Yamini Sequeira examines the lofty ideals of the history-making 2016 World Social Forum – to build a sustainable and inclusive world

ca-wsf-oct16-350x210The World Social Forum (WSF) 2016 was an out of the box event that cocked a snook at convention and threw the rule book out of the window. Held from 9 to 14 August, in Montreal, WSF was run amid a flurry of activity, as 5,000 representatives of local organisations and global civil society proposed and participated in more than 1,500 self-managed activities.

Though the forum brings together, and interlinks organisations and movements, of civil society from all countries, it doesn’t represent world civil society.

Many working groups were created to offer everyone a voice, and jointly find solutions to build a sustainable and inclusive world. Five objectives were identified for WSF 2016: promoting convergences between organisations, encouraging citizen engagement, linking and taking action, making the alternatives visible and giving meaning to the World Social Territory. The message was: ‘To achieve these objectives, we need to think global and act local!’

WSF 2016 made history as the first event of its kind to be held in a country in the ‘North.’ The forum, which began in 2001, had its roots in Latin American activism, with an emphasis on dialogue and the exchange of ideas among activists. Since then, WSF has taken place in the so-called ‘South’ – i.e. in Latin America, Asia and Africa.

One of the originators of WSF said, in an interview: “I had the idea. Why not create the World Social Forum, as we have the World Economic Forum, speaking about the people in the world? Why not have the World Social Forum (social is more important than economic), to have a space to show that we can have an alternative? We have a choice. This is not the only way you can see the world (globalisation). We have another way to see it; and at the same time, force people to look to make a choice. What is your choice? What is your vision of the world?”

WSF 2016 implemented a unique working method, to stimulate solidarity and common action. This methodology is based on threefundamental principles that guide the 10 objectives of the World Social Forum.

Firstly, the forum is an open process, and its function is to facilitate – beyond the 2016 event – the meeting and collaboration of organisations and individuals around the world, which are working to build a different world.

Secondly, participation in the WSF presents an opportunity for all social transformation actors to develop or strengthen common sustainable actions, and disseminate sources of inspiration beyond the exchanges and discussions.

Finally, beyond the time of assembly, the event facilitates the creation of a strong symbolic space that materialises through an original occupation of spaces that offer visibility to practices, heralding other possible worlds.

“The numerous recent crises are expressions of the contradictions and limitations of the form of global capitalism that has been imposed on humanity and the Earth. The assertion that ‘another world is possible’ is now an absolute necessity,” says another WSF founder.

Since 2001, the United Nations (UN) has had a presence at the WSF, underpinning the institutional credibility of the forum. In WSF, the UN sees a “prime opportunity for dialogue and a laboratory of ideas for the renewal of public policies” through “critical reflection
on the future of societies we want to create, and for elaborating proposals in search of solidarity, justice, peace and human rights.”

In sum, 1,300 self-managed activities transpired, in addition to 200 cultural events. Moreover, six parallel forums – including the World Forum of Free Media, World Parliamentary Forum, Forum of First Nations, Theology and Freedom World Forum, World Social Forum for a World Free of Civil and Military Nuclear Fission, among others – were held. The different committees were linked to numerous themes, and their activities represented those themes.

Notably, the forum on ‘The Convergence on Post Capitalist Transition’ expressed that “there are plenty of alternatives” to capitalism and neo-liberalism. It called for the need to move away from societies based on mass consumption, and towards societies where resources are cared for, recycled and shared.

The alternatives proposed at WSF 2016 stand in opposition to a process of globalisation that is commanded by large multinational corporations, and governments and international institutions that are at the service of those corporations’ interests.

These alternatives are designed to ensure that globalisation, in solidarity, will prevail as a new stage in world history; respect universal human rights and the environment; and rest on democratic international systems and institutions that are at the service of social justice, equality and the sovereignty of people.

As always, however, at an event of this nature, controversy was not too far off. The Canadian Government denied 60 percent of visa requests by activists from different parts of the world, who wanted to attend WSF 2016.