Downwind Towards Dakar? World Social Forum International Council Meeting Dakar November 2010

The latest meeting of the World Social Forum International Council (WSF IC), held in Dakar 9-11 of November 2010, registered one more confident step towards February 2011 when the Senegalese capital city will host the 9th edition of the World Social Forum global event. Over one hundred members and observers converged in Dakar to contribute their ideas and energy to the local organisers. The exchanges were vibrant, intense, sophisticated and the local organising committee and the facilitators of its several working groups were left with a host of suggestions to take advantage of while going about designing the venue, defining the programme and gathering the necessary resources.

The programme of the next WSF global event is taking shape according to the previously debated framework, presented first in the Mexico City IC meeting last May and further discussed in Dakar in July. The first day a mass demonstration will traverse the bustling streets of Dakar and will end in front of the elegant central library in the heart of the Cheik Anta Diop University campus, site of the majority of the WSF events.

The second day will be articulated around events directly organised by the local organising committee and by their continental partners around the themes of African struggles, african migration and the Diaspora to celebrate the wretched history, the extraordinary resilience, the contemporary pains and the unquenchable struggles that animate the continent. Talks, workshops, cultural events, exhibitions will retrace the history of slavery and colonialism, of independence struggles, and the achievements and challenges of the free African countries celebrating this year half a century of independence. Discussions, debates, encounters will highlight the current injustice and subtle and manifest attempts to impose new forms of oppression and exploitations on the continent. So crucial, as some remembered during the meeting to the resource greedy capitalist world, so central to the global war against terrorism and for geopolitical control and ground as it has been in the past for the confrontation of old and new superpowers.

The third and fourth day will be entirely dedicated to events organised by the participants and the fifth day will facilitate the convergences of activists aimed at kick starting or consolidating collaborations and shared activities for change. The sixth and final day will host a general assembly of all the assemblies that took place the previous day. Brief notes read by appointed spokespeople, alternating music, dances and cultural performance of all sorts that will celebrate being together and the shared imaginations of another world, will report the works of the assemblies of the previous day and will, one by one light up the stars of a constellation of relations, collaborations, struggles that may indeed contribute to imagining, designing and bring about a more just, equal and convivial world.

This is the main objective of the facilitators of the Dakar forum: to contribute to generating opportunities for exchange and collaboration that could constitute both the elaboration and the implementation of a new universality. A new vision of a world liberated by the oppression of economic, political and social systems constructed on the exploitation of men, women and the environment. This new vision, presented by the organisers already in the International Council meeting held in Mexico last May, will be a strong response by the global movements to what they perceive as a civilisational crisis that is affecting the planet.

While the degree of agreement among the participants was indeed very high, and boosted by the increasing confidence that the overall organising and mobilisation processes are gaining, slowly but surely, momentum, some tensions spiced up the global activists’ performances.

The global crisis is the backdrop against which the tensions among and between movements and activists are played. Because it is not only enthusiasm (indeed relief for some shaped by life into a hardened scepticism) that could be felt in the meeting rooms of the University campus where the meeting took place. Tension and frustration surfaced and burst at times when the doubts arose that the WSF and its global facilitators may not be up to the challenge to inspire and bring about a new world. That the “endless meetings”, in which sophisticated analyses and tentative projects for action are articulated, are in fact but a meaningless activity while each moment, each instant, is bringing about increased suffering to the poorest people of the planet.

It is true that the sense of urgency affects activists’ life and shakes their emotions, but only the close look of a familiar eye could tell them from the confident and enthusiastic energy that animated the Senegalese hosts and their African partners. And the renewed energy, if cautious nonetheless, was a necessary relief of months of crisis of the world left and the healthy development of the sense of possibility and achievement shared by international activists and African organisers since the organisational workshop held in Dakar last July.

But those tensions, between the urgency demanded by the global conjuncture and the perceived slowness of radically democratic mobilisation, between global crisis and perceived lack of alternatives, between aspirations and achievements, dreams and reality, will and possibility, between opinions, visions and ideas that meet in the International Council, constitute the vital energy of the WSF and respond, tit for tat almost, to the mounting challenges that the global activists face in times of protracted global crisis as the current. Dramatic calls were iterated to the increasing distress to which the most vulnerable sections of the global society are exposed as a consequence of the global financial turmoil and what it produced or exasperated in all aspects of human life: the economy, society and the environment.

And the repeated calls to coherent and consistent action, delivered during the three days but mostly articulated during the first day, entirely dedicated to the analysis of the conjuncture and to spelling out the features of the new universality that the next forum will be centred on, were but an understandable way to resist the contagion of easy enthusiasm in the face of the enormous challenges faced by the organisers of the Dakar WSF. Realism was felt to be necessary to balance the exuberance of the local organisers, as perceived by many among the participants. Sobering reflections on the actual conditions of the global forum process vis-a-vis the development of the world crises were advanced. Caution was suggested in light of the challenges that do not seem to have been solved as yet in the journey towards Dakar 2011. But the repeated calls to financial realism and the concerned reflections raised by the members of the Resources Commission could not thwart the confidence and dampen the enthusiasm.

While the organisers acknowledged that some financial challenges still loom over the overall organisational process, several are the more momentous concerns that world activists should be focusing on. Money, after all, will be found and the sparks in the organisers’ eyes suggested several aces were still hidden in their sleeves. But it is nonetheless true that the global financial crisis has affected considerably the cash flow from traditional international funders to the main partners of the WSF and from them to the members of its International Council, of the African Council and the Senegalese organisers. If ever a doubt was raised it is not any more the case to underestimate the dynamics of governance of the funding chain at the end of which the WSF is placed and members reminded each other of how such tight relationship (partnership? interdependence? or simply dependency and manipulation?) did compromise the autonomy, the independence, of the WSF. It would be perhaps the case to explore financial avenues to claim autonomy from these chains, but this shall be a reflection for some other time.

Enthusiasm in the face of financial strictures might have seemed arrogance to some and delusion to others, but once more the facilitators of the International Council meeting played the magic some of us experienced during the previous organisational workshop held in July in Dakar. But there seem to be more to the story of the Senegalese organisers, who often and attentively intervened to explain, reassure, inspire, throughout the meeting. There seems to be more than delusion and arrogance and warmth and hopefulness. There is the exhilaration of the untold but widely perceived feeling among the WSF activists of “last chance”… and a vision. The last chance is that allowed to a movement that many activists in the world perceive to have outlived itself and the vision is to develop alternative worlds beyond the current crisis of the civilisation of market exploitation and oppression, and towards a new cosmopolitan project made of recognition, acceptance of difference and conviviality at a global scale. And as the organisers liked to remark since the meeting of Mexico City, it can only be exhilaration and pride that drive them towards their ambitious design to develop and articulate such cosmopolitan vision not only on the basis of the Enlightenment values, that have proved too often to be easy to manipulate and twist into their dark opposites, but on convivial and open values of African societies. And, the vision follows on, in the original womb of humanity the seed of a new, just, equal, civilisation will be fecundated by the relations among activists from the world over meeting in Dakar next February.

But it seems this may as well be the last chance allowed to the IC activists to confirm the WSF not only as a space of deluded talk (or, worse, of global activist bureaucracy) but a laboratory for change, a space of experimentation with the tools and dynamics of transformation. It is the last chance to respond to the scathing critique of a member who suggested that some analyses that over emphasise the crisis of social movements are not instead considering how “movements are indeed healthy and fighting but they are doing that away from the WSF in which they do not find any more the space and the inspiration they found at the beginning”.

And if many activists and movements are felt to be defecting due to the complicate workings of the WSF process, its not always rewarding experiments in radical democracy, its difficulties in negotiating its internal differences and conflicts, many others are felt to be unreachable, the strenuous attempts notwithstanding by the members of the Expansion Commission who aim to outreach to areas of the world like Eastern Europe and Russia, Central, South-East and East Asia.

But in the meantime the galaxy of events surrounding and making the forum grows and some of those events were presented during the meeting. A World Assembly of Inhabitants will take place during the forum which will see the convergence of urban activists from all over the world. The process for this assembly started in 2005 is facilitated by the International Alliance of Inhabitants and now counts Steering Committees in every continent. It has, along the way, crossed path with an even longer process for the Right to the City that has been fostered since the first edition of the forum in 2001 and has been renewed during every edition including the last in Belem in January 2009. Old and new partners met the day before the beginning of the International Council meeting to discuss differences and design a way forward, to welcome new partners and gather old ones. Most importantly the global organisers introduced themselves formally to the organisers of the WSF forum and to members and activists of their networks on to those of the local and rooted movements. Under their guidance and facilitation, global processes will connect with local struggle and those will give voice to the others in a process of recursive amplification.

And there will be a Science and Democracy Forum and a Liberation Theology Forum, a Trade Unions Forum, an Education Forum, a Progressive Publisher’s Forum, a local Authorities Forum, a Migrants Forum a Caravan of Sports and four more Caravans that will converge on Dakar from the four sides of the country, North, East, South and West from where a returning human cargo will symbolise the return home of those who were taken from Goree Island by force, shipped like objects and condemned to generation of slavery.

A new alliance was particularly stressed during the meeting between activists and intellectuals and the relationships between thinking and doing explored and some limits of the stark dualism exposed. In his final words of thanks a spokesperson of the local organising committee praised the new alliance and the contribution of all activist visionaries to the success of the ambitious project that the Senegalese organisers are developing. February is not so far and I and all the others can hardly wait. He moreover reminded the audience how the first meeting of the IC after the founding one was held in Dakar in January of 2002. It was, he stressed visibly moved a great victory of perseverance and belief to have managed through years of hard work and faith in the possibilities of all African and Senegalese partners involved, already two very successful organisational meetings and to be saling downwind towards an global event that, with the support and active collaboration of all international partners, promises to be a successful and fulfilling experience.

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4 Responses to Downwind Towards Dakar? World Social Forum International Council Meeting Dakar November 2010

  1. peterwaterman says:

    Giuseppe

    Again, informative, companyero, but a link back on ‘new universality’ only takes me back to my complaint, or challenge, that this really needs to be spelled out – at least by you.

    Yesterday, at a Latin American Studies conference, someone challenged me when I said we needed to surpass ‘socialism’ with ‘the new global emancipation’. Quite right, too. So I did at least try to give this some content.

    Your turn now….

  2. Thanks a lot Giuseppe for this wonderfully well written contribution.
    And thank you Peter for the most important question you put. This again brings us back to what I call the ‘modernity’ debate. It seems to me that this is at the heart of our problems and alternatives, and we should be able to spell out the major questions. Whether we call it ‘global emancipation’, ‘socialism’ of (anti)’modernity’: whazt are we talking about. I like the ’emancipation’ focus, since this is what it is all about, and what antimodernists, in my view, seem to forget. Please Peter, give us also your content. I, at any rate, am not willing to give up individual rights, a secular state, gender equality, the common humanity, etc. But yes, we have to think on other relaztionships between humankind and nature and abandon the illusion of endless (material) progress …

  3. giuseppecaruso says:

    Francine, Peter thank you for your comments. Briefly my two cents on two of the subjects that keep me busy the most at the moment: the new universality and modernity…

    On the universality that Peter suggest I should spell out…
    I can’t of course do that as it will be the task of those involved in the event to come up with a set of visions that all taken together, could point towards the articulation of a new universality (unless of course, you were asking me what i think that universality would, could or should look like…). In the most recent vision document circulated lately at the IC meeting I read that the new universality/new universalisms is the “orientation” of the 2011 WSF. More in detail:

    “the orientations that have been chosen are only pointers, to make it easier to address all the crucial questions, and to favour convergences about alternatives”.

    The overall goal of the organisers of the next forum in Dakar and their international partners is to favour convergences. Two days will be dedicated to these exercises. The fifth and the sixth (10th and 11th of February).

    Further down it’s written that such new universality will be

    “in Line with various social and solidarity movements, to contribute to rebuilding relations between humans, the environment and living beings on the basis of justice, solidarity and diversity, by giving precedence to groups and social categories which have suffered most from the dominant hegemonic model during the last five centuries, that they may have a voice. The people involved are in particular workers, peasants, diasporas, migrants, women, ‘native/autochthonus’ peoples, peoples struggling for independence and groups struggling for economic, social and cultural rights and for gender equality”.

    A little later the documents has something that relates somehow to Francine’s concerns:

    “This debate will also be an opportunity to state that universal norms are established by and for all the peoples of the planet”.

    I can think of at least two reasons why “new universalisms” was added to the previous formulation (in the title of the section of the document that Francine and I are quoting from). First, because new universality, as spelled out previously seemed to give the impression that either it was already pre-packaged by the organisers or that it had some form of “natural” essence to it. Or, second, that the plural accepted that all unviersalities (all wordlviews i guess here) are legitimated and the convergence that the WSF favours could (in the long run, of course) generate a normative convergence as expressed (so i read it) in the short sentence I quoted before.

    In other words, it seems as though the organisers of the Dakar forum, or at least the authors of the vision document that I’m quoting from, agree with those authors (Breckenridge and her colleagues (2002) according to whom defining what a critical cosmopolitan project will be is indeed a very uncosmopolitan thing to do.

    Francine, on the modernity debate, I think what you are saying is crucial to any transformative debate. You are voicing your resistance to those who you feel want you to abandon the traits of your culture including emancipation, “individual rights, a secular state, gender equality, the common humanity” to whom you feel highly attached and to whose history you are profoundly indebted. At the same time it seems as though there are others (Quijano may just represent some of these voices… but i guess i’m quoting you from another debate…) who feel profoundly outraged by the history of modernity and its constitutive relationship with colonialism, slavery, imperialism.

    Eventually i totally agree with you on this:
    “But yes, we have to think on other relaztionships between humankind and nature and abandon the illusion of endless (material) progress …”

    If i may only add something to it I would say that we not only have to think about different relationships but we have to leave the.

    Abrazos companyer@s

  4. Pingback: World Social Forum International Council Meeting Dakar November 2010 | Network Institute for Global Democratization

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