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World Social Forum Builds Global Community

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March 5, 2006

World Social Forum Builds Global Community

This article was originally written for the Catholic New Times. The author, of CF member organization KAIROS, has kindly given permission to post it here.


By Rusa Jeremic

“Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.” (Acts 4:32, 34-35)

In the spirit of community, organizers planning the sixth World Social Forum (WSF) decided to decentralize the gathering in three distinct geographic locations: Venezuela, Pakistan, and Mali, in order to make grassroots participation that much more accessible. I had the privilege of participating in the Caracas, Venezuela WSF between Jan. 22 and 29. The concept of a World Social Forum first emerged as an alternative to the annual World Economic Forum.

The World Economic Forum brings together a select number of the world’s political and corporate leaders who work to promote a harsh, top down globalization that expands corporate power at the expense of people, communities, and the earth. In contrast, the World Social Forum and all of its local and regional manifestations enlist a commitment from all participants to reject the austere neo-liberal model of economic globalization promoting Structural Adjustment Programs in the South. The participants in the World Social Forum also reject a free trade model and increasing militarization. They commit to a vision that respects human rights, sustainable development and non-violent social transformation. They are encouraged to articulate the expression of their vision through information-sharing, art, workshops, and strategy sessions.

This year, in Caracas, over 60,000 people were registered and 2,000 different activities took place. Canadian participation was strong with over 40 events sponsored by Canadian organizations. Common Frontiers, the Americas Policy Group, and KAIROS participated in several free trade strategy workshops. KAIROS spoke at a workshop on NAFTA, depicting how the U.S.-Canada relationship is now being strengthened through a security agenda threatening our natural resources. KAIROS also led a workshop on the secret negotiations of the Canada-Central America Free Trade Agreement, together with Central American colleagues. In both instances, participation was rich and diverse, demonstrating how the Forum enables people with a common cause to come together across borders and sectors, unifying their struggles and resistance into one.

Indeed, the World Social Forum provides a key venue for making connections with others. Many participants went to the Venezuelan WSF precisely because progressive President Hugo Chavez is engaging the country in new and exciting alternatives. Canadian union activists visited worker-run factories, while others learned about neighbourhood committees, a national literacy program and how Cuban doctors are participating in an exchange program that offers access to health care for Venezuelans. A highlight of the weeklong event was the address by President Chavez. As Chavez addressed the crowded stadium, excitement was in the air when he saluted indigenous activist Evo Morales, who was recently elected President of Bolivia.

These are definitely exciting times in Latin America. More and more people, frustrated over the devastating impact of decades of neoliberal policies, are using their vote to elect progressive leaders like Morales and Chavez. At the same time, the WSF reaffirmed its role as a space for civil society to gather and work out an alternative holistic vision to global capitalism. More than anything the World Social Forum is an expression of global community building. Constructing community as depicted by Jesus Christ where all that is had is shared and no one goes without. A community where all voices are heard and everyone has a place at the table. That global community is well on its way and activists and faith-based organizations like KAIROS are actively participating in making it a reality.

Rusa Jeremic coordinates the Global Economic Justice Program of KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives. She was in Venezuela for the World Social Forum.

© Copyright 2005
Rusa Jeremic
Global Economic Justice Program Coordinator
KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives
129 St. Clair Ave West, Toronto, ON M4V 1N5
416.463.5312, ext. 225 FAX: 416.463.5569