The English below is freely translated from an op-ed by the Quebec delegates, published in Le Devoir 27 Jan 2009, as the forum opened in Belém, Brazil. For more reports in English, see the Theology and Liberation website, WFTL history, 2009 themes and papers, John Wilde's blog. For the WSF that followed, see World Social Forum site, Cy Gonick's and Ben Powless' blogs, Terraviva, Food First, World Council of Churches reports and photos. WSFtv.net videos.
WSF Declaration of Principles (excerpt):
The World Social Forum is an open meeting place for reflective thinking, democratic debate of ideas, formulation of proposals, free exchange of experiences and interlinking for effective action, by groups and movements of civil society that are opposed to neoliberalism and to domination of the world by capital and any form of imperialism, and are committed to building a planetary society directed towards fruitful relationships among Humankind and between it and the Earth.
Quebec delegates at Belém:
The first WSF held at Porto Alegre in January 2001 developed a vision of a different world, seeking sustainable and humane solutions to world problems in proposals by an astonishing variety of social movements, NGOs and grassroots groups -- an alternative to the world's numerous problems of poverty, pollution, pillage and privilege.
In the next few years literally hundreds of social forums have been held across Africa, Europe, Asia and the Americas. They range in size from thousands to 100 or so, from global to city or neighborhood. In 2007 there was a nationwide US gathering in Atlanta; another in Montréal 5,000 strong, as well as regional forums in Chicoutimi and the Outauais. Planning this year is for a North American forum, and a second round of the Quebec SF.
The forums' primary goal is to reinforce ties between citizen movements (e.g. peace marches, rights for women, First Nations, migrant workers, and corporate social responsibility), to share social innovations (economic solidarity, co-ops, fair trade networks), to encourage popular education and citizen participation, and to show alternatives to the consumerist way of life. These forums are the seed bed of a renewed political culture -- plural, participative and inclusive.
They began as a reaction to the market fundamentalism of the Washington consensus, presented by our elites and media as the only choice possible. Economic rationalism. Lucidity. Common sense. Privatization. Deficit reduction in the First World. Structural adjustment programs in the Third World. There was no alternative. Democracy did not enter into it. The WSF slogan, “another world is possible” broke out of this mental straitjacket, liberating human hopes and popular initiatives, allowing a new creativity beyond the stale theorems of mainstream economics.
Recent events have confirmed the critics of neoliberalism. A series of social economic and financial crises which began in the global South in the 1980s, continued in the North with the bursting of one speculative bubble after another (dot.com, Enron and fossil fuels, slice-and and-dice derivatives, mortgage crisis) to the point that we are now seeing the fall of automobile and communications giants, banks, pension funds, and a longterm worldwide depression.
Must we continue down the same path of extreme consumerism and individualism? Is maximization of profits the sole rule of life? Are they compatible with sustainable development, an economy of relation between generations, between races, between all living things? How can we develop local economies, global solidarity and equity? These are some of the questions being asked at the Belém SF.
The social forums listen to the voices of groups and and movements that are often fighting for community survival, those off the radar of the political class and the media -- such as our own aboriginal people, migrant workers, and homeless, those forced to seek nourishment in soup kitchens and food banks. For this reason, the 2009 WSF puts indigenous people, especially those of the Amazon region, in the limelight.
Giving voice and recognition to the voiceless must also mean listening, opening dialogue, and working together to transform our society. It means taking responsibility for social solidarity, an awakening of civic conscience, because each of us is a member of society, a community, and a neighborhood. Social justice must be built one day at a time.
Meanwhile, things are changing fast around us. While we try to restart the engines of civic responsibility at home, there are new hopes in the South. A number of Latin American peoples have just chosen governments committed to popular democracy, economic and social transformation – Lula in Brazil, Hugo Chavez' Bolivarean revolution in Venezuela, Evo Morales in Bolivia, Correa in Ecuador.... an inspiration to us in the North.
They assert the right of the people to control their own natural resources and development. The multiple economic crises show that another world is not only possible but necessary -- nay, inevitable. And the reconstruction of the North will depend on our ability to change our governments, and nurture the participative political culture, following trails first blazed by the social forums.
-- by Professors Raphaël Canet, U d'Ottawa; Dominique Caouette, U de Montréal, Marie-Josée Massicotte, U d'Ottawa; Caterina Milani, Y du Québec International coordinator.