Thousands to Meet in Montreal for World Social Forum

Thousands of people from over 95 countries are expected to gather in Montreal on August 9-14 for a social movement summit called the World Social Forum (WSF). Participants will spend a week attending a great variety of workshops, lectures and cultural events – more than 1200 in total. Famed author Naomi Klein will be giving two talks that are sure to be among the highlights of this unique event, which is designed to allow social activists and scholars to grapple with a host of economic, social, environmental and cultural questions facing the contemporary world. And Klein is just one of a raft of influential speakers who will be engaging audiences at the WSF. The Forum will unfold throughout downtown Montreal at UQAM, Concordia and McGill as well as in many parks and other venues outside the universities.

World Social Forum.An annual event that usually takes place in the developing world, the WSF is being held in Montreal following a decision made at last year’s event in Tunis to bring the Forum north, to a city which has been the site of striking social and political creativity over the last decade, with such movements as Quebec’s Maple Spring in 2012. [Ed.: see Bullet No. 680.]

The WSF originated in 2001, in Porto Alegre, Brazil, as a response to policies designed to accelerate globalization, a process seen by corporate leaders and governments as well as powerful institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF as the recipe for prosperity. NGOs and social movements from Brazil and from abroad gathered to examine the impact of globalization on the lives of working people and the poor and discuss how to alter globalization to redress the fundamental problems of inequality, environmental degradation and lack of democracy.

The WSF Matures

After its initial success in Brazil, international, national and regional forums were organized in India, Kenya, Senegal, Pakistan, Mali, Venezuela, and some 50 other countries. The discussions revolved around how to design and implement alternatives to conventional political, economic and social policies. However, the Forum was not conceived as an executive committee for social movements worldwide. It is an open platform aimed at exploring ideas, sharing experiences and broadening perspectives on how to effect change.

In 2008 with the eruption of the financial crisis, the idea that economic globalization is the wrong answer to many of the challenges that we face gained steam. Today in 2016, more than 70 per cent of the world’s population lives on less than $10 per day. In the rich countries of the North, austerity is the new watchword and public services are threatened. Moreover, the prevailing economic and political system is failing utterly to address the looming disaster of climate change. War and militarization have thrown whole regions of the world into chaos, which is the source of the escalation of desperate and violent acts in so many countries.

Faced with this grave crisis, citizens and social movements are taking stock. What can we do? Is there another way, an alternative approach that can help us relieve these destructive pressures?

In recent years, the WSF has been buoyed by the popular demands for social justice and democracy in Southern Europe (the Indignados), North Africa and the Middle East (the Arab Spring), and even the United States (Occupy Wall Street). There is a growing awareness of the need to consider alternatives to policies that primarily benefit elites, as was evident in the U.S. with the Bernie Sanders campaign.

The WSF and Challenging the Hard Right

Those gathering in Montreal for the WSF are also especially concerned with the growth of an authoritarian politics of hate and blame as embodied, for example, by Donald Trump in the U.S., Marine Le Pen in France and Geert Wilders in Holland. This dangerous current seeks to exacerbate the rising repression against refugees, migrants, Indigenous peoples and many disadvantaged communities.

Changing the social and economic conditions that offer fertile ground for the resurgence of the extreme right is among the urgent tasks the groups and individuals meeting in Montreal will turn their minds to at the World Social Forum. As the WSF slogan puts it: “Another world is needed. Together it is possible.” •

NCS People’s University programme: PDF.

Selection of events sponsored by Centre for Social Justice, CIDSE, Comboni Network, MAM, MAB, Socialist Project

  • Just Mobility and Environmental Justice – Fri Aug 12th, 9:00 – 11:30:
    • Building an International Free Public Transit Movement. This session brings together activists and movements to discuss strategies for building the international free transit movement. Public transit lies at the intersection of several critical social struggles today. Affordable (or free) public transit is an important mechanism for redistribution, and particularly targets low income women and people of colour. A central component of public policies to address climate change must be mass expenditures on public transit to reduce reliance on private cars and fossil fuels. Speakers:
      • Stefan Kipfer, Free Transit Toronto, Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University
      • Müslüm Örtülü, transit activist in Frankfurt/Hessen, Germany and Kurdistan
      • Judith Dellheim, Just Mobility Project, Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, Berlin
      • Jason Prince, transit activist, Montreal
  • Tailings Dam Breaches in Canada and Brazil “Accidents” or “Environmental Crimes” – Wed Aug 10th, 9:00 – 11:30:
    • In August 2015, the tailings dam at Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley mine collapsed, resulting in a toxic spill of 24 million cubic meters of mine waste. In November 201 5, an even bigger toxic spill occurred in Mariana, Brazil at the Samarco mine, a 50-50 joint venture of Brazil’s Vale and BHP. The toxic tsumani travelled the 800 km of the Sweet River to the Atlantic. The tragedy took 19 lives, left 1 200 homeless and thousands more with loss of land and livelihoods. In a round-table discussion, people affected by these disasters from Mt. Polley and Marianal will compare the strikingly similar circumstances surrounding the two tragedies. Chair: Judith Marshall, CERLAC.
      • Ugo Lapoint, Mining Watch Canada
      • Jacinda Mack, First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining, FNWARM, Canada
      • Leticia Oliveira, MAB, Brasil
      • Beatriz Cerqueira, CUT Brasil
  • Mining Companies: Strategies for Control Over Territories, Workers and Governments – Wed Aug 10th, 1:00 – 3:30:
    • Aggressive extractivism – the exploitation of natural resources by private mining
      companies accountable only to their own directors and shareholders – has become a driving force in the neoliberal world order. The global operations of these mining companies place workers, communities and watersheds directly in harms way. Governments have ceased to play an effective regulatory role, nor do they defend their citizens, right or exercise sovereignty over their citizens’ resources. Government and mining companies jointly promote a discourse that claims interests of the mining or oil company as a reflection of the national interest. Chair: Rodrigo Peret, Churches and Mining, Brasil. Presenters:
      • Pablo Solon, Fundacion Solon, Bolivia
      • Karyn Keenan, Above Ground, Canada
      • Shelley Condratto, Laurentian University; Derek Boivin, USW, Canada
      • Dário Bossi, Justice on the Rails, Brasil
  • Grassroots Perspectivas, Proposals and Challenges in the Face of Mining’s Violations – Thu Aug 11th, 1:00 – 3:30:
    • The grave impact of extractives industries on the environment and human rights is nothing new. However, the trend in most regions is to the inflation of licencing and expansion of mining activities rather than to a reduction. In addition, the brutality of the repression against social protest that local communities affected are facing is growing. What kind of strategies have we been using as civil society groups and what are the opportunities and challenges that we need to use and tackle in the next future? Chair: Moema Miranda, IBASE, Brasil. Presenters:
      • Focus on the Global South, Filipinas
      • Red Muqui, Peru
      • Bench-Marks, South Africa
      • Rodrigo Peret
      • Judith Marshall, CERLAC, Canada
      • Marcio Zonta, MAM, Brasil
  • The Mariana Case and the Destruction of the Doce River Basin – Friday Aug 12th, 13:00 – 15:30
    • La destrucción de la cuenca del río Doce, que se conoció como el caso de Mariana, que ocurrió en noviembre del año pasado con la rotura de la presa de la Samarco residuos mineros, una empresa BHP Billiton y Vale, que afecta a más de 1 millón de afectados, la destrucción de toda la cuenca del Río Doce. El caso se volvió paradigma de la impunidad empresarial y el problema de la minería. La actividad tiene como objetivo discutir el caso en varias facetas como eje emblemático de conflictos ambientales derivados de la minería. Chair: Tchenna Maso, MAB. Presenters:
      • Leticia Oliveira, MAB, Brasil
      • Beatriz Cerqueira, CUT-MG, Brasil
      • Soniamara Maranho, MAB

Short program with events sponsored by Centre for Social Justice, CIDSE, Comboni Network, MAM, MAB, Socialist Project: PDF.

Pierre Beaudet is active in international solidarity and social movements in Québec. He teaches international development at the University of Quebec Outaouais campus in Gatineau. He is founder of the Québec NGO Alternatives, and editor of Nouveaux cahiers du socialisme.