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Jesse

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[Feb. 1st, 2007|05:30 pm]
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This was sent to me by my brother.. It paints an interesting picture of what "inclusivity" really means at the World Social Forum. While the World Social Forum had it's high-points, alot of key issues were brushed over by western and european powers, eager to appease the egos of government allies and business interests.

Read more..



WSF 2007 reflections
>
>On the first day of the World Social Forum in Nairobi, I was sitting in a
>workshop on the trends for the next century. Pat Mooney (?) from the Dag
>Hammarskjold Foundation was talking about the threat of nanotechnology. He was
>speaking about how the ability to turn nickel into platinum, and cornmeal into
>fishmeal was going to radically alter the economics of the planet. I was taking
>notes when a roar erupted from the workshop to my right. I was intrigued, and
>slipped out to investigate. The workshop I’d been attending was made up mostly
>of Europeans and North Americans, listening to global left intellectuals like
>Vandana Shiva and Walden Bello.  This other workshop was packed entirely with
>African participants, earnestly watching a popular theatre performance about
>cattle rustling conflicts in Uganda.
>
>Such juxtapositions became commonplace at my first social forum. I would stand
>in the area outside the stadium and soak it in. I would join a march against
>the occupation in Palestine, and we would meet and flow through a march of the
>Dalit or untouchable movement from India. Ethiopian dancers would gyrate, as
>clusters of nuns would walk by. Almost 50,000 people had come from all corners
>of the planet to meet, to strategize, to dance – united only by the theme
>“Another World is Possible” and the hallmarks of the World Social Forum. These
>hallmarks appear to be routinely ignored. They formally exclude political
>parties and armed movements, both of which continue to participate in various
>forms. One huge banner celebrating the Mau Mau rebellion flanked the main
>stage, while politicians from different socialist parties explained that they
>were there “as individuals.” The explicitly anti-imperialist hallmarks might
>also surprise some of the participating NGO and religious organizations.
> Most of the participants were from various countries in Africa – probably about
>65% on the first day, and up to 75% on the final day. This underrepresentation
>was at least partly due to a lack of accessibility for local participants. On
>the first day, with the Kenyan military guarding the gates, Kenyans, many from
>nearby slums, were told that they would have to pay 500 Kenyan shillings to
>register and enter the forum space. 500 shillings is the equivalent of about
>8.50 USD, and far beyond the means of the slum dwellers, whose monthly rent is
>about 1000 shillings.   Protests ensued, the gates were rushed, and many
>entered. However, the gates were later reinforced, and the struggle continued.
>The following day, entrance fees were reduced to 50 shillings for Kenyans, and
>the protests continued, many energized by the leadership of South African
>activists, who marched to the catchy tune; “my mother was a kitchen girl, my
>father was a garden boy. That’s why I’m a socialist, that’s why I’m a
>socialist.” Eventually, the fees were abolished for Kenyans, and the numbers of
>slum dwellers rapidly increased. I interviewed one fellow about his perception
>of the social forum. He hadn’t yet attended any workshops, was just walking
>around, but explained that what he most appreciated was seeing how the
>different struggles were connected.
> Once in, the mobilization around the forum continued to grow, as we turned our
>attention to the price of food and water at the forum. The issue was tied to
>critiques of nepotism or corruption. There were many food tents at the forum,
>located about five minutes walk away from the main area. They had plates of
>vegetarian food for 150 shillings. However, many people didn’t realize that
>these areas were even there, being distracted by the one big food tent, right
>by the main gate. It sold a plate of food for 400 shillings, about 7.50 USD.
>Why was it the only one in the main area? It turns out that it was owned by a
>politician known as a human rights abuser….. sketchy stuff. This led to the
>group of 50 or so slum dweller kids rushing the tent and grabbing the food. An
>entirely appropriate response given the (entirely avoidable) situation.
>Such a situation might have been avoided through more concerted action by the
>international committee, who may have been reluctant to step on the toes of the
>local host committee. Financially, there should have been a recognition that
>Kenyan social movements there simply do not have the finances of the movements
>in other places where the WSF has taken place. This may have contributed to the
>apparent financial difficulties of this WSF.
>
>Not to say that there are not vibrant Kenyan movements engaged in struggles
>around the constitution, education, HIV/AIDS, land, housing and water. I was
>frustrated that I didn’t learn more about these movements inside the forum,
>although with the number of workshops, I'm sure I missed key sessions. While
>I’m sure much of this had to do with the entrance fees and feeling that the
>forum wasn’t necessarily “for them,” it may also have to do with the way that
>local activists always have to make a decision about events like this – either
>they redirect tons of their energy towards it, or they ignore it in order to
>keep going with their local campaigns. One local activist who worked on the
>logistics for the forum had to take the second day of the forum off to go to
>court on charges of inciting a riot in the struggle around the constitution. It
>was disappointing that we couldn’t have organized more effectively within the
>forum to support such local activists.
>
>Another important critique of this year’s forum was the ongoing one of NGO
>domination. I understand where this is coming from, but found it somewhat
>irrelevant.  They had the majority of stalls with literature to be sure, but
>the workshops that I attended were much more likely to be dominated by
>academics or activists than NGO activists. I simply chose non-NGO workshops.
>One thing that was striking in its absence however, was any discussion of
>direct action, even in most of the social movement-y sessions. It wasn’t until
>I had gone downtown to the local and free “People’s Parliament” and heard an
>mill worker activist from Mumbai talk that I realized what was missing. He told
>a gripping story about an action by mill workers who had been locked out without
>backpay.  Facing the police, 1500 workers doused themselves in what appeared to
>be petrol, and held up matchbooks. The police panicked, got a local governor to
>negotiate and received their wages (and I believe their jobs). It turns out that
>what appeared to be petrol, was only water. When I compared the response of the
>audience to this story to the gloomy faces watching a “Save the Children”
>video, I definitely knew I wanted to stick to the social movement sessions.
>
>So with all these problems, should it just be dismissed as corrupt, co-opted and
>commercialized, or did the WSF 2007 serve any useful function? When I had first
>arrived, I had asked a local activist Mbugua whether he thought having the WSF
>in Nairobi would benefit the local movements in any way. “No” he responded.
>“After it goes, it will be just the same.” By the end of the week, it seemed
>that there were some reasons for hope. On my way out of town, I asked a local
>taxi driver whether he saw it the same as the recent Climate Change summit
>meetings. “No,” he argued. “This was different. It shows that we are equal.
>That everyone struggles. It may give the local movements some confidence. The
>government is watching and listening now.” A local slum dweller explained “This
>forum is for the poor of the world.” Indeed, as the days had passed, coverage
>has increased in the local papers, and the mood had shifted.
>
>One of the reasons the forum got some local attention was the Q-Spot. Initially
>I hadn’t realized that male homosexuality is illegal in Kenya, so I had been
>curious why so many local Kenyan activists I talked with mentioned visiting the
>large tent dedicated to struggles around what was referred to as “sexual
>diversity.” Local radio stations discussed the issue in shocked tones. One dj
>on KISS100 said “why would you EVER tell ANYONE you were gay!” She then
>interviewed gay activists about their campaigns and lives. A small space had
>been opened. If such discussions continue, the forum may have provided some
>needed support to local queer activists. As well, the activists from the slum
>dweller movements, while often supported by moderate NGOs and church groups got
>a huge amount of international attention. I suspect they may gain some leverage.
>
>So I’d argue that the forum might end up buoying local struggles in Nairobi, at
>least for a while. But what about the usefulness of the WSF for the rest of the
>world?  Did WSF 2007 move “us” in the direction of “another world?” Generally, I
>try to avoid being too product oriented in my evaluation of political work. How
>do we “know” that a meeting went well? Do we count the decisions made? But what
>if those decisions are the wrong ones, and half the people in the room went to
>sleep? Evaluating political transformative work is not strictly a quantitative
>act. And yet, because it costs so much money and time to bring so many people
>together, I find myself getting quite anxious about the “usefulness” of events
>such as the WSF. “Does it make any difference at all?” I ask. “Well,” in answer
>to my own question, “if 2% of the organizations there improved their campaigns,
>their strategies, their networks in ways that helped their struggle, then the
>WSF is worthwhile.” Perhaps the ramblings of a pollyanna, but something that
>seems achievable.
>
>One way I tried to evaluate the forum was by asking people if they got what they
>came for.  When I asked people why they had come to the forum there were three
>main types of answers. NGO types tended to answer something like this “we came
>to give a workshop on our campaign, and we came to meet with others who were
>working on women’s issues, HIV/AIDS, etc.” Many activists from the large scale
>(often Marxist) movements tended to emphasize exposure of their struggles. They
>would say something like what this organizer from the Philippines said, “our
>objective is to get people to come to our workshop and learn about our
>struggle, and to join us.” She also argued that her organization’s
>participation in the Africa-Asia summit had been valuable, and that they were
>“here to find common ground.” Activists from smaller organizations, some from
>the north, prioritized networking with likeminded organizations and activists,
>and learning about other campaigns. One activist from Community Voices Heard, a
>New York City group explained that she had learned about the different struggles
>in ways that would affect her future work. Another US activist, from an
>immigrant rights organization in New York City explained that the workshops
>themselves hadn’t been that useful, but the opportunity to meet with grassroots
>activists in Kenya had made the trip worthwhile.
>
>The desire to be productive had led to an innovation in this years’ program. On
>the fourth day of workshops, the morning was filled with “proposal” sessions. I
>attended the session on migrant rights and watched as different groups made
>proposals for events or strategies between long rambling speeches about their
>organizations and campaigns. This was a good idea, but because of the large
>size of the sessions, and limited time, it was impossible to do any discussion
>of the proposals. As a result, the proposals were taken as a list to the
>afternoon sessions, where all the proposals would be read. The format was a bit
>confusing, with many people ignoring the proposal process altogether.
>
>In the end, I think that there are reasons not to dismiss the WSF process
>entirely. It's not democratic, and in Nairobi at least, there was some creepy
>commericalization, and corruption. Yes, the NGOs have too much power, and the
>social movements too little. Its not pure, despite some people’s best
>intentions. But its still an unusual space, one that keeps changing, its a
>space where people’s struggles come together and at least network, if not
>strategize. And it seems to be a space that can be molded by its participants.
>
>The last big event that I went to at this year’s forum was the Social Movement
>Assembly – an innovation at this year’s forum. In order to create a space
>within the WSF that was not dominated by NGOs, the assembly had been launched.
>The goal of the meeting was to agree to a joint statement. The statement, which
>was read by one of the slum dweller organizers, expressed critiques of the
>commericalization, inaccessibility and corruption at the forum. It proposed
>common days of action in 2008, and it questioned the role of NGOs.  Once read,
>Kenyan activists had the first opportunity to respond and add their amendments.
>Speaker after speaker from movements locally and globally added their issues and
>struggles. It was uncertain what this melange of issues would lead to. A
>coherent strategy it was not. But it was something. In that final assembly,
>Wangari Maathi, an activist well known for her environmental and human rights
>work explained the WSF like this; “It represents the people who are too poor. I
>like that it brings the world to me, as a Kenyan poor person. It doesn’t just
>bring the world, it brings the best of the world. It brings people who believe
>what I believe.” It’s not enough, but it’s something.
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