[WSF-Discuss] Another piece on World Social Forum

Ashish Kothari chikikothari at gmail.com
Mon Apr 13 06:47:40 CDT 2015


Making Another World Possible Will Require Radical Alternatives – 
Impressions from the World Social Forum

By Ashish Kothari

If sheer enthusiasm can deliver ‘another world’, the opening rally of 
the World Social Forum in Tunis on 24th March held much promise. 
Thousands of women and men, young and old, vociferous and quiet, a 
colourful multitude of sloganeering, banner-holding, dancing and singing 
braved rain and well-below expected temperatures to march from the 
historic Bab Sadoun to the iconic Bardo Museum. The fact that this rally 
came just a week after the horrific attack on visitors and workers in 
this museum, killing 21, was itself highly symbolic. The Forum 
organisers were quick to not only denounce the attack, but also announce 
that the Forum would proceed as scheduled in a mark of solidarity with 
all peace-loving Tunisians, and in celebration of the remarkable 
revolution wrought by the country’s youth and workers as the first 
uprising of the Arab Spring.

Over the next 4 days, about 70,000 people from over 4000 movements or 
organisations are reported to have thronged the Forum in the sprawling 
El Manar University, with participation from every possible cause one 
could think of, and then some. Feminists of various persuasions, 
ecologists and environmentalists, climate justice and peace warriors 
(does that sound contradictory?), those seeking spiritual engagement, 
recyclers and upcyclers, proponents of the commons, free-the-internet 
hackers, Palestine supporters and anti-imperialism activists, peasant 
and indigenous peoples’ and worker movements, anti-discrimination 
fronts, global citizenship proponents, community health workers, poverty 
eradication and food sovereignty groups, the global movement against 
corporate impunity, alternative learning and education practitioners; 
you name it, they were there.

Unfortunately, with hundreds of events taking place over these 4 days, 
there was no way anyone could have got more than a glimpse of the Forum. 
I for one was dedicated to two events relating to the search for 
systemic change, and got no chance to participate elsewhere. But these 
two events themselves encompassed significant diversity, possibly 
forming a tiny microcosm of the Forum.

*Towards a World Citizens’ Movement*

The first, somewhat ambitiously named ‘Towards a World Citizens’ 
Movement’, brought together about 200 civil society members and movement 
activists from various countries.Organised by several civil society 
groups and networks including CIVICUS, Action/2015, GCAP, and 
CONCORD/DEEEP, this was a continuation of a 2-3 year process of bringing 
together practitioners and thinkers advocating transformations towards 
sustainability and equity. It was an interesting convergence (and at 
times divergence!) of perspectives and experiences from labour activism 
to spiritual living, from deschoolers and adult education proponents to 
activist artists, from climate justice activists to poverty eradicators, 
from degrowth advocates to youth revolutionaries (several from 
Tunisia!), and many many more. But there were also conspicuous 
absentees, such as the global movements of small peasants, fishers and 
indigenous peoples (e.g. Via Campesina), or of workers and trade unions; 
with humility several in the gathering noted that a world citizens’ 
movement has to be led by such peoples’ movements and not by NGOs, the 
latter needing to take a facilitative, supportive role.

My second event was much smaller, only about 20 participants. ‘Radical 
Well-being Alternatives to Development’, organized by Kalpavriksh, the 
Global Diversity Foundation, the Centre for Environment and Development, 
and SADED, made up in quality what it lacked in quantity. Panelists and 
participants described a range of inspiring examples of communities, 
civil society or others achieving positive change. Such initiatives, 
combined with peoples’ resistance to destructive projects and landgrab, 
are yielding diverse approaches to well-being, some ancient (like buen 
vivir and sumak kawsay in Latin America, ubuntu in southern Africa, and 
swaraj in South Asia), some very new (like Degrowth in Europe, and 
Radical Ecological Democracy in South Asia).

*Radical wellbeing alternatives to development*

Leah Temper described the resistance to pipelines and the move to claim 
sovereignty over traditional territories by First Nations in Canada. 
This has reinforced the policy of seeking prior and informed consent 
from communities when their interests are threatened, and the judiciary 
upholding oral accounts as valid testimony for establishing inalienable 
rights. She mentioned that the Environmental Justice Atlas coordinated 
by Autonomous University of Barcelona has been useful in mapping and 
making accessible accounts of environmental conflicts and resistance 

Uchita de Zoysa described how community and civil society efforts after 
the 2007 tsunami in Sri Lanka were successful in making the state 
accountable to its relief and reconstruction responsibilities, but also 
in maintaining the coast as part of the commons in the face of 
privatization threats. From such local initiatives to a global level was 
the move to forge 14 Peoples’ Sustainability Treaties, coming together 
at the Rio+20 conference.

Gary Martin pointed to the Moroccan concept of agdal, the collective 
management of the commons. A manifestation of this is the initiative to 
provide culturally appropriate education opportunities to girls from 
traditional communities in dartaliba (girl houses) where they can live 
and study collectively, with a mix of Amazari (their traditional 
language) and Arabic, helping them avoid the alienation taking place in 
mainstream educational institutions.

Patrick Bond described how in South Africa, some recent transformations 
have occurred in the successful struggle to make generic AIDS medicines 
available to the affected population, defeating US pharmaceutical 
company attempts to retain their private IPR stranglehold; and in the 
struggle for ‘commoning’ water and electricity in Soweto, Johannesburg.

*Direct Democracy and Food Sovereignity*

I spoke about the struggle for direct democracy by Mendha-Lekha, an 
adivasi (indigenous) village in central India, which has practiced 
self-rule, conservation of its surrounding forests, sustainable 
harvesting of forest produce, and the use of resulting revenues for full 
livelihood, water, and energy security. It has also converted all its 
private agricultural land to the village commons.

In southern India an organization of dalit women farmers, Deccan 
Development Society, has achieved food sovereignty by organic 
cultivation of traditional seed diversity, linking this to a public 
distribution system for the poor and to urban consumers. The women have 
also become film-makers, run a community radio, and manage a school 
where children are exposed to both traditional and modern knowledge 
systems. A global network of peoples and communities are trying to 
promote such local governance of nature and natural resources, through 
Indigenous Peoples’ and Community Conserved Territories and Areas.

*The many faces of bottom-up change*

Aseem Shrivastava spoke of the successful mobilization of farmers in 
western India against attempted land acquisition by one of the country’s 
most powerful corporations, Reliance. Jai Naidoo gave a brief historical 
perspective of the anti-apartheid and workers’ struggles in South 
Africa, with the major lesson that if revolutions are to happen, they 
will only be by and with ‘common’ people. Ruby van der Wekken described 
her involvement in demonetization, local currency, and other community 
exchange initiatives in Finland. Omar Sbei described an inspiring 
example from Tunisia, of workers at an oasis taking over control (its 
private owner being absent), democratically managing it, and putting 
back revenues from dates into a school, health clinic, and other 
community facilities. In India the Vikalp Sangam or Alternatives 
Confluences is a process of converging such initiatives and social 
movements for mutual learning and collaboration, and building a 
framework or paradigm of a sustainable and just society.

At more global level there are a number of initiatives, including on 
documenting and/or mapping local alternatives, on challenging 
conventional economic paradigms and proposing radical new ones such as 
the alternatives to development in Latin America arising from worldviews 
like Buen Vivir and Sumac Kawsay, the Degrowth movement in Europe, 
Solidarity Economy and Transition initiatives in North America and 
Europe, and the dialogue on Radical Ecological Democracy.

*Converging the multitude of alternatives*

As a participant of mainly these two events, it was not possible for me 
to get a sense of whether the rest of the WSF was indeed helping move us 
towards the promise of ‘another world is possible’. One view holds that 
the deliberately eclectic, almost anarchic space of the WSF is not 
conducive to cohesive convergence of perspectives and political 
mobilization, and so it is not a transformative process; another view 
holds that precisely because of this nature, it has the ability to 
attract enormously diverse movements and groups but still within an 
overall framework of justice and sustainability and that this in the 
long run is more transformative than trying to forge consensus through 
political declarations.

At the Tunis WSF there was some attempt made to host ‘convergence 
assemblies’ to bring people together, and a final session of open 
mingling and some common messages, which may be a step towards making it 
a more transformative process while retaining openness. There was 
considerable synergy between the movements demanding an end to corporate 
dominance and impunity, those fighting for climate justice, and women’s 
movement groups. The language of alternatives from various parts of the 
world also seemed to get significant traction in the convergence 
assemblies. Facilities to record one’s initiatives and continue the 
discussion, and a new process called the Internet Social Forum that 
enables such sharing and attempts to free the internet of state and 
corporate control, will aid in bringing movements together. But someone 
else who was able to participate in a greater number of events and in 
the final sessions, can reflect better on these issues. For me, being 
able to dialogue and interact with a diversity of activists and 
practitioners and thinkers on the issue of radical well-being 
alternatives, was itself well worth the long haul to Tunis. Not to 
mention being able to get a tiny glimpse at how youth can indeed be a 
revolutionary force.

Ashish Kothari
Apt 5 Shree Datta Krupa
908 Deccan Gymkhana
Pune 411004, India
Tel: 91-20-25654239; 91-20-25675450
www.vikalpsangam.org (NEW SITE, PL. SEE!)
Twitter @chikikothari

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://openspaceforum.net/pipermail/worldsocialforum-discuss_openspaceforum.net/attachments/20150413/1dfcf347/attachment.html>

More information about the WorldSocialForum-Discuss mailing list