Looking forward to 2003, politically speaking, is a pretty bleak exercise with one clear exception — the World Social Forum (WSF) in Brazil.

I went last year to Porto Alegre for the second annual WSF and marvelled at how much energy, intelligence, compassion and creativity could come together in one place. Social forums are a new way of organizing social justice movements, and now they have come to Canada. Last fall, activists organized social forums in Quebec City and Victoria. The Toronto Social Forum kicks off this Saturday.

âeoeMany movements, one space,” is the idea behind the social forums. Bringing together a wide diversity of movements for social change in one place creates an enormous sense of the power of people’s movement. In a world where most sources of information are dominated by corporations and right-wing governments, the World Social Forum is a chance to meet and talk with activists from around the world. The amazing thing for me was finding out how much we all have in common.

The key words last year at Porto Alegre were convergence and respect for diversity. This year promises to be bigger and better.

Another feature of the social forum movement is that the focus is on alternatives to neo-liberalism. Instead of the nauseating, endless discussion of what “they” are doing, we have time and space to discuss what we are doing and how we can do it better.

The Toronto Social Forum (to be held this Saturday, January 11, at Ryerson University) hopes to bring together activists from a wide variety of political, social and community organizations. Saturday’s event is a pre-World Social Forum kick-off. There will also be a report-back from the World Social Forum on February 15 and a full Toronto Social Forum, an activist festival, at the end of March.

Saturday begins with a plenary session entitled, “The American Empire and the Fight for Democracy.” It concludes with a roundtable on a topic close to my heart, “Social Movements and Political Power: Keeping Difficult Company.”

During the day, there will be a plethora of workshops: from “Squatting as a Strategy” to “God and Globalization.” The workshops and the final plenary will provide lots of time for discussion and sharing ideas. Learning from our comrades in Brazil, we intend to have a lot of fun too. There will be music throughout the day; a mural painting process and a blow-out party at the Cecil Street Community Centre at night.

One of the most exciting things about the Toronto event is that it has been organized by open assemblies in which more than one hundred people have participated. A coordinating committee of volunteers from monthly assemblies has pulled the program together. Speakers include representatives from a wide variety of international, national and local organizations and struggles.

And everyone is welcome!

Judy Rebick

Judy Rebick

Judy Rebick is one of Canada’s best-known feminists. She was the founding publisher of rabble.ca , wrote our advice column auntie.com and was co-host of one of our first podcasts called Reel Women....