The Assembly of Social Movement at the WSF: A site of international mobilisation Against War and imperialism
Friday 14 December 2007
The Assembly of Social Movement at the WSF: A site of international mobilisation Against War and imperialism
Introduction The Assembly of social movements is becoming of the important centres for international mobilisation against war, occupation and imperialism. This article discusses the evolution of the assembly of social movements, its major mobilisation points, its activities in the most recent WSF in Kenya as well as significance of the assembly of social movements as a site of international mobilisation.
The evolution of the assembly of social movement as a platform for reflection and action The World Social Forum provides spaces, agendas and conditions for all organizations opposed to neo-liberalism and imperialism to come together, to debate and to propose, according to the charter of principles of the WSF. The WSF as a whole does not assume specific positions or actions, but neither is it neutral, as shown in the WSF charter of principles and in the programming of the conferences. Regarding the matter of statements, declarations and actions, participants are free to organize in order to articulate initiatives in their own name, as long as it’s not confused with the WSF role.
In 2001, during the first World Social Forum, more than a thousand people representing hundreds of social movements, NGOs and trade unions of the whole world gathered in a common assembly and, with a feeling of strong unity, approved the first "Porto Alegre Call of the Social Movements for Mobilization". After a series of discussions and debates evaluating the consequences of the neo-liberal policies across the world, called on the social movement to mobilize against a series of institutional events in the year ahead, such as the annual meetings of the World Bank and IMF, the ministerial meeting of the WTO and the G8 Summit in Genoa. The constitution of the Social Movements Assembly during the WSF in Porto Alegre was important because it represented an international convergence of social movements that seek not to only reflect on imperialism and neoliberalism but to also take action which is aimed at ensuring that the working class and poor in the whole world are able to take action aimed at charting a path for an alternative world. Again in 2002, in Brazil, hundreds of social movements, NGOs and trade unions attending the WSF met over five days to prepare a common call for action. The second call for action statement issued by numerous social movements expressed a level of consensus against foreign debt payment, opposition to the U.S. war in Afghanistan and solidarity with the Palestinians. The February 15, 2003 anti-war protest was a coordinated day of protests across the world against the imminent invasion of Iraq. Millions of people protested in approximately 800 cities around the world. The call for protets against the invasion of Iraq was endoresed by the assemebly of social mvements at the WSF in Porto Alegre, in January 2003. The scale of action led by world social movements was an indication that the assembly can emphatically be used as platform for internaction action against war, occupation and imperialism. While the WSF 2004 in Mumbai was regarded as a festsival of the masses due to a strong presence of the Indian masses, it has to be noted that the assembly of social movemnts and the anti-war assemblies noted a sense of decline in the anti-war moblisation. It has to be noted that the assembly of social movemnts was poorly organisied and had less participation of Indian social movements. Another international call for action was issued but the subsequent response was lower than the one of 2003. In 2005 the WSF went back to Brazil. Social movemnst noted that the second anniverssary of the occupation of Iraq was coming closer and issued another call for mass mobilisation against imperialism, neoliberalism, the war and occupation of Iraq. Again, the mass moblisation was declining.
In 2006 the Polycentric World Social Forum in Caracas was charecterised by the Latin American leftwing electoral victories in Venezueal and Bolivia. In Caracas, the assembly of social movements which also took a form of a mass raly was addressed by President Hugo Chavez who attack American imperialism and the war in Iraq. Among other calls, the most signifcant one, once again, was the call moblisation on March 18th 2006 for a day of global protest against the occupation of Iraq as part of the campaign to get the troops out.
The Assembly of Social Movements in Kenya During the build-up to the WSF in Kenya the place of the Assembly of Social Movements was not so clear. This confusion about the role of the assembly was partly because the WSF Secretariat in Nairobi had decided to construct a programme which declared the fourth day of day of the WSF as a day of sectoral strategies and actions. According to comrade Jose Chacon, a member of the WSF Secretariat in Kenya, the change in the programme as well as the inclusion of plans of action stems from the fact that some critics have been arguing that the WSF is just another carnival which takes no action. The criticism is misplaced because, as demonstrated in this article, the assembly of social movement, an autonomous gathering at the WSF, did take action against the war and imperialism since its existence in 2001.
Another source of confusion came from organisations that are responsible for organising the assembly. For example, the SMI had planned to use the assembly as a platform for building links with other stronger social movements such as MST, Via Campesina and Attac but the problem was that there was no clarity about the plan for the assembly until the intervention of the Focus on Global South, a Thai organisation.
Attended by more than 2000 activists, on 20 January the assembly of social movements met and reflected on the WSF. The assembly registered a number of concerns about the form and the organisation of the WSF. Firstly, traditionally the day before the closing of the forum is used as a day for endorsing a call of social movements. The WSF used that day as a day for the planning of international sectoral actions. The concern that was raised by the assembly was that this would cause a fragmentation of social movements.
In order to address this concern, a suggestion, which included of convening a pre-social movements assembly on the morning of the 24th of January and the full assembly in the afternoon of that day was accepted. Comrades from the assembly of the 20th of January were asked to take part in the sectoral meetings and mobilize for the final assembly whose task was to synchronize struggles.
The second and a major concern that dominated the politics of the WSF in Kenya were the commercialisation of the WSF and the subsequent exclusion of the Kenyan masses from the WSF. The involvement of big business such as Ken Cell in the WSF, high registration fees, the presence of a hotel and catering company linked to a minister of internal security who was involved in the persecution the MAU MAU freedom fighters during colonialism as well as the presence of rightwing groups that undermine women, gay and lesbian groups were cited as signs of regression in the politics and the spirit of the WSF. After deliberations, it was agreed that these issues would be raised with the organising team of the WSF and the International Council. Another proposal was to take action which would ensure that Kenyans are allowed to enter the forum free of charge.
Kenyan social movements did not have a strong presence at the first assembly. However, a number of Kenyan activists were concerned about the manner in which the organisation of the forum was dominated by certain NGOs which had little or no connections with the masses.
In the morning of the 24th of January 2007 the pre-assembly meeting had to draft a statement and plan for a bigger assembly in that afternoon. Attended by more than 300 activists from social movements and NGOs, the meeting elected a team which had to draft a call for 2007. Parallel to the pre-assembly meeting, other action plan sectoral meetings were taking place in 21 venues. In order to have a common plan of action, it was agreed that the afternoon assembly would also have to provide space for comrades who had been part of the sectoral meetings to present their plans of action. One of the major roles of the final assembly, according the pre-assembly meeting, would be to find common days of actions against war and neoliberalism.
In the afternoon of the 24th of January, the assembly was convened at the Amicar Cabral Hall, a hall named after one of the African liberation icons. Quite clearly the organisers of the assembly had mobilized because the attendance was impressive. Attended by over a thousand delegates, a draft statement and a call for action was read to the delegates. The draft statement noted the significance of holding the forum in Africa as a process of building an anti-imperialist platform in the continent. It also denounced the commericalisation of the WSF in Nairobi and the exclusion of Kenyan masses as a result of high registration fees. There were also calls for the intensification of the struggle against war and imperialism in the world. The Kenyan Social Forum was given a first chance to reply to the draft statement. The speaker of the KSF, a comrade Oloo Onyango who was instrumental in ensuring that those who had been victimised by the police at the WSF were released, was also critical of the commercialisation of the forum and argued that the organising team of the WSF had to take collective responsibility. A Kenyan speaker from the Peoples Parliament which had organised an alternative forum also noted a poor attendance by Kenyan organisations and the general exclusion of Kenyans in the WSF. The speaker told the assembly, “ I am concerned that there are many Kenyans have not been able to attend the WSF. We have had to come every single morning to get those doors open so that ordinary Kenyan citizens can attend the WSF. We believe the WSF is a conversation by, between, and amongst people. It is not fair that 90 per cent of the people in the rooms are not Kenyans. That is not just. We have fought day after day after day to get in.” A number of days of actions were agreed upon ranging form mobilisation for the cancellation of Third World Debt to eviction. The 20th of March 2007 was highlighted as the international day for mobilisation against the occupation of the Iraq. Four years ago, in 2003, America occupied Iraq. The future of the assembly of social movements As show in this article the assembly is one of the important centre for organising and coordinating international resistance against war and imperialism. In 2001 the assembly was also endorsed and supported by the assembly in Porto Alegre. In 2003 the assembly of social movements also coordinated a more generalized mobilisation against the then impending occupation of Iraq. It has to be noted that the assembly in Mumbai also noted a general decline in mobilisation against the war and imperialism in 2004. Concerning the African continent, it has to be stated besides the participation of individual activists and NGOs in some of these anti-imperialism events, the African involvement and participation has been very weak. This has to do with the fact that Africa still has a task of building a popular movement against imperialism and war. The launch of campaign networks such as Africa Water Network in the WSF in Kenya may provide an impetus for building national and continental campaigns. Social movements taking part in the assembly of social movements and other international mobilisation efforts are now discussing efforts aimed at consolidating the assembly of social movements and a network of social movements. There is communication about the implementation of the calls as adopted by the assembly in Kenya. The assembly of social movements remains as one of the important sites of engagements and the building of resistance in the WSF. Another challenge facing the assembly is a lack of continuity and reflection on action that had been taken. The adoption of calls without an assessment of the previous international action has a danger of becoming a ritual. Having noted some weakness around coordination and plans for the meetings of the assembly, it still remains a focal point for international mobilisation. Mondli Hlatshwayo Works for Khanya College and is a secretary of the Social Movements Indaba