Report on the thematic Social Forum, various initiatives and International Council of the WSF

, by  AGUITON Christophe, AZAM Geneviève, MASSIAH Gus

A series of activities were held at Porto Alegre during the week of 16‑21 January 2017. These activities were held on the occasion of the Social Forum on Resistance organised by Brazilian social movements on 17-21 January and which concluded with the WSF International Council which met on 20 and 21 January 2017.

The Social Forum on Resistance

The Social Forum on Resistance was Porto Alegre’s edition of the Thematic Forum, and was organised by Brazilian movements in response to and to coincide with the World Economic Forum in Davos. This year, the Forum was marked by the situation in Brazil, which some are calling the end of the political cycle in Latin America, and by the election of Donald Trump in the US. The Social Forum on Resistance reflects the character of the era and proposes its objective to the World Social Forum in suggesting it redefine itself as a world resistance forum.

The highlight of the Forum was a meeting of Brazil’s causes, which proposed converging many existing Brazilian resistance movements and alternative movements. The debate among the Brazilian left about the offensive from the right and how to respond, the significant defeat in the local elections, the responsibilities of the Worker’s Party and movements in the circumstances, the evolution of “Lulism” and the standings with regard to the upcoming presidential elections extended across the Forum.

During the Forum, the meetings brought together 500 to 700 people, with a peak attendance of 1500 people watching Olivio Dutra, the former governor of Rio Grande do Sul, speak. Five days of plenaries (organised by theme, e.g. environment, housing, work, etc.) and self-managed activities were held.

“Which Way for Latin America?” seminar

Naturally, the repercussions of recent events for the governments of the left in Latin America, and the situation for social movements in this context were at the heart of the concerns of activists present at Porto Alegre. The topic was on the agenda for various activities at the Social Forum on Resistance, in particular, a seminar called “Which Way for Latin America?” held on 17 January. The seminar took place as a follow-up to an original seminar held in Montreal in August 2016 during the World Social Forum [1], and CLACSO study days held in Buenos Aires in September 2016 [2] .

At the seminar in Porto Alegre, we heard from Alejandro Bandana from Nicaragua, Edgardo Lander from Venezuela, Marisa Clave from Peru, Pablo Solon from Bolivia, Cida Bento from Brazil, Lilian Celiberti from Uruguay, Ximena Montoya from Chile and José Seoane from Argentina.

The debates covered a variety of aspects but focussed primarily on two fundamental issues; the degree of rupture which has been necessary to break away from the social and economic course and political practices such as those in Brazil, and alternative policies to the “extractivism” which is at work in most Latin American countries. All contributions presented in Montreal and Buenos Aires will be published in Spanish, English and French.

Work group for different projects coordinating their activities

The sudden changes in the international situation, the development of new problems highlighted by social movements and the emergence of new political experiences for the left have driven the setting up of various projects which are in the process of coordinating their activities and who met at Porto Alegre during the week of 16-21 January.

These included the "Systemic alternatives" project, coordinated by Focus on the Global South, ATTAC France and the Solon Foundation from Bolivia, the "New politics" project launched by the TNI which aims to be a platform open to numerous partners, Intercoll and various Brazilian players who have been invested in the activities of the World Social Forum since its formation.

Members of these various projects and networks met in Porto Alegre to put together an event schedule for 2017, which takes into account the initiatives already taken by various activist networks:

  • At the end of March 2017, the New Politics project with the AIDC will organise a large conference in Cape Town, South Africa, with African activists as well as representatives from other continents,
  • In spring 2017, Focus on the Global South will organise a meeting of Asian activists in Bangkok, within the scope of the Systemic Alternatives project,
  • In June 2017 Latin American activists plan to meet at a seminar to discuss the situation in Latin America following the election of Donald Trump, as a follow-up to the seminar at Porto Alegre and earlier seminars on the topic,
  • At the end of August 2017, a conference will be held in Toulouse, France, organised by ATTAC Europe and social movements. It will bring together more than 1500 activists from across Europe, and this initiative will be supported by all of the projects that were present at Porto Alegre, as an important moment of strategic reflection and coordination between movements,
  • On 6-17 November, the COP23 will take place in Bonn, Germany as activists for climate justice in this country and continent prepare significant actions against fossil fuels and for a “fair change”,
  • On 11-14 December the ministerial conference will take place in Buenos Aires, Argentina; this will be the occasion for mass protests against the free-trade agreements but also a key date for evaluating together the evolution of the global situation and discussing necessary strategies.

“Global initiative against conservatism, xenophobia and intolerance” seminar

Proposed by several WSF founding member organisations (Accion Educativa, Ibase, etc.)

The seminar brought together around twenty people and began with presentations by region; Asia by Meena Menon (who ultimately was not able to join us), North America by Pierre Beaudet, Europe by Christophe Aguiton, Latin America by Pablo Solon, South Africa by Mazibuko Jara, the Maghreb and Machrek by Hamouda Soubhi. Summary by Daniel Chavez from Argentina and Geneviève Azam from France. The reflection was marked by the feelings about the election of Donald Trump in the US and its consequences, by Brexit in Europe and by the struggles and failings of the Latin American left.

Among the issues tackled were: is it still relevant to talk of neoliberal globalisation or a national (and nationalist) neoliberalism? Or are we witnessing a deglobalisation and the end of neoliberalism? What type of deglobalisation?

Another central topic was that of immigration and refugees. One of the major sources of xenophobia and intolerance is the acceleration of migration in a context of political closure of societies. The phenomenon of migration (intraregional, intranational and international) is truly global and reaches beyond the political, historical and cultural characteristics of different areas. Should we still be talking of migrants, or rather refugees? Migration should be understood from the point of view of the migrants/refugees and the impact on societies: mass migration effectively introduces social models based on the increase in people who have no rights and no place; people who have become “excess”. Conservatism and denial of rights come hand-in-hand with economic freedom, with its emancipation of the social, political and ecological restrictions which could hold them back, and with the rise of nationalist sentiments. This is expressed notably towards women, through depriving them of the visibility they had gained in the public space, equally towards the rights of minorities, and more generally of the expressions of diversity, for the benefit of a unique and unifying idea.

These issues need facing and should be dealt with in depth in preparation for the WTO ministerial conference in Buenos Aires in December 2017; an important moment for numerous social movements.

The International Council

The International Council brought together around 80 people, including several Brazilian organisations. There were around 45 Council member organisations from around 20 countries. This is an average attendance for an International Council similar to other International Council meetings. The African attendance was very low (3 attendees from South Africa) and there were no attendees from Asia. The reason for this was generally linked to the fundamental absence of solidarity (we have not been able to meet various requests from Asia and Africa) and in some cases it was due to visa delays (notably for India). The Council debates were much calmer than in Montreal. There certainly were some tense moments, but not too many.

The Council was well prepared by the reports which were submitted by the committees designated in Montreal, about the global situation, the meeting of causes, communications, the secretariat and the organisation.

The Council heard a report on the issue of migrants and refugees in the world. It was presented by Paulo Illes, one of the leaders of the Sin Fronteiras [without borders] movement and one of the coordinators of the World Social Form on Migration, the last meeting of which took place at Sao Paulo on 7-10 July 2016 (the meeting previous to that was in December 2014 in Johannesburg). The report was about the situation of migrants and refugees and about the violence of xenophobic and racist attacks against migrants across the world, and notably with Trump in the US; but also about the various forms of popular resistance and support. The next World Social Forum on Migration will take place in Mexico in May 2018. It is a date to remember for the WSF process, particularly considering Trump’s aggression towards Mexico. This World Social Forum on Migration opens a perspective of reinforcement of the WSF and of the Council: call for thematic forums to feed the Council’s reflection and the WSF process; proposal to expand the Council to include movements which play a role in leading regional or national thematic forums.

The Council examined the committee’s report on the international situation, presented by Pierre Beaudet. The report was prepared based on contributions from around 50 Council members. He presented a 75-page report which can be downloaded here.

The World Seen from Below, a 7-page summary, was discussed by the Council based on four topics: Globalisation 2.0; Confrontations; Challenges; The Future of the World Social Forum. Each section ends with three or four questions to explore.

The Council examined the committee’s report on the meetings of causes, presented by Michel Lambert. The relevance of this issue was highlighted by the Social Forum on Resistance in Porto Alegre which was centred around a meeting of causes. The proposition to create such a meeting was well received and paved the way for a very extensive discussion. Two topics were discussed. The first approach aimed to organise the meeting of causes based on the experience of the social movements meeting to give a place and a visibility to the movements who wish to express the importance and relevance of causes at the forums. This approach requires specification of the type of organisation and representation of the meeting. The second approach that was discussed examines the connection between causes and movements. It requires separating the causes, based on following-up and mapping the causes in their various forms, to identify the movements, in their various forms, that are engaged in these causes. The committee will explore this in depth and will outline its proposals.

The Council examined a report of the World Forum of Free Media presented by Rita Freire. The report analyses the evolution of the dominant media and their role in the ideological drift towards xenophobia and racism. The report then discusses the evolution of free media and the accompanying challenges. It presents a historical analysis of the communication of the World Social Forums and proposes routes to follow. It proposes the organisation of an international seminar for defining a communication strategy for the WSFs. The report is available in three languages.

The Council examined the structure of the WSF and its secretariat based on a report prepared by Martina Pignatti and Jason Nardi presented by Carminda Mac Lorin on the creation of a secretariat support group and on the structure of the secretariat based on a presentation by Hamouda Soubhi. The Council confirmed that the secretariat is to be located in the Maghreb, more specifically at the FMAS in Morocco, with the support of the FTDES. The secretariat will, as a priority, be in charge of: the site, managing lists, a newsletter, summons and reports for IC, committee and work group meetings. The possibility for funding the secretariat, and creating a solidarity fund based on contributions from IC member associations was considered. Following the discussion of the proposals for the International Council’s tasks presented by Pierre George, the Council proposed to combine the discussion with that of the work group lead by Gina Vargas and Francine Mestrum.

The Council examined the possibilities for organising a new World Social Forum in 2018. The proposal to prepare a multi-centre World Social Forum for 2019, made up of regional forums was discussed little. The Council acknowledged the proposal for a World Social Forum in Salvador, Bahia, in March 2018, presented by movements and associations from Salvador and the State of Bahia, who attended the IC meeting to propose their project. The Council accepted the proposal in principle, requesting these movements to confirm their application after having verified the financial feasibility with the Bahian institutions, and the political feasibility with all of the Brazilian movements.

The Council examined possible upcoming dates. The next International Council meeting will take place during 2017. Three possibilities were proposed: in Mexico in August or September; in South Africa in August; in Salvador, Bahia if the Salvador WSF is confirmed.

The International Council also noted dates of international mobilisations that could be accompanied by the WSF processes to reinforce the resistance movements and mobilisations. The Council recorded the dates and initiatives put forward by the activist networks as well as the planned protests on the date of the meeting of the WTO on 11-14 December in Buenos Aires, the COP23 in Bonn on 7-17 November, the G20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany on 7-8 July, the UN treaty on transnational corporations on 23-24 October, the second session of the Permanent People’s Tribunal in South Africa on 17-24 August in Marikana, and the World Social Forum on Migration in Mexico in May.

These dates represent opportunities for renewing the WSF process, for reinforcing regional and thematic initiatives and reinforcing mass international mobilisation by the movements who participated in the WSF.

A statement on the international situation was put forward by certain movements and signed by the majority of those present. The Council was able to give a bigger place to presenting member’s suggestions on which stance to take on important international issues, allowing members to consider taking on the attitudes proposed.