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WSF: CIVIL SOCIETY MUST OPPOSE, BUT ALSO PROPOSE

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JOHANNESBURG, Jan 1 2006 (IPS) - As thousands of activists prepare for the two World Social Forum (WSF) events to be held in Mali and Venezuela in January, there are those both within and outside the WSF process that are asking, What global solutions is the WSF generating? writes by Kumi Naidoo, Secretary-General of Civicus: World Alliance For Citizen Participation. In this article, Naidoo writes that while it would be mistaken to straitjacket all WSF delegates into an artificially-constructed consensus on policy positions, it is important that the Forum correct the myth that there are no major policy directions that most WSF delegates share and advocate — both within and outside of the WSF. For example, on the question of the debt crisis facing many countries in the South, there is already a broad consensus on a fairly clear set of recommendations. Given that one of the driving motivations of the WSF was to serve as a counterpoint for the World Economic Forum, it is important that in the battle of ideas, vision, and perspectives on what world we want to create for future generations, the WSF serves as an enabling space which can present alternatives that reach the hearts and minds of people who are not yet actively involved in the commendable efforts to ensure global justice.

As thousands of activists prepare for the two World Social Forum (WSF) events to be held in Mali and Venezuela in January, there are those both within and outside the WSF process that are asking, What global solutions is the WSF generating?

While the WSF has consciously sought to create a space for dialogue and engagement and not to produce agreement on specific policy positions, the Forum does provide a useful opportunity for different civil society actors to find common ground, engage in joint strategizing, and plan joint activities for the future. The launching last year of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP) in Porto Alegre was a conscious decision by GCAP organizers to align this effort with the broad and positive message of the WSF that ”Another World is Possible”. There was no expectation, though, that all WSF delegates would agree with all the policy positions it advocated.

To those critics who have tried to dismiss the WSF as ”the anti-globalisation forum” it is important to point out that in essence what the Forum represents is a voice of concern and criticism about the deeply inequitable and painful social and economic realities that ordinary citizens are facing in both rich and poor countries today. In a relatively short period of time, the WSF has come to represent a yearly occasion where civil society can draw attention to some of the enduring and new injustices that citizens around the world face, from conditions relating to growing militarization, the deepening democratic deficit, inequalities in global governance, to growing human rights violations. This is a just and important contribution.

The WSF has come to represent a loose network of forces around the world advocating social, economic, and political justice. To dismiss it as simply an ”anti-globalisation” movement is to ignore, among other things, the fact that it is one of the most globalised movements in the history of this planet.

While generating agreement on specific policy positions in the delegates’ numerous areas of focus would be extremely difficult for the WSF decision-making structures, particularly given the diversity of views within the Forum, I think there is a balance that might be found in highlighting the propositional elements in the WSF message. The Forum’s critique of the current global political and economic order clearly contains kernels of proposals for change.

Although it would be a mistake to straitjacket all WSF delegates into an artificially-constructed consensus on policy positions, it is important that the Forum correct the myth that there are no major policy directions that most WSF delegates share and advocate — both within and outside of the WSF.

For example, on the question of the debt crisis facing many countries in the South, there is already a broad consensus on a fairly clear set of recommendations. While there might be specific differences between various participating organizations, both within a particular WSF coalition and amongst WSF delegates, finding a way to more forcefully communicate areas of considerable agreement is a viable possibility. The leading coalitions in the different sectors can take the lead in advancing these positions in the run-up to, during, and after the WSF events, whether through high-profile media conferences or other specific activities organized around the WSF.

It is also important to learn from other civil society gatherings that put themselves under pressure to agree on a communique and a set of resolutions. We have often seen how a sense of unity is dissipated by an overwhelming focus on deciding which specific words should go into a resolution — a process that hobbles creativity and innovation. Keeping demands for change at a broader level –whether regarding the environment, gender, or prosecution of the so-called ”War on Terrorism”– might be worth pursuing, while recognizing of course areas of difference. Such a move would silence those who argue that the WSF crowd knows how to complain about what is wrong with the world but is incapable of saying what should be done to make it more just, equitable, and sustainable.

The World Economic Forum, with considerably greater resources and far more access to the media, is of course in an advantageous position in terms of getting its messages out via most mainstream media networks. However, given that one of the driving motivations of the WSF was to serve as a counterpoint for the WEF, it becomes critically important that in the battle of ideas, vision, and perspectives on what world we want to create for future generations, the WSF serves as an enabling space which can present alternatives that reach the hearts and minds of people who are not yet actively involved in the commendable efforts to ensure global justice.(END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

 
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