By Marvi Sermid
The World Economic Forum (WEF) is being held since 1971 in Davos,
Switzerland by chief executives of transnational corporations
and world financial institutions to chart the world economic agenda.
WEF alongside the international financial institutions had been
leading the worlds economic agenda without any democratic
control since last two decades. Thence, the Davos Man has been
shaping up the world the world centered on capital and
the men and corporations- who control it. Autonomy and independence
for Davos Man was therefore, the autonomy and independence for
capital. The principal for this autonomy was corporate globalization.
A product of capitalist patriarchy, this principal got itself
amply reflected in structural adjustment conditionality of Bretton
Wood Institutions, the biased and undemocratic rules of World
Trade Organization and the neo-liberal economic paradigm in general.
This resulted in treatment of biodiversity, life forms and genes/seeds
as patentable intellectual property; natural resources like water
as trade-able commodity instead of ecological common; GMOs, mad
cows, bird flue, obesity instead of healthy and safe food. It
goes without saying that menaces like religious fundamentalism,
accentuation of violence, militarism, terrorism and war are a
bye-product of this perverse system. These are but inevitable
consequences of an economic system, which marks down peoples
fundamental human and democratic rights, their basic needs and
In Seattle in 1999 the paradigm and principal of corporate globalization
was confronted by the citizens on global scale at the WTO Ministerial
Conference. These citizens belonged to different parts of the
world and different walks of life. The civil society at the global
level, used non-violence and multiplicity as the basis of social
political change to corrode the power of giant corporations and
institutions that dish up big capital. On the other hand, these
capitalist giants promoted violence, terrorism, inequality, coercion
and anti-democratic processes, on which economic globalization
was based, to counter any bid of citizens against them.
The emergent social movements backed by the global civil society
based on pluralism, self-organization, solidarity and non-violence
was writing a new chapter of history in which future was being
fashioned by the unflinching struggle of people against power.
And when the largest ever mobilization of people took place against
war on February 15, 2003, the global civil society was acknowledged
as second Super Power: the onset of a bipolar world order once
again! With different connotation though.
At the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil organized after
Seattle and parallel to World Economic Forum in 2001, the world
came across a new slogan resonating in social movements: Another
World is Possible, which deposed the previous postulation
that there is no alternative.
First World Social Forum (WSF) was timed to coincide with WEF
in 2001 when its annual session was being held. It was the time
when civil society groups gathered to hold a mass event to raise
a potent voice against imperialist globalization augmented and
led by forces of World Economic Forum. The WSF is thus seen as
the counterweight to the propositions of WEF.
World Social Forum as is described in its Charter of Principles,
is not an organization, not a united front platform, but .
. . an open meeting place for reflective thinking, democratic
debate of ideas, formulation of proposals, free exchange of experiences
and interlinking for effective action, by groups and movements
of civil society centered on the human person . The basis
of WSF is anti globalization, anti neo-liberalism. One thread
that runs across is the slogan, another world is possible.
World Social Forum was conceived as an international forum against
neo-liberal policies and capitalist led globalization. It rummages
around for providing a space for discussing alternatives, for
exchanging experiences and for strengthening alliances between
social movements, unions of working people and civil society groups.
The decision to hold the Forum in Brazil was significant. Brazil
has been one of the countries affected greatly by the neo-liberal
policies. On the other hand, different segments of Brazilian civil
society have been resisting these policies in rural and urban
areas, in factories, political parties, churches, schools etc.
this richness of Brazilian civil societys experience provided
a source of inspiration for the evolution of WSF.
Porto Alegre, a city situated in the southern most province of
Brazil led by a pro-left government, was headed by a progressive
city mayor who supported greatly the holding and development of
such a Forum in many ways.
The first WSF in 2001 saw the participation of more than 50,000
people representing approximately 800 organizations and parties.
Keeping in view the success, the level of participation and the
content of the Forum impacting capitalist patriarchal powers,
it was decided to make the Forum an annual event. Second WSF was
even larger event, which saw the participation of some 75,000
people from 150 countries. The third Forum in Jan 2003 showed
similar trend of evolution and growth and the participation rose
to approximately 100,000 people representing more than 1500 organizations
parties. Then comes this years WSF organized out of its
birth place for the first time. WSF 2004 held in Mumbai, India
was participated by more than 140,000 from across the globe.
It is important to note that prior to the WSF Mumbai, the WSF
process had sparked action at continental, country and more expanded
The birth of Asian Social Forum, African Social Forum, European
Social Forum, South Asian Social Forum, Sub Saharan and Asia Pacific
Forums, and more recently Brisbane Social Forum in Australia,
Pakistan Social Forum and various state level Social Forums in
India are but few examples. These events have generated coverage
by local media in Pakistan, India, Brazil, Australia, Africa,
Asia Pacific, European countries and among independent media sources
in the United States. As this idea and process continues to evolve
and grow, it will become very hard for the corporate media around
the globe particularly in USA to ignore it.
The process of WSF led the global civil society to Mumbai early
this year on January 16 where WSF 2004 started with all its fervor
and zeal, to conclude on a mass rally on 21st January, 2004. With
chants and innovative slogans, the beats of drums, the chortles
and chugs, activists from across the world began pouring into
Nesco Grounds, Gorey Gaon, East Mumbai the venue of WSF
04, on Friday morning Jan 16th. Expectations about what the WSF
had to offer to the participants, varied from region to region.
So too, the messages they were bringing in to share with the rest
of the world. Voices from Asia, for instance, were hoping to find
support for local issues and those that had international relevance.
One of the most brash in the opening ceremony was the rally of
about 300 Pakistani activists who turned up the tempo at the venue
with their collective chants against globalization, WTO and last
but not the least, in support of Paki-India peoples friendship.
From then onwards, following four days saw a variety of events
discussing diverse issues involving assorted audience and speakers.
Ranging from seminar on Globalization from Below by
South Korean group; the rally by Tibetan group to raise voice
against the forced detention of worlds youngest political
prisoner, the eleventh Panchan Lama, Gendhun Choekyi Nyima of
Tibet by Chinese Government; number of seminars on nuclear non
proliferation and against threats of war by European groups; on
African woes, HIV/AIDS, alternative solutions of neo-liberal policies,
Africa is not for Sale by Africa Social Forum; democracy
in Burma; Emerging Reproductive and Genetic Technologies; Water
Resources; Corporatization of agriculture, Globalizing democracy
and democratizing globalization; Neo-humanism an ecology
of oneness; organizing women workers; etc. alongside 800 more
seminars on issues equally important were going on simultaneously
during these four days.
Pakistans participation in the events was divided among
2-3 organizations that led their independent delegations making
the total participation from Pakistan at about 1000. The dominant
contingent among them was of Pakistan Social Forum (PSF) comprising
hundreds of civil society organizations from all over the country,
political parties, media persons, academicians, intelligentsia,
professionals, women, laborers, peasants, farmers, and youth.
PSF had more than 700 people from four provinces and the federal
capital. The issues raised ranged from democracy, anti globalization,
ownership rights, labour rights, child rights, womens human
rights, more specific issues included invasion of Gwadar Port
by corporate transnational corporations, status of womens
political participation in South Asia, Violence Against
Women, Gender and Development, process of social change
in Pakistan etc. It was conspicuous presence and strong participation
of Pakistan Social Forum that made International Committee of
WSF to urge PSF to host next South Asian Forum in November this
year. It is hoped that Pakistani civil society will not hold back
this time around and will show utmost solidarity and conviction
that not only another world is possible, but another South Asia
is possible too.
The Forum was concluded on an impressive rally that started from
Agust Karanti Ground, walked through the streets and roads of
Mumbai for two and a half hours to culminate at Azad Maidan on
concluding ceremony attended by more than 100,000. It was a treat
to hear Shobha Mugdal singing Faiz Sahibs lazim hey
ke hum bhi dekhen gey, Asma Jehangir in her usual gusto
and Sindhi group of folk singers singing Ho Jamalo to colossal
frenzy of people present there.
The striking feature of WSF 04 remained the South Asian touch
that the change of venue provided to the Forum. Most potent of
the voices came from Dalit and other regional movements to add
to the richness of the WSF, which was hitherto dominated by the
European factor. Another strong element was the cultural part
of the Forum that allowed the delegates to watch 300 cultural
events comprising theatre performances, music concerts, film screenings,
dialogues, monologues etc. These were in addition to the rallies
from different regions and groups including local cultural element
of that group.
Most important to mention here is the reference to the messages
that went from WSF 04 to WEF. First one is the name itself: WSF
revolves around people and the society while WEF gives prime importance
to corporations and capital. The second message is that of self
organizing of thousands of groups as opposed to the system of
organizing of WEF which is controlled by the capital. The third
message to Davos is peace and non-violence. Violence is both the
means and end of an economy based on economic dictatorship and
militarism. Non-violence is both the end and means of peoples
The future of this Forum, however, would depend upon how maturely
its saturation point is dealt with. The talk of town during Mumbai
Forum was about reaching its maximum expansion. All the four Forums
exceeded all the expectations attached to them as regards peoples
participation. When the decision was first taken to hold it in
Porto Alegre, Brazil as an alternative meeting to the Davos, almost
10,000 people were expected to attend it, while 50,000 came. In
the preceding years the participation increased in every Forum
till the Mumbai Forum to involve approximately 140,000 people.
But the point that should be kept in mind is that numbers dont
matter, what matters is to assess whether they are contributing
to the realization of Forums founding conviction that another
world is possible.