Power of Social Forum Is Its Global Diffusion

By Conway, Janet | Canadian Dimension, March-April 2003 | Go to article overview

Power of Social Forum Is Its Global Diffusion


Conway, Janet, Canadian Dimension


Naomi Klein is right to worry about the "big men" and "big projects" of the Latin American Left capturing the World Social Forum and defining media interpretations of the event ("What happened to the new left?", Globe and Mail, January 30).

However, the growing power and significance of the WSF does not rest in Lula's spectacular election victory as President of Brazil and the Workers Party's rise to power in Brazil as carriers of a new democratic left project centred on control of the nation-state. Rather, the power of the World Social Forum lies in its, global diffusion as a process among movements and civil-society groups worldwide.

In the one short year since WSF organizers called upon participants to organize regionally, social forums have proliferated. Most spectacularly, the European Social Forum mobilized over a million people in Florence to march against war in November, 2002. In India, the Asia Social Forum attracted 60,000 in early January, From neighbourhood to national scales, social forums are being organized all over Latin America. In Canada, organizing processes are underway in Toronto, Quebec City, Victoria, Ottawa, Vancouver, Winnipeg and Hamilton, with others being incubated.

Even though activists everywhere are following developments in the Workers Party, the Social Forum is not about Lula. Rather, its importance is as an autonomous space for the movements and groups of global civil society to rub up against one another. In a space defined by diversity of participation and pluralism of political approaches and opinion, the rubbing has produced friction. Over the last three years, sparks borne on the wind of new ideas have flared into steady flames, which now burn on all continents.

Movement activists in Canada have also been affected by its power. In Porto Alegre last week a historic meeting of activists from Quebec and English-speaking Canada agreed to plan a Canada-Quebec Social Forum. For the first time in decades, there is a political opening for collaboration among left movements across the Quebec-Canada divide, made possible by the spirit of Porto Alegre, with its contagious conviction that another world is possible.

In other ways, too, the World Social Forum has already provoked seismic shifts in movement politics in Canada. Any group from an where in the world that supports the WSF charter is welcome to organize their own events as part of the WSF programme. The Forum's agenda is amazingly open. There is no filtering of political opinion beyond a shared opposition to neoliberalism. This mode of organizing poses challenges to conventional activist practice in English Canada, based as it has been upon coalitions of formal organizations with little room for grassroots participation. …

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