Grassroots Global Justice Alliance

Many struggles, one movement

Cindy Wiesner at World Social Forum Opening Ceremony

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Gilberto Gil performs at the World Social Forum opening ceremony

World Social Forum Interview – Hiba Laameri

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Hiba Laameri is a 15-year-old Tunisian girl who attended the World Social Forum. Below is the lightly edited transcript of a short conversation with her after she participated in one of the sessions.

I am 15 years old I am here in the forum because it’s a beautiful opportunity and I might not get it again. It’s in my country – I might not get to travel in the future to go to the forum.

I like to read. Really, I love books. You would always see me carrying a book around, reading it. I read all kinds of literature, I watch a lot of movies and my favorites are documentaries. I don’t know if that’s common at my age but I love documentaries and whenever I hear about some subject I am really curious I want to know more about it. And I see that my peers may not enjoy that, but you have no idea how much I enjoy knowing more.

It’s inspiring to see all these people and it just really inspired me because I’ve always been a person to see what’s wrong and I’ve always thought to myself, “Why wont somebody do something about that?” And these days at the Forum I realized I was somebody. Everyone here, we’re somebody. We should just get together and work, spread awareness of our causes, work together.

I don’t think the revolution in Tunisia is doing so well. We have our freedom, we can speak: an event like this would not have been possible in Ben Ali’s time. But capitalism is still there, imperialism is still there. Nothings changed socially, economically, culturally. Nothing has changed except we have more freedom and Ben Ali’s changed and now he’s been replaced by some other people who are carrying on the same international policies.

Here at the World Social Forum, it’s an anticapitalist movement. I am aware that I cannot expect this country to change on it’s own because we can’t survive as an anticapitalist nation in a capitalist world. You have to all change together. But I’d like to see them start, I’d like to see the beginning of  policy changes. I’d like to see them building for something new, rather than continuing the same thing that is already wrong.

As for the Arab Spring, it’s a good beginning because people are seeing that something is wrong. Maybe they haven’t realized exactly what is wrong but at least some people are trying. And it feels so good to see everyone gathered here and see that they are aware that we need change. I am more hopeful now, from having been here.

World Social Forum Interview – Samir Amin

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Below is a lightly edited excerpt from a conversation with Marxist Economist Samir Amin during the World Social Forum in Tunisia. He answered questions about the continued relevance of the World Social Forum, and the current state of the Arab Spring.

Those who come to the World Social Forum are those who are able to pay for it, and therefore it makes a selection which excludes, unfortunately, many of the movements which are in struggle, of organizations, classes, which are in struggle here or there. And which of course are perhaps sometimes more important than the extent that they are reflected by the number of intellectuals that come here or not.

I have written on the subject of the Arab Spring. Even a book, that you can find in English, which was published last year. But I would say what has happened should be no surprise. That is, there was a gigantic, popular, movement. I am referring  particularly of Tunisia and Egypt – the other countries’ conditions are very different – a gigantic, popular, movement which got rid of the dictators Ben Ali and Mubarak, but not of the regime, not of the system. And the outcome of this first stage has been expressed, you can read it on all the walls of Cairo for the past six months: “The revolution has not changed its system, but it has changed the people.” The refers to the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood, who are in power in both countries, are just continuing the same system, exactly the same system. Nothing has been changed. The same so-called liberal policy, the same submission to imperialism, the same social disaster. Everything is continuing, under the so-called democracy. And this democracy is seriously menaced in both countries by the monopoly power of the Muslim Brotherhood. They seized this power through going forward with fast elections. While the transition should have been what the movement wanted, a longer transition, in order for this movement to be able to organize itself.

But the overthrow of Mubarak and Ben Ali has changed the people. In the sense that the people now, who have proved to themselves their capacity to overthrow any dictatorship, will also get rid of the Muslim Brotherhood dictatorship.

Global Left Converges in Tunisia – Day One

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Tens of thousands of people marched through downtown Tunis on Tuesday in a spirited march celebrating the beginning the 13th World Social Forum – the first to be held in an Arab country. The majority of marchers were from Tunisia and neighboring nations, but there was substantial representation from Europe, as well as from across South America, Asia, and Southern Africa. An enormous annual gathering that bills itself as a “process” rather than a conference, the WSF brings together by far the largest assembly of international social movement organizations, aimed towards developing a more just and egalitarian world.

The WSF was first held in Brazil in 2001, and is billed as an alternative to the wealth and power wielded at the World Economic Forum, an elite annual gathering in Davos, Switzerland. Tuesday marked the official opening of the WSF, but official sessions start today and continue through March 30 at the El Manar University Campus. The theme of this year’s Forum is “dignity,” inspired by the movements collectively known as the Arab Spring, launched here just over two years ago.

As of last night, the WSF had reported registration by more than 30,000 participants from nearly 5,000 organizations in 127 countries spanning five continents. Since that estimate, thousands more have registered on-site. The officially announced activities include 70 musical performances, 100 films, and 1000 workshops.

Tuesday’s march traveled three miles from downtown Tunis to Menzah stadium, with chanting in multiple languages and representation from a wide variety of movements from the Tunisian Popular Front to Catholic NGOs to ATTAC, a movement challenging global finance. At Menzah stadium, an opening ceremony began at 7:30pm with female social movement leaders from Palestine, South Africa, Tunisia, and the US taking the stage, including Besma Khalfaoui, widow of Tunisian opposition leader Chokri Belaid, who was assassinated last month. According to Forum organizers, only women were chosen for the opening as a response to the rise of conservative religious governments in the region as well as patriarchal systems around the world. “We decided this because women are the struggle in the region,” said Hamouda Soubhi from Morocco, one of the organizing committee members. “They are struggling for parity, they are struggling for their rights. The new regimes want the constitutions to be more religious, and we want to take our stand against this.”

In short speeches – each about 5 minutes in length – the women projected a vision of a global movement that was inexorably rising, as the audience roared in approval. “We are trying to hold our government accountable for what it has done and continues to do around the world,” said one of the speakers, Cindy Wiesner of Grassroots Global Justice. “Some of the most inspiring movements and people are gathered here in Tunis. Together, we can change the course of history.” Among the loudest cheers came when speakers mentioned left political leaders and movements, including the jailed Palestinian leaders Marwan Barghouti and Ahmad Sa’adat, as well as sustained applause for Hugo Chavez and the Occupy movement.

After the opening speeches, legendary musician Gilberto Gil took the stage. Known for his politics and musical innovation, Gil was a leader of Brazil’s tropicália musical movement of the 1960s and more recently served as Minister of Culture in the administration of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. As a sea of people from around the world danced ecstatically, Gil played a set that ranged from his own songs to pieces by Bob Marley and by John Lennon.

Among the opening sessions this morning was a press conference led by members of La Via Campesina, an organization representing more than 200 million poor farmers from 150 local and national organizations in 70 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas. “The false solutions of the government have been affecting us worse and worse,” said Nandini Jayara, a leader of women farmers in India. “I feel the WSF is a stage for us to share our problems and work together for solutions.”

Over the past decade, the WSF has been credited with a number of important international collaborations. For example, the global antiwar demonstrations in February 15, 2003, which have been called the largest protests in history, came out of a call from European Social Forum participants. In the US, labor activists who received international attention for a successful factory take-over in 2008 at Chicago’s Republic Windows and Doors factory said inspiration came from workers in Brazil and Venezuela that they met at the World Social Forum.

Among the many movements seeking to launch new campaigns and coalitions are indigenous activists who are seeking to educate activists from around the world about the problems in the climate change solutions, such as the “cap and trade” strategy put forward by the United Nations and mainstream environmental organizations. “We have to look at the economic construct that has been created in this world by rich industrialized countries and the profiteers that have created this scenario,” said Tom Goldtooth, director of Indigenous Environmental Network, an international alliance of native peoples organizing against environmental destruction. “We have ecological disaster, and that is capitalism’s doing.” Goldtooth’s organization is also seeking to raise awareness about REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), a United Nations program promoted as an environmental protection strategy that Goldtooth calls “genocidal” because it promotes solutions like carbon trading that he says will lead to mass deaths of poor people due to environmental catastrophe brought about by climate change. “We’ve come to a time where there has to be a transition to something different, Goldtooth added. “Our communities are saying we need some action now.”

Every year, some Forum attendees must overcome travel restrictions from various countries, and the WSF is also plagued by infighting from a sometimes fractured left. Among the incidents reported this year, Human Rights Watch reported that Algerian border authorities illegally barred 96 Algerian civil society activists from traveling to Tunisia. Meanwhile, in Tunis, a group identifying themselves as Tunisian anarchists said that they were boycotting the Forum, and appeared at the opening march, parading in the opposite direction of the rest of the crowd.

“For us the forum is already done. We have succeeded,” declared Hamouda Soubhi in an interview at the close of the opening ceremony. “Tomorrow will be problems, as there always are.”