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Peter Waterman © 2003

 

 
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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.

Amilcar 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 environments.

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 expanding universe.

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 1976:21-53)

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.

Buenos Aires-Lima

February 2-4, 2003

Bibliography

Escobar, Arturo. 2003. ‘Other Worlds Are (already) Possible: Cyber-Internationalism and Post-Capitalist Cultures. Draft Notes for the Cyberspace Panel, Life after Capitalism Programme, World Social Forum, Porto Alegre, January 23-8’. http://www.zmag.org/escobarcyner.htm.

Enzensberger, Hans Magnus. 1976 (1970). ‘Constituents of a Theory of the Media’, in Raids and Reconstructions: Essays in Politics, Crime and Culture. London: Pluto. pp. 20-53.

La Vie/Le Monde. 2003. ‘Porto Alegre 2003: A Citizen’s Planet’, La Vie/Le Monde (Paris), pp. 14-19.

Ode. 2003. ‘Another World is Possible: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the World Social Forum’, Ode: The Magazine to Change Your World. (Rotterdam). 16-page insert.

Raiz. 2002. ‘Foro Social Mundial: Democracia radical: experiencias y propuestas. ¿ Por que el taller ? ( Porto Alegre, 25-26 Enero 2003 ) http://www.iespana.es/movimiento-raiz/.

Sen, Jai. 2003. ‘The Long March to Another World: Porto Alegre – Hyderabad – Porto Alegre, ‘Two, Three, Many New Social Forums?’, Special Issue, TransnationalAlternativ@s, (Transnational Institute, Amsterdam), No. 0. www.tni.org.tat.

Waterman, Peter. 2002. ‘Foro Social Mundial, Porto Alegre, 2002: La emancipación del internacionalismo’, Revista Espacios (Flacso, Costa Rica), No. 16, pp. 3-13.

Waterman, Peter (guest editor). 2003. ‘Two, Three, Many New Social Forums?’, Special Issue, TransnationalAlternativ@s, (Transnational Institute, Amsterdam), No. 0. www.tni.org.tat.

Waterman, Peter. 2003. ‘From “Decent Work” to “The Liberation of Time from Work”: Some Reflections on Work after Capitalism’. For the Panel on Work, Life after Capitalism Programme, World Social Forum, Porto Alegre, January 23-8, 2003’. http://www.zmag.org/watermanwork.htm

Waterman, Peter. 2003. ‘Cyberspace after Capitalism: Cyber-Utopianism without Cyber-Illusionism: Paper for the Cyberspace Panel, Life after Capitalism Programme, World Social Forum, Porto Alegre, January 23-8, 2003’. http://www.zmag.org/lac/watermancyber.htm.

Waterman, Peter. 2003. ‘Omnia Sint Communia: A New/Old Slogan for International Labour and Labour Internationally’, The Commoner. http://www.commoner.org.uk/.


Peter 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.

   
   
   

 

 
   
         

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