Nessa Ní Chasaide argues that the World Social Forum Global Day of Action provides an opportunity to bring a global movement home
The World Social Forum (WSF) last met in Nairobi, Kenya in January 2007. It was a hugely significant moment for the process of the WSF which, for many activists, had come to represent a new hope for achieving greater global justice through building connections between people-based, grassroots social movements from around the world. 2007 was particularly important as the WSF was being held in Africa. This represented a strong statement by the WSF council that the forum could thrive outside its typical home of Latin America. Many African activists were proud that their long marginalized continent was hosting the forum. It was also a significant political statement as it challenged a belief prevalent that Africa does not have the possibility for building ‘social movements’ in the same sense that Latin America has.
Personally speaking, there were many positive lessons that emerged from the WSF 2007. I attended as a member of the debt cancellation movement, and the WSF presented many opportunities for activists working on debt, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) to share strategies and plan ahead. More importantly, the Forum provides a much wider political framework in which to hold these discussions. The slogan of the WSF ‘Another World Is Possible’ highlights the open, and radical, character of the WSF. The WSF is never meant to be just another international ‘talking shop’ of policy makers. Instead, it invites all politically active people to gather and share their concrete stories of struggle and to plan the future of their struggles for a better world.
Another significant highlight from the Nairobi Forum was the ‘coming out’ of the African Gay and Lesbian movement. There were inspirational statements from African gay activists who spoke publicly of their personal struggles to live freely in a highly hostile and homophobic environment. New steps were also taken by activists fighting for water access through the formation of the Africa Water Network.
However, the Nairobi WSF came under fire from many quarters. Part of the problem was that the WSF itself was quite inaccessible to poor Kenyans who had to travel a long way, incurring high travel costs, and pay high entry fees to access the forum. Potentially, as a result, the Forum appeared populated with mainstream, well resourced NGOs and religious groups. This raised questions about who is actually able to access and raise the resources to attend the World Social Forum? And is encouraging activists to increase their carbon footprints by getting on aeroplanes to travel to yet another meeting a progressive way to change the world? Another criticism was that activists tended to disappear into their respective workshops on specific issues, leading to the problem that the WSF has failed to make enough inter-connections between movements and struggles. Some activists also believe that the WSF should aim to develop a coherent process for the compilation of an anti-capitalist, or an anti-neo-liberal manifesto or platform, but is failing to do so.
It is within this context of these unanswered questions, that we should plan how to engage with the latest proposal from the WSF. The proposal is to hold a Global Week of Action, culminating in a Global Day of Action on January 26th 2008. This means that the usual format of one global gathering, in one location, will not happen in 2008 (that will happen in Belem, Brazil, in 2009). Instead, the WSF is calling on activists around the world to concentrate on strengthening their engagement in struggle in their own local arenas. The common ‘moment’ of the week of action, or the day of action, will allow activists to share their plans, thoughts and reflections with each other at a distance. But the focus should be on building the local strength of political movements.
This seems to me to be an opportune time for us to reflect on the strength, or otherwise, of our own political work and groupings. It also provides an opportunity to take a collective approach to organising political action nationally, during that week. At the WSF in Nairobi in 2007, I found that the value of an internationalist approach to politics was re-enforced. However, it struck me that it is easy to invest large amounts of time in organising at the international level. However, the real struggle lies in challenging and pressuring our own political representatives and building our collective strength as a movement locally. The Global Week of Action in January 2008 will present a valuable opportunity to reflect on this challenge, and a chance to re-commit to building our strength from the bottom up.