FROM THE WEB
Net Briefs - 4-11
Tax Form Lies
Values and Interests
Sex and Security
WSF in Africa
Social Media Role
Cause of Fiscal Crisis
Gaza in Crisis
Zaps - 04/11
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The World Social Forum Returns to Africa
Fifty thousand activists from around the world descended on Senegal's capital city of Dakar at the westernmost point in Africa the first week in February for the World Social Forum. Meeting on an almost annual basis since its first gathering in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2001, the WSF provides a space to discuss and debate proposals and collaborative actions to build a new and better world.
The WSF first met as a response to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Instead of exclusionary spaces that placed corporate greed over human needs, the WSF championed the daring proposition that another world is possible.
This year's forum met in the context of the ongoing crisis in the global capitalist system. This crisis has had its most visible impact in the poorest countries and can be seen through problems in the financial, food, and energy systems. Neoliberal policies of privatizing public resources that the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), and other such institutions have also had a particularly negative effect on Africa.
To confront these issues, the Dakar forum was organized around three main themes: deepening a critical analysis of capitalism, strengthening struggles against capitalism and imperialism, and building democratic and popular alternatives to these systems of oppression.
The six-day meeting began with a mass march from downtown Dakar to the university where the forum subsequently held its events. Participants were in high spirits and their chants and banners revealed a wide range of social justice issues. The march culminated with a rally featuring a speech from Bolivia's leftist president Evo Morales, who denounced imperialism and pointed to the importance of the forum as a school where activists could learn how to build stronger, more powerful, and more effective social movements.
The first day of meetings focused on Africa and the African diaspora, including a session where the daughters of Franz Fanon and Malcolm X discussed the legacies of their famous fathers. A meeting with former Brazilian president Lula emphasized his work building closer relations between Africa and his South American country. Not only is Brazil home to the forum, but it is also home to the largest African population.
The following two days featured self-organized activities representing a wide range of interests and concerns. Evenings were filled with musical and cultural events, as well as informal networking. The final two days were dedicated to convergences of organizations, networks, and international movements during which participants proposed actions around common themes. The forum finished with a closing ceremony at which organizations presented their statements and programs for action.
As with all WSFs, most of the participants came from the host country. Large caravans also brought delegates from neighboring West African countries. Senegal's former colonial overlord France contributed a significantly large number of participants. In comparison, Asia and the Americas contributed relatively small delegations. Many WSFs are multilingual events, but in francophone Africa, French became the lingual franca leaving some participants from the former British colonies of Nigeria and Kenya feeling excluded.
The larger social forums have attracted as many as 150,000 participants. In comparison, the 50,000 activists in Dakar seemed small. The largest forums have been held in Brazil and India with much larger populations than the 12 million people in Senegal. Since forums draw so heavily on the host country's population, as forum founder Chico Whitaker noted, the size of this forum should be seen as a success rather than a failure.
Each social forum acquires its own style and unique characteristics. Unfortunately, the 2011 Dakar forum might be known for its frustrated chaos, as it was plagued by a series of logistical problems. The task of organizing the forum was apparently more than the local committee could handle, yet it refused offers of international assistance. In what has become a standard problem at WSFs, the schedule of events came out late and in piecemeal fashion, making it difficult if not impossible for many participants to find their sessions.
Further complicating the issue, due to an earlier strike, classes were still in session at the university. Students displaced activists from planned meeting spaces, leaving some participants wondering why the forum could not have done a better job of incorporating students into the events. Organizers quickly set up tents to house the sessions, but the lack of space led to the cancellation of many sessions.
Most significantly, in the aftermath of popular uprisings that toppled authoritarian governments in Tunisia and Egypt, Senegal's president Abdoulaye Wade feared the arrival of well-organized social movements. The expense and logistical difficulties of hosting such a large meeting require the consent if not outright support of the host government, but in Senegal an antagonistic president sought to sabotage the forum.
Advancing an Agenda?
The WSF was initially conceptualized as a space for divergent civil society groups to meet and collaborate around common concerns. It was designed to mobilize and empower grassroots organizations rather than creating a unified movement with a specific agenda. Its failure to make political statements has opened it up to criticism by some who would like to take advantage of its momentum to advance a specific political agenda.
A running debate continued within the forum as to whether a world meeting of social movements was worth the financial cost, environmental consequences, and logistical nightmares involved in organizing such a massive meeting. Also, too often only well-connected non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with access to the time, financial resources, and visas can attend the forum instead of grassroots organizations that are its intended base. Some activists have proposed holding a virtual meeting instead, yet (as many universities find as they move away from online education) much value is to be found in face-to-face meetings.
After a successful run of ten years of meetings, the future of the WSF is unclear. At the close of the meeting in Dakar, the forum's international organizing committee met to plan future strategies. When the forum first met in Porto Alegre, it embraced a novel strategy of organizing around social and economic justice issues from the perspective of the global south. Although logistical problems have worn some of that initial shine off of the meeting, for many participants coming together every two years in a global meeting still holds much value. As long as the WSF continues to meet, the global justice movement shows no sign of abating.
Marc Becker teaches Latin American History at Truman State University and writes on social movements in the South American Andes. More information on the Dakar meeting is available at www.yachana.org/reports/wsf11/. Photos are by Becker.
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/.