“Be the change you want the world to be”

Mahatma Gandhi

The World Social Forum (WSF) has been the first major counterpart-challenge at the global level to corporate-militaristic globalization. With the added interesting feature of the Forum primarily being launched from and keeping its basis in the South of the planet, home to the peoples who have most suffered the ravages of the dominant globalization. This no doubt that, since its inception in 2001 to play initially as a counterpart to the Davos Economic Forum, the WSF has contributed to boosting the morale of the most marginalized to resist and to make back its way into the driving seat of world affairs.

But, in spite of all these achievements, some have grown concerned over what they view as a WSF being more of a “talking show” than an effective mechanism for concrete action. In our view while this kind of concern in some respects bears some legitimacy, it largely misses out what the WSF’s primary mission is all about.

The World Social Forum is primarily a forum of the committed, of people who are consciencetized about world problems and are already doing something about it -even if from a local perspective. To this kind of participants the Forum provides a strengthened or expanded consciousness about the significance of their endeavors or struggles, on the basis of the synergy and enrichment of interacting with other peers and experiences. Secondly, the Forum is a school, a consciousness-raising meeting ground, for the ones who feel drawn to be part of responsible world citizenship but are not conscious or schooled enough about what it may entail or how to go about it.

In either of the two former cases, the Forum depends on consciencetized, well-meaning, healthy and strong specific individuals and groups. Without this kind of fundamental basis, the schemes of domination of the present rotten order could be replicated within the WSF or within the forces that claim allegiance to its tenets, given way to “the enemies within” -as Boaventura Sosa, a Portuguese sociologist who has been one of the leading ideologues of the Forum, has forewarned.

By its ripple effects and thru these social concentric circles of the already consciencetized or inclined to be on the basis of autonomous degrees of awareness or commitment, the Forum has kept on expanding its reach and force, in a self-organizing and self-directing process. This process has even reached out to non-civic society “external” actors such as like-minded governments, business and international organizations, without detriment so far of the Forum’s autonomous personality. In this latter regard it is worth recalling that in the launching itself of the WSF a local Brazilian government played a decisive supportive role, and that the Forums’ meetings have been attended as well by some high government officials (like the cases of a Brazilian Vice-Minister, representatives of the French government and British MPs noted in Mumbai) as well as top figures of international organizations such as Juan Somavia, Head of the International Labor Organization, who was too a participant at the recent Mumbai meeting -if on a personal capacity; just to mention some meaningful examples of suck kind of interaction.

In the light of the former, it was particularly befitting that this year’s annual 2004 meeting of the Forum should have been held in Mumbai, India (for the first time off its cradle-place in Porto Alegre, Brazil, where it had been warmly hosted over its past three annual encounters). The meeting in India, held from the 17th to the 21st of January 2004, which the drafter of this article attended, provided a new welcomed infusion of popular blood and of the dispossessed, with the presence of some of the mass grass-root movements that thrive in that big nation, and of some of the most downtrodden and marginalized people of the world: the dalits (“untouchable caste”) and handicapped of India; as well as a closer face-to-face with dismal poverty and alienation as conspicuously reflected in urban India, and even the experience of a less comfortable and suitable venue: a rather decrepit industrial-exhibit grounds environ in a Mumbai suburb turned into a “garden of alternative ideas” by virtue of the enthusiasm and good-will of organizers and participants. Further, it also provided from close range some characteristically sharp spiritual insights on world problems from the timeless Indian ethos, including contributions such as the inspiring Gandhian wisdom on social and political struggles. Moreover, the Mumbai gathering, the largest of all with its over 100,000-large crowd, also meant a greater infusion of the closer Asian and African participants, with which the mondialization of the Forum was in fact consolidated and any critique on the WSF being earlier a mostly “western-white-Christian-southern Brazil (in fact the part of that country mostly with the former characteristics)-affair” was put to rest.

We are faced with a world where a massive bid of big corporate and political-military power has tried to convert it into a rat-race of dependent and alienated consumers where, as was noted in Mumbai, a marginalized majority under-class has been left behind and a minority over-class pretends to enjoy unsustainable benefits. The deeply ingrained alienation, uprooting and dehumanizing of this Titanic-like model, largely promoted today by a big media at its full service, calls for, in the first place, for a mental liberation of the alienated or the marginalized. Not an overnight easy task, but one that the WSF has been performing wonderfully in its short life-span -with its consciousness-strengthening and consciousness-raising job, better summed up in its motto; “Another world is possible”.

In fact, the first primary task for today’s alienated human beings is not “to have” nor “to act”, but ‘to be”. In order to recover their undermined humanity, and feel again members of one single human family and children of one single mother the Earth, modern human beings have to walk back on this ground of again being. In being what our specie’s identity conditions us to be, what our spiritual identity compels us to be, and what being part of the unity of all life drives us to be, lies the response to all the other questions, including the legitimate concern to get to more appropriate action.

Life doesn’t come about by decrees of anybody (not by getting up earlier dawn comes up earlier -the saying goes) neither by top-down approaches -as the present corporate-compulsive globalization would like it to be. Life is a result of a complex web of interaction and relationships, and is based on horizontal complementarity. The WSF has so far wisely chosen a model of “Earth Democracy” (to resort to a term used by Vandana Shiva) or “Gaian Democracy” (as it has been called from the Schumacher College in London by Roy Madron and John Joplin).

“Earth Democracy” is based on the natural laws of life and life processes. A handful of fundamental laws that have all implications on the way living beings should behave to achieve a happy and self-sustainable self-realization as well as societal harmony. Among them, we find:

  1. “The law of the Unity of Life” (its chief implication being the so-called golden rule “don’t do to others what you don’t want to be done onto yourself”, the rule of love and compassion- or the so-called ahimsa of the Hindus and Budhists or ama guaña of the ancestral Incas).
  2. “The Law of Cause and Effect” -or karma in Hinduism and Budhism (its implication being that we have to take responsibility for the consequences of our actions).
  3. “The Law of Impermanence” (and thus the importance of overcoming attachment to ephemeral things -including physical bodies and institutions- and holding on to the transcendental or immortal: our spiritual nature).
  4. "The law of no two beings ever being alike in Nature” (diversity as an inherent feature of life, and thus the importance of not only learning how to live with it but how to enjoy it and celebrate it -as the Forum does in its capacity of “Grand creative fair of humankind-as well as the corollary of focusing on cooperation rather on competition.
  5. “The law of the Complementarity of the Poles” (and thus the importance of synergistic synthesis and conciliation)
  6. “The law of Analogy” - the microcosm reflects the macrocosm and vice-verse, in their adherence to common laws and common basic constituent elements (and thus both the local and global space are important to get to the same common end)
  7. “The law of the spiraled cycle-movement of life and its processes” and thus the importance of long-term vision). All of these laws should frame human endeavors if we are to attain self-realized, sustainable, peaceful and happy societies. By observing these laws, that is the ground of being truthful to our natural identity, we will consequentially find the responses to all other questions, including the one of timely right action.

In other words, this kind of Earth Democracy recipe is self-organizing and self-directing; on the basis of mirroring the higher laws of Nature.

Indeed, the most challenging message that could be possibly delivered to the present top-down control hungry and insatiably greedy world order is the one of “nobody being in control anymore” because of enlightened self-control, and nobody on greed because of trust and cooperation on the basis of the bountifulness of Earth to provide its children as long as they respect her and live according to her ways.

This kind of values would keep the Forum guarded from “the enemies within” or “Trojan horses” from the System. These likely to come in the way of all kinds of luring offers of support to the growingly popular Forum, including financing, from external actors such as governments, business and international institutions ; in the form of unreliable NGOs or civil society groups on account of their incoherence or playing into the hands of the System; and in the form of centralizing dirigist procedures in the style of the ruling system This kind of forces may undermine the strength and ethics of the Forum or may be intent on replicating the giganticism and centralized control of the dominant structures being challenged by the citizens grouped under the WSF. It would be a matter of avoiding an old style politics (including the old Left) which could only “erode the politics of peace and diversity that the anti-globalization movement has painstakingly built over the last decade” -to lean on the warning of Vandana Shiva.

This kind of concern was widely shared in Mumbai by a number of the most enlightened leaders of the Forum -including the core-“founding fathers” group of Porto Alegre. One of prominent member of this latter group, Chico Whitaker, further has said: “For the WSF to agree on political lines is not its chief concern, the Forum is a celebration of hundreds of diverse struggles in every part of the world, an occasion for bonding, mutual reinforcement and renewal. Identities of interest between its diverse participants need not be total. Even partial identities can provide powerful bases for concerted action” If anything, the WSF is more intent on a vindication of diversity than equality; on the basis of “Unity in diversity”, the motto by the way of the Indian macro-republic. Further, the Forum is typically a powerful case of synergy, where the whole and its dynamics have proven to be more powerful than the sum of its parts and their dynamics.

Turning back to the rebuffing of the “talking show” critique, in addition to the already mentioned consciousness-strengthening and meeting-ground accomplishments, the WSF, moreover, has certainly not been devoid of a number of concrete and notable action-oriented initiatives, some of these driven by groups of the membership and others by the WSF itself as a whole. Just to cite some examples, we can mention the launching of Global Media Watch, the successful campaign “to block” WTO in Cancun, the similar initiative on the plan concerning Free Trade Area of the Americas, the historic and massive February 15 2003 worldwide anti-Iraq war movement, the launching of a major European-wide alternative space: The European Social Forum as well as similar such instances for Asia and Latin America respectively; the sponsoring of a new wave of joint Israeli-Palestinian civil societie’s efforts in favor of a peaceful and just resolution of the conflict between those two nations; and so on.

Having said all the former though, there is room for the WSF to further strengthen its action-oriented service to humanity. The WSF as a whole could broadly agree on the regular targeting of a few specific emblematic campaigns, particularly on issues which are ripe for action.

From the deliberations in Mumbai, some natural candidates for this could emerged. Among them: the facing of the threats or perils from the new overrunning American unilateralism; a prompt end to the occupation of Iraq and to planet-threatening and anti-democratic petro-power in the world; a campaign against violence and terrorism at world level but on a much broader and more equitable notion; a campaign on two notorious world pervasive “soft-drinks” brands (concerning their health and cultural polluting effects); a “tobacco campaign” (to denounce and check the abusive and double-standard international practices of the tobacco industry); a campaign to check “globesity” (the fast spreading epidemics of obesity and ill health brought about by the fast-junk food habits aggressively propagated by transnational food-chains); and a “water campaign” (to check the predatory forces of the dangerously dwindled world water supplies -a campaign in fact off to a forceful start with the show of international solidarity that some noted WSF speakers staged right after Mumbai with thousands of villagers in the nearby Indian state of Kerala tied up on a major battle against big transnational cola companies over the very issue of water depletion by the manufacturing practices of those in their region.

This kind of campaigns, on the other hand, should underline that, true to non-violence, more than being against specific names of actors as such or viewing them as enemies, the WSF activists are against the sins committed by them and are quite prepared to welcome their self-correction or amendment. But notice should be served that if the forces intent on greedy and oppressive world control do not change, they will be overrun by the imperatives of evolution and history.

On the other hand, the campaigns should not just entertain criticism or denunciation on misdeeds but also, and above all, offer concrete alternatives to them in order to bring about a better world, healthier economies, more democracy, peace, and greater self-reliance at the national and local level. On each and everyone of the contested areas there is a wide repertoire of options, just waiting for a more auspicious political climate or determination to be implemented. Indeed, another globalization, localization (local development), and another world are possible!

Further, as stemmed from comments by participants like Brazilians Chico Whitaker and Candido Grzybowski, Portuguese Boaventura Sosa, French Cristophe Aguiton, South Korean Sohi Jeon, South African Simon Boshielo, and Uruguayan Roberto Savio, to name some, the Forum, could also:

  1. Envisage a more effective way to report to the media and world public opinion about the results of its meetings and activities as well as build a more systematic cumulative memory of the Forum’s past main pronouncements and achievements
  2. Conceive better means and ways to further be tuned to the grass roots
  3. Prioritize at world annual meetings more the smaller action-oriented workshops on specific issues vis-a-vis the larger plenary ones on broad issues whose effectiveness have been hampered by the increasingly large numbers of attendees of the WSF
  4. Become more of an itinerary venue throughout the world (now that the baby has got so strong the early critical Brazilian nurturing could indeed give way to a more geographically rotating Forum -in this regard it was widely felt that after the return to Porto Alegre in 2005 the next WSF should be held in Africa)
  5. Encourage the holding of more local, national and regional Forums, in addition to the big WSF.
  6. Try out consultative-polling mechanisms on issues of particular concern, among participants in future WSFs, to further enhance the Forum’s democratic character.

With all the formerly outlined deep wisdom and basis for action, the WSF, indeed, may become the true new superpower of the world -quite apart from the same pretense from some quarters based on the intent to perpetuate or re-edit power hegemonies or imperialisms of the past. A mighty superpower of a new enlightened and active world consciousness. The same kind of consciousness Gandhi resonated with to bring about an end to the British colonial rule in India. A consciousness, indeed, which no army or unilateral power will be able to stop or subdue.