World Social Forum Montreal, August 2016: a Round-up

The WSF got off to a rocky start, as over 200 visas were refused by the Canadian government, including that of Aminata Traoré. Yet in spite of this inauspicious beginning, the forum itself was a great success.

This is thanks to the organisation committee of volunteers, led by a team of young people. The team breathed new life into the organisation process to make it more effective for the alter-globalisation movement as a whole. The organisation committee and Quebecois activists in general inherited the new awareness created by the ‘Maple Spring’, a series of strikes lasting over 3 months organised to protest against the increase in university fees and the commercialisation of education and to demand easy access to education for all. The movement then filtered down into the wider Canadian society.
The impact of the current fight against the planned pipeline Energy East and against the export of oil from oil sands should not be overlooked either. It is a struggle that unites farmers, students, unions, first nations, environmentalists and social movements. This appetite for activism was clear in the way they tackled issues and gave a boost to the alter-globalisation activists present.
For the first time in the history of the WSF, projects were run prior to the forum targeting schools to inform them about the forum and its purpose. This led to children participating in the forum, giving them the opportunity to take ownership of it and to learn new ways of working to a flat organisation structure, which is not based on competition between individuals.
The forum in numbers:

  • Approximately 35,000 participants from 125 countries took part in this year’s forum
  • Over 150,000 people participated in the opening march
  • 1,000 volunteers made this edition a success
  • 1,200 activities with 6 parallel forums including the parliamentary forum, the nuclear forum, the forum on the theology of liberation and more.
  • 22 assemblies
  • 22 large evening conferences with self-led activities with 1,500 participants in each one, including the climate justice conference with Naomi Klein where over 1,000 people missed out as the room capacity of 1,700 was exceeded

The organisers showed they were keen to start to change and evolve how the forums are run by using the assemblies as a place for exchange, diversity and action decisions.
An opportunity for transform! to forge and strengthen relations with networks and activists in Canada and North and South America.

  • Special partnership with a Quebecois socialist journal Les Nouveaux Cahiers du Socialisme, which enabled us to organise some excellent seminars.
  • Two debates on the issue of the Commons (the Commons and production and the Commons as a new political subject).
  • A seminar on migration and social issues, and another on war.
  • A seminar that gave us an opportunity to take stock of the evolution of social and political movements around the world and to jointly consider the construction of an alternative.
  • All our seminars (for the programme click here) were a resounding success, with over 50 to 80 people attending each one.

This forum was also an opportunity to continue the discussion about the future the WSF and potential changes to it. A number of viewpoints emerged.
Issues to resolve:

  • How to maintain the inclusive nature of the forum whilst ensuring it is genuinely effective, in particular with regard to positions taken by the WSF or the organisations of the WSF.
  • How to combine both a horizontal and a vertical organisational structure in the International Council and across all the ‘new’ movements.
  • How to bring about change in the International Council, which has suffered a loss of efficacy in recent years.
  • The forums have been organised by very dynamic local organisation committees in Canada and in Tunisia, but without the help of the International Council or its internal committees. How to integrate these local organisation committees, which are the driving force behind the organisation of the forums, into the International Council.
  • Finally, there is the implicit issue of how to emancipate the WSF – both process and event – from its ‘founding mothers and fathers’ in Brazil. We owe them recognition for all their initiatives and perseverance, but after 15 years, and now that the WSF has gone global, we need more effective organisation, processes and events.
  • From this perspective, the next International Council, on 19-22 January, 2017 in Porto Alegre, will be crucial in terms of starting afresh with stronger foundations and a clearer mission statement, which will give the WSF a real boost. Eight working groups have been set up to prepare for the council and ensure that the four days can be a forum for genuine political debate.

Translation from French: Veronika Peterseil