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WSF : last days of sessions (climate justice, the global justice movement and the Forum itself)

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I start off the day with a session at UFPA by the Indigenous Environmental Network, (“Peoples Energy and Climate Justice”). The goal of this session is to inform about the perspectives of Indigenous people on global warming and some of the solutions that are viewed as more viable. Using the language of climate justice is important then, because people are so differently affected by this chaos and we have to be able to look at these injustices and their repercussions: on health, on water, on energy, on food sovereignty… especially since these issues are too often compartmentalized (by our governments and in our own thinking).


Jutta of the Durban Group for Climate Justice/FERN, eloquently starts by saying, “I come from the part of the world that still has the privilege of having access to information. With this privilege comes responsibility." She talks about the extent to which carbon markets are bad for forest peoples, are bad for all of us. Carbon markets are sold to us by governments, corporations and large organizations as a way to solve the climate crisis but it has been designed to make us think that industry is on the ball. But this industry has been able to pollute the global commons without limit or payment and is now putting a price on carbon, a cap on how industry can pollute.  


We must remember, she tells us, that real change has never been the result of market initiatives. Public mobilization is what’s needed. We have to stop thinking that someone somewhere else, on indigenous land, will offset our pollution. And who are these contracts designed by? Never the communities involved (the risks are theirs, but never the benefits). Furthermore, this carbon market cannot be used for forest protection but to establish plantations in the forests (and if GM and Chevron are buying and financing carbon offset projects for PR purposes, we need to be critical).


Another speaker (whose name I unfortunately didn’t catch), begins by telling us that each year, land the size of Peru is deforested and of course, for those using forests as a source of food, of resources and community, this is more than just a bit problematic. “I think we all know that forests aren’t just a place to store carbon, he says. They are homes, they are health, they are economic systems. Our forests are our diversity, our supermarket, our pharmacy.”


The idea, thus far, has been for northern governments to pool money together for people who are protecting forests, but the truth of the matter is that this money isn’t reaching the communities. On top of this, the World Bank is emerging as a carbon banker while still lending to coal and oil and gas. Funders of carbon intensive development. So there are many contradictions. And for Indigenous people especially, who are concerned about their right to land and resources, how can they negotiate if they aren’t recognized as the owners of their land? He ends his talk by saying “We don’t have time. The fish are confused right now. The ants are confused. Let’s stop looking for money, money is just a tool anyway. We have to act together now.”




The next session is organized by the Network Institute for Global Democratization, and entitled “The Future of the Forum: The WSF process and the Global Justice Movements.”


Here, Walden Bello speaks about the importance of creating a meeting space for the articulation of alternatives, but underlines that we could have been more effective had we taken stands: on the war in Irak, on Palestine, on climate change. So while the WSF needs to be an open space, it can still be partisan, it can still be an activist space. Fighting neoliberalism was the last war, our new initiatives and our new movement should focus on global social democracy. We need to exercise our radical imagination, he says with a smile. Because of this crisis of the system, this is the moment not for caution, but for action.


Next, Nicolas Haeringer raises the point of our consensus; stressing that this way of interacting with one another and this decision making model allow us to discuss until we know how far we can go together. And to remember that conflicts are a necessary part of any democracy.


Meena Menon of Focus on the Global South, begins by talking about her experience with the WSF in India, saying that the political context in India was such that, with a right wing government in power, there was a general sense that they were losing the battle. As a result, perhaps, alliance building of that scale was never before seen in India. And this, she says, because there was a sense that you could go to the Forum without having to be part of a formal alliance; you didn’t have to agree with other groups. This gave a sense of confidence and of unity. The weakness she identified in this process however, is that there is not yet a focus on alternatives. “We are still in ‘critique mode’, we are not yet in ‘alternative mode’ and it’s becoming more imperative that we get there.”


Michael Hardt begins by saying, point blank, that people invest too much hope in the Forum. They mistake the cause and the effect, he says. Movements become more visible as a result of the Forum, but movements are the cause and the Forum is the effect. The Forum cannot invent a movement out of nothing. He talks about the cycle of our struggle, starting with Chiapas in 1994, Seattle in 1999. This period is characterized by an impressive diversity of groups, of causes and of tactics. Multiplicity. The second period, 2003-2007, focused on war, on Bush, with a very real pressure towards unity of agenda and of organization. The nature of the movement of that cycle was not related to the WSF. In this third period, we return to plurality and multiplicity. With the twin deaths of neoliberalism and unilateralism (in the US), a new space for a new multiplicity opens. And Obama opens terrains for new types of struggle. Hardt ends by stressing that he doesn’t expect alternatives to come from the Forum, but from the movement.


François Houtart speaks about the necessary messiness of the WSF process. He says “Of course the WSF is a mess, is ambiguous, but it exists! Ten years ago, the only forum was Davos, and we of course have to be critical but we also have to recognize the impact of what we’ve accomplished.” He talks about the creation of universal consciousness (“and this is only the beginning!”), the creation of networks and then he gets into the pressing issue of the economic crisis. This crisis is not only financial, he underlines, it is much more profound: there’s the food crisis, the social crisis, the crisis of our model of development, the crisis of civilization. We can’t just blame bankers and start again, we have to propose alternatives, we have to go a step further, to create a network of networks, to come to strategic common objectives (not priorities). We protect the autonomy of NGOs, and this is good, but we need to have links with political issues and political parties. We also have to implement our Charter more radically, he says. “The Forum is not an instrument of action but it can help in our search for alternatives and our search for common strategies.”


Chico Whitaker brought up class issues and WSF attendance. Spoke of the necessity of affirmative action, because being middle class does affect the way we look at the world, the way we organize and, par ricochet, who participates.


(Interventions/Discussions: Africans are absent, we need to rethink the location of the WSF; very middle class; the exclusion of networks (not individuals); politics of accommodation (open spaces and compromises); movements and the WSF: we are co-dependent and co-constructed, for better or worse).





The last session I attend is put on by CACIM – the India Institute for Critical Action: Centre in Movement, entitled “Facing the Future: the WSF, Global Justice Movements and beyond”. Here we begin by talking about the WSF as an incubator of movements, a space where movements come to grow. The question put before us is “What is the future of the Forum?”


Andrej Grubacic discusses Democracy (with a capital D) that is, a democracy that is direct, with power that is socialized. He talks about governing from below and the Greek experience. 


Marie-Josée Massicotte talks, like Haeringer and Houtart in the last session, about the importance of our clashes, our disagreements. Indeed, these mean we’re actually discussing, we’re creating spaces where we can genuinely work together, coming as we are from different perspectives, from different countries, from different movements. She also brings up the important counter-summits, not only those that counter Davos, but those that counter the WSF, underlining that this process and this creation of networks have been really important. From her experience at Le sommet des Amériques in Guatemala, she talks about the reappropriation of the Forum experience by those who weren’t involved in creating the WSF but who were interested. In Guatemala, she says, “the forum was of a much smaller scale and was attended mostly by indigenous, by women’s and by peasant movements. These social movements on the ground were appropriating the WSF process to do their work and this has been a really interesting and important development because it has become a tool that enables us to recognize one another, a tool that allows us to meet and gather in a different way (because prior to the Forum, organizations met through more formal political avenues, as labeled groups). Now, more classical voices are saying that the WSF is “dying,” but perhaps this is only because it’s being appropriated by others (by the grassroots). Let us remember that the WSF exists to create an open space and to then give and share that space with others.



Chico Whitaker begins his talk by saying that the forum is a process and that through the Forum we get to see and experience the global for three and a half days. We make decisions about how to help social movements work. To better understand this process we must consider what’s happening and how, not only with the WSF but with the local, national and regional forums. About the Forum experience, he says, “Let us continue. Let us talk about it and do it better, but let us continue.”

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