Making the Forum Truly Global

The existence of the World Social Forum is already a historic achievement. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the crisis of the alternative movements and theories that opposed the current system, the fact that there was again a place stating that there is an alternative was an important step.

More than this, it finally gave people, movements, and organizations the possibility to meet and to discuss and this was probably even more important. Those that still had a vision of the alternative or a concrete target of what had to be overcome in order to create this other world could meet and discuss together or even plan common action.

However, has the WSF brought people closer or did it only bring them together? Sometimes it seems that now that many people know each other better, the gaps between them simply are more clearly defined. Many questions are not addressed. For instance, the charter of principles has become a dogmatic cornerstone and not a dynamic work-in-process document. When differences become little more than “enriching diversity,” the process is doomed to enter into internal friction without mechanisms to solve it. The assertion in its charter that the WSF “does not constitute a locus of power to be disputed by the participants in its meetings” is simply false. It is clearly a locus of power. It is so even more since, in the only deliberating body over its process – the International Council (IC) – political decisions are not discussed or argued through and remain hidden behind “logistical” or “methodological” reasoning.

The more and more open call of the “social movements” vs. the “NGOs” is symptomatic of these never-confronted (and hence never-resolved) issues. It’s clearly not an organizational issue. It’s also not (only) a question of South vs. North or money vs. people. It’s a question of political analysis and vision for which the WSF space has no language that is admissible.

Only if we create again the necessary language — and allow open discussion about power and conflict within the large magma of forces and ideas within the WSF — can we find a way to check and balance power and really transform differences into “enriching diversity.” Then we can face up to one of the other big challenges the WSF faces: it is growing in size but not in impact.

Strategic Choices

Without a doubt, the greatest impact the WSF has ever had on real existing struggles was the call for global mobilization against the war on Iraq. It came out of the anti-war assembly convened in Mumbai in 2004, became somehow a “natural” priority, and was taken up in the largest mass mobilizations ever. Since then the WSF has met several times without ever producing out of this space another call that had the same power of mobilization.

The core question of why this call was particularly effective has been discussed in many places. I want to raise here only one point out of the many reasons given. There are objectively moments in history when collective action on some issues has a chance to make a difference while not on others. Recognizing the possibility of strategizing without defining hierarchies among the struggles is important if we want to move forward and have political impact.

If not bringing people closer in their analysis, six years of talking together should at least give us a better understanding of our common ground. Not only international networks should be created but also trust and understanding among the networks and organizations. If this is possible, we can frankly discuss the global situation we are facing.

For example, the struggle against Israeli apartheid will long remain the utmost priority for Palestinians. Every day is a struggle for existence, and the world has for 60 years delayed withdrawing its support from the Israeli occupation. Nevertheless it is not every year or every moment that even a concerted global mobilization could make a difference. Only when U.S. policy in the region is shaky, the European Union is in conflict with the United States, Arab countries start showing signs of discontent with the level of U.S. colonization to which they are subjected, and Palestinian leadership is ready at least to endorse an escalating struggle and to bring home the political gains can concerted global mobilization really make a difference.

The same is valid for other issues. Not every G8 summit or WTO meeting can be blocked, and not each of these meetings holds the same importance. If we want common struggles, we have to learn to sometimes take a step back to let other struggles make gains as this will be exchanged in mutual solidarity. If we really believe that all struggles are interlinked, and if the fear of strategizing (and hence prioritizing) is abolished, we can start collectively building a vision on how to weaken the system step by step so that all of us can gain. The way the WSF is built now, however, everybody tries only to make their own struggles visible on a meaningless agenda.

The Arab World

To build a general framework in which the various struggles can find their place and strategies can be developed, the WSF has to be a truly global process in which all major global struggles are participating.

The WSF over the years has made enormous steps in this direction, and its process encompasses almost all continents. However, one core region around which focuses much of today’s global diplomacy, military, and economic attacks is not yet integrated into the WSF: the Arab world. This is caused by a series of interrelated dynamics as well as the hesitations of some Western forces to enter into contact and relations with the movements and struggle in the Arab world as they are today.

This is not only because of the role Islam plays in many movements. It is also because the system imposes its domination predominantly with military means in this region. This means that resistance will include the necessary forms to respond to war and military occupation.

It is thus important that the WSF has begun to take steps to integrate the Arab world. It will be up to us to ensure the movements in our region are aware of the importance of the WSF as a process.

WSF Process

If we really want to create open discussion that brings conclusions that transparently direct the WSF process, we need to analyze and maybe change the relationships between the IC, the WSF process, and WSF participants.

The relation between the IC and the WSF event participants and then the WSF process is not transparent and therefore disempowers the ordinary participant. The process is defined by the WSF IC, definitely not by the WSF participants. Participants can take advantage of the space but have no possibility to change the direction of the WSF process.

The IC, while a simple and useful coordination body at the beginning, today finds itself de facto guiding a process without having almost any of the necessary credentials to do so. Considering that the IC does not discuss politics (while de facto deciding over very political decisions), its language is not understandable for outsiders, its meeting minutes are not published, and access to the IC is gained via recommendation. No turnover or rotation mechanisms are in place. There are no accountability mechanisms.

The proposal of the expansion commission to reform the whole IC creating some form of balance among its member organizations according to a set of criteria unfortunately never went anywhere. We might want to work toward a reformed IC or new strategizing spaces and bodies. In any case, we need to overcome the current stalemate in the WSF process. Too many important steps forward have been made to abandon the process.

Jamal Juma’ is coordinator of the Palestinian grassroots campaign Stop the Wall (www.stopthewall.org) and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus (www.fpif.org).