Social Fora Fatigue

The World Social Forum is coming, and already I’ve had to politely decline Facebook invitations to participate and/or care in some way.

There. I’ve said it. I don’t care about the World Social Forum, which purports to be:

an open meeting place for reflective thinking, democratic debate of ideas, formulation of proposals, free exchange of experiences and inter-linking for effective action, by groups and movements of civil society that are opposed to neo- liberalism and to domination of the world by capital and any form of imperialism, and are committed to building a society centred on the human person” [Porto Alegre Charter]

Shivonne Du Barry offers a more more concise take on the WSF over at her Ramblings and Reason blog:

… more than anything, it enables discussion of critical social issues that impact us, especially given our place in the global economic structure.

Fair enough. Except that in my experience of this and similar fora, there is very little reflective thinking or democratic debate; nor is there the free exchange of anything except leftist propaganda.

Back in 2004, I worked as a volunteer translator/logistics guru/general lackey at the European Social Forum in London. I’d been talked into by a couple of socially-minded friends of mine, and in any event, it was a very LSE thing to do (a bit of self-important saving the world action coupled with a good line or three on the all-important CV, etc).

I started out with the very best of intentions. By the third day, I was sick to death of people trying to persuade me of the evils of globalisation-as-imperialism.

These non-conformist-conformists – overwhelmingly white, European, “dreadlocked”, hemp-clothed and DC-shod – all evangelizing about evils of capitalism (and selling £20 t-shirts), environmentalism (while covering the streets of Bloomsbury and the halls of Alexandra Palace with forests of paper and pamphlets) and Saving Africa (because I’m so into Bob Marley, and he was African, you know?)

If this is an exaggeration, it is only a mild one. I went to the ESF hoping for some of that much-vaunted conversation, for discourse, for an actual exchange of ideas. What I got was reactionary rhetoric and sometimes disturbingly extremist left-wing propaganda.

As for freedom of expression? Not quite. Subhi al Mashadani, leader of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions, was shouted off the stage by hecklers who accused him of “collaborating” with the US.

Security had to usher him away while we hapless volunteers attempted to get people out of the room.

And the people shouting him down? Europeans who have never themselves lived under occupation, and many of whom are career activists who never miss a WSF because they don’t actually need to work. What need have they of a trade union?

And all this talk of changing the world? It’s just talk. Because all the petitions, all the Facebook groups and all the clever t-shirts in the world will not make a jot of difference. Fora like these are sops to the liberal conscience. Why wait for the WSF, or ESF, or ASF?

Change something right now – walk instead of drive, buy vegetables from your local farmer/parlour/vendor, support your local artisans, stay home and help your children with their homework instead of lining the pockets of fete promoters…

I digress. But the point is that change involves doing, and doing involves a lot more than screaming “collaborator” at someone with whom you disagree.

Yes, another world is possible, and another T&T is possible. But we have to come better than this.

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  • I SO sympathise with what you’re saying although I have chosen to take part in World Social Forum (after much thought and research mind you). I also politely declined the invitations to planning meetings etc. at first because I was (and am) still trying to figure out how I feel about globalisation and I saw WSF as a strong anti-globalisation movement. And I am also wary of leftist and all types of propaganda.

    But when I learn of people from all over the world creating movements and standing up to protect what they value, things that may not otherwise survive global economic and political forces, I am inspired. I prefer the rhetoric of alternative globalisation rather than anti-globalisation. But I’m not sure if ultimately WSF is the most effective forum to unite the different entities in T&T that do work around social issues. But I have been a part of some of that work and I can say that trust fund rastafarians are rare. People like the attendees at last night’s public consultation on the building of a port to accomodate Essar’s steel mill and other industries are involved in a desperate fight and they were speaking with their own voices and from bitter experience.

    I am trying to document the local WSF experience so hopefully I can present something more in depth in the near future. I don’t know what form it will take here but I’ve made the decision to give it a chance. We’ll see.

  • I SO sympathise with what you’re saying although I have chosen to take part in World Social Forum (after much thought and research mind you). I also politely declined the invitations to planning meetings etc. at first because I was (and am) still trying to figure out how I feel about globalisation and I saw WSF as a strong anti-globalisation movement. And I am also wary of leftist and all types of propaganda.

    But when I learn of people from all over the world creating movements and standing up to protect what they value, things that may not otherwise survive global economic and political forces, I am inspired. I prefer the rhetoric of alternative globalisation rather than anti-globalisation. But I’m not sure if ultimately WSF is the most effective forum to unite the different entities in TT that do work around social issues. But I have been a part of some of that work and I can say that trust fund rastafarians are rare. People like the attendees at last night’s public consultation on the building of a port to accomodate Essar’s steel mill and other industries are involved in a desperate fight and they were speaking with their own voices and from bitter experience.

    I am trying to document the local WSF experience so hopefully I can present something more in depth in the near future. I don’t know what form it will take here but I’ve made the decision to give it a chance. We’ll see.