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Eleanor J. Bader
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Life After Capitalism
Z will be attending the third annual World Social Forum from January 23 to 28 in Porto Alegre, Brazil. This year, interestingly, instead of the state where the event is held being friendly to it, the entire country is friendly, with the new president of Brazil, Lula, scheduled to participate.
The first World Social Forum had about 10,000 participants from around the world. The second had about 50,000. The best guess is that this year over 100,000 people will converge for WSF 3.
The World Social Forum is a gigantic conference of panels, presentations, and celebrations. The event has two overarching themes: (1) Get together; (2) “Another world is possible.” In short: solidarity and vision.
The WSF has thus far emphasized the first message—get together. It includes a huge number of diverse viewpoints, projects, organizations, and movements concerned with creating a vastly more just, equitable, and caring world. While participants don’t all see eye to eye, they have nonetheless begun to develop a mutually supportive solidarity that is prerequisite to winning change.
Similarly, the WSF slogan, “Another World Is Possible,” has propelled the second message to pay attention to vision—on economics, politics, race, gender, ecology, and international relations. Participants have taken seriously the question, “What do you want?”
But beneath these shared and prioritized themes, two central tensions have characterized the WSF project to date. The first concerns who decides the WSF’s content and focus.
The WSF undeniably evolved from the top down. It was first an idea in very few heads. Key actors in Brazil have done the bulk of the work, but others in Europe, largely from French ATTAC, also participated, particularly in the planning. From its inception, there have been efforts to involve people outside those central circles in decision making—people who represent constituencies and organizations around the world. Accomplishing that, in a large and international operation, is bound to be difficult, which is one reason why it has been slow for the WSF. It must be admitted, as well, that those in charge haven’t been eager to give up the reigns. Nonetheless, there is progress and democratization seems within plausible range, assuming that the struggle continues and that advocates of participation and democracy make their desires and effective alternative approaches strongly felt.
What is perhaps a more important fact about WSF participation and democracy, however, is its proliferation. What began as a week of events in Porto Alegre has in three years stimulated activity all over the world. In Italy, which is an exceptional example but perhaps also a barometer, over 100 cities and towns have their own Social Forums. While Italy is the biggest success story, it is not alone in generating local activity. There are forums in cities, towns, and regions across the world, most recently in the United States. These proliferating forums are locally organized, focused, and motivated. The central WSF messages, to promote solidarity and vision, characterize the local projects too. Something is happening in all this venue building and coming together that is, at the grassroots, very participatory.
The second tension—after decision making—characterizing the WSF process has to do with its overall aims. Some argue that the WSF can only have so many gatherings before it is repeating itself. More, why gather if it is not to move on to some greater degree of organization. Shouldn’t we be increasing capacities for local shared activity as well as developing a shared international agenda? This tendency says, okay, we are moving forward, but now let’s build on our successes to generate a new kind of international movement. The countervailing opinion, however, is that the venue-building project should not be risked by trying to accomplish too much, too soon. The WSF should keep on with what has worked and leave the rest until well in the future.
Our own inclination is to feel that until the internal democracy problem is better dealt with, the goal of an international activist umbrella organization, or movement of movements, is out of reach. But, we also think that once greater international democratic representation and accountability are at hand, it will make sense to promote not only a forum agenda, but also an activist one.
Of course, in thinking about moving toward a higher degree of international unity and shared agenda, the question arises, how would an activist-oriented Social Forum (or other mechanism) combine all the many differences in politics and analysis of the participants without splitting at the seams?
One way might be to consider how a society combines different tendencies without splitting apart. Maybe the WSF, as an activist international, could become the sum total of all its participants, including all their agendas and contradictions.
From our perspective, one of the greatest needs of the WSF process if it is going to move toward an activist agenda is for radical activists to develop a greater coherence around new vision and strategy. In light of those feelings, Z has allied with a Brazil-based organization, Porto Alegre 3, to co-sponsor a conference within the WSF conference called “Life After Capitalism.”
At this year’s WSF, Life After Capitalism (LAC) will present sessions on program, strategy, and vision for 16 areas of social involvement including media, art, sexuality, work, religion, consumption, race, ecology, family life, education, class, international relations, health, the city, cyberspace, and globalization. It will have sessions presenting various economic and political visions and then also exploring and debating them. There will be sessions in which representatives from some of the major major movements all around the world—Brazil, Italy, India, Argentina, the U.S., England, etc.—present their organizing perspectives and then contrast and debate them, trying to see whether, indeed, they could become parts of an international “movement of movements.”
Finally, LAC will bring its roughly 60 presenters together for various evening panels and discussions among themselves, trying to develop ties between their respective projects and also to discern common themes, as well as differences, that could be presented publicly near the end of the event.
Our intention is that the Life After Capitalism discussion will not end January 28. Conferences are wonderful, or can be. But what matters more is continuing the exchanges. To those ends, we will maintain a website at (www.zmag. org/lac.htm) that will feature as many of the LAC presentations as we can transcribe. We will also facilitate on-going discussions among the participants and with people throughout the represented movements.
So if you are going to be in Porto Alegre, by all means check out the Life After Capitalism events. We look forward to seeing you there. If you can’t make it to Brazil, don’t despair. We are going to transcribe as much as possible for the website. Also, we will be filming many LAC sessions, which will be available sometime in March from Z Video Productions.
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/.