3. Combined and Uneven Development: Gender, Ethnicity, Class and Age
I was somewhat alarmed, at the elite hotel I eventually
found myself in at Porto Alegre, by the number of people who looked like
me: White, Male, Middle-Aged (hey, I am not yet 70!) and, evidently, Middle-Class.
I do not know to what extent this bias applies to the decision-making committees,
but it existed visibly on the various platforms and other public events.
This does not, of course, mean that women, Africans, Indians, Indigenous
Peoples, or the Under-30s are excluded from the Forum, or from that hotel.
But the youth were under canvas in the Youth Camp, the Argentinean piqueteros were
in the streets, and, it seemed to me, the women were less visible than
they had been at WSF2.
Cabral, assassinated leader of anti-Portuguese struggle in colonial Africa,
suggested that after independence there would occur the ‘suicide of the petty-bourgeoisie’.
Nice idea, but no cigar! As the more-sceptical Frantz Fanon argued at the
same time, the post-colonial elites were going to do everything they could
to retain and increase their privileges. There are striking power/wealth
differences between Forum participants, particularly visible in the case
of the South. In two or three Latin American cases known to me, the poorer
participants travelled by bus – this sometimes meaning a 4-5 day journey,
with entry obstacles at various border-crossings. There is no reason to assume
that any elite is suicidal (nor that
I was going to abandon a hotel with hot and cold running internet) without
irresistible pressure from outside or below. In so far, on the other hand,
as the WSF elite has declared certain principles relating to liberty, equality,
solidarity, pluralism, the respect of difference and the pursuit of happiness,
then it might be possible to confront them (us) with the necessity of re-balancing
the power equation. The elites could then put their efforts, in their home
states/constituencies into facilitating rather than dominating or controlling
the Forum process.
The experience of women within the Forum might point here in different directions.
I have no figures for this year, but at both previous events, women were
almost 50 percent of the participants. There are powerful feminists on the
panels and in at least the IC, quite capable here of making the Forum a Feminist
Issue. There are numerous panels on gender and sexuality in both the Central
and Marginal programmes. Whilst the recent Latin American/Caribbean Feminist
Encounter considered alternatives to the old pattern, and addressed itself
centrally to globalisation, it seems to have not identified itself as such
with the Forum process. Despite a discernible shift in the international
women’s/feminist networks, over recent years, away from the inter/state bodies
and toward the public arena, I am wondering whether the lobby has not been
shifted from that old site to this new one.
It occurs to me that the power/presence balance within the Forum might be corrected
by two measures. One would be quotas for under-represented categories. The
other would be an official programme structured according to collective subjects
rather than, or as well as, major problems. Thus one could have major panels/programmes
on Labour, Women, Youth, Indigenous Peoples – even the Old (I hope to become
such myself one day).
4. A Social Movement Network: De/Centralised?
At two previous Forums there has been issued a ‘Call of Social Movements’. The
initiative for such has come from members of the OC and IC, some being recognisable
social movements, others being recognisable NGOs. Both Calls have been publicly
presented and then signed by 50-100 other organisations and networks. This
year, the notion of a ‘Social Movements World Network’ (SMWN) was widely
circulated on the web and subject to a two-session public discussion within
the Forum. This eventually produced a much shorter, one-page, declaration,
proposing a continuation of discussion about the nature of such a network,
with further meetings to take place during major movement events this year
and next. It may be that what I received was an interim document and that
there either is or will be a longer one. But, following the two dramatic
previous Calls, and the larger, better-publicised, two-stage, discussion
this year, one is struck by the modesty and caution of this proposal.
There are good reasons for such caution. The Call – like other Forum bodies and
initiatives – is surrounded by a certain amount of mystery. Given overlapping
memberships, are we to understand the Call as a device for going beyond the
Forum’s self-limitation on making political declarations? How come the Secretariat of the Call, in Sao Paulo, only came to this interested observer’s attention one year after it came into existence? Why did it take
seven or eight months for the signators of Call 2 to be publicly identified
(at least on a website), when those of Call1 were published instantaneously?
What, for the purposes of this new initiative, is a social movement?
I am actually favourable to, even enthusiastic about, the creation of such
a network. In part this is because there exists no such internationally.
In part because it is going to provide information and ideas on a continuing
basis - and to those people/places otherwise excluded from the periodic Forums.
In so far as this will have an existence in ‘real virtuality’ (Manuel Castells),
it may go beyond a WSF that remains largely earth-bound and institutional.
Apart from the questions above, certain crucial others remain (about which
I may only have yet other questions).
Is the network going to be primarily political/institutional or primarily communicational?
In the first case, communication is likely to be made functional to the political/institutional.
In the second case, we may be into a different ballgame or ballpark. In the
first case, there is likely to operate a ‘banking’ model of information,
in which maximum information is collected, to be then dealt out to customers
in terms of power and profit. In the second case, there can operate the principle
of the potlatch, or gift economy, in which individual generosity is understood
to benefit the community. The understanding here is a common African saying:
I am who I am because of other people.
Even in the best of all possible cyberworlds, however, there remain questions
of appropriate modes (information, ideas, dialogue), of form (printed
word at one end, multimedia at the other) and control (handling cybernuts and our own homegrown fundamentalists).
There do exist various relevant, if partial, models of international social-movement,
civil society, anti-globalisation networks – earth-bound or cyberspatial.
Indy Media Centre (IMC) has got to be the most important here, and needs
to be reflected upon both for what it can do and what it doesn’t. Finally,
any SMWN is going to have to go beyond network babble and recognise that
networks do not exist on one, emancipatory, model. In discussing networks,
Arturo Escobar (2003) has said that
It is possible to distinguish between two general types:
more or less rigid hierarchies, and flexible, non-hierarchical, decentralised
and self-organising meshworks… Hierarchies entail a degree of centralised
control, ranks, overt planning, homogenisation, and particular goals and
rules of behaviour conducive to these goals. Meshworks…are based on decentralised
decision making…self-organisation, and heterogeneity and diversity. Since
they are non-hierarchical, they have no overt goals. It can be said they
follow the dynamics of life, developing through their encounter with their
In the end, however, it does not too much matter in which
place/space, on which model the SMWN takes shape. The existence of the web,
combining low cost of entry, wide reach and great speed, provides the assurance
that such a network will be supplemented or challenged by others.
5. From Organisation to Communication in the Global Justice and Solidarity Movement
I am here moving from cyberspace to communication, and from the FSM to the
GJ&SM. Whereas the movement-in-general has shown, at its best, an almost
instinctive feel for the logic of the computer, and has expressed itself
in the most creative and provocative ways (in Quebec a man was arrested for
threatening to catapult a possibly largish teddy bear over the globalised
razor wire), this is not the case for the FSM in particular. The FSM uses the media, culture and cyberspace but it does not think of
itself in primarily cultural/communicational terms, nor does it live fully within this increasingly central and infinitely
The FSM website remains a disgrace – promoting year-old ideas (chosen by whom?)
in its meagre library. Trying to reach a human being on this site, to whom
one could pose a question, reminds one strongly of Gertrude Stein (or whoever)
on Oakland, California: ‘There is no there there’. The only FSM daily is Terra
Viva, an admirable effort by the customarily
unaccountable NGO, but which this year seemed to me to add to its space-limitations,
delays and superficialities a heavier bias toward the Forum establishment.
The more-professional, substantial and independent regional paper, Zero
Hora, gave wide coverage but only in
Portuguese. For background information and orientation one was this year
dependent on free handouts of La Vie/Le Monde (marked by a certain social Catholicism?), and Ode, a glossy, multi-lingual, New Age, magazine from Rotterdam,
with impressively relevant coverage (which I have used in this paper).
The FSM seems to me something of a shrine to the written and spoken word. (In
so far as I worship both deities, I am throwing this stone from my own glasshouse).
At its core is The Panel, in which 5-10 selected Panellists do their thing
in front of an audience of anything from five to 5,000, the latter being
thrown the bone of three to fine minutes at a microphone. And these
were the lucky ones! At the other end of the Forum’s narrow spectrum of modes
there is The Demonstration. Here euphoria is order of the day: how can it
not be when surrounded by so many beautiful people, of all ages, genders
and sexual options, of nationality and ethnicity, convinced that Another
World is Possible? But here we must note the distinction made 30 years ago,
between mobilisation and mobility, as related to the old organisation and
the new media:
The open secret of the electronic media, the decisive political factor,
which has been waiting, suppressed or crippled, for its moment to come,
is their mobilising power. When I say mobilize… namely to make [people] more
mobile than they are. As free as dancers, as aware as football players,
as surprising as guerrillas. Anyone who thinks of the masses only as the
object of politics, cannot mobilize them. He wants to push them around.
A parcel is not mobile; it can only be pushed to and fro. Marches, columns,
parades, immobilize people […] The new media are egalitarian in structure.
Anyone can take part in them by a simple switching process […] The new
media are orientated towards action, not contemplation; towards the present,
not tradition […] It is wrong to regard media equipment as mere means of
consumption. It is always, in principle, also means of production […] In
the socialist movements the dialectic of discipline and spontaneity, centralism
and decentralization, authoritarian leadership and anti-authoritarian disintegration
has long ago reached deadlock. Networklike communication models built on
the principle of reversibility of circuits might give indications of how
to overcome this situation. (Hans Magnus Enzensberger
There is, of course, also The Rally – a panel
writ very large indeed.
The paucity of cultural expression at WSF3 is
the most surprising thing, bearing in mind we are in Brazil.
The WSF3 song, which has an attractive lilt but is sung only in Portuguese,
and which did not seem to be available in written or CD form even in this
language, was the same as in 2002. The tee-shirts are still not going to
win any design prizes. And the most popular icon – no fault of the organisers – remains
Che. (I suspect there might be a market for Subcomandante Marcos, for Rigoberta
Menchú, for Chico Mendes, for La Naomi, for El Noam, for Arundhati and even
for Frida and Diego, and for Beatle or two, but I may be wrong here).
Something of an exception to the general Forum rule was, in 2002, the campaign against
fundamentalisms of the Articulación Feminista Marcosur. I had and have doubts
about both the subject of and the interpretation offered by this campaign,
but it was one which intimately combined the customary Forum modes with dramatic
cultural expression of undeniable originality and impact: last year there
were masks, an enormous hot-air balloon, hoarding-sized posters and more.
This year activity was concentrated in a big and packed-out book launch,
at which was also projected a 10-minute CD production of considerable
originality and power (Lucy Garrido, the Uruguayan designer, opted for visuals,
music and minimal words, in successive English and Spanish). We could have
had, we should have had, a discussion around this. Even a panel…
Conclusion: the Secret of Fire
I am concerned about the future of the Forum process but not worried. Pandora
has opened her box, the genie has is out of the lamp, the secret of fire
is now an open one. Already in Florence, young libertarians were mumbling, ‘Another
Forum is Possible’. This possibility is not only a matter of information
and communication technology (which has yet to produce an English/Spanish
translation programme with an appropriate vocabulary). It may be the combination,
precisely, of this with youth, given that urban kids have grown up with
cellular phones, playing arcade computer games, and therefore with an affinity
for any computer technology, and a healthy disregard for attempts
to coral such. (I was moved to produce my first-ever Power Point production,
on WSF2, by my 12-year-old granddaughter, Joelle, who is also puzzled about my
resistance to the cell phone, text-messaging and computer chat).
For the rest, I am inspired by: energetic and innovative social protest,
and original analyses of the local-national-global dialectic in Argentina;
by the belated appearance in Peru of a network, Raiz/Root, which clearly
has some feeling that the WSF is more than an NGO jamboree; by the Kidz
in the Kamp who were discussing under a tree, and with informal translation,
how to ensure that the emancipatory and critical forces had more impact
on the Forum process; by the struggle, against all odds, of the US Znet
people to mount ‘Life after Capitalism’, an event of post-capitalist propuesta within the Forum; by the increasing number of compañer@s,
of various ages, identities, movements and sexual orientations, who believe
that, in the construction of a meaningfully civil global society, transparency
is not only the best policy but the right one.
February 2-4, 2003
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Waterman (London, 1936) wishes to acknowledge the kindness of Susana Checa
and Jorge Carpio, in Buenos Aires for providing him with food, wine, cool
shelter, publications and mental stimulation – and for permitting him to
be a very bad tourist in a an exceptionally beautiful city that deserves
better from both the global hegemons and from me.
The impressionistic nature of this paper, its limited breadth, its meagre evidence
and limited references will, hopefully, be made good in a more extensive
paper at a later date. All comments and suggestions will be gratefully and
publicly acknowledged. They are needed.