This week, a few Occupy London activists will be in Tunisia to participate in the World Social Forum (WSF). We will not be representing anyone but ourselves, but will be bringing with us our experiences of Occupy and the movements and groups we have been part of.
Initiated in Porto Alegre in Brasil in 2001, the WSF is held in a different country every year. It brings together non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and campaigns, as well as formal and informal groups, and aims to provide a space and process to build alternatives to neoliberalism.
The WSF is interesting terrain for people involved in recently-emerged social movements, as it brings together organizations and individuals who have been working for many years on the same issues as those we newcomers are determined to address. To some extent the Forum is based on structures and practices that are not always compatible with the way Occupy and similar groups or networks operate. For example, many groups participating in the WSF have hierarchical structures, large funds or are strongly interlinked with existing political parties. Many Occupy and other activists going to the WSF, while conscious of these differences in approach, value the chance to participate in the Forum and hope to do so in an open, collaborative way – while remaining faithful to the values and practices of the groups we are part of.
One of our first obstacles was that, to propose activities in the Forum, one had to be part of a group, not just an individual. To overcome this, those involved in Occupy, 15M and similar movements decided to form a group called Global Square. This is not an organisation, simply a name for an open group, created specifically to allow us to participate fully in the WSF process. A mailing list – which anyone interested could sign up to – was created for us to communicate in an open and transparent way. Open online meetings were held every two weeks in the build up to the Forum and a website was set up to enable us to communicate what we were doing and planning to do.
Once at the Forum, those involved in Global Square will participate in other groups’ activities; listening and learning, sharing and contributing to the debate. As a group, we have proposed a few activities ourselves to enable other Forum participants to learn more about our networks and to experience practices that are common to many of those involved in Global Square – consensus decision making, for example. We hope that this will be an effective and non-confrontational way to challenge the current structures of the WSF and some of the participating groups, and to open up a space for exploring creative ways to co-operate.
The Global Square proposals are for there to be skill-sharing workshops and open assemblies at the Forum. The idea behind skill-sharing is that instead of the usual, hierarchical situation where one person or group teaches the others, a space is facilitated which enables horizontal exchange of knowledge and experiences.
Three topics have been proposed for skill-shares: media platforms for action; facilitation and decision making in horizontal groups; and networking solidarity. Three large assemblies have also been proposed, the agendas of these assemblies being left open so as to be reactive to the needs of the people comprising them. The hope is that the assemblies will be a space that not only facilitates interactions between different cultures and actors, but also between different issues and topics.
The WSF risks being a place where people focus on specific discrete topics, one at a time. Many of those involved in newer social movements believe that it is important for there to be cross-pollination between groups and topics, as the issues we are dealing with – environment, economy, democracy, human rights, energy choices etc – are so tightly interlinked.
Those attending the WSF under the ‘Global Square’ banner hope to extend and share our experiences there as widely and internationally as possible. If you would like to tune in and share, there will be streaming here: http://globalrevolution.tv/ and up-to-date news on our website: http://www.global-square.net
Activists on the ground in Tunis: feel free share your World Social Forum experiences with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.