abong, Cives, Brazilian Commission of Justice and Peace, Ibase and Global Justice Center. These 8 entities agreed with the proposal and formed the first operational group of the WSF. I still hold the table of that historic meeting to this day.

I obtained US $ 200 thousand from the Ford Foundation, which made an executive secretary housed in the Ação Educativa offices in São Paulo. We went to Porto Alegre and negotiated the PUC (Catholic University) facilities to host the first Forum. Together with Bernard, we mobilized our international networks in several countries and in July 2000 in Geneva (taking advantage of a UN meeting on social development) the international launch. Together with several participants of this international network, we formed the first CI and in a collective work we drafted the Charter of Principles.

The Charter of Principles and the new and innovative organizational and political methodology that offered space for everyone, without hierarchizing themes and entities, facilitating processes for the promotion of connections and partnerships, privileging the protagonism of organizations and not of a central power that commands everything, were thought and elaborated collectively and approved unanimously by all members of the CI.

In January 2001, the WSF was launched in Porto Alegre with 40 thousand participants, 100 thousand in 2002 and 150 thousand in 2003. It was the beginning of a long process. The political map of Latin America, which in 2001 was mostly right-wing, has changed completely. The slogan "Another world is possible" unfolded in "another Latin America is possible", "another Brazil is possible" etc. Demonstration against the war in Iraq organized by entities at the WSF mobilized millions of people and managed to discourage some European countries from participating in the war. The WSF has spread across the world. Articulations of the Arab Spring took place in the various forums in Africa. Inside and outside the WSF, environmental movements, women, indigenous, anti-racist, oppressed peoples like the Palestinian people, gained strength and breadth. The WSF process unfolded in several world, regional, national, local and thematic forums.

There are countless initiatives, partnerships, networks and assemblies that were initiated in the forums. Many connections and relationships have been established. Our fragmentation has decreased. To this day, I receive many reports from people who tell how their initiative, their network was born in a given forum. Not to mention the dating, marriages, collegialities and friendships that were established, so important in improving relations of trust, affection and quality in human coexistence and even in political relations.

We managed to overcome differences in the discussion about the difference in protagonism between social movements and NGOs. I hope that we can overcome the disagreements that have arisen in some episodes in relation to the application of the Charter of Principles. After all, I believe that we have the same goals, we are in the same ideological field. The struggle for power has on many occasions weakened the left and I am sure that with dialogue and goodwill we can overcome our differences. We had logistical problems in some forums that served as a learning experience. But I think the overall balance is very positive.

There are initiatives to renew the WSF. They are important and deserve to be taken forward. I believe that improvements are always possible and are welcome. I hope that the debate and directions are positive and that the renewal points to progress, to improvement, which I believe is the wish of all. And that they take advantage of the accumulated experiences and knowledge, of the successes and failures.

Let us not forget that the WSF is a means and not an end in itself. A debate about our strategies, identifying new challenges and opportunities, and which WSF is best suited to these strategies would be very productive, facilitate and make discussions more objective. It was from this reflection that the WSF, the methodology and the Charter of Principles were built. I think that new generations, women, blacks, indigenous people, marginalized and persecuted groups in various countries, who are organizing, strengthening and reacting, who value diversity, who want to be protagonists, would certainly have much contribution to make for this debate.

I belong to the old generation who played a role, fought, tried, got it right and got it wrong in their activism. I am very hopeful that new generations can learn from these successes and mistakes and lead us to a much better world.

Finally, as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the WSF, I would like to pay my respects to Mara, Chico and Estela, Bernard Cassen and the staff of Le Monde Diplomatique and Attac France, to the members of the 8 organizations of the first operating group, the Ford Foundation, to Raul Pont and Olívio Dutra, to the members of the first IC, to the governors and politicians who in various ways supported and support the different forums respecting the role of civil society, to everyone who believed in the idea and helped, supported and participated in the important first Forum that initiated the process, to collectives and thousands of activists who organized and participated in the various subsequent forums and dedicated their lives to fight for a better world. Without all and everyone, without them and them, we would not have the WSF and the initial idea and the original proposal would not materialize and the world would be a worse place.


Oded Grajew


Alejandra Scampini celebrating the legalization of the right to abortion in Argentina: "This is why the WSF has to be a Feminist forum. How many political actions by law have come out of the WSF? Thousands!