• gtiandwsf farewelltowsf discussion input16

last modified October 12 by facilitfsm

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input16 : IS THERE A FUTURE FOR THE WORLD SOCIAL FORUM?
A response to the discussion from Roberto 
 
In the insightful comments in this month’s discussion, there was broad agreement about the importance and impact of the World Social Forum. The WSF opened a utopian laboratory (to quote Thomas Ponniah), and the impact was felt worldwide. But this was never under contention. @1 That hundreds of thousands of people paid travel fares and participation fees to take part in a meeting where they shared their hopes and dreams was unprecedented—and was beyond what we had envisioned in the early planning meetings.  
 
When it comes to the reasons for the decline of the WSF, that unanimity falls apart. Some point to the internal tensions, political bickering, and lack of inclusive democracy; others to the tension between social movements and NGOs. Others point to cultural conflicts (e.g., between the Anglo world and the Latin world), the decentralization of having a multiplicity of workshops, often on the same subject, like in a fair; or the difficulties that travel and costs posed for less-funded organizations.@2 What is impressive is that all points are legitimate.
 
But where there is again unanimity is on the International Council, which is clearly considered not up to the task for the consolidation and growth of the movement. The original Organizing Committee saw the IC’s role as facilitating, rather than steering. Perhaps for this reason, the IC was not structured as a real place for debate (interventions were rarely allowed to be more than three minutes).@3  And the IC never hired someone like a rapporteur, who could record decisions to be passed on to the following IC or those who were not on the IC at all. We must also remember that at every IC meeting, the majority of participants were new. So each meeting ended up starting with discussions on points on which there was already a consensus. But every attempt to give more structure to the IC was rebuffed by those who saw organization as synonymous with bureaucratization. As Francine Mestrum notes, “Horizontalism and the fear of hierarchies are very justified. But those should not make accountability impossible.” Such accountability depends on communication.@4  No transmission was done from one forum to the following one. The panels repeated themselves and each other at every forum, without any input from ones prior. And as forums were held in different locations, participants were often completely different.
 
I was involved in the Communication Commission from the start. We were just a small group, and in the IC, information technology was considered a job restricted to professionals. The difference between information and communication was not clear.@5  I remember that in an IC meeting in Mexico, we asked every member of the IC to provide us with ten names of journalists in their country so that we could organize a WSF information network. Only four did so!
 
@6 In my personal view, one of the main causes of the decline of the WSF is that it became an endogamic movement, not one accountable to the outside. Rita Freire touches on this point, and Sally Burch proposes an Internet WSF, using the modern technology for sharing and inclusion. It is true that when the Forum started, social media and the Internet did not have the reach they do today.@7  But my point is that if we opened a process of communication and participation, the WSF could have kept its function as a utopian laboratory, while enabling many new organizations and activist to join the process. Not many had the financial resources to travel to a forum, and communication would have kept them in the loop. But communication is a culture, not the use of technical means. And I am afraid that this culture was sorely missing in the IC.
 
In their comments, everybody, in one way or another, points to the need for the survival of the WSF to bring together the new movements that the success of globalization has created.@8 But, in the present formula, all of those movements have to come physically to the Forum to do so. That makes the WSF increasingly obsolete.

Linking political actors means much more than just a few conversations. The WSF needs to be able to distribute papers with proposal for action. Without this, how can we work with others? By asking them to join the IC? This would be a sure-fire way to bore people with bureaucratization, as intellectual and important organizations have often done.@9 The IC must be reduced in size, have real and transparent rules, and accept its role as a steering body, responsible for the contents of the Forum, and for its connection to the world of institutions, organizations, and militants worldwide.
 
Many commenters referenced how drastically the world has changed since 2000. Globalization has lost credibility and is defended only by the defenders of the status quo. Nobody today defends the idea that the “rising tide” of the market will lift all boats.@10 The anxiety of those left out has fostered the rise of the likes of Trump, Orban, Bolsonaro, etc. In 2017, the 500 richest people on the planet became, collectively, $1 trillion richer than in the year before. In four years, they will have increased their wealth, with an amount equivalent to the budget of the United States. This is clearly unsustainable.

Our world comes from a string of events, all based on greed, a main engine of history. First, the fall of Berlin Wall was seen as the end of history, as capitalism would now unify the world. The Washington Consensus offered a manifesto and a blueprint: everything that did not create profits was a waste. Ideologies were abandoned for pragmatism, which was itself an ideology. Conservative heads of state like US president Ronald Reagan and UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher had been working against multilateralism, social justice, and solidarity since the early 80s; the leaders of social democratic parties, like UK Labour’s Tony Blair, furthered that legacy. Blair’s Third Way replaced social democracy’s ambitions with resignation: as nobody can stop globalization, let us work to give it a human face.
 
Then came the financial crisis of 2008, which ushered in twenty years of fear after twenty years of greed. Before that crisis, only France had a right wing, xenophobic, and nationalist party. Such parties blossomed across the US and Europe, with the exception of Portugal. The aftermath of war in Iraq, Syria, and Libya has created a migration crisis, and in the immigrants fleeing the destruction of their countries, xenophobic forces found their scapegoat.
 
During all this time, the WSF followed a clearly insufficient formula @11. Let us meet, let us discuss, let us share, in self-referential meetings, with no relation with the political process, and without any practice of communication. Its participants were, by large majority, taking part in those political debates. But when in the WSF, they had to abstain from any political activity. It was very much like a church event: one met with like-minded people, shared experiences and hopes, to act on upon returning to their normal life. But in their normal life, they found plenty of actors engaged in action.@12  And as the reactions to greed and fear, then social injustice, then climate change, were creating new meeting points, the WSF become an antiquated, outdated formula, which required money to participate, because it required your physical presence, in meetings for discussion, and no place for action. Try to bring Greta Thunberg to this dimension.
 
@13 I am convinced that unless we take radical steps toward updating the WSF, with space or mechanisms for interacting with the outside world, and some space or mechanism for some level of political action, the WSF will continue to dwindle and eventually die.
 
@14 The Talmudists of the WSF will say no, that to do so means possible divisions in the WSF, reducing its plurality and unity. But the present trend is ominous. A new formula can be found, and I think the contributions to this debate are a clear proof that there is enough knowledge, vision, and experience to be able to do so.

We will know, in this fractured and splintered world, quite soon what is the future of the WSF. In a world without values,@15  its new identity could be to bring back a debate on the values, which have kept wars and conflicts away. Peace, social justice, solidarity, transparency, participation, etc.

The values that neoliberal globalization has eliminated, which are found in the constitutions of so many countries, would be today a powerful bridge.@16 The WSF, as a holistic organization, could engage in a such debate, with all those that reject the results of this self-destructing capitalism, with its set of values coming from greed and fear.