Grassroots Global Justice Alliance

Many struggles, one movement

Category Archives: World Social Forum 2013 – Tunisia

Blacks in Tunisia: ADAM and the Struggle for Recognition and Justice

Erin Byrd, Black Workers for Justice

No there is no racism in Tunis. If they tell you there is they are lying. I have friends that are black, and they don’t mind when I call them n*gger”.  This is a quote from an actual conversation I had with a Tunisian reporter at the World Social Forum. It occurred after leaving the session on Blacks in Tunisia at the forum, in the context of an interview he requested. I asked him about how blacks are treated in Tunisia. And received this stunning response.

I was told before I left to go to Africa that Tunisia would be a different experience than visiting the south or west Africa. But, even after being warned, I wasn’t really ready. I expected a sea of Blacks in Tunisia, but instead I saw only a few. Tunisia is a majority Arab country.

The WSF was held just four days after Tunisia’s first celebration of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, an event to raise awareness about discrimination against racial minorities in the country organized by the Association for Equality and Development (ADAM).  ADAM is the first organization in the country to fight for the rights of Black Tunisians. It was formed in May 2012 as an outgrowth of Tunisia’s recent revolutionary transformation. Read more of this post

Tunisia, Social Transformation, and the World Social Forum: A Perspective on Moving Grassroots Internationalism Forward

by Kali Akuno, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement

The World Social Forum (WSF) in Tunisia marked a critical turning point in the Social Forum Process. Throughout its history, the World Social Forum has gathered under the auspices of progressive governments, buttressed by strong social movements. This precedent was established in the process of organizing the first World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2001. The Brazilian Workers Party (WP) then governed Porto Alegre. The Workers Party is a progressive social force in Brazil that emerged from the popular social struggles of the 1970’s and 80’s to end the Military dictatorship that gripped the country since the 1960’s.  The Social Forum in Mumbai, India in 2004 followed this same dynamic and pattern. Mumbai, which is located in the state of Maharashtra, was then governed by a coalition of progressive forces backed by strong social movements. The World Social Forum’s in Kenya and Senegal followed this same formula.

Tunis broke the mold. The difference in Tunisia was not a deliberate alteration of the established formula. The difference was the context. Tunisia is in the midst of a profound social transformation. In January 2011, Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, the dictatorial leader of Tunisia from 1987, was ousted by a broad alliance of social forces, known to many as the “Jasmine Revolution”. The Tunisian revolution resulted in the transfer of power from an oligarchic clique headed by Ben Ali to a representative government installed through the reestablishment of multi-party elections. The elections of October 2011 resulted in the election of the Tunisian version of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist Ennahda Party.

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Since the October 2011 elections, the struggle between conservative social forces like Ennahda and progressive social forces like the Popular Front has intensified and deepened. One expression of the heightening of contradictions between the progressive and conservative social forces was the assassination of Popular Front leader Chokri Belaid on February 6th, 2013. Belaid was an ardent critic of the Ennahda and one of the critical Tunisian organizers of the World Social Forum. Choki’s assassination, a mere month before the Tunisian World Social Forum, was a critical blow to the progressive and left forces in Tunisia, and considerable challenge to the World Social Forum.

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Green Jobs and False Solutions

by Rafael Hurtado, Little Village Environmental Organization (LVEJO), Chicago IL

We come across problems each day of our lives. Sometimes we find the answer for these issues. Other times, we react by tending to our problems with false solutions, which usually come with future repercussions.

A glaring example comes from corporate America. For decades corporations have treated the planet Earth as disposable commodity. The disastrous environmental policies of corporations over the years have created a profound crisis: Climate Change. Climate change is rapidly changing our planet and our societies and if left unchecked will have grave consequences for future generations. The profit motive encourages corporations to pursue short-term gains and immediate fixes, and tends not to encourage these entities to pursue real solutions to the Climate crisis. We need real, substantive change, which requires system change to stop Climate change. One of the main things has to change is our economy, particularly who and what it serves and why.

When using the term, “Green Jobs” or “Green Economy” some individuals automatically think of natural gas, Biofuels and clean coal. At the World Social Forum recently held in in Tunisia, two key panels, False Solutions and the Green Jobs, Climate Jobs, Now, found it necessary to establish a definition of what truly is an alternative source of energy and food productivity.  Climate jobs promotion it was noted in these sessions must start on the basis of providing real solutions to Climate issues and food sovereignty. Low or virtually no emissions should come from these purposed solutions and anything that can help reduce the cost of food is a must.

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Confessions of a Climate Denier in Tunisia

Miya Yoshitani, Associate Director of Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN)

Miya Yoshitani, Associate Director of Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN)

“We will not stand idle. We will not allow the capitalist system to burn us all. We will take action and address the root causes of climate change by changing the system. The time has come to stop talking and to take action.”Climate Space Declaration, World Social Forum 2013, Tunisia

I’m trying to admit something here. I was wrong. Maybe not exactly in the way you might think, but it was still bad. Not Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck bad, but damaging in its own way, and after returning from the inspiring and eye-opening experience of participating in the Climate Space of the World Social Forum in Tunisia – the country that overthrew their entrenched dictator, Ben Ali, and sparked the “Arab Spring” – this past March as part of the delegation with Grassroots Global Justice (GGJ), I feel like I need to come clean.

I was a climate denier.

Not in the traditional sense. I have been in the environmental justice movement in the United States for well over 2 decades, and I was introduced to the facts of global warming when I was a student organizer in college, so I can’t say that I was uninformed. I knew it was serious when I was still a teenager. But as I became more and more focused on the deep inequities of environmental racism and on the local fights that low-income communities of color around the US and in the Global South are fighting everyday in their neighborhoods and communities to meet basic needs and protect their lives and livelihoods, I began to make certain assumptions about global warming. That is when it started.

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The Global Repression Industry

by Laura Muraida, Southwest Workers Union

The series of bombings that rocked communities in Iraq and the U.S. recently have served as a reminder about the devastation of senseless attacks on civil society anywhere.rose tribunal

In the wake of these horrific bombings, public debate has turned to a discussion of security, terror, surveillance, and race–a conversation that communities across the globe are also having in the face of the devastating reproduction and exportation of public violence. However these are not necessarily the discussions of terrorist cells as often seen in the media, but rather the all too often ignored history of government sanctioned violence against people in the name maintaining control and domination.

At this spring’s World Social Forum held in Tunisia, civil society organizations, organizers, and activists sought to create the space to have these difficult conversations. U.S. delegates and social movement leaders, Kali Akuno of Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and Rosa Lozano of Grassroots Global Justice participated in a dialogue on what has been termed the “global repression industry”, an industry that has made an international business of violence and crafting a culture of fear.

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A first timers experience at the World Social Forum

By Elizabeth Jesdale, President of UE Local 255, the unionized workers at Hunger Mt Coop, member of UE General Executive Board, Steering committee member UE United Coop Workers, and member of GGJ delegation to WSF

Abbreviations: GGJ Grassroots Global Justice Alliance; UE United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America; WSF – World Social Forum

When I was chosen to represent our Union within a delegation traveling to Tunisia, I knew my life would change.

And it did.

The 6 weeks prior to arriving in Tunisia were packed with getting ready while also trying to maintaining my duties at my job and in my union. Balancing a full-time job, meetings, phone calls, readings, learning about the region and the WSF, scheduling, some semblance of a personal life (well, that got thrown out the window to be honest) and… fundraising. I had never before participated in fundraising. As a person uncomfortable with asking for favors, let alone for money, fundraising was a huge obstacle in itself to overcome. With a combination of asking on Facebook and sitting at a table on three different days at my workplace, we were able to raise $1,500 in about a month. The donations were of two kinds, a large donation (ranging from $20-$150) from people who are union brother and sisters and allies, and the other half of the money was raised dollar by dollar from co-workers and strangers. I appreciated both types of donations immensely- the larger donation were a statement of support and trust- a ‘Hey- you can do this’ and the smaller donations a symbol of democracy- one person, one vote, how when we all come together and contribute just a little bit how much we can achieve together. The symbolism of both types of donation were carried with me on this journey whenever I opened my wallet to pay for something in Tunisia- a meal, transit, a fresh squeezed orange juice, a booklet, t-shirt.

While fundraising it was difficult to answer the frequent questions “What are you going to do there?” “What are you going to bring back?” I answered with a general description of the World Social Forum as I understood it, and then had to answer people with “To be honest, I’m not really sure of the answers, and that’s why I am going”.

1 photo out windowOn our first night in Tunis I leaned out the hotel window, trying to soak it in, looking at the African sky, the surrounding buildings, the shops and pedestrians below, the men staring back from the windows, balconies, and rooftop across the street, thinking “I am really here, I am in Africa”. A place I never thought I would get to in this lifetime on my grocery-store salary.

A few blocks from our hotel on the Rue de Marsaille in Tunis was the Plac du 7 Novembre, a traffic rotary with a large clock, a symbol of the ‘Jasmine Revolutions’ as named by the press, and the subsequent Arab Spring. The rotary and boulevard were built by the French colonizers, and so was an apt location for the birthplace of the uprisings called by the people of Tunisia the ‘Revolution of Dignity’. People took to the streets to demand the basic tenants of dignity and respect: affordable food, employment, freedom of speech and freedom from other corruptions. In the two years since the Revolution of Dignity, Tunisians still struggle for a fair election process after the sudden loss by assassination of leader & presidential candidate Chokri Belaid.

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Cindy Wiesner at World Social Forum Opening Ceremony

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.