[WSF-Discuss] to discuss

utopie at ips.org utopie at ips.org
Sun Apr 19 09:38:14 CDT 2015

Dear Jai,
well, I do not see where we disagree.
a)no doubt thast the open space formula works, as I said. The WSF as an internal space for sharing and awarness is fine, and it will continue to exist.
b)no doubt that the IC is not up to its task.On  that, Jay, there is a consensus.Does the open space formula needs a asuch inefficiento body? A much smaller and dedicated only to the realisatihn of the open space would be better and more adequate. A technical body, who acts as a link between the forums, which are realized by the local organizing committees...n ot an international council, but a kind of coordinating committee..we have enogh experince to know that this would be what we need...
c) central remain the debate if an internal open space is enough, in view of how the external world is going.In my view, it is not. But once we agree that the internal open space is enough, let us gop ahead with it. What I find not helpful is this ongoing debate about the Forum, for nothing, as there is a widespread frustration, for the lack of an agreement on what the Forum should do. Let5 us decide it for once. Internal oppen space? Fine. Use the critical mass in the open space to tajke positions on how the neoliberal globalization is doing? Fine. I am a proponent of the second formula, but I will be very happy if the first one is finally decided.But it should be clear what we want. And my paper was intended to create a debate exactly on this definition.
After 15 years, some update would be reasonable. But if the feeling is that this shopuld not be so, as you say, I will gladly accept. But there should be a debate and a definition, and stop all this sense of frustration among a relevant number of people.
About the IC, my proposal is to downgrade its image, which brings number of organizations to join, just for the status, adn make it a coordinating committee, clearly intendedc as a facilitator for the organizing committee of the Forum. Especially if the Forum remains an internal open space, as you seem inclined to choose, a large and inefficient body is even less necessary.
Now, the question of the IC depends on what we expect the WSF to do.... 
So, let us debate, reach a consensus and go ahead! Roberto
-----Original Message-----
From: "Jai Sen" <jai.sen at cacim.net>
Sent: Sunday, 19 April, 2015 8:23am
To: "Post WSFDiscuss" <worldsocialforum-discuss at openspaceforum.net>
Cc: "Jai Sen" <jai.sen at cacim.net>
Subject: Re: [WSF-Discuss] to discuss

Sunday, April 19 2015
Dear Roberto (and dear Boa), greetings
            Thanks for this – the article, for discussion, your assessment of it Boa, and this news.  A pity; from what you said that might have been a useful seminar to have had, in the given context.
            But… while I too have enjoyed reading your article Roberto, I’d like to take you up on your invitation in the subject line to discuss your proposal.  In short, and if you don't mind my saying so, I feel that you’ve intertwined things a little – and by grasping just one limb, are tending to miss the wood for the trees.  Forgive me for being awkward and saying this; it was of course good to see assessment Boa, but I feel I have to differ.
            By your own account Roberto, while the IC is paralysed and half-dead (and I thoroughly enjoyed reading your account of the noisy merry-go-round / musical chairs that goes on there, the Chaplinesque tragicomedy of serious, high political discussion that always pervades IC meetings), the WSF itself – the WSF process – seems to be alive and very well, proliferating everywhere, and with people continuing to be inspired by the WSF idea across much of the world.
Surely, if this is case, we have to ask ourselves : Why and how is this the case – that one limb (the head ?!) is dead but the trunk and tree is so alive and so well ? And (b), what precisely, then, is the value of the IC ?  And (c), is it only through the IC, and by the IC or something like it taking ‘positions’ that the WSF can become ‘relevant to the world outside’ ?
You however focus on the IC alone, and your suggestion is that the Charter therefore needs to be changed to allow the IC to take positions on world issues – and by implication, you suggest that doing this would also make the WSF relevant to the world outside.  And where Boa has even “congratulate[d] you for the most lucid analysis of our problems in the WSF I have read in recent times”.  But given that it is Boa who has said this, and given the enormous respect he enjoys so widely and including within the WSF process, this blessing worries me !
Though I love your phrase “the WSF … is frozen in the formula of an open space”, I would like to suggest, first, that you (and in a way also Boa, by the wording of his / your brief comment) are here – as happens often – conflating and confusing the WSF and the IC; and second, that contrary to what you say, I suggest that the WSF process is alive and well precisely because of the culture and praxis of open space; and that this formula isn't frozen at all – just look at the vitality of the US Social Forum process, as one example, which has completely re-interpreted and re-invented the concept of open space !  
As I think you may know, I have my own issues with the idea and praxis of what is called ‘open space’; but I’m not going to go into that here.[ [1] ]( #_ftn1 )  But at the risk of repetition on this point (since I’ve also earlier written on this in various places), I think I have to venture the thought here again that the magic of the space created by each Forum is that it is a space for the open-ended exchange not just of ideas but also, and crucially, of pheromones (trace chemicals that live beings exchange, and that contain whole histories in them), and for cross-contamination, and where the contaminated then go forth and multiply, as it were, and contaminate others in the diverse parts of the world that they come from; and where – as we all know – this process of multiplication is exponential, and that of contamination is viral…. And, I suggest, this is why the WSF process is ‘successful’ - because it is truly ‘alive’.  And by now, I suspect, has all but achieved a state of constant multiplication, rejuvenation, and transmutation.  Or is near to that.
            And as others have written before me, aside from the fact that pheromonic exchange and contamination are invisible anyway, the way the process is growing and interconnecting is also underground (and therefore not visible to us – because it's rhizomatic, with roots spreading deep underground, and all around us).  So we can’t ‘see’ all this going on, but it is.
            But what is vital to point out here, in the context of this discussion about the IC and how the WSF can and should relate to the world around it, is that what the WSF process as it exists / has become therefore is also doing, is to turn power relations on its head; and as opposed to the old fashioned way of some body or limb being created that has or is given (or, usually, takes) the power to ‘represent’ ‘the WSF’ in relation to what you refer to as ‘world issues’, it is the organic manner in which the myriad incarnations that now exist of ‘the WSF’ in so many parts of the world relate to the world around them that is – I suggest - a far more authentic (and more organic) manifestation of ‘the WSF’ relating to ‘the world outside’, than any one body or limb would ever be able to manage.  
I recognise what you are saying – that the WSF is all too often not ‘speaking to’ developments taking place out there in the rest of the world – but I hope you can also see what I am saying, that the larger WSF process is now very much a creation of the rest of the world; and that ‘it’ is therefore in constant conversation with the world out there.  I personally feel that there is place for both, but I most sincerely hope that those within the WSF process will also keep this in mind and not think of the IC as their sole spokesperson, forgetting about this other very live and organic relationship that already exists.
            Frankly, although I myself have been a votary for change to other parts of the Charter since back in 2003 (as Boa, you might even remember, from Mumbai in 2004 ?), I feel I have to agree here with those who you characterise as being “The guardians of the Charter” – that changing the Charter in this regard, of giving a body such as the IC the exclusive power to represent ‘the WSF’ as a whole, and to speak on its behalf, could indeed kill the soul of the WSF.  (Not ‘would’ kill; I’m not sure that any such change would in fact have the power to literally kill the giant tree that the WSF now is.  But it might.)
Until you came in with the news today, I was hoping that the seminar that was going to take place in Greece might take this thought into account; but since it's not taking place, I hope that any other such meeting will do so.  Because the WSF, and any given larger manifestation of the WSF, is now far too large, and far too diverse, for any body, no matter how composed, to authentically represent.  The only legitimate ‘representation’ of such diversity is the quotidian WSF process : The everyday taking of positions that all the limbs, of all the trees that make up the WSF, organically do, depending on the environment around them, and where the wood as a whole is alive, and where the limbs over time learn as they take positions about their environment, and adapt, and also transfer that message / those messages back through the rhizome so that it spreads throughout the larger wood that now exists, and is constantly growing.  And that this is the authentic way that I suggest ‘the WSF’ is already relating to the world around it, and can and should want to relate to it.  By being an organic part of it, and not separate to it.  To be a part of the world, we don't need to specially fashion a limb to have this particular function.  
            By saying this, I do not mean to suggest at all that the WSF process as it is, is perfect.  But I believe that what is frozen is the debate that is still going on about how it should be represented, and trying to find the magic formula for managing this (and where your suggestion here, while very welcome, is just one more in the long series of good ideas that have come up over that last decade).  And I'd like to suggest that if we want to improve it, one of the things we most urgently need to do is to recognise the nature of the WSF as it is now, and nurture it, and encourage it in every way we can think of and enact, to become and to be a live part of the world wherever it is : To become a movement locally.  Which will, necessarily, happen in different ways in different places.  Doing this, along with a critical discussion, might help to open up the discussion a bit.
            Frankly, I’m not sure what the best formula is for a better IC (or whatever), but what I do think is that there are many equally if not more important debates out there : Most importantly perhaps, the exclusionary structural tendencies that exist within the WSF, and that remain so persistent and resilient (see Janet Conway’s book)[ [2] ]( #_ftn2 ), and its domination by civil society.  My own hunch is that if these were addressed and overcome, the WSF would move to yet another level of ‘success’.  But unfortunately, and unlike the question of the IC which is in a way so much more obvious, as in society at large there is no easy way to address these structural questions; and so while they get mentioned quite often, they barely get discussed, as such, let alone addressed.  And in the meanwhile, those who are excluded – the incivil – just stay away from the WSF, and by doing this condemn it (or contain it ?) to a more narrow existence than it is capable of.

[ [1] ]( #_ftnref1 ) Those interested might like to take a look at : Jai Sen, 2010b – ‘On open space : Explorations towards a vocabulary of a more open politics’, in Antipode, Vol 42 No 4, 2010 (ISSN 0066-4812), pp 994–1018; accessible free in 10.10 @ [ http://www.antipode-online.net/issue.asp?vid=42&iid=4&aid=11&s=0 ]( http://www.antipode-online.net/issue.asp?vid=42&iid=4&aid=11&s=0 ).  (Full original unedited version available @ [ http://cacim.net/twiki/tiki-index.php?page=Publications ]( http://cacim.net/twiki/tiki-index.php?page=Publications ) and @ [ https://independent.academia.edu/JaiSen ]( https://independent.academia.edu/JaiSen ))

[ [2] ]( #_ftnref2 ) Janet Conway, 2012 - Edges of Global Justice : The World Social Forum and its ‘Others’. London and New York : Routledge.

On Apr 19 2015, at 3:36 PM, [ utopie at ips.org ]( mailto:utopie at ips.org ) wrote:
Helas, it seems that there will be no seminar in Greece...and the feed back from the talmudist is very negative...I do not see any sign of change...but hope is the last goddess...a strong hug, roberto
-----Original Message-----
From: "Boaventura de Sousa Santos" <[ bsantos at ces.uc.pt ]( mailto:bsantos at ces.uc.pt )>
Sent: Friday, 17 April, 2015 11:26pm
To: "Discussion list about the WSF" <[ worldsocialforum-discuss at openspaceforum.net ]( mailto:worldsocialforum-discuss at openspaceforum.net )>, "BoaP" <[ bsantos at ces.uc.pt ]( mailto:bsantos at ces.uc.pt )>
Subject: Re: [WSF-Discuss] to discuss

Dear Roberto 
 I congratulate you for the most lucid analysis of our problems in the WSF I have read in recent times. I am sure change will come or else will pay the price of irrelevance. Let's give the seminar in Greece a chance to think things through and to come up with two or three proposals to be voted in alternative in a future meeting of the IC that assumes itself as a constituent power to change the charter of principles.
 un abrazo

On 07-04-2015 19:43, [ utopie at ips.org ]( mailto:utopie at ips.org ) wrote:
-----Original Message-----
 From: [ english at other-news.info ]( mailto:english at other-news.info )
 Sent: Tuesday, 7 April, 2015 1:59pm
 To: "english" [ <english at other-news.info> ]( mailto:english at other-news.info )
 Subject: Other News - It Should be Clear What to Expect from the WSF


It Should be Clear What to Expect from the WSF
by Roberto Savio*
Rome, April 2015 – The last International Council (IC) of the World Social Forum (Mar. 29 and 30) in Tunis was characterised by the usual sequence of three-minute statements, without any conclusions. This time, the presence of several people who intervened vehemently, without being members of the IC or representing anyone, added more confusion. 
ICs are usually held without any control of participants, often in inadequate space, with problems of sound and translation. And with the passing of the years, the numbers of those who question the present format of the WSF are increasing, with a consensus to postpone the issue until a serious debate on a future occasion. 
This time it will be the turn of an ad hoc seminar in Greece, but as the IC cannot vote and decisions must be taken by consensus, whatever will come out of the seminar in Greece will have to be adopted by a full IC. And, because the composition (and chemistry) of the IC changes every time according to its location, the next meeting will be held in Montreal in 2017, with scarce Asian, Arab and African participation. It will be a Latin-American European mix, as it was at the birth of the WSF, which may be a regression.
The debate about the future of the WSF is, as the late Tarzi Vittachi once said, always about something else. 
After 15 years, the facts about the WSF are by now well clear. The Forum is doing exactly what it was supposed to do. It is a meeting space, where tens of thousands of people meet, share and exchange, and it is an occasion for taking decisions on common action among participants. 
Especially for young people who are meeting for the first time, it is an exciting experience.  The problem is that for those who saw the WSF as a new actor for a different world, this self-referential formula does not make an impression in the real world. 
The first Forum, held in Porto Alegre in 2001, created a wave of enthusiasm. When, in its wake, a March for Peace “brought together” 110 million people around the world, the New York Times described global civil society as a “new crucial world player”.  There was also a TV link for a debate among some prominent participants from the World Economic Forum in Davos (including George Soros), and some participants from Porto Alegre. Today, this would be impossible.
The Forum has never lost its vitality, in all the passages from Porto Alegre to the various other locations in the world, from Mumbai to Nairobi, from Caracas to Dakar. Every time, tens of thousands of people met, discussed and shared how to make another world possible. 
Variations were due to the local organising committee, to logistical factors, to financial realities. But the formula of the Forum, by and large, has kept functioning worldwide and over the years. 
What has grown is the disconnect between the Forum and the world that it wants to change. The disasters created by neoliberal globalisation are now evident to everybody. The loss of legitimacy of the political system is stronger every day. The inability of the system to resolve even problems for the survival of the planet, like climate change, have become common knowledge. The   unprecedented growth of social injustice is now denounced by international organisations like IMF and the World Bank. 
However, on all those issues, the WSF does not take any position. It is frozen in the formula of an open space, not for relating to the outside world. And the IC is just a facilitator which cannot take official positions, or propose any vision or plan of action.
Some historical analysis may be useful here. The first WSF in 2001 was created as an anti-Davos, and was intended to be a one-time event. Then the Brazilian organising committee found itself facing an unexpected success. Over 50,000 people came.  Clearly this was a movement, and could not be killed.
So a ”conference for reflection” was called in Sao Paolo the following year, and several international or local organisations were invited to attend. And here came the beginning of the problem. The invitations were not issued after careful planning, by region or by any criteria. Those invited were people that the Brazilian committee knew, and in hindsight it was considered a logical way to proceed.  
However, during the meeting, the Brazilians realised that it would have been a mistake to remain the only ones responsible for continuation of the Forum, and they changed the meeting into the first International Council (after calling it Committee). So the IC started as a collection of different people and organisation, without clear criteria.
The IC of the time was attended by very high-level personalities because the WSF was considered a revolutionary event.  But the fact is that the Charter of Principles that it adopted was not a charter for any action to change the world – it was simply to allow as many participants to meet and debate among themselves. 
The IC was to be only a” facilitator”, so its debate focused on organisational matters not on issues of policy or vision, because the IC was not intended to provide vision. The high-level personalities got bored, and the level of IC was left to activists and representative of organisations. Over the years, that level has also been on the decline.
It should also be noted that the IC was conceived as a totally horizontal structure, as is always the case in alternative civil society – there are no directors, no positions. It is the same formula as for a number of other global  events, like the Indignados in Spain or Occupy Wall Street in New York, just to recall the two most famous. The same horizontal formula – no leaders, no spokespersons and no structure. 
A very interesting book, “Assault the Sky” by Josè Ignacio Torreblanca, analyses how the leaders of Podemos, who were part of the Indignados, debated how to organise without falling into the traps of the old political system. That political system has been so discredited that anything which resembles is rejected by the large majority of militants. 
It is interesting to note that at the IC in Tunis, a young German participant rejected any rules in the debate, accusing the IC of being a bureaucratic organisation which was re-creating the divisions among countries and copying political institutions. 
The question is an old one, and comes from colonial times. Can the oppressed free themselves using the same instruments as the oppressors? But this opens up another question: is it verticality that characterises the ills of the political system, or its content and players? Podemos will give an important answer to this.
The IC was therefore also created as a space for dialogue, not for decisions, but it is a very ineffective dialogue, given the amount of time given to speakers and the fact that no conclusions are drawn to avoid privileging some of participants over others. The debate is intended to make the participants of the IC aware of what others think. 
But here we enter another problem. The IC is formed, nominally, by more than 150 organisations but, in reality, perhaps 50 really participate. Further, at every IC less than half of the participants are the same as in the following IC, and on each occasion the newcomers go back to issues which were somehow examined in previous ICs. Given that note was not taken of previous debates, the solution on every occasion on which there is clear consensus is to send the issue to the next IC. 
The result is that the very few who come to every IC (because they are funded by their organisations to do so), have become de facto an organising force, with many rumours of having created a power group with little transparency.
While it was generally accepted that the WSF is not an event, but a process, horizontality makes this very difficult. In an organised process, you would expect to pass previous debates and cumulative wisdom from forum to forum, in order to give to the process more speed and force. But there is no link between forums. 
At every Forum, debate at any level starts anew, complicated by the fact that the organisers of the Forum cannot force panels on the same issue to join together. In Tunis, there were more than 1,000 workshops, seminars or meetings, several of which were on exactly the same issue. So every meeting spoke only to its direct constituency, without hearing the voices of others. 
Every year there are a minimum of twenty local, regional, thematic and global forums, with thousands of interventions from academics to activists, giving an indication of how much collective wisdom gets lost in the process.
In the case of the IC, there is a further problem which has nothing to do with horizontality. Members of the IC tend to look to it just as a meeting space. To take assignments at home is judged a statistical failure. It was the lack of efficiency of the Forum that gave rise to the creation of commissions which would look into methodology, enlargement, communication, finance and other issues. 
When the Commission on Enlargement wanted to reorganise the IC into a more representative body, it went nowhere. The only support that the Commission on Communication asked from the IC was that participants would provide the names of a few journalists known to be interested in the Forum, but this never happened. 
Given the gradual dwindling of journalists attending forums, the proposal to present a list of resource persons (for gender, environment, indigenous people, etc.) for giving to journalists so they could find their way around hundreds of meetings to obtain material to write their articles was dismissed as a way of appointing spokespersons.
In any case, the commission died quietly, without anyone noticing, and the secretariat of the WSF also closed, because of budget problems. The organising committee of the Tunis Forum even made it clear that it had received no contribution whatsoever from the IC.
After 15 years, analysis of the WSF would require much more than these few lines, but the point is very simple. The WSF has no governance body because the IC was intended only to be at most a facilitator, whatever this means. The IC is an inefficient body, without a permanent core, with no acts or rules, which cannot take decisions on vision and strategy. This is aggravated by the proven fact that the members do not take any work beside their interventions to its meetings.
In the last few months, the debate about the future of the WSF has again taken force. The proponents for change say that when WSF was created, neoliberal globalisation was new, and the WSF was necessary to debate and denounce it. 
Now this work has been done, and we need to start to act. At the very minimum, this requires changing the Charter of Principles, and accepting that the Forum can make declarations on issues that participants consider relevant. 
The guardians of the Charter maintain that this would lead inexorably to a splitting of the movement. But it would be enough to add a quorum of 80 percent, for example, for any act to be sure of having a mass view. 
In Tunis, for example, it would have been perfectly possible to have a unanimous declaration asking the governments of the world to be responsible for the future of the planet and be prepared to go to the Climate Conference in Paris in December, ignoring the lobby of the energy corporations and thinking instead of people’s lives and survival. 
The same should also have been possible for the International Council, which would then discuss vision, and become an actor on global issues.
This brings us to the real problem. As it is now, the IC is not a representative body of global civil society because it is not the result of an organic process. It should reorganise itself radically, which is a very unrealistic proposal. Ideally, it should be dissolved and re-created as an IC of the various organising committees of the World Forum held until now. This would bring diversity, experience … and legitimacy. 
This IC would then organise itself to expand by incorporating more organisations, representatives of a large base (which would bring more to the fore social movements or organisations such as Greenpeace or Amnesty International, which have never joined because they did not find the IC a place to be).  Such an IC could then carry out plans of actions, endorsed by the Forums, for taking positions on global issues in global events, such as the upcoming climate conference in Paris. 
This proposal is just an example of the debate that should be launched. To continue as now and make no changes will leave the Forum as just a meeting space, very much like the spiritual exercise held for centuries by the Catholic Church while conflicts and revolutions were exploding in the outside, real world.
Is global civil society in the form of the WSF ready to adopt some mechanisms of organisation, albeit limited? Is it ready to accept that to fight the system some kind of counter-system must be organized and that horizontality has some limits? 
Without that clear decision, everything will always be about something else, and we will continue debating issues which are not really central – like the efficiency of the IC, but efficient for what?
 *Founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency. In recent years he has also founded Other News ([ www.other-news.info/ ]( http://www.other-news.info/ )), a service providing ‘information that markets eliminate’.



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