World Social Forum
By Kevin Murray
November 5th, 2004
Since last week's election, we've been wrestling to find the words to share our perspective on the outcome in a way that would add something to the hundreds of "Morning After" bulletins that have filled our inbox. As we neared exhaustion from the wrestling, we stumbled upon a speech given on November 3 (the Morning After) by Indian writer Arundhati Roy in acceptance of the Sydney Peace Prize. She doesn't mention the U.S. election, but her words have special significance for us as we face the challenges of building our own movements for change in this Week Before.
Arundhati begins by noting that last year's recipient, Hanan Ashrawi, was picketed during her speech. Ms. Roy demands her own picket, even if it must be thrown together on short notice.
"The people, together, are like a pool of wisdom. When you share that wisdom, the pool gets deeper."
As they prepared for their workshops and panels at the Boston Social Forum, I had a chance to talk with Paulo de Marck of the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement (MST) and Ruba Eid from the Democratic Wokers Rights Center (DWRC) in Ramallah, Palestine.
Paulo and Ruba have come to Boston to share stories from GRI's partner organizations, and to meet people engaged in similar struggles here in the States and around the world.
Why come all this way for a conference?
"The people, together, are like a pool of wisdom," Paulo said. "When you share that wisdom, the pool gets deeper."
It's been about a month since the World Social Forum ended and I have been meaning to send a few pictures and do a final reflection or update. (I finally got access to a scanner).
I haven't had access to the internet in a while and am not quite sure where and how to catch you up on what has been happening. I haven't talked much about cultural resistance at the forum so i'll start there. It has been amazing to see people use music, popular theater, drumming, singing etc...to talk to people about their struggles. I saw plays about women's rights in Pakistan, people chanting and singing for Coca Cola to go back home to the U.S., people dancing and chanting slogans for transgender rights, people stepping to show people the effects of water privitization on their communities; people acting out parodies of the U.S., the WTO and the World Bank's roles in world domination. Seeing all that was probably one of the most inspiring parts of the whole experience for me. As someone from the MST put it though, the popular base and grassroots movement folks were out on the streets of the forum and weren't as well represented in the sessions and panels inside the halls. "Although Mumbai has been less elitist and dominated by intellectuals than Porto Alegre we still have to figure out how to engage with the local popular movements present at this forum. The popular base is still disconnected from the intellectuals and Ngo workers."
One of my first experiences at the forum today was watching a group of women from Tamil Nadu shout Amandla Awethu! and sing several variations of we shall overcome. It took me a minute to figure out that they were chanting Amandla until I saw a fellow African nod and smile at me while pointing to the women.
So its another day and I can't quite figure out how my body is holding up. My task for the day: I promised Ziad Abbas (Co-director of the Ibdaa Cultural Center in Dheishe, Palestine) that I would join him at his session on child labor, child trafficking and children in conflict situations but was also scheduled to interview Vandana Shiva (Indian physicist and activist against biopiracy, the production of GMOs and its effects on poor people) during the same time slot.
I haven't been able to do much of a personal reflection on what it's been like to be at the WSF and in Mumbai, because I have so much to process before being able to coherently reflect on the whole experience. I will say, that it feels really good; being out of the U.S.; in Mumbai and in a place where my mind is being stretched and I am constantly being challenged. One of the exciting things has been catching up with GRI partners and meeting people that are organizing around different issues in similar ways (migrant, women's and worker's rights for instance) and see them connect and dialogue with eachother and place themselves within larger movements.
Each day seems to get a little more overwhelming. So I will try to highlight just a few experiences and interactions here. Just a quick note on organization though... because people talked alot about how the organization and logistical coordination of the last WSF was somewhat of a challenge. Given how many people are attending (My estimate is 100,000+) I think they are doing an amazing job logistically. There are "assistance" centers, food counters and volunteers with badges everywhere that have made my life a whole lot easier. The biggest problems they are facing are around timing, space and translation. The fact that translation isn't working out is to me the biggest problem and it limits the amount of audience-panel dialogue and other interactions that can happen.
It has been quite overwhelming to be in India and at the WSF. The past 24 hours here have been humbling and eye-opening to say the least. I have never felt more first world and priveleged than here partly because I don't speak Hindi and have so little knowledge of the grassroots movements from India that are represented here. It is hard to know where to begin. It is incredible to see people from all over the world connected to grassroots movements and organizations fighting for justice.
Wow where do I even begin? I finally got access to the media center on the large WSF grounds here in Mumbai (am thanking the higher powers for having registered as media) and am for the third time trying to submit a log because the electricity keeps cutting so i'll keep it short. I want to backtrack to my trip over here for a minute before moving on to talk about being in Mumbai and the WSF:
The plane was basically one large WSF delegation mainly from Brazil and Western Europe. I did my first interview with Sasa K. Director of an development and social rights organization in Macedonia (former Yugoslav State which gained its independence in 1991; population 2 million) who was sitting next to me. Here are some things he shared with me.
My fellowship program (New Voices) is bringing/sending 30 of us to Mumbai for the World Social Forum (WSF) a yearly gathering of social change organizations, activists, organizers, academics (100,000+ registered) etc... that began in 2001 in Brazil as an alternative to the yearly World Economic Forum organized by large multinational corporations, national governments, IMF, the World Bank and the WTO in Davos, Switzerland to discuss trade policies and agreements.