Schizofrenic qualities at WSF

Tord Björk | popular movements,WSF | Sunday, February 1st, 2009

There seems to develop two very different outcomes of WSF. On the one hand a consensus develops in climate justice and financial crisis issues by avoiding to come to a common position on what one are against. Instead unity should be created by focusing on a common alternative. In the case of the financial crisis by promoting a new solidary and sustainaible economy, in the case of climate crisis by avoiding the issue of being for or against shutting down the Climate summit and rather focus upon issues that unites including the criticism of the latest Climate COP.

In general one could guess that here the wekaness and strength of the WSF political culture shows itself, the tendencies to dilute clear politics by avoiding confrontational issues and replacing them with discussion on alternatives or being clever in raising more radical concerns against a specific international negotiation but also stopping a more clear set of demands.

On the other hand the assemblies tomorrow might end with an appeal on Womes Day 8 of March, Peasant day 17 of April, Workers Day 1of May and on the request of indigenous peoples also 12th of October when Columbus arrived to Americas or invaded Abya Ayla said with other words. Turn all this days into days of struggle. Not anymore “paseatas”, the lively nice carnivals which nor demonstrations are turned into in many parts of the world following the Brazilian example. Instead occupation and direct action. Here in Brasil 8th of March will be turned into womens workers struggle day and then it will continue with action all year long. At least if Latin American movements get there will through.

So on the one hand consensus processes to focus upon alternatives instead of struggles or to avoid too radical statements regarding content. On the other hand radical in form.

How these two political cultures will be able to come to conclusions and most interesting how they might come in conflict and create passiveness and uncertainty or the opposite create constructive schizofrenic strategies ahead, that we will see tommorow.

The future of WSF and other WSF news

Tord Björk | WSF | Sunday, February 1st, 2009

I have been participating in three seminars on the achievements and the future of WSF. A detailed report from one of the discussions on the future of social forums, e.g.:

“Walden Bello: generally positive
1. come together to affirm community
2. site for planning resistance to neoliberalism
3. space for planning alternatives to neoliberal globalization

Could have been a more effective force in intervention in global issues, could have taken more political position on war in Iraq, middle east, Palestine, climate change. Missed opportunities to be more effect(ive).”

My own very critical remarks stating that WSF is not unique, and that it split the antineoliberal movement by excluding the zapatistas met different kind of reactions. Francine Mestrum in the panel said that there were figures indicating that the number of international partcipants were 10 000 out of 100 000 in total. I stated that there were 32 000 international participants at the World Students and Youth festival 1957 in Moscow and 8 million Soviet union participants and what followed afterwards was the most succesful decade in the struggle for stopping growing inequality during the whole last century as well as the starting point for an open dissident movement in the USSR. There were people agreeing with some of my remarks and wanting more information while other have been given the tip that I should not be as critical although they agree while some other gets very suspiscious. See the detailed report for your own judgement on different opnions about WSF.

This and other material in english as well as pictures you find at:

Some more blogs, pics and news about WSF:


Evangelic blog with interesting material on how EU destroys stomachs and chicken famers in Africa by selling the left over from Brazilian chickens were the breats is taken out to the countryside in Africa lacking frigirated transport. And other material in German.

Jesuit blog on WSF in many languages.


Lost in humidity

Tord Björk | Travel,WSF | Saturday, January 31st, 2009

Precisely when we are lost and in need of both telephone and toilet Max turns up from nowhere and asks if we need some help before we have had the time to ask him. The hospitality among the volunteers helping the WSF participants is warm and friendly. And there are plentiful in sharp contrast to the European Social Forum in Malmö were lack of volunteers caused severe problems.

I give Marcio an ESF badge and tells him it is a gift to him and all the WSF volunteers for all the great job they are doing. Than I want to tell him that he shall tell the other volunteers that the commitments from so many people to help the participants voluntarily is really good compared to a European country as Sweden. He cannot listen to this message. He is so focused on getting a message that tells him what he can do to help so he cannot at first understand that the message is to honour him and is volunteer friends. When he finally understand his face get red. He is proud of recieving the ESF badge. Unfortunatly I cannot upload the photo now.

The chaos with lack of printed correct information, cancelled activities or the sheer obstacles in finding the many different places at two separated university campuses is creating great problems as always, or maybe even more. But it is all in a humid antivirtual atmoshpere. Everywhere are umbrellas, in the hands of people, tied to the bicycle or simply constantly used in the form of the hatumbrella protecting you all the time leaving both hands free. It is a double purpose tool of utterly usefulness as it is either hot sun burning you without the umbrella protection or rain making you wet. From the rain forest which start 5 meters from the main track through the campus at many places the sound of animals, hopefully birds, can get overwhelming. The signs states things clear, watch out poisonious animals. The temparature is all the time 28 degrees, sometimes a little bit more, sometimes a little bit less. Every day it rains. Drops of water that are unimaginably soft. That leaves no feeling of coldness directly nor after a while as rain in Northern Europe. It simply rains for a while and then it is over and you soon get dry again if you are not having an umbrella on top of your cap.

Time disappears. There is no way anyway to advance faster along the only path through the rural university campus. The Youth camp have this time been put centrally in this campus with many activities and the path is invaded by people having a good time, dancing with each other looking at people perfoming avery kind of street theatre or just chatting for fun or because you meet someone you have not met for ages. The border between your warm fluid body, the warm fluid air and other warm fluid bodies disappears.

Trying to maintain your practical priorities becomes impractical. You are lost if you do not find the small tricks to get away. The best instead of the endless walk along the main path to get to the main actvitity area is to go down to the river through a stretch of rain forest and take a small riverboat protecting its passengers with a roof but no walls to the other university campus in a less huge space but with more localities for actvities. At the river there are no houses on either side and you suddenly are in the Amazon basin with its many rivers. You are lost again in an eternal world of humidity, this time liquid under you. Far away there might be a modern city like Belem. But it is hard to know.

Friends of the Earth at WSF

Tord Björk | Friends of the Earth,monoculture,WSF | Thursday, January 29th, 2009

The plantation meeting is more than overcrowded. You can feel a sense of urgency in the air. The climate negotiations view on the future of forests on earth is cut into pieces. Trees are seen only as carbon. The representative from indigenous people is especially critical.

Friends of the Earth participates strongly in the meeting as speakers and participants. Here are at least FoE from Belgium, Brazil, Costa Rica, England, Wales and Northern Ireland, Finland, Sweden and Uruguay. Friends of the Earth is putting effort into three themes in Belem, that is monoculture plantation, climate justice and food sovereignity. Friends of the Earth Sweden is also interested in the development of cooperation among popular movements and strategies for ecological and social solutions on the multidimensional crisis.

Friends of the Earth groups meet at WSF to discuss plantations.

Friends of the Earth International is not putting much effort from the central level in WSF Belem. No central funds were made available for FoEI participation so the 30 or so Friends of the Earth people who are in Belem are paid by their national organisation or campaign resources. FoEI representative in the WSF process, Hildebrando Veles, are here.

Strong Friends of the Earth criticism of WSF in Porto Alegre

Tord Björk | Brazil,Friends of the Earth,WSF | Thursday, January 29th, 2009

On the way to MST anniversary I make a stop in Porto Alegre at a national meeting of Friends of the Earth Brazil who have their headquarter here. This has put some of the FoE Brasil organisers also in key positions in organising WSF when it takes place in Porto  Alegre.

This experience have made FoE Brasil critical towards WSF in the same way as MST and one key person outright oppositional and not even interested in going to Belem in spite of that he is one of the most internationally active in FoE Brasil.

Revisiting FoE Brasil after so many years was fun. The organisation still have a women as president of the old generation. FoE Brasil started 1964 as a womens organisation in Rio Grande do Sul and later developed into an environmental organisation. The president makes apoitn at the meeting that she trusts the young campaginers that does the job nowadays. Issues covers a wide range from Ecological cities to cooperation with MST against plantations. At the begininning there were some diffrent views fo the action taken by female MST activist. Media claimed that they used violence while it actually was civil disobedience including action against property but not violence used against people. As FoE Brasil have non-violence as a principle this caused some tensions. Later when the police arrested violently 800 female landless activists occupying land planned to be used by Stora Enso plantations on the 8 of March 2008 these tensions were replaced with solidarity and today the cooperation is good.

Strategy for future global social movement cooperation

Tord Björk | global crisis,popular movements,WSF | Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

There is a growing interest in strengthening possibilities for global participatory democracy through social movements. This takes such expression as the cooperation between popular movements on issues as food sovereignity and concern for linking issues as the climate crisis and solution to the finance crisis. The cooperation develops in metings with organisations as Via Campesina, Friends of the Earth International and World March of Women with the common quality that they have a strong third world presence in their global leadership.

Other kind of organizations as NGOs dominated by professionals without a democratic base in local groups often makes important contributions to the poltiical discussion on how to solve the social and ecological crisis. But there is a problem if the discussions on how thinking can democratically be integrated with collective action is dominated by this kind of organisations. They do not have the same need to go forward and understand the complexity of building action that is based on what people can do in their daily life and what they can do collectively. When this kind of overemphasis on a wide range of discussions and less on the need for collective action becomes to dominating the kind of problems occur which are no evident in the social forum process both at European and World level.

Although the cooperation among international popular movements developes also independently of the social forum process there is a need for addressing how to find ways also within the social forum process for strengthening the cooperation among popular movements that are interested in linking social and ecological concerns and makes efforts to have strong third world influence in their decision-making.

At the moment there are at least three broader initiatives during WSF in Belem with this kind of purpose. The Assembly of Social Movements is the traditional tool for this purpose. But this year many actors have seen that this is not enough. Thus MST have called for a meeting of netorks and international social movements on the 29.1 with the purpose for organisations that have a base in local groups to discuss further cooperation.

There is also the initiative to organise a meeting of social forum networks to discuss common strategies and action on the multidimensional global crisis. The initiative emanates much from the globalisation and labour network and Attac Europe.

Thus there are many options for proposing ways for different actors to go further. Some points in a popular movement oriented program could be:

– Both social and ecological issues needs to be addressed in a profound way.

– The program should preferably include both a short term, middle term and long term plan.

– It should preferably also include both political demands, a broader popular education and discussion were traditional separations between policy proposals within the existing system and complete rejection of the present world order preferably is avoided and instead is turned into inspiration finding new avenues for collective action.


– On the short term an alliance of international and national popular movements as FoEI, Via Campesina, World March of Women, War Resisters’ International and similar organisations can put forward some of the best demands from statements as the Nyeleni declaration, Beijing declaration 2008, the Climate change conference in Bangkok 2008, The Assembly of Social Movements declaration from the ESF European preparatory meeting in Istanbul late 2008 and other similar statements.

– It is important to go beyond the solutions promoted in many global negotiations that focus upon large scale trade or other institutions global forms trying to influence the whole world in a monocultural way. It is necessary to address the global level but also to bring up issues that challenges the present model of large scale solutions. One way of doing this is to develop the food sovereignity concept further as Bolivian president Evo Morales have made in his statement on the climate crisis were he promotes also energy sovereignity. He also ptu forward demand of ecological debt instead of trading emission rights. Another kind of demand is to war and occupation, stop armament and use the military resources for ecological and social concerns.

– Of crucial importance is to bring forward solutions that will give sustainable work to many people and change the power relation between the speculative and productive economy. There is a need to rebuild our cities and transport systems making them more ecological and oppose the antisocial shopping center and motorway society. The working class are as interested in producing public transport vehicles as private cars and build ecologically, it is the economic system that stops workers from producing sustainable goods. There is the possibility to plant locally sustainable trees that gives nutrition to the local population and oppose monoculture plantations.

– It is also on the immediate level important to jointly address the issue of repression and restrictions of democracy that is a hinderance for social change and a solution to the multidimensional crisis.

– In the short term it is also important to create a broad general political discussion. A popular movement plattform within and outside the social forum process should be able to promote the establishment of a discussion forum at the official WSF web-site or the site. The social forum process must become more open to people in common that wants to participate in the debate.

– What is also needed in the short term is a collection of qualified articles on the multidimensional crisis, alternatives and popular movements experience in democratic and social change


– During 2009 and 2010 there are many occasions as the G20 meeting, NATO 60 years, G8 and the Climate summit and other international meetings were a popular movements plattform and other similar intiatives can deveop the plans and actions further.

– Hopefully a more comprehensive democratic program could be developed. In such a program it is of importance to place both rural and urban, ecological and economical, social, cultural and political issues.

– What also would be useful is a more systematic exchange of experience between popular movements both concerning  the history and evaluation of the present situation for popular movements and different ways of working but also how history in general is used in such a way that people in common is seen more as a problem than a solution with dangerous utopian ideas threatening a benevolent elite within and between nations.


– Sitting discussing with people on restaurants in Sao Paulo it seems as if the present crisis also opens up for more long terms ideas and discussions. 1 million workers have been unemployed in Brasil during the present crisis. It is about time that we address the issue of alienated work and consumer culture. Tha direct democracy in both economical and political fields is of imortance toi change society. Such a discussion can go much further than what different organisation can democratically agreee upon in full but all organisation commited to solve the social and ecological cirsis can promote that such a discussion takes place.

– One of the key aspects to address more proofundly is politics and environment. In the social foeild many movements and organisations elaborated demands and analysis but the present world models stops tehm from being implemented. When it comes to ecological issues the demands and analysis are not as elaborated and sometimes even progressive organisations promote large scale trading systems of emission rights that are problematic. Thus under discussion in Frinedns of the Earth Sweden is to organise an international conference on Politics and Evnvironment together with interested international movements. Such efforts can also be organised on other issues.

– Alternatives needs also to be deveoped in a more comprehensive way. Friends of the Eart have developed the fair share concept which together with other movements perspectives and the future study tradtion could be a basis for common efforts to promote alternatives to the present system.

It is also about time to reform the social forum process. A popular movement plattform together with like minded movements and organisations could organise at the same time as world and regional social forums inside or outside according to what formally is acceptable a dialogue between movements and policy-makers, political parties and/or liberation movements. Other ways of reforming the social forum process can also be discussed through a working group of those interested in sustaining social forums questioning the present opposition between open space and decision-making conference models.

Tord Björk

Sao Paulo 20th of January 2009

MST and World Social Forum

Tord Björk | Latin American movements,MST,WSF | Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

At the headquarters in Sao Paulo there is big stress as everyone is preparing for the 25th anniversary. But there was some time to talk to Joao Paulo, the landless movement MST international secretary and buy some material.

It became evident that MST has a somewhat problematic situation. As a Brazilian organization that have participated in the WSF process from the start MST feels obliged to make efforts and activities at the forum in Belem. But the growing criticism among popular movements against the NGO and governemental influence in the WSF process puts MST into a problematic situation. Especially because Via Campesina, the global peasant organisation to which MST belongs will not be represented at WSF 2009.* The chair Henry Saragih and other leaders have chosen to not to go to Belem. MST is the organisation that keeps up the peasant spirit at WSF.

But there are problems for MST doing this. Belem is far away from most MST activists so the organisation cannot afford to bring but a small delegation to the event (which means somehing like 500 as it is a bi organisation that normalyy participates with many more when WSF aes place in Brazil. There are also anxiousness on different levels. On the one hand big NGOS, and especially envrionmental NGOs have dominated the process together with governmental interests in a way the frustrates popular movements. There is also a growing sense that the kind of open space were decisions cannot be made in combination with the assembly of social movements with a very large number of organisations and consensus decision-making prohibit popular movements for coming further.

Thus MST have focused mainly on their own program connecting to other interested movements by inviting them to the 25th anniversary celebration in Sarandi in Rio Grande do Sul and then continuing in Maraba in Para state ending at the MST activities at WSF in Belem. Central in the WSF activities is a meeting for networks and international social movements on the 29.1. This is an attempt to come further together with similar popualr movements as friends of the Earth International, Womens’ World March and tohers. This may constitute a necessary reform of the WSF process complemtary to the more loose Assembly of Social Movement.

*This is not correct I found out later. The chair Henry Saragi have chosen not to come but there will be a smaller delegation coming from Via Campesina international. The incorrectness might be the result of that my portuguese is not good enough. A blogpost will be made with Josie Riffaud, the respresentative of VC International.

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