- WSF 2011
Global Year of Action 2010
This preliminary report*, which will be presented at the International Council of the World Social Forum, was prepared following the discussion of the strategy committee held at the Council session in Dakar in November 2011. The report is based on the “Table of events in 2010”, which appears as an appendix, and will be continued and completed once the summary fact sheets for all of the events of 2010 are available and have been validated by the organisers (twenty-one fact sheets are currently available or pending). The fact sheets available can be accessed at
The Global year of action 2010
The Belém WSF marked an important stage in the WSF process, and benefited from fresh impetus to forums. It also gave rise a new acceleration and new issues. In response, during the move from Belém to Dakar the International Committee proposed a Global year of action 2010, thus putting the events and initiatives part of the forums process during 2010 into perspective.
Conditions have been set in order for an event to be included in the list for the
2010. Inclusion on the list is sought by social and civic movements associated with the forums process, which propose to organise the event and form an initiative committee. The initiative committee agrees to refer to the World Social Forum Charter of Principles. The event is organised taking forums’ methodological principles into account and prominence given to self-managed activities in particular.
At the beginning of 2010, inclusion on the list for the Global year of action 2010 had been sought for 41 events. All of these events occurred during 2010, with some date changes during the year, with the exception of one forum scheduled to take place in Mauritania; this had been postponed. Fourteen other events were added to the process in 2010, having accepting the conditions stipulated; these are identified in the table in a section entitled “Unplanned at the start of 2010”. This report examines the 55 events (listed in the table attached) that constitute the Global year of action 2010. It does not include events from 2009 after Belém, or those from the beginning of 2011 that are part of the Dakar WSF. 6 or 7 forums were held in January 2011, the last of which is scheduled for 29-30 January 2011: the Mesopotamian Social Forum’s Ecology Forum in Turkey.
Numerous other events were held in 2010 and are not included in this table, either because we were not aware of them or because they were local forums and events, organised locally. There are also other events that were organised by movements that are stakeholders in the process, but part of other dynamics. Some events at the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, for example, could have been considered part of the process but were not included, since the movements engaged did not request their inclusion and the methods of organisation were set out without reference to the Charter of Principles.
In November 2010 the Dakar IC, at the proposal of the strategy commission, decided to follow up on the Global year of action by having a summary fact sheet prepared for each event and requesting a summary report on the events. The fact sheet template is attached to the report as an appendix.
This report is a presentation report on the Global year of action, and is not yet the anticipated summary report. It is based on the table of the 55 events that in itself provides a significant illustration. It is also based on the first fact sheets received (around 20) and contact with organisers of, and participants in, these events.
This report is a stage. Summary fact sheets have not yet been prepared for all events, with some to be discussed and completed by the organisers. From that point onwards, it will be possible to compare the information and evaluations more closely and prepare a summary report by reconstructing the Global year of action 2010 in its context and assessing its impact on, and consequences for, movements and the process.
This preliminary report will examine four issues:
- The geographical basis of the forums process
- The convergence of movements that carry the process
- Issues discussed at forums
- Proposals for the future of the process
The geographical basis of the forums process
The 54 events took place in twenty-eight countries. Indeed, many more countries were involved than if the location of the forums is used as a measure. A number of events were organised by movements from several countries, while some were held in several countries. This was true in particular of regional and thematic forums.
Thus, there in total 19 national forums, 5 regional forums and 31 thematic forums. Indeed, several national and regional forums are also thematic forums that examine certain issues with an invitation to international participation (such as the Mexico forum on the crisis in capitalism).
An analysis of the distribution of the location of events according to main regions provides the following distribution:
South America - 22 (including Brazil, with 13)
Maghreb-Machrek - 10
Europe - 10
Africa - 7
Asia - 4
North America - 2
Total = 55
The geographical expansion of the movement should be emphasised; in fact, the main regions do not provide much of an understanding of this expansion. The most relevant level of analysis is the sub-regions: at this level, a connection can be drawn between trends in globalisation in the organisation of large regions and the geocultural forms of social movements. For us, it would be better to start with the geographic dimension of social movements to redesign a new geographical map from the point of view of the social forum process.
From this point of view, the following should be emphasised:
- The relative importance of South America, and of Brazil in particular. This is a product of the vigour of social and civic movements in the region and the (contradictory) relationships between movements and political regimes. The sub-regions would be Brazil and Amazonia, Andean America, the Southern Cone, Mexico and Central America, and the Caribbean.
- The very rapid emergence of the Maghreb-Machrek region, with the increase in social struggles and struggles for democracy and the controversial issue of political Islam. The sub-regions would be the Maghreb, Turkey and Iraq with Syria, Egypt with Palestine and Lebanon, and Iran and Afghanistan.
- A continued European presence, despite the crisis in the European movement and the contradiction between the increase in social resistance struggles and the totalitarian and xenophobic drift of some regimes. The sub-regions would be southern Europe, northern Europe, eastern Europe, and Russia.
- Strong activity in Africa and strong forum activity linked to African social movements. The sub-regions would be west and central Africa, east Africa, and southern Africa (north Africa also lies within the Maghreb-Machrek region).
- The drop in Asia related to the difficulties faced by social movements in India. The sub-regions would be India with Bangladesh and Pakistan, south-east Asia, and China.
- The strong presence of North America in view of the small number of countries in the region.
Thus, six main regions would become twenty regions, to be specified, which will support an analysis of the evolution of movements and networks.
The convergence of movements
Each forum is organised by a group of movements. A distinction can be made between three levels of involvement on the part of movements. First of all, there are movements that assume responsibility for the organisation of an initiative; between three and fifteen movements are directly involved in the organisation of an initiative. Then there are the movements that actively participate in the organisation of activities, in particular self-managed activities. Depending on the size of the forum in question, between thirty and 1,000 associations are involved in the activities of a forum. Finally, there are movements present at forums that do not play a very active role in their organisation. Between two and five times the number of movements that actively participate in their activities are present. (This information will be provided once all of the validated fact sheets are available.)
Similarly, an evaluation of the audience of forums could, perhaps, be added based on validated fact sheets. A distinction can be drawn between the audience involved in the activities, based on entries, and the audience attracted by events and demonstrations associated with an event. The “enrolled” audience ranges in size from 200 people (trade union forum in Algeria, which was held despite being banned) to around 20,000 people (Porto Alegre, Detroit). The audience attracted by events, when such events have taken place, can reach five to ten times the “enrolled” audience. The benefit of these quantitative data is rather relative; they can provide ideas for forum organisers. An analysis of the audience, verified over the course of several forums, shows that depending on the nature of the forum (national, regional or thematic), 60 to 70% of participants come from the country where the forum is held; 20 to 30% come from other countries in the sub-region; and 5 to 15% come from other regions of the world.
Little is known about the highly diverse nature of movements, which range from regional and international networks, which are very present in thematic forums, to small, highly autonomous local associations. The most active base is made up of large national associations actively involved in regional or thematic networks. The nature of movements is also highly diverse: there are social movements, civic movements, movements engaged in economic activities (social economy), cultural movements and various types of NGOs.
The relationship between movements and activities could also be stated. Generally, the “agglutination” of self-managed activities is often limited to existing networks and agreements between networks; for example, the intersection between thematic and regional networks that facilitate comparisons. From this point of view, the inclusion of events on the list is no longer controlled and there is not enough time to facilitate comparisons. The process for convergence meetings and action assemblies is in its infancy.
A transversal analysis is required. Such an analysis would allow a study of a map of movements and their evolution.
Content and discussions
The forums are a forum for debate and discussions that bring together questions that arise from demonstrations and struggles, theoretical analyses and approaches and references to alternative practices. At all forums, discussions highlight the issues to be debated that are raised from one forum to the next with specific approaches. Regional forums highlight certain issues based on the concerns of social and civic movements in the region. Movements give concrete expression to a shared regional approach based on issues raised and the way of examining them that are unique to the movement. The same is true for national forums that address the assessment of national situations, both social and political, and the relationship between movements and the political authorities in a more direct manner.
Thematic forums are assuming an increasingly prominent role in the social forums process and, in particular, in their preparation. These forums put forward an issue that constitutes the main purpose of the forum. This issue can refer to a theme (such as education or agriculture) or intersection between several areas and several questions (such as education and culture or agriculture, food sovereignty and land). This approach has two advantages: issues and questions are a product of movements and how they highlight the issues; and the importance given to self-managed activities in the organisation of forums enriches debate and guarantees the diversity of approaches and positions.
Thematic forums allow an issue to be debated in depth and developed in a more collective, broader and more continuous manner. On some issues, there are already regular forums that are in their second or third session. They also allow movements and networks involved in this question to converge, expand their approaches via the participation of new networks, confront points of view, highlight proposals and put them forward for validation by other movements, draw lessons from mobilisations together, and disseminate and submit advances in policy and alternative approaches to critical evaluation.
A thematic forum prepares and orders discussions and debate on an issue. It cannot summarise the process of preparing WSF. Bias can exist in thematic forums, with one form of this bias being too much importance being given to the opinion of experts on a particular issue. The other is the subordination of events to bodies for negotiation, in particular international bodies, on a given issue and the adoption of the agenda of the dominant powers on the world stage. The response to these drifts is constituted by social and civic movements that are at the base of forums. It is up to them to closely monitor the place given to the approach of movements in the preparation of forums. The validation of approaches and proposals involves mobilisations of movements. These are the movements that engage in discussions between forums. From this point of view, world social forums are the main forum for transversality.
The analysis of thematic forums held in the Global year of action 2010 identifies some of the issues that have been highlighted by a thematic forum and which may have been examined at several forums. Issues have been grouped together based on the comparisons provided in the convocation of forums.
The groupings used, based on the themes discussed at forums, are as follows:
- Crisis, the crisis of capitalism and financial issues (Mexico)
- The crisis of civilisation, progress and modernity (Cochabamba, Guerrero)
- The environment, ecology, climate, soils, mines (Cochabamba, Cairo, Niamey)
- Agriculture, food sovereignty, land (Niamey, Quito)
- Urban, suburbs, peripheral areas, the rights to the city (Rio, Pelotas, Canoas)
- Health, environment (Cairo)
- Education, culture (Osasco, Belém, Bahia, Palestine, Santiago de Compostella, Porto Alegre, Stuttgart)
- Rights, the rights of peoples, human rights, indigenous peoples, rights and justice, the rights of Mother Earth (Bento Gonçalves, Sao Leopoldo, Cochabamba, Girona, Casablanca, Guerrero)
- Democracy (Bangaldesh, Casablanca)
- Social economy, fair trade and world trade (Canoas)
- Immigration (Quito, Brussels)
- Social movements, trade unions (Tokyo, Alger, Dakar)
- Youth, youth and childhood (Lomba Grande, Osasco)
- Civil society, governments and civil society (Stuttgart)
- International solidarity (several countries on BDS Palestine, Bordeaux)
- WSF process, assessment, communication (Porto Alegre, Belém)
As in regional and national forums, controversial issues are discussed in thematic forums. Examples include the nature of emancipation, post-capitalism, the relationship with Mother Nature, modernity, science, elections, armed struggles, war, armies, political Islam, parties, alliances, relationships with governments, states, etc. Based on debates in world and regional forums, the issues that emerge and are taken up by movements and networks are behind the organisation of thematic forums. The progression of a controversial issue to a thematic forum thus sustains the forums process.
How to organise the issues raised and discussions in a collective space for preparation. Each forum leaves records that are available on the internet that have been useful in preparation and which often incorporate its conclusions, declarations and conclusions. Movements that participate in forums provide these conclusions and can carry them into new sessions of the forum and other forums.
To go further, and without seeking to be exhaustive or provide general coverage, it would be possible to propose to forum organisers the publication of a summary report of some ten pages with links to the most developed contributions. This note would accompany the summary fact sheet on the forum used for the Global year of action 2010. It would highlight several categories: the identification and relevance of the issued raised, the analysis of situations, popular struggles and resistance, proposals for in-depth reform of public policies, perspectives for radical social transformation and the surpassing of the dominant system, specific emancipation practices provided by movements, positions declared in national and international negotiations, themes engaged in the battle of ideas, mobilisations and recommended actions.
The objective would be to identify controversial issues to recycle them in the process. It would be possible to call researchers and intellectuals, to begin with those of movements, to grab hold of issues to debate, conduct searches, and formulate theories and subject them to criticism and verification at forums.
The evolution of the social forums process
The Global year of action 2010, from Belém to Dakar, reinforced and deepened the world social forums process. The International Committee will be able to draw lessons from this for the follow-up from the 55 events of 2010.
The commissions of the International Committee have assisted the process and have begun to learn lessons and draw proposals from it.
The methodology commission has played an essential advisory and accompaniment role, helping the events place greater importance on self-managed activities and giving priority to the role of movements in the organisation of forums. It has worked on the convergence assemblies held in Nairobi, implemented in Belém. These assemblies can benefit from the experience of the Detroit forum, which put in place “peoples movements assemblies”, some of which have been deployed over several years between forums in the United States, from Atlanta to Detroit. It must also analyse the relationship between governments and movements, in particular at the Cochabamba forum.
The expansion commission played a very important role in the regional approach of forums, assisting the emergence of the forum movement in the Maghreb-Machrek. It must work towards the evolution of the movement according to region and sub-region, in particular in Asia. It has managed the evolution of the composition of the International Committee in a calm, effective manner.
The communication commission played a very important role in the innovation of extended forums that should assume greater influence with the “extended Dakar” forum, and which was trialled with very good results with the World Education Forum in Palestine, which resulted in an “extended Ramallah”. It must prepare the debate on the visibility of the process to the media and opinion.
The resources commission played a very important role in advising and assisting the search for resources by the organisers of different events. It will be able to learn lessons from the diversity of approaches to the subject. At present, it is working on the issue of the financing of the process, excluding the search for resources for events.
The strategy commission was present at several events. The debate on the strategy of movements and the process was present at a large number of events, and to a large extent was renewed based on the Porto-Alegre forum on the ten-year review. It works based on the explanation of the strategy of movements, the identification of controversial issues and the work of forums. It is this latter approach that was most prominent in 2010. It would be possible to propose to movements and centres of research, as well as sites associated with them, to commit to the publication of an annual strategic monitoring report on one of the issues discussed at forums.
For the process as a whole, the wealth of events during the Global year of action shows that the social movements process has diversified and become fixed in a number of realities. It is an evolution that must be taken into account. The International Committee could learn from this to strengthen the social forums process.
It could now prolong the 2010 approach to extend the geographic and thematic scope of forums.
It could include the “extended forums” approach in an analysis of the development of local social forums
It could also consider that the major events that would want it (such as Rio+20, G8-G20 meetings, etc.) and accept the approach would be recognised as events associated with the forums process, thus re-establishing close ties with events that, like Seattle in 1999, have contributed to the creation of world social forums.
By Gustave Massiah, the Research and Information Centre for Development (CRID - France) and member of the WSF International Council. (23-01-2011)