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In July 2000 I heard of a new World SOCIAL Forum being
organized to counter balance the World Economic Forum. The
organizers planned to host 2500 participants, delegates
representing peace and social justice groups, environmentalists,
equality-seeking non-governmental organizations (NGO's).
The first WSF was to be held January 25-31, 2001 in Porto
Alegre (Brazil), a city that had championed participatory
democracy for the past decade.
Myself, I had worked to organize our local World March
of Women action in Winnipeg and Manitoba, and had been terribly
disappointed in the lack of media coverage of this powerful
world movement. I felt compelled to go to this World Social
Forum to share our experience of the World March and to
build on its momentum. Some 15,000 persons from all over
the world came to participate in the inaugural World Social
Forum under the slogan "Another World is Possible!"
In an effort to facilitate inclusiveness, the registration
fee was $50.00 US$ per delegate (quite a difference from
the $30,000 registration fee of the World Economic Forum!),
but observers could participate in approximately 400 workshops,
that first year for little or no charge. In the aftermath
of the Seattle protest of the World Trade Organization meeting
in November 1999, the organizers hoped to provide a forum
where people share their experiences, concerns and successes
so that we could learn from each other and strategize actions
and ways to challenge the current world order which scorns
democracy and undermines sovereignty of nations.
People say we're anti-globalization but for me, the World
Social Forum is an example of the good that globalization
can do. I am not anti-globalization, I'm for globalization,
globalization of human rights, social justice, environmental
standards, labour standards, living wages. I am really
afraid that what the economic globalization does through
free trade deals do is give license to corporations to go
to the lowest common denominator, the lowest environment
standards, the lowest labour standards, the lowest wages,
and that just makes people very vulnerable. Free trade is
freedom for who? Human rights are for humans, for
people. Advocates of free trade seem to want human rights
Delegates at the first WSF were invited to return the next
year to further the gains achieved and to strategize further
an alternative agenda that puts "People before Profits!"
In the meantime we were asked to go to Quebec City in April
2001 for the People's Summit of the Americas" preceding
the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) meetings.
To my amazement, approximately 60,000 participants were
in attendance in 2002, of which more that 15,000 were registered
as Youth. Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations
sent his own personal representative. Mary Robinson, UN
High Commissioner for Human Rights, Green Peace International,
Amnesty International, Medecins Sans Frontières were
all registered and contributing to the discussion.
The WSF, suddenly, was a force to be reckoned with.
Spokespeople for the World Economic Forum wanted to have
debates with the organizers of the WSF. By 2003 there were
100,000 participants including over 30,000 registered at
the Youth Encampment. In the meantime, the World Economic
Forum suffered considerable setbacks in view of the scandals
of major American corporations which have seriously undermined
the public trust.
The World Social Forum is a powerful vehicle which has
the potential to provoke change and re-awaken democracy
among the peoples of the world.
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