Smaller Is Better

The third edition of the World Social Forum represents an important moment in the movement’s history, whether for the multitude of participants, the decision to hold the next meeting on another continent, or for the institutionalization of the parallel forums accompanying it.

It is also important because it has achieved the unification of the two generations of civil society: the NGOs that emerged in the 1970s to fight for human rights, sustainable development, full participation for women, etc, and in defense of human rights, of a sustainable environment, of the full participation of women, of the indigenous movement, and the movement that arose in the 1990s as an opposition force to the neoliberal globalization process.

The “older” and “younger” generations would not have met and combined to form a global civil society if it weren’t for
Porto Alegre.
The problem now, from my standpoint as member of the WSF International Council, is that we must begin debate on the architecture of the Forum. We must recognize that the WSF entails three equally necessary elements: mobilization, participation, and strategies for a better possible world.

We won’t be able to achieve these goals in a gigantic event like the WSF. The International Council decided that the Forum will not take place on the same dates as Davos anymore. During the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum there will be marches staged wherever possible around the world. We will mobilize millions more than was possible prior to the creation of the WSF.

In terms of participation, the decision to broaden the WSF internationally has proved positive. The various regional Forums (
Europe, Asia, Africa), as well as thematic (such as Quito and the Amazon about the FTAA), or local (such as in Argentina and Palestine), have achieved much more in terms than the colossal WSF. And, in the many more forums being planned, there will always be the problem of disproportionate representation from the surrounding region.

The third element, defining proposals and strategies hasn’t been resolved yet and doesn’t seem to worry most people. There were 1,714 panels and seminars in this year’s WSF. Is this proof of strength? If nobody can keep track of what went on in so many debates, I have my doubts. This atomization of dialogue means that many valuable proposals were lost.

We will only be able to devise the way forward if we recognize that at least one of the Forums must be much smaller, more in-depth, with a strong methodology and systematization. There must also be horizontal communication among all Forums, whether regional or thematic, so we know what has happened in each of them.

But that is not where India 2004 and Porto Alegre 2005 are leading. Their success will be measured by the number of participants. Is this the path we need to achieve a better world? And when it is said that we have no proposals, that all we do is talk, will we answer that we don’t want to be elitist like other Forums? The time has come for us to reflect so our route is broader, but stronger in order to challenge neoliberal globalization and its mercenaries.

Roberto Savio is a member of the WSF’s International Committee and President-Emeritus of IPS.

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