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European Social Forum 2003
Z attended the second European Social Forum from November 12-16, 2003 held in France at four venues: Saint Denis, Paris, Ivry- sur-Seine, and Bobigny. It was a huge affair—according to information on the World Social Forum website, a total of 625 activities were held, involving 900 guest speakers, and some 50,000 participants from 60 countries.
The newspaper-size program listed some 55 plenaries, 252 seminars, and 285 workshops, plus numerous cultural events as well as other forums and initiatives. The plenaries, seminars, and workshops were set up by various activists, NGOs, and left institutions and organizations. These presentations were held in a variety of rooms ranging from an upscale cinema to a large classroom in a building still under construction to a series of tents erected for the occasion to buildings connected to a huge, incredibly expensive science and technology park that made, say, the Boston Museum of Science (no slouch of a building) look like a shack.
Getting from one venue to another was an activist challenge in itself. St. Denis was an hour’s Metro ride from Ivry-Sur-Seine. Sessions within the Ivry site were a 30 minute walk from each other, sometimes even a bus ride. But participants we passed seemed cheerful as they clambered over construction sites and through large parks to their chosen session. We seemed to be among the few annoyed at the distances because, besides the exhaustion invovled in getting to anything, there was no central gathering point where you could absorb the size and be inspired by the unity of the ESF. It made you want to find familiar faces and grab on for dear life.
As always, an important part of the ESF/WSF was the youth camp of thousands. At first, it was intended as a place where people who couldn’t afford room and board (or who didn’t want to stay in “fancy” hotels) could stay cheaply, but it has become an activist entity in itself, with a village atmosphere and its own workshops and cultural events.
Since this was a European organized affair, there were only a handful of presenters from the U.S. (Michael Albert from ZNet being one of them, Rahul Mahajan, author and contributor to Z, was another). But there has never been much participation from U.S. activists in the World Social Forum or much knowledge about it either. When Z first began attending the WSF in 2002 (it’s second year), we were amazed that over 50,000 progressives had gathered in Brazil to give testimony, exchange information, share knowledge, etc., a figure that grew to 100,000 in 2003. Imagine getting social democrats, liberals, radicals, labor organizations, NGOs, and every other progressive permutation in the U.S. together for three to five days of discussions, presentations, and debates —and have it be a civil, friendly, and uplifting experience.
For those who aren’t familiar with the WSF, according to their Charter of Principles, the WSF “is an open meeting place for reflective thinking, democratic debate of ideas, formulation of proposals, free exchange of experiences and interlinking for effective action, by groups and movements of civil society that are opposed to neo-liberalism and to domination of the world by capital and any form of imperialism, and are committed to building a planetary society directed towards fruitful relationships among Mankind [sic] and between it and the Earth.” (At least they didn’t say fruitful relationship between Mankind and Mother Earth.)
The seminars, plenaries, and workshops each had from three to ten presenters, in most cases, and ran a wide gamut—from “Sensible methods of production and consumption” to “Western Sahara: permanency of the colonial issue in the Africa of today” to “Women and men: from equality within the law to equality in reality” to (our favorite) “Can a healthy model of society emerge from a society mainly made of neurotic people?”
It is impossible to report on these meetings in detail. There were too many of them. Often, they started at least 30 minutes to an hour late, making it difficult to “sample” them for this report. Often only a portion of the scheduled speakers showed up. (This was true at the WSF in Brazil as well.) We had the sense that a lot of what went on was people from one country traveling F many miles to the ES to meet with people from that same country, which has its pluses and minuses.
Others who came to exchange information with others working in the same area in other countries probably benefited the most from the social forum experience. For instance, we attended a seminar on “Land privatization in the global- ized south and the role of European development policies,” organized by FIAN, an international organization for human rights. It offered many specific details as it stemmed from a European Union document purporting to offer land reform politics that would provide more space for civil society. Unfortunately it continued to promote “marketing” of land, rather than redistributing it, and it failed to recognize that “access to land is a human right.”
We also attended “Life After Capitalism,” with ZNet staffer, Albert, along with George Monbiot (a ZNet contributor), and Jonathan Neale ( an activist from the UK), which covered the spectrum from participatory economics (an economic program based on the values of equity, self- management, solidarity, and diversity) to a kind of benevolent capitalism-meets-social democracy. Two out of three of the presenters focused more on what’s wrong with capitalism than on a vision/strategy for something else—a continuing problem for the left.
The plenary on “The World Social Forum from Porto Alegre to Mumbai: dynamics and ambitions of the social forums movement” was of particular interest as it suggested tying together the social forum experience and raised questions about its future. There had been rumblings at WSF 2003 that it was too big to handle, that some kind of representative or delegate system might have to occur. The eight speakers at the above-mentioned plenary tried to lay out the successes, weaknesses, and tensions in the social forum movement as follows:
- Increasing significance and strength of movements challenging (U.S.) imperialism
- Diversity of participants and issues addressed
- Shared values
- Huge movement of movements; without the World Social Forum the February 2003 antiwar demonstrations and anti-capitalist globalization actions would never have happened on such a huge scale
- Raised consciousness and hope that another world is possible
around privatization, immigrant rights, and other pressing issues
- Global solidarity
- Increasing numbers: there are social forums in almost all corners of the world
- More participation needed from Asia and Africa; also from unions/labor organizations who could build for global strikes; and from school kids and a new generation
- Size, a strength, is also a weakness, as these meetings are getting to huge and expensive
- Forum idea important, but need to find common themes and visions and move forward from “opposition to proposition” and launching initiatives; if another world is possible, then what is it? And how would it to be implemented?
- Tensions between World Social Forum and local social forums: is there too much emphasis on one over the other? Should locals have priority? Should organizing more locals be a priority?
- Political tensions over direction: reform or revolution? Direct action and/or institutional action? Non-violence exclusively?
- Continue expanding the diversity and range of participants (attending the World Social Forum is an incredible experience, but it takes time and costs money; what does that say about the class/caste/ location of the participants?)
- Work to increase number of local/regional social forums such that a move to a representative structure (should that be desirable) would be truly representative rather than 90 percent being from the host country and 10 percent from the rest of the world
- Begin discussing/setting up a participatory democratic structure for the WSF
- Reconceive the format to move from sessions, where 10 presenters speak for 15 minutes each, to a format that includes single speakers and/or local forum representatives, with specific position papers and proposals focused around vision and strategy that can then be discussed and debated at the various social forums and elsewhere as well.
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; mailbikesnotbombs.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduate Center, Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; convention @adc. org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljustice center.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www. peacestockvfp.org.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.