The WSF was created as an alternative to the World Economic Forum at Davos. Chico Whitacker from Brazil, one of the founders of the Forum and winner of the Right Livelihood Award, and Jai Sen from India, co-editor of the book „World Social Forum: Challenging Empires“, speak about the origins of the Forum and the role of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization.
Fabian Scheidler: The first World Social Forum , held in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 2001, was conceived as an alternative to the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, where the international elite from business and politics meet every year. The Forum was to show that alternatives to market-driven, neoliberal agendas are possible. The slogan was „Another world is possible“. We asked two prominent activists and thinkers of the forum, how the Anti-Davis came into being.
Jai Sen: In fact in one of the seeds what became the World Social Forum was in an action called the anti Davos in Davos in which Francios Houtart and others were involved. And in the previous years before 1999/2000 they made that. There were several meetings. Susan George put forward the slogan "Another world is possible" back in 1996 at a meeting in France where they talked about building alternatives. So what became the Forum came from many sources not from one source. And the World Economic Forum provided a focus because it had taken over in a more direct way the mantle of the World Trade Organisation. As supposed to the World Trade Organisation which was only a government body and looked like representative if you assume there is representative democracy working. The World Economic Forum was directly cleary people who had no right to be governing the world. Getting together saying this is the way the world should work and striking deals. So it became the next stage of challenge to capitalism. So you had the people in anti Davos in Davos as well as others who marched and came together to form the World Social Forum.
Chico Whitacker: Davos was the biggest meeting of all those who own the world. They were saying that there is no alternative to the market. The market will solve all the problems. People were already beginning to resist and to protest. We had many street demonstrations in Seattle against the IMF, the World Bank, G 8 and so on. But we were in a moment where we had to think a little more about not only to protest but also to propose. Something different. A new world. We called it: Another world that's possible. Not under the logic of money and markets but trying to solve the human needs, the human problems. Trying to find also solutions for the many challenges the world was facing at this moment. Then we began another forum, the same date of Davos exactly, to show that there is an alternative, not centered in money like at the World Economic Forum. A World Social Forum.
David Goeßmann: The origin of the forum has a long history reaching from the social struggles of the 60s and 70s via the end of the soviet empire to new resistance movements against predatory capitalism in the 80s and 90s. The Forum become a place where especially voices from the south were gathering.
Jai Sen: there was in the 70ies the first major challenge by the South with the forming of the oil cartell. NAM the nonaligned movement had already been formed. But it was never a direct challenge to the North in a politacal challenge. For the first time you had a state challenge but within those states you had a great deal of simmering going on. And there was from the Philippines across to Mexico, Nigeria and elsewhere in the 70ies. There were riots. But there was also a period where the North using the World Bank, the IMF as their instruments decided to rollback this challenge and brought in particularily the instrument of structural adjustment in the 80ies. So you get a process of the World Bank playing an increasing role and the IMF. "The world has gone through enormous change. They wanted to cut back in that. They say, you got to limit workers rights. Free up movement of capital. Not of labor but of capital. Reduce the state. Cut back in the state. These are three of the four, I forget the fourth key tenets of structural adjustment. So they implemented these kind of adjustments by twisting the arms of those in government from the 80ies and 90ies. Uniformelly it was a disaster. Like Rumsfeld said about Iraq, stuff happens, one of the World Bank Traders said, you want to make an omlette you have to brake some eggs. What the hell! If a country falls through the net so the hell what? That's just one country. We have a hundred to work on. So structural adjustment was an attempt not to get justice, not for welfare. It was part of the attempt of supressing the rising aspiration of working peoples across the world by crushing them. So it increased poverty, spread poverty, increased wealth in very concentrated way. And then the assumption was some trickle down will take place. So structural adjustment was brought in as a machanism, the second stage of the rollback that started in the 70ies with the braking of the oil cartell and the bringing in of new regimes. So you get the 70ies, the 80ies. 90ies you get GATT which is the general agreement on Trade and Tariff. So from the 70ies, 80ies, 90ies you're seeing a uniform strategy of the rollback of the challenge from the South, the rollback of the challenge from the people and the imposition of the hegemony of what came to be called the Washington consensus. So you got a challenge to these hegemonic powers then not only the World Bank and IMF but also WTO. The WTO is paralyzed in Seattle. And the World Social Forum was born out of this crucible.
Chico Whitacker: The beginning was a surprise for us, the success of this. We awaited for the first Forum 2500 people and 20.000 came. It was in Brasil and people from all over the world came. It was very interesting the success. Then we said, we have to continue. We have to do another and see. And led us put in a paper which principles we followed to make the first one. So we wrote a charter of principles and continued. From then on we had ten years of experience not only on world forum level, but also national, regional and local forums. And the world changed very much from this time. Recently for instance, 2008 we had a big crisis showing really that market is not able to regulate its problems, solve its problems. Market was creating much more problems than solving. So we had also the emergence, more and more strong ecological challenges. It's new to the concious or awareness all over the world that our planet can be destroyed if we continue to have this type of society, consumerist society, productivist society: production, production, production. And some paradigms of thinking, of organising life that we have to overcome. From then also the process of thinking about this began. People say you must act. Yeah. Naturally. But you have to think before. If you don't think before acting you're irresponsible. So if we don't act after thinking we are also irresponsible. So you have to do both. But here in the forum its a place where we think what to do.
Fabian Scheidler: Within the process of the World Social Forum, new forms of politics have been developed. The aim was – as it is stated in the Charter of Priciples – the creation of planetary citizenship against a globalization dominated by economic interests. We talked about the achievements of the Forum with Susan George from the Transnational Institute, Nicola Bullard from Focus of the Global South, Bangkok, and Chico Whitaker.
Susan George: I think that the Forum has crystellized a number of positions which everybody now takes for granted. Everybody considers that there are certain numbers of human rights which go beyond the usual civil and political rights, they go into the economic, gulturla and social righrts also, but we are in a whole new area of right, for instance water as a human right, food and food sovereingnty as the right of peoples, we*re talking about the rights of peoöles as pelples. Everybody here thins that this is normal, but it is not normal outside. Not everbody. Governments arent't talking about these things. And we also have a lot of ideas about how to finance all of this.
Nicola Bullard: There are certain aspects of the way the WSF works that are absolutely are foundational to how we are now working in lots of other different forums and different sorts of campaigns and movement building. First the idea that many sectors of many different types of organisations and even many different types of political orientations from the North and the South can find a way of working together. Rebuilding consensus, engaging in common activities. I think this methodology is extremely important. And concretely an event like the peoples summit in Cochabamba Bolivia on climate change would not have been possible without this prior experience of the World Social Forum. I think that very important event sort of grew out of the processes and movements and ideas that have come through the World Social Forum.
Chico Whitacker: The world is divided. Very divided. Each one in its sector without knowing what the others are doing. Even sometimes fighting among us. And even competing for the same things. Then you must discover, that's why we say towards a new politics. A new way of doing politics. Not trying to build pyramical structure of politics but really trying to build a network of social organisations that were not politically all so much. Politics were a problem of governments and parties. Now from within the process it was shown that political action is also a societist action, not only organisations of society but also people's action. Each one of us has changed many behaviours. For instance in front of the ecological problems. So we have a very large types and this question we show it in our practice that we are very divers. And the diversity must be protected. And from this diversity we begin to find new issues for the question. So before it begun as an event in Puerto Allegre with 20.000 people, later a hundred thousand people, from then it became a process of networking at all levels more and more in which we show also that we must work horizontally. In this type of relation respecting diversity and also trying to do that everybody is responsible. So everybody must act. Democray: Yes, but not only in elections. much more than elections. We must control, we must help, those who we elect, and we must resist to those who are against the change or are for continuation of the justification of the concentration of power and so on and so on. So this type of discovery is what we call new politics.