(Cross posted at ACDJ)
As I mentioned I’m quite stressed at the moment. This is largely due to the Melbourne Social Forum looming large which I am on the organising committee of.
Anyway, I wrote this piece for the New Matilda a few months back but it wasn’t published. So I may as well publish it here:
Social Forums, a Cacophony to Celebrate
In November CERES environmental park will host the second annual Melbourne Social Forum. These forums are unique and I would suggest on the cutting edge of debate and activism in Australia and the world. Of course many will disagree and I must confess my bias as I am on the organising committee. However, I involved myself because I consider social forums to be highly significant.
The Melbourne Social Forum is the regional off shoot of the wider World Social Forum (WSF) which provides a rallying point for the Global Justice Movement, the significance of which is hard to understate. It is so significant that George Monbiot (2004:95) points to it as the most ‘startling example of moral power’ that he claims could form the basis of a global parliamentary assembly. He refers to it as ‘the only international assembly which had any claim to reflect the views of the people of the world’ (Monbiot 2004:95). Ponniah and Fisher (2003) claim that the ‘World Social Forum is the most recent, vibrant and potentially productive articulation of an emergent global civil society’ (Ponniah and Fisher 2003:1).
Rallying under the slogan ‘Another World is Possible’, the first WSF was held in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2001 and attracted about 10,000 people. Estimates of the numbers attracted at the 2005 WSF range from 200,000 up to 300,000. It is held every year in direct opposition to the World Economic Forum – the contrast between the two is remarkable. The WSF provides the most open and democratic space imaginable, whereas the World Economic Forum could not be a greater barrier to democracy and participation.
The Social Forum movement is also unique because it is not unified by a grand narrative like previous internationalist movements have been. The activists are unified by being anti-corporate globalisation and pro-democratic but the unity stops there. It seems that the organising principles – those things that make it a truly unique movement – are what hold the key to emancipation. By maintaining a non-hierarchal, participatory and highly (or ‘deeply’) democratic structure we provide a model for a better world.
The one issue that keeps coming up in the World and Melbourne Social Forums is the issue of providing a unified statement. In contrast to the Melbourne Social Forum, Now We the People (a similar event recently held in Melbourne) gave everyone a list of key points that the organisers felt were important, then allowed debate on these issues so that some sort of uniform statement was produced. I think that is a remarkable feat and one that should be supported. However, as I outline below, I’m of the opinion that the Melbourne Social Forum (and other social forums) should not do this. There is plenty of disagreement about this but I think it’s important to avoid this temptation – and it is extremely tempting.
The social forum is meant to be an open space for activists. It’s a place where activists of all persuasions come together to discuss ideas and campaigns with other activists and then take those ideas and shared experiences back to their own communities or issues they are working on and hopefully increase their effectiveness. There is also plenty of room for campaign building, collaboration and networking within the Melbourne Social Forum. For me, the really exciting part is that there is disagreement between the activists and what is important is that they engage each other and not only accommodate a diversity of opinion but harness the creative tension this generates and come out with new ideas and alternatives. This is no easy task and takes some very talented facilitation but hopefully the Social Forums can do this.
The task is not to try and reach some resolution but to celebrate the fact that a multitude of resolutions come out of the Social Forums. I call this the Global Cacophony, and Deleuze and Guattari called the Rhizome. For now at least, meta-narratives are dead. What the Social Forum creates is many micro-narratives and facilitates an interconnectivity of these narratives. It’s a ‘Movement of Movements’ to quote Klein (2000). I think it leaves us standing on the edge of something very exciting and genuinely new. The meta-narrative is this sort of ultimate democracy which is comprised not only of a high level of participation, but a multitude of local democracies. This is how you empower communities. This is how you emancipate people. This is ‘deep’ democracy.
- Klein, N. 2000, No Logo, Flamingo, London.
- Monbiot, G. (2004) The Age of Consent: a manifesto for a new world order, Harper Collins, London
- Ponnian, T. and Fisher, W. (2003) Another World is Possible, Fernwood, Canada.