Facing the Future : The World Social Forum, the Global Justice Movement, and Beyond

A Discussion Note towards a Workshop at the WSF at Belém, Brazil, in January 2009

Date and time : January 30 2009, 15:30 - 18:30

Location : UFPA Professional University, LP Pavilion, Room FP-04

Organised by : AFM - Articulación Feminista Marco Sur, Peru (external link); CACIM, India; Democracy and Social Movement Institute, Sungkonhoe University, South Korea (external link); and ARENA - Asian Regional Exchange for New Alternatives

CACIM, final version, for discussion; January 13 2009[1]

Among those who participate in it, and among some observers and commentators, the World Social Forum is celebrated as an extremely significant contribution to what some refer to as the ‘global social justice movement’ and, indeed, to world politics. In turn, what is referred to as the ‘global social justice movement’ – and that is portrayed by some to be globalisation from below – is also seen as an important contribution to the struggle against neoliberalism and to the achievement of global justice.

Others however argue that both the WSF and the GJM are already dying; and/or that they lack the anger, the vision, and the organisation to be able to achieve what they say they are about. Perhaps of equal relevance is the reality that what is called the ‘global social justice movement’ is not the only show in town; for there are other movements – other social and political currents, and stirrings – beyond the WSF and the GJM that are also, in their own ways and visions, but very separately, struggling for global justice, such as the global Islamic movement or the struggles of indigenous peoples in different parts of the world.

The WSF though starting as a counter-pose to WEF has moved on to redefine the conception of the anti-globalisation movement to include the struggles of millions of working men and women, indigenous people, dalits, immigrants, refugees, minorities and others for dignity, democracy, justice and livelihood rather than only the massive protests against the IFIs, IMF, G-8 and various multilateral trade agreements with which the Global Justice Movement was generally identified. The localised nature of these struggles might give an impression of the decline in the global project of resistance but intensity at the ground level has gained immensely and only when these frames are put together the larger picture begins to make sense.

And beyond this, the global justice movement – and also the other movements taking place – must also be seen within a longer and larger history of transformative struggle that has been taking place over the past half century, and specifically since the mid 1960s, since when huge changes have taken place in the world of movement.

All of this is confronted by the major new emerging realities in the world – the current collapse of the global financial system, which itself is bringing into question even for its proponents the entire neoliberal project, and beyond that the global climate and ecological crisis, which – and triggered by the same causes - threatens to be a collapse far larger than the financial system.

The WSF, and the GJM, must face the winds of this history, this present, and this future; these futures.

Some, even much, of this ground is the content of a new book being currently edited by Peter Waterman and Jai Sen, due out in mid 2009, with the same title as this event : Facing the Future : The World Social Forum, the Global Justice Movement, and Beyond. This book, which will be the second volume in the Challenging Empires series, continues in the tradition of a book that came out in 2004, World Social Forum : Challenging Empires and that now becomes the first volume in this series[2]: As a critical anthology of essays on the theory and practice of the World Social Forum and now also the global justice movement, including discussing them at this juncture in history and looking ahead to the future. This time however, the collection decisively moves ahead and locates the WSF and the ‘GJM’ with respect to much wider currents of movement in the world today – of other worlds in the making.

We are therefore taking the opportunity of the WSF at Belem, in January 2009, to organise a major workshop in this area, including by inviting to the session all the contributors to the original and forthcoming book; to look ahead and face the emerging future and contribute to the conversations that so necessary today between different strands of struggles for social justice.

In part, the discussions that take place there will also follow the discussions that have taken place at related meetings organised by CACIM in the recent past (and where we are also inviting to the Belem session all those who were speakers or resource people at these two events) :

  • A major Symposium organised in New Delhi, India, on August 29 & 30, 2008 on the theme Struggles for Social Justice in India Today : How Relevant is the World Social Forum ? (for the Theme Note, Symposium Programme, List of Participants, and a Summary Note on what happened, see Cacim Events ); and -
  • Seminar / Roundtable discussion at the European Social Forum on How Relevant is the WSF to Struggles for Social Justice in the World Today ?, co-organised with Fronesis (external link), a Swedish journal on September 19 2008 (see Cacim @ Malmo).

In addition, please also see this event in relation to the three others we are organising at the Belém Forum, and in particular with the one titled The Politics, Potentials, and Meanings of the Belém Forum : The Significance for the WSF of the Participation of the Indigenous Peoples of the World.

(For details of the three other events, including discussion notes for each and a list of speakers, see Cacim @ Belem)

Speaker-Participants at this meeting (as of January 13 2009)

Andrea Smith - Cherokee; co-founder of Incite! Women of Color Against Violence; Assistant Professor in Native American Studies and Women Studies at the University of Michigan in the US

Chico Whitaker - Member of the Brazilian Organising Committee and the International Council of the WSF, representing the Brazilian Commission of Justice and Peace; co-founder of the WSF

Dominique Caouette - Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science of the Université de Montréal, in Canada, teaching International Relations with a particular focus on non-state actors, transnational activism, and Southeast Asia; member of the Chair of Asia Studies of the Centre for East Asian Studies, the Research Group in International Security, and the Centre for Social and Public Policy, all hosted at the University of Montreal

Gina Vargas - Veteran Peruvian feminist sociologist; founder of the Centro Flora Tristan in Peru; associated with the Articulación Feminista Marcosur in Latin America and the Program of Democracy and Global Transformation in San Marcos University, Lima; member of the WSF International Council

Gustave Massiah - President of CRID – Centre de Recherche et d'Information pour le Développment, France (speaker at CACIM-Fronesis Seminar / Roundtable discussion at the European Social Forum in Malmö, Sweden, on September 19 2008)

Irene León - Sociologist and communicator specialised in international issues; Director of FEDAEPS in Ecuador; member of the Board of Directors of the Latin American Information Agency (ALAI—Agencia Latinoamericana de Informacion / América Latina en Movimiento), also based in Ecuador; member of the International Council of the World Social Forum; and adviser for diverse networks and international organisations in Latin America

Katharine Wallerstein - Core member, Global Commons Foundation, San Francisco

Lee Cormie - Faculty of Theology at St Michael’s College and the Toronto School of Theology, in Toronto, Canada; long association with indigenous peoples’ movements in the Americas; student of the epistemology of movement (contributor to Facing the Future : The World Social Forum, the Global Justice Movement, and Beyond)

Marie-Josée Massicotte - Assistant Professor at the School of Political Studies at the University of Ottawa, and Program Supervisor, International Studies and Modern Languages, University of Ottawa

Michael Löwy - Franco-Brazilian? Marxist intellectual, a prolific author, published frequently in New Left Review and Socialist Register; Director of Research in Sociology at the National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris

Seoungwon Lee – Professor at the Democracy and Social Movement Institute at Sungkonhoe University, South Korea; in charge of the Globalisation Centre at the Institute

Teivo Teivainen - Chair of World Politics and Professor and Head of the Department of Political Science at the University of Helsinki, Finland, Teivo Teivainen is a past President of NIGD (Network Institute for Global Democratisation), a member of the International Council of the World Social Forum, and co-founder of the Program of Democracy and Global Transformation in San Marcos University, Lima, Peru


[1] This is the final version of this Discussion Note. We at CACIM have prepared this draft based on comments we have received on the earlier drafts from Gina Vargas (Peru) as well as revisions that have arisen on the basis of discussions within our group. With a view to making the meeting we are proposing as rich as possible, urge all those who now read this to also send us their comments ! At the same time, please note that the list of speakers given is only as of date, and might change somewhat by and at the time of the event itself.

[2] Available @ (external link) and @ WSF Challenging Empires 2004 (external link). A second edition of this book has now come out in 2008, published by Black Rose Books (external link).

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