• wsfic icfuturecontribution 22 reply chico

last modified April 20, 2013 by facilitfsm


Le 02/02/2013 18:26, jasper teunissen a écrit :

Re: World Social Forum: space or movement?

A reply to Chico Whitaker's proposals for the future of the WSF

by Jasper Teunissen

2 February 2013


( a reply to the reply, by chico ) Dear Jasper, only now, some days before the beginning of th 2013 WSF, I am having a little bit of time to consider, as I promised, at least (as my time is not so elastic...) some of the questions you put in the mail you wrote in February. I think it is never too late, as this discussions will necessarily continue. As I hope we will have the opportunity to talk personally during the Forum, this may facilitate our interchanges.
But let me at first thank your patience to read so many of my texts. Some others that you did not read (I wrote so many, during this 12 years...) could perhaps explain some misunderstandings. But no problems, let me do the possible now.
I will write in italic characters under your questions, as they appear in your text below. So:


In the process towards the World Social Forum (WSF) in Tunis next month, some efforts have been made to start a discussion about the future of the WSF, but have so far found little resonance, at least certainly not in the public domain.

Let me say at first that you misunderstood the aim of my proposals. You say: "a reply to Chico Whitaker's proposal for the future of the WSF". it is not; it is for the future of the IC, only. Both questions are naturally related but they are very different. About the future of the WSF I would write much more... I wrote even a book about the challenge the WSF faced from its beginning ... The discussion we began after the IC meeting in Monastir in June (I wrote also something specifically about this meeting) was not about the WSF future but about the IC future. So, my last four texts were about the IC problems. The texts (the mine and from others) had not so much resonance in the public domain because they were still to be discussed in the working group created in Monastir "on the IC future". 

Among of the contributions are a number of recent proposals by Chico Whitaker, one of the founding figures of the WSF. I think these proposals need attention and further discussion. Another reason to write down some thoughts on Whitaker's texts is the fact that he regularly refers to, speaks to, and even shares his dreams about the so-called new movements of Occupy and Indignados (2011, 2012a, 2012b, 2013b).

Many of us are very interested in the so-called new movements experiences. And I am very glad to see how many activities they will realize in Tunis, overcoming some difficulties that appeared when they thought about coming to Tunis.

As a particpant in both a local social forum and Occupy related initiatives, I'm especially interested to see how relations between the two could evolve.

And one last note: I don't doubt Whitaker's intentions concerning the future of the WSF, and in fact I agree with many of the underlying thoughts and I warmly support the search for radical improvements in the WSF process.

Here I think we need to identify two types of improvements: in the IC ans in the WSF process, without merging them.

Nevertheless, here I will concentrate on some critical points, trying to get a better understanding of the ideas about movements and open spaces on which Whitaker's proposals are based.

1. The dissolution of the IC and the start of a new movement

The first step in Whitaker's proposal is to dissolve the International Council of the World Social Forum (IC). Looking at the history and context of the current crisis within the IC, I think the formal declaration of the end of the IC is just the final step in the acceptance of an accomplished fact . Whitaker argues the IC has 'already fulfilled the functions it could meet' (Whitaker, 2012c), but I think we should be more direct: the IC has failed to fulfull its role as a permanent body that will give continuity to the WSF.

In this point this is absolutely not what I think nor what I intended to say. It would be too long to explain it, but you can read  the text I wrote after the Monastir meeting, that I referred to above. It is a longer (14 pages...) explanation on how I see the IC history and its role in this 12 years (very important for the WSF success, specially in at least its first 9 or 10 years). I am annexing it to his mail, in case you have the time to read it.

The reality is that the WSF 2013 is going to happen anyway, without a functioning IC.

Let me tell you a joke: in Dakar, most (not all...) of the FSM participants were able to re-organize the WSF from down, as the Forum Organizers had so many unforeseen problems that the first two days of the Forum were an authentic chaos. At the end of he Forum, some of us (IC members) said: this Forum proved that a WSF do not need "organizers"... Even we could say to them: don't try to organize (or even "facilitate") anything.

The second step of the proposal is the establishment of a new movement that takes over the role of the IC as 'facilitator and animator' of the WSF process, assigning to itself the power to decide about the location of the next WSF, 'the only really important decision that the IC takes' (Whitaker, 2012c).

This was not a proposition but a matter of fact... See the text annexed.

There is much to say about Whitaker's detailed vision of how such a new movement would work (2013a, b), but here I will just mention a few observations and concerns.

First, the establishment of a new movement is clearly a step further than the earlier proposal suggesting a power shift from the Brazil-France tandem to a Canada-Mahreb tandem (Whitaker, 2012a),

The power shift I suggested has nothing to do with the creation of a new movement, but with the need of new blood in the difficult tasks of "facilitating" and stimulating the WSF process. The tandem Brazil-France seemed to me, at that occasion, already a little bit tired, after so many years... And the Maghreb is showing its force in the 2013 WSF facilitation (and the Quebec is proving also it with their initiatives towards a pan-Canadian Forum). 

but at the same time the creation of a new movement within the context of the WSF has been tried before: 'The Network of the World's Social Movements'. [1] I haven't heard anything about it ever since.

I never said or thought about this type of proposal. Perhaps it was an idea of the author of the text you cited (Ezequiel Adamovsky?). I don't know who could have tried this before.

Second, except from methodological adaptations, such as the participation based on individuals instead of organisations, I don't see any fundamental differences with the intended setup and goals of the IC, that is: analysing the political situation in the world, facilitating the WSF process and choosing the location of the next WSF. In this sense the proposal is not as radical as Whitaker wants us to believe.

About the question of the creation of a new movement, and subsequently its eventual role in the definition of the WSF location, I did a revision in my firs proposal, after having discussed it with many people. And I wrote a last paper (the fourth, but only in 9 points in 1 and half page...), separating completely the two propositions: a new IC and a new Movement. I am annexing it to this mail too.

Third, I see a problem with the order of things. Whitaker proposes a new movement based on a new Manifesto or Charter, initially crewed by the current IC members, and then gradually add 'people that constitute or constituted the Organization Committees of the national, regional, continental or World Social Forums, and even local ones [...]' (2013a para 1.4). After that, local chapters of the new movement can be founded.

In many ways this reminds me of a somewhat similar initiave, namely the International Organization for a Participatory Society (IOPS), which, to put it bluntly, first presents a blueprint of a new society, then forms a new organisation from within its own inner circle, and only then seeks further participation and expansion. [2] I think we should not adopt such a top-down approach if we aim for an actively involved, broader and more localized base for a global process.

As I understand it, one of Whitaker's most important motivations for his proposal is to find a way to include the latest generation of movements. I agree this is a key question in the evolution of the WSF. But inviting others to something new, to something pre-established that is not theirs yet, is always extremely difficult. I wouldn't expect many new people to join such a new movement, especially if they are not familiar with the WSF, its history and its possible usefulness.

Here also you have completely misunderstood me. I never spoke about "local chapters", for instance... Movements can be created from above, but this is better applied to the creation of institutions, parties, NGOs. etc. Real "movements" are created always from down, by a initial group of people that become aware of the necessity and possibility of action, facing a specific question. If this group is able to convince others to join them, the movement grows. From down to up. For many reasons it can also stop is growth. But this would be another discussion. For our discussion here, I proposed only that the group of people that had built a mutual confidence along the IC existence could act like an initial group, trying to answer to the need we have in fact of a new world movement (different and separately of the WSF, that is as process of multiplying open spaces where to meet horizontally  and respecting the diversity, and build articulations, and even new movements...) . But this point we could discuss more deeply personally. Writing in English is not so easy for me.

Having said this, I don't have any magic answers on how to overcome these problems, but I would like to share some embryonic ideas and suggestions that popped up while reading Whitaker's discussion texts. But first I will try to give a brief reflection on Whitaker's views on the role of social movements and the WSF as open space.

2. WSF, movement and space

According to Wikipedia the WSF 'tends to meet in January at the same time as its "great capitalist rival", the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland. This date is consciously picked to promote their alternative answers to world economic problems in opposition to the World Economic Forum.' [3]

The idea was not to be "rival" but to say the we could have a non market (Davos) approach to solve the world problems, denying the only economic growth of the capitalist system. We wanted to show that their "unic thougth" ("pensée unique") was not the answer.

For the 2013 edition the tradition of the overlapping date with the WEF in Davos has been abandoned for the first time in the history of the WSF. Although this seems a trivial point, it made me realize how deep the similarities between the WSF and WEF are, where the WSF has been mimicking the WEF as an event for the leaders of, in this case, another world, while Whitaker has made opposite claims (2004b). Let me explain.

The idea of doing the WSF at the same days as Davos was a communication strategy: we thought we could then oblige the main media to speak about the WSF, even with only ten little lines saying that there were people thinking on alternatives to the marker economies....
The tradition was broken not now in Tunis but in Dakar, in 2011. I am not sure it was a good decision (of the IC, following the Dakar Forum "organizers"). Many say that the WSF is now invisible in the main media, and our alternative media do not arrive everywhere... We have still to find a new way to broke the barriers of the mass communication. 

But please, don't say we were "mimicking" the WEF! It seems you don't know the WSF methodology! The WSF was not and is not an event of "leaders" (in Davos, 2.000 people, in Porto Alegre and Belem even 150.000 people...). And the WSF content is decided but its participants (through the self-organized activities) and not by its "organizers".

In an interview addressing Occupy Wall Street, Whitaker frames the position of social movements as follows: '[W]e are not 99% against 1%. Those who have already the courage to speak up are many, but perhaps more or less 1%, against the 1% who controls and exploits the rest of the world.' (2012b) So, we have a powerful elite (symbolized by the WEF) on the one hand, a small group who resists on the extreme opposite site (symbolized by the WSF) and in the middle there is the 98%. Whitaker continues: '[W]e need to change our strategy. We need to turn ourselves to the 98%' (2012a)

I think this vision becomes problematic exactly where it puts the social movements outside of the 98%, as those who already see, those who already know. It's a simplicfication of reality in which the 98% has two options: this 1% or that 1%, us or them. I think this is an elitist, exclusive, vanguardist, moralistic and alienating picture and it ignores the reality that a vast majority of the world population is engaged in a day to day struggle for a life in peace and dignity, a struggle that takes many forms, and some of them may be less visible than others. I just don't think we can 'network' all these struggles by placing ourselves outside or above them.

Again a misunderstanding. And a big misunderstanding. Please...  About this point I invite you to come to an activity I am participating in Tunis ("And the 98%?"), the 28th, 3d slot (16h00 to 18h30), in the room G101. If you have time, you can visit the blog that was created to prepare this workshop (www.98percent.net). You will see that one of our discussions will be about the idea of "Volontary servitude" of the French philosopher La Boetie (text written in 1500...) re-analysed by people from today, in our present societies. It will be certainly very interesting. 

I would like to go further, because many things you say in the continuation of your text make possible other reflections. Open space, Charter of Principles, things learned in the school about geography, etc. As a good intellectual, Jasper, you entered slowly but enthusiastically in a concepts discussion that could  transform our exchange in a warm polemic with one trying to smash the other... I would still only say  that in the beginning of my first paper on the IC future I said that we had to overcome the space or movement logics to go to the space and movement logics. Nothing to do with "wraping " the WSF with a new movement...
But I cannot continue.  It would be too long to explain all the differences in what you say I am saying and what I tried to say...  My last paper sent now could perhaps explain many things. My time is over. Tomorrow I am flying to Tunis and I have still many practical things to do.
Till Tunis, Jasper. Let us continue. Chico Whitaker