The Social Forum process worked its magic in Toronto last Saturday when400 people gathered for the kick-off event of the Toronto Social Forum (TSF).

A diverse crowd from a wide array of social movements and organizationsinteracted in a way that was respectful, interested and energetic.

”The turnout was stunning,” said Janet Conway, one of the organizers.”The culture of respect, dialogue and pluralism was exactly what we hadhoped to create and sets a really good tone for movement building inToronto.”

To the surprise of many, Moon Joyce kicked off the morning bywalking around the room sounding a cow bell and then taught everyone thelyrics to the World Social Forum song.

By the end of the day people were dancing in the aisles to the beat of AHANIE.

The morning plenary focused on linking global and local struggles. Aspecial feature was the presence of Walter Belik, a newly appointedofficial in Brazil’s Ministry of Hunger who outlined their three-yearplan to eliminate hunger. Brazil will dedicate four per cent of its GDP (gross domestic product) to the task of making sure every person in their country has good and plentiful food to eat.

Then, one after the other, leaders of local struggles explained how theyhad won victories against privatization of water, hydro and medicare.In these difficult days, it was good to hear a reminder that victories arenot only possible but actually happening. President of the Toronto LabourCouncil, John Cartwright, challenged the group to organize outside ofdowntown Toronto. The morning ended with a presentation from AminaSherazee from the Canadian Arab Federation on the importance of speakingout against an attack on Iraq.

After the morning plenary, people split up into twelve workshops that covered a wide range of issues. In the spirit of the social forum, differentgroups organized these workshops. TSF organizers provided space andpromotion but the content and organization of the workshop were up toeach group. Interactive sessions explored concrete alternatives ontopics such as participatory budgeting, narrowing the gap in income,wealth and power, and food security. Another twelve workshops were heldafter lunch.

The day wrapped up with a terrific discussion on the relationship ofsocial movements to political power. A roundtable talked aboutexperiences in Canada and in Latin America. This sparked a wide-rangingdiscussion and, needless to say, there was a wide spectrum of viewsdiscussed and debated. From one member of the audience who criticized the New Politics Initiative for not supporting Jack Layton as leader of the NDP to another who argued that electoral politics was a huge waste of time and we should focus on working in our communities, every point of view was present. The difference from other such debates was that the discussion was very respectful of other points of view. The feedback after the meeting was that overall it was “wonderful.”

Judy Rebick

Judy Rebick

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