Ten years ago, just after Seattle mobilization against WTO, Porto Alegre hosted the first World Social Forum.
Ten years after, just after Copenhagen mobilization for climate justice, Porto Alegre will host an international debate on WSF balance and perspectives.
What are the differences ten years after? I would like suggest eleven of them.
1. In Porto Alegre 2000 we were the only ones affirming that globalization will not produce a better world and that it have been already produced disasters for the big majority of humanity.
Nowadays, this awareness is much more spread, also inside politics and institutions. Nobody in the world willing to raise consensus will defend today wild neoliberalism as such, even if the big majority of the existing power is only searching a way to correct it. The feeling that capitalism is not producing happiness is circulating all over the world and in many different components of the society. To simply denounce the dramatic consequences of the global crises is not enough. Crises are producing fear and insecurity, people need to trust an alternative. In order to transform a popular discomfort into a popular commitment for change, a credible alternative vision of future is needed.
2. In Porto Alegre 2000 the core of the Forum was criticism to economic and trade system. War and peace arrived later in the common debate and mobilization. Ecology and climate justice arose as a common and vital issue only few years ago. Democracy, new governance, ethic, racism and culture, role of religions were often isolated as they were fields for especially devoted people.
Nowadays, the altermondialistic organizations everywhere accept the idea that the change will come from a broad articulation of platforms, struggles and alternatives, facing all the aspects of life, material conditions as well as the spiritual and ethic ones. We reached a more holistic and comprehensive concept of the work we have to do. We need more and stronger inter-connection between the plurality of contents and agendas.
3. In Porto Alegre 2000 the need of change was human centered. The history of fight for change was always based on the reaction to the massive suffering of people because of poverty, war, colonialism, imperialism, war. The care for environment, natural habitat and resources was traditionally a task for especially devoted organizations.
Nowadays, the need for change is broader, it is planet centered. Climate change includes in a larger and unified dimension everything, each single component of life, humans and not humans. Climate change is imposing the timing for the survival of humanity. Climate change imposes us to put at the center the interdependence between human and not human life.
4. In Porto Alegre 2000, the urgency of chance was felt at different degrees in the world. In the North, the general feeling of societies were still deeply inside the illusion of development, and the social categories affected by neoliberalism were still marginalized and considered as an exception.
Now, it is clear to everybody that social insecurity and poverty is spreading in the rich societies too. The need to find solutions is broader and the dramatic countdown of climate catastrophe could bring more people, despite their social conditions, to feel the urgency of change. We need to be more responsible, planet time is short. We cannot be isolated inside ideological borders. We need to be more effective and we need to be able to build broader alliances.
5. In Porto Alegre 2000, the global dimension appeared as the prominent one for civil society in future time. We shared the feeling that nation state dimension, affected and reduced by globalization, will decline not only in terms of real power but also as a framework for social struggles. And we imagined an ongoing process of unified context for civil society all around the world.
During this decade, we experienced a very different situation. Global civil society is more connected and share more common contents, but national and regional dimensions are still very strong and different. To think in common is not enough, we have to translate the common contents in many different languages. To know and to take in account national and regional diversity is a pre-condition to produce global analysis and global proposals.
6. In Porto Alegre 2000 the world balance of power was marked by USA unilateralism. We met for the first time in Porto Alegre two months after the tenth anniversary of the Berlin Wall collapse. The main element in the world dynamics was USA unilateralism, the new conquer of the whole world, made by using market, culture, consumerism, war. The WSF was strongly marked by anti-US attitude as a convergence of traditional leftist cultures and the reality of that time.
Today, Obama – with his new culture and with his new contradictions- replaced Bush. Unilateralism has been replaced by a multilateralism without rules: economic growth is giving a group of emerging countries (Cina, Russia, India, Brazil) a strong role in the political scene. Europe is living an heavy decadence and its role in the coming years it is unclear. The new international situation need to be matter of debate: it is changing and it will change our agenda, our tasks and our relations too.
7. In Porto Alegre 2000, only one part of the cultures for change were represented. The first WSF mainly involved actors of the old and new social left inside the Europe and Latin America, together with the new cultures represented by more recent experiences (Zapatista movement, Via Campesina, the various Coalitions for global justice).
Today, WSF involves other cultures and other actors. The global debate involves other continents and regions (Asia, USA, Africa, Arab countries) and actors (indigenous people, peoples without state). It’s an horizontal and vertical enlargement which is needed to create a really global cultures, capable to be understood at all the latitudes. Furthermore, the new framework of international framework is deeply modifying our internal dynamics of relations. The improvement of South-South relations is a strategic goal for Southern civil society. Arab countries societies and Far Eastern ones are crucial. European decline should be taken in consideration not only by the Europeans, because it has global consequences (migrants’ persecution is one example). We have to overcome the traditional framework of North-South relation, and new concepts in the system of relations between social organizations has to be developed.
8. In Porto Alegre 2000, we had more illusions. The idea that the worsening of social conditions, created by neoliberal globalization and free market, will automatically produce more resistance of exploited sectors of population showed to be a mistake in many countries. This illusion can be found in some of our analysis on the supposed reaction of people to war and occupation in Middle East, to poverty in Africa and in Asia, to the destruction of social conquers in Europe.
Today is clear that the way out from crises can be to the left as well as to the far right. Where the capability to challenge the cultural hegemony of the market system is weak, where a strong (real or at least symbolic) relation between exploited citizens social movements and politics doesn’t exist, where an alternative vision don’t find a credible representation, economic and social crises can produce the move of people to the right. Racism, populism, war between poor, excluding localism, ethnic conflicts, integralism inside all religions are growing in many regions. And the strength of consumerism goes on conquering the mind of many people all over the world. Many exploited people is conquered by regressive cultures, and we have to try to find a strategy to face it.
9. In Porto Alegre 2000, the common element was opposition. We came together, coming from very different experiences, and we understood that, despite our differences, we had something in common: the need of changing this world. The convergence of social movements and social actors was based on concrete struggles against WTO, World Bank, the war in Iraq. All of this fights had inside strong elements of a new political culture, but the main sign they had was opposition.
Today the need to produce a new cultural framework is stronger. Global crises is a crisis of civilization, and shows that also traditional leftist culture is not enough. We have to overcome industrialism as well as the concept of economical growth and to create a new concept of “well living”. We have to overcome the concept of nation state based on homologation and to build up a new idea of nation which recognize peoples and community identities. We have to rethink a new model of democracy as a combination of representative, direct and communitarian democracy. We have to overcome the principle of majority and to choose the research of consensus as a value. We really need to develop a new political culture.
10. In Porto Alegre 2000, the relation with political parties was simpler. From the very beginning WSF affirmed the autonomy of civil society and social movements from political parties. History shows that relation with leftist and progressive parties is easy to be built when they are at the opposition: it become much more complex when they have Government responsibility.
The leftist Government experiences in Latin America and others all around the world, with all the differences between them, nowadays oblige us to discuss deeper about the concrete way to implement autonomy, and how to build a new relations between institutions, civil society and social movements. It is an open debate, and different options are on the table. It is an important debate, not to be hidden or deny. We can imagine a new model to develop the concept of active citizenship. We have to imagine a redistribution of power between representative bodies, political parties and social organizations.
11. In Porto Alegre 2000, civil society was conquering the global and the virtual dimension. All of us overcame our national borders, we met and discovered each others, we connected resistances, good practices and thought. We built our networks and our common global framework. We built the tools to give us the possibility to daily keep alive our connection. Internet was and still is fundamental. Without Internet, this experience could have been impossible.
Today, we know more than before that the challenge to keep and enlarge the global public space has to be strictly connected with local communities and with concrete territories. The local dimension is the one where communitarian links can defeat individualism and affirm a new dimension of collective rights and responsibilities, a new connection between human and not human life, a new concept of living together, open to others and to differences. The alternative to neoliberal globalization has to be based on the re-localization of economy, democracy and participation.
An attempt of conclusion:
Because of these new challenges we still need after ten years the World Social Forum. It is the only existing network including all progressive and democratic social organizations and movements in the world. It represents a real change in the history of leftist and democratic movement, which is full of internal wars, divisions and fights.
It goes on including new geographical and social dimensions: Maghreb-Marhrek process, the Iraqi Social Forum process, the prominent role of indigenous cultures and agenda are only some of the possible examples. But many other sectors of global civil society still need to be reached and included.
Of course, there are problems, limits and difficulties of civil society and social movements at the local, national and global level. Big differences arose in the last decade, with a part of us which were able to produce real changes and another part who have been defeated. We are facing difficulties in producing global unity and the risk of fragmentation of mobilizations and struggles is real. It is very difficult to give global visibility to the local struggles and to the diffused good practices. All these negative elements make more vital to keep alive the global framework of debate and decisions.
After ten years, nobody –despite the criticism and the different degrees of trust in the process- have abandon or reject the WSF common framework, and this is good. But it doesn’t correspond to a real availability of all the actors to have a real debate, to put their ideas at disposal to the others, to a common research. The risk to take part to the process walking many parallel ways which don’t have any contact point, without producing new contamination of contents and plans of action is real.
We should need a new pact of commitment inside WSF framework, because the new world reality should impose us to renew our strategies, and to stronger challenge the still hegemonic culture of the market by affirming a new cultural hegemony.