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The Social Forum of the Americas
T he planning committee of the World Social Forum (WSF) 2005 decided that 2006 would be a year of “polycentric” (decentralized) meetings around the world. Gatherings were to be held in Africa, South America, Pakistan, and Thailand. Michael Albert and I, representing Z, attended the Social Forum of the Americas in Caracas from January 24-29, 2006—he was there to speak at a few of the sessions, I was there to film several events.
The World Social Forum—with the theme “another world is possible”—was first held in January 2001 as an alternative to the World Economic Forum, which is sponsored by such global capitalist institutions as the World Bank and the IMF. Since 2001, the WSF has been attended each year by close to 100,000 progressives who come to participate in “an open meeting place where social movements, networks, NGOs, and other civil society organizations opposed to neoliberalism and a world dominated by capital or by any form of imperialism come together to pursue their thinking, to debate ideas democratically, to formulate proposals, share their experiences freely, and network for effective action” (from the WSF Charter).
Approximately 80,000 were registered for the event in Caracas— with the largest delegations coming from Venezuela, Brazil, and Colombia. The six day event began with a wild ride from the airport over roads through mist-covered mountains surrounding Caracas. A key bridge was out on the main road so what was usually a thirty minute trip took anywhere from an hour and a half to five hours. We made it to the downtown Hilton Hotel where we were staying in just over two hair-raising hours. At the hotel, the lobby was filled with arrivals checking in and reuniting with old friends. We ran into friends from prior Social Forums, many of whom now write for Z, as well as a few graduates from Z Media Institute.
The first day began with a 4:00 PM march of tens of thousands through the streets of Caracas. The march is an especially important event because the sessions are held in many different venues, often spread across the host city, so the march is almost the only chance to get a sense of the size and mood of the participants. The Caracas march was lively and noisy. It was also anti-Bush (as were most of the sessions). The banners were mainly from organizations, unions, and left parties and reflected those groups’ particular issues and cultural clothing and colors, lending diversity to the event. However, it would be nice one day to see some unifying positive slogans, beyond “another world is possible.”
The next five days were filled with a total of 2,000 sessions that began at 8:30 AM and continued until 9:00 PM. Activities by topic were:
- Power, politics, and struggles for social emancipation: 493
- Imperial strategies and peoples’ resistance: 314
- Alternatives to the predatory model of civilization: 272
- Diversities, identities, and worldviews in movement: 132
- Work, exploitation, and reproduction of life: 183
- Communication, culture, and education: 389
A quick survey of the 20 or so panels being held at the Hilton indicated that attendance was generally fewer than 100 people per session. We figured that number was pretty much the case at the 20 or so other venues. We did hear of sessions with a few thousand, but they were rare. While the numbers seemed small to us, relative to some of the sessions at the World Social Forums in Porto Alegre, Brazil and Mumbai, India, we observed a great deal of enthusiasm among the majority of attendees.
Meanwhile hundreds of participants were wandering halls and streets, enjoying just being there and talking with like-minded people. Interestingly, this distribution between sessions, private meetings, and just hanging out is reflected in a survey taken at the WSF 2005, which showed that 49.8 percent of participants in the Social Forum movement were there to exchange experiences with other participants; 47.8 percent wanted to contribute to a better society; 42.4 percent came for democratic debate; and 20.6 percent came to formulate proposals for alternatives to the neoliberal model.
For the next three hours, we filmed the crowd in the stadium as they cheered, drummed, chanted, and danced. Finally, there was some entertainment, followed by the arrival on stage of the “more important guests” (including Che Guevara’s daughter and Cindy Sheehan). After some additional security checks, Chavez arrived.
While the hierarchical “important guest” business was annoying, Hugo Chavez was impressive. He spoke to the crowd as if chatting with old friends. He boldly urged solidarity with Cuba, which, until Chavez, had been isolated—even condemned—by Latin Americans, right and left.
He quoted and/or referred to Marx, Rosa Luxemburg, and Noam Chomsky, among others (we’re told he’s a avid reader). It was amusing to compare his reading material with what we imagined our president’s was. He made a hopeful and inspiring case for a unified Latin America—a Bolivarian Revolution—that could serve as a progressive model throughout the world, as well as a challenge to U.S. domination.
He revealed that he had met with a few of the WSF organizers behind the scenes (some of whom were onstage). In that meeting he had told them that it was fine to have discussions, but if the Forum didn’t result in conclusions and actions, then it was a waste of time.
The debate between those who want to keep the WSF a forum and those who want it to move toward a global movement organization with common goals and strategies has been going on since 2003. Answers to the aforementioned questionnaire are revealing in this respect. When asked where they considered themselves on the political map, 60.1 percent thought of themselves as left, 19.8 percent were center-left, 4.5 percent were center, 0.6 percent center right, and 1.6 percent was right (13.4 percent had no opinion).
When asked what process should be used for building “the other possible world,” 90.4 percent said the road should include “strengthening the mobilization of civil society on a global, continental, national, and local level”; 72.3 percent said the path should include “the democratization of governments”; 59.3 percent said it should include direct action; 59.2 percent said it should include “the democratization of multilateral organizations (UN, WTO, World Bank, IMF)”; and 13.5 percent believed it should include “direct action with the use of force.”
The direction the WSF should take is a difficult issue, but it’s not clear why organizing a movement and continuing a forum structure can’t both be done. We’ve suggested in these pages that a portion of the WSF could be dedicated to discussion and decision-making leading to the founding of a movement organization or network that could aggressively promote common visions and values for “another world.”
Regardless of what happens, it is extremely important for activists from the U.S. to become part of this growing global left. It would show the rest of the world that there is a left in the U.S. that is resisting the empire from within. It would remind those of us who feel isolated, and often discouraged, that there are other people in the world who want a revolution in values and institutions.
Lydia Sargent is a co-founder of South End Press and Z. She has been on the staff of Z since its founding in 1988.
Z Magazine Archive
HUMAN RIGHTS - The U.S. Human Rights Network will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Advancing Human Rights 2013 Conference, December 6-8, in Atlanta, GA.
Contact: 250 Georgia Avenue SE, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30312; email@example.com; http:// www.ushrnetwork.org/.
AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
SCHOOLS - The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) will host a workshop on the DSC “Model Code on Education and Dignity: Presenting A Human Rights Framework for Schools” at the Mid-Hudson Region NY State Leadership Summit on School Justice Partnerships, December 11 in White Plains, NY.
Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
ANARCHIST/BOOKFAIR - The Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair will be held December 14, in Eureka, CA.
Contact: humboldtgrassroots @riseup.net; http://humbold tanarchist bookfair.wordpress. com/.
CLIMATE - The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities is hosting a follow-up event to the 2012 Rio de Janeiro symposium. The gathering will be held in Qatar on January 28-30, 2014.
Contact: http://environment.tufts. edu/.
LABOR - The United Association for Labor Education (UALE) will host Organizing for Power: A New Labor Movement for the New Working Class in Los Angeles, March 26-29. Proposals are due December 15.
Contact: LAWCHA, 226 Carr Building (East Campus), Box 90719, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0719;lawcha @duke. edu; http://lawcha.org/.
MEDIA FELLOWSHIP - The Media Mobilizing Project is seeking applicants for the first annual Movement Media Fellowship Program. The Fellow will work with MMP to produce the spring season of Media Mobilizing Project TV. MMPTV is a news and talk show that tells the stories of local communities organizing to win human rights and build a movement to end poverty.
Contact: 4233 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; 215-821- 9632; milena@media mobilizing.org; http://www.media mobilizing.org/.
RACE - The 7th Facing Race: A National Conference will be held in Dallas, TX November 13-15, 2014. Organizers, educators, artists, funders and everyone interested in racial equity is invited to exchange best practices and learn about innovative models and successful organizing initiatives. Proposals must be submitted by January 24, 2014.
Contact: Race Forward, 32 Broadway, Suite 1801, New York, NY 10004; 212-513-7925; media @raceforward.org; http://race forward.org/.
VETERANS - They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars - The Untold Story, by Ann Jones, is about the journey of veterans from the moment of being wounded in rural Afghanistan to their return home.
Contact: Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-583-7884; http://www.haymarketbooks.org/.
LIBYA - Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade U.S. Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution, by Francis A. Boyle, is a history and critique of American foreign policy from Reagan to Obama.
Contact: Clarity Press, Inc., Ste. 469, 3277 Roswell Rd. NE, Atlanta, GE 30305; 404-647-6501; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www. claritypress.com/.
CHILDREN - Fannie and Freddie by Becky Z. Dernbach is about two bumbling villains who gamble away the savings of the people of Homeville.
Contact: fannieandfreddiebook @gmail.com; http://fannieand freddie.org/.
PROTEST/COMIC - Fight the Power!: A Visual History of Protest Among English Speaking Peoples, by Sean Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson is a graphic narrative that explains how people have fought against oppression.
Contact: Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-226-8760; info@ sevenstories.com; http://www. sevenstories.com.
CHILDREN - Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history.
Contact: http://www.harpercollins childrens.com/Kids/.
FESTIVAL - The 2014 Queer Women of Color Film Festival will be held June 13-15 in San Francisco. The festival is currently accepting submissions until December 31.
Contact: QWOCMAP, 59 Cook Street, San Francisco, CA 94118-3310; 415-752-0868; email@example.com; http://www.qwocmap.org/.
IRAQ/REFUGEES - Ten years after the U.S.-led war in Iraq, thousands of displaced Iraqi refugees are still facing a crisis in the United States. The Lost Dream follows Nazar and Salam who had to flee Iraq in order to avoid threats by Al- Qaeda-affiliated groups and Iraqi insurgents that consider them “traitors” for supporting U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Contact: Typecast Films, 888- 591-3456; info@type castfilms. com; http://type castfilms.com/.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Lyrical Revolt! III will be held December 4 in Syracuse, NY. The event will feature hip-hop musician Anhel whose album Young, Gifted, and Brown was just released. The event is sponsored by ANSWER Syracuse, Liberation News, and SyracuseHip Hop.com. Performers and artists are encouraged to send submissions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.answercoalition.org/syracuse/.
FOLK - Musician Painless Parker has released his album Music for miscreants, malcontents and misanthropes featuring “Fuck Yeah, the Working Class.”
Contact: email@example.com; http://painlessparkermusic.com/.
COMEDY - Political comedian Lee Camp’s new album Pepper Spray the Tears Away has been released.