Celebrations and Discussions Mark 10 Years of the World Social Forum

Jana Silverman Coordinator of Campaigns and Communications Social Watch International Secretariat

In January 2010 – almost ten years after the first World Social Forum (WSF) – over 35,000 social activists met in Porto Alegre, Brazil, to debate topics as diverse as the conference on climate change held in Copenhagen in 2009, the resurgence of US militarism in Latin America, and the growing criminalization of social protest.  Moreover, the future of the WSF, and the relationship among the Forum, NGOs and progressive governments were analyzed. The seminar was a kick-off for a series of decentralized forums that will be hold this year in over 40 different places around the world, in preparation for the 2011 World Social Forum in Dakar, Senegal. These decentralized forums as well as the 2011 Dakar WSF, will count with the key participation of Social Watch members.

In January 2001, with the anti-corporate globalization movement at its zenith, 12,000 people came together in the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre to proclaim that “another world is possible” in the face of growing capitalist excesses, exemplified at that time by the corruption scandals which brought down corporate giants such as Enron and WorldCom. To juxtapose the Porto Alegre gathering with that of the corporate elites at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the meeting was dubbed the WSF, and since that time, the WSF has been a key point of convergence for civil society actors around the world. Almost ten years after this starting point, the WSF returned to its Brazilian roots, through the hosting of a seminar in January 2010 to discuss the obstacles and accomplishments of this “movement of movements.” 

Titled “10 Years Later: Challenges and Proposals for Another Possible World”, the international seminar held in the greater Porto Alegre area provided a space for the over 35,000 predominantly Latin American participants to debate the future of the WSF and the world progressive movement in general, in a global political scenario still marked by the ongoing economic, energy and environmental crises. In between the festive marches that commemorated the opening and termination of the seminar, the social movement activists who took part in the event, including Watchers from Italy and Brazil, examined issues ranging from the lack of results at last year´s conference on climate change in Copenhagen to the resurgence of US militarism in Latin America and the growing criminalization of social protest. 

On a more internal level, discussions were raised regarding the structure (or lack of structure) of the Forum itself, the need for better strategies to project the alternative social and economic policies promoted by Forum participants, and the relationship between the social movements and NGOs that make up the Forum and progressive governments. While some participants, such as João Stedile of the Landless Workers Movement (MST) of Brazil, called for a greater emphasis on concrete action by the movements which conform the WSF in order to foment social change, others, such as Candido Gryzbowski of Ibase (focal point of Social Watch Brazil), insisted on maintaining the Forum as a generator of ideas and facilitator of social struggles, rather than a campaigning body in and of itself.  However, a general consensus was reached on the necessity of preserving the Forum as a space to construct common agendas while at the same time reflecting the diversity of the social movements and civil society organizations that are pushing for progressive change around the world.

January´s seminar in Porto Alegre was just a kick-off for a year-long series of decentralized Forums that will take place around the world in over 40 different locations stretching from Palestine to Paraguay. Watchers in countries such as the Czech Republic and the USA will be taking an active part in the Forums organized in their localities throughout the year. 

It should also be mentioned that members of Social Watch Senegal are playing a key role in the organization for 2011´s World Social Forum in Dakar, which will bring the Forum back to Africa after a four year absence dating from 2007´s WSF in Nairobi, Kenya.  According to the Senegalese organizers, commissions to manage issues related not just to logistics and finances, but also to communications, mobilization, and methodology are already up and running. Over the next few weeks, the principal venue for the 2011 Forum is expected to be secured, and the official launch of the 2011 Forum website will go public in May. It is hoped that the 2011 Forum in Senegal will succeed in further diversifying the contents and participants in the WSF process, and also in providing greater visibility for civil society in Senegal and West Africa as a whole.  This is particularly important in countries such as Guinea and Cote D´Ivoire where civil society organizations have been besieged by oppressive governments for decades. 

Ten years on, the World Social Forum continues to be a source of inspiration and energy for progressive-minded activists around the globe, providing a space to better understand the current political situation and articulate initiatives to transform our current society into one which is based on the values of solidarity and sustainability.  International NGO networks such as Social Watch must continue to take advantage of this space in order to add our voice to those of the millions of other civil society advocates around the world who persist in working to make the possibility of another world a reality. 

For more information on WSF activities, see:  <www.worldsocialforum.info>.