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The 2004 World Social Forum

This is the first of three articles on the January 2004 World Social Forum meeting in Mumbai, India. These articles echo the “Public Sociologies” theme of the 2004 ASA Annual Meeting in San Francisco.

Walda Katz-Fishman, Howard University, and Jerome Scott, Project South, participated in the World Social Forum (WSF) as part of the U.S. Grassroots Global Justice (GGJ) delegation representing Project South: Institute for the Elimination of Poverty & Genocide. The latter is a community-based popular education organization bringing scholar, student, labor, and low-income activists together on the basis of equality to build a bottom-up movement in the United States as part of today’s global movement for justice and equality. The second article, “Mumbai and the Future,” is by Boaventura de Sousa Santos of the Department of Sociology at the University of Coimbra, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School. The final article, “Among Women at Mumbai,” is by Patricia Ticineto Clough, Director of the Center for the Study of Women and Society at the City University of New York Graduate Center.

A Movement Rising

by Walda Katz-Fishman, Howard University and Project South, and Jerome Scott, Project South

The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it. — Karl Marx

The fourth World Social Forum (WSF), January 16-21, 2004, in Mumbai (Bombay), India, was an amazing gathering and experience. About 130,000 delegates from 150 countries and from most of India’s 26 states participated. We marched, rallied, danced, sang, drummed, performed street theater, talked, dialogued, shared knowledge and experiences, cultural expressions, art and video, organized a peoples’ media center, networked, and deepened existing relationships. Collectively we took another critical step in building today’s global bottom-up movement for social transformation to truly create another world.

The first WSF, in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in January 2001, was a popular, civil society gathering of the world’s workers, peasants, youth, women, and oppressed peoples and was convened in response to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, a gathering of the global economic and political elites. The next two WSFs were also in Porto Alegre. By 2002 the WSF International Council realized it had to take the WSF to other developing world regions to further globalize the bottom-up movement. Though initially declining to host the WSF, India agreed after playing a key role in the very successful Asian Social Forum; and in 2004 the WSF came to Mumbai.

Within the WSF process, the U.S. Grassroots Global Justice (GGJ) network grew out of a few U.S. grassroots groups who were in Porto Alegre in 2001. They saw that the U.S. social and economic justice movement was not represented by those most adversely affected by the ravages of globalization and neoliberal policies, but instead by big NGOs, foundations, think tanks, and academics, mostly white and middle class. GGJ was born to bring the faces and voices of worker, youth, people of color, indigenous and low-income led organizations of the “developing world” into the WSF process. Last year in Porto Alegre and this year in Mumbai GGJ brought 100 grassroots leaders from the United States, as well as Canada, Mexico, and other Latin American countries, to connect with the bottom-up global movement.

The WSF 2004 expressed the rich and powerful Indian context. The Indian organizing committee made a conscious decision to refuse funds from large U.S. foundations and used great ingenuity in transforming the NESCO grounds—a closed-down textile plant—into a vibrant venue. NESCO and thousands of jobs have moved from India’s textile center in Mumbai to China. Ironically, English was the main language of the WSF, reflecting the enduring legacy of British colonialism. Present in the slums and streets of Mumbai and at the WSF were the profound effects of imperialist globalization—the growing gap between wealth and poverty—and the movement rising up against it. Half of Mumbai’s 16 million people live in abject poverty, many of them in slum dwellings, creative and complex systems of housing, work places, shops, and prayer locations, or on the streets. Globalization, including dam projects that are destroying the ecology and damaging survival strategies, is forcing additional millions off their land and into urban slums. These conditions spawned dynamic new leadership among those most exploited and oppressed. Indian workers and popular organizations saved funds for two years in order to bring delegations to Mumbai. The Dalits (“untouchables”), Adivasi (tribal/indigenous peoples), poor and working class women, students and youth, and the New Trade Union Initiative’s (NTUI) workers in the organized and most marginalized unorganized sectors comprised almost half the participants.

This history, struggle, and energy converged in more than 1,000 sessions—opening and closing celebrations, plenaries, panels, self-organized seminars and workshops, solidarity tents, and activist assemblies—addressing a multitude of issues organized around five themes: neoliberal globalization, war and militarism, caste oppression, patriarchy, and religious fundamentalism. Anti-war, anti-imperialist, and anti-neoliberal policy dialogue and protest took center stage. Inevitable differences between reform and revolutionary programs and strategies emerged.

Within the WSF process, tensions around the politics and vision of “another world” resulted in Mumbai Resistance (MR) 2004 directly across the highway. Many of us participated in both. MR created a safe space for a variety of socialist, communist, women’s and social movement organizations who wanted to clearly state that their vision for “another world” is socialism, that capitalism cannot be reformed, and that this space is open to all who support that world. It had an openness we found in other gathering places inside and outside of the WSF around the nexus of class struggles and popular movements in India and in today’s developing global movement.

Not Just Workplace Issues

We noted several trends at the WSF and MR. First, growing understanding among the organized sector of labor of the interpenetration of worker and oppressed peoples struggles (i.e., workers cannot be organized solely on the basis of workplace issues, and that the totality of their lives must be addressed). Second, the similarity of the effects of globalization in India and the United States (e.g., the prevalence of contract or day labor in construction and the concentration of women and Dalits in this sector in India) while recognizing that the particular history of India and of the United States still condition the precise ways in which class exploitation, caste, color, and gender play out. Third, there is powerful movement and leadership of women in all sectors of the struggle (e.g., in labor, especially the unorganized construction sector, slum dwellings and against communalism or right wing fundamentalism). Fourth, our presence as Americans was met with curiosity, but was warmly embraced, particularly after we shared that we, too, opposed capitalist globalization and U.S. militarism. Fifth, there is a need to transform the form as well as the content of our global conversation and dialogue. To build a popular bottom-up movement requires popular forms of education and communication, but these popular forms have yet to be widely accepted by session and workshop organizers who still seem to prefer “talking heads” and “passive participants.” Movement building for global transformation brings together theoretical analysis and political practice in a new movement. Capitalist globalization in the electronic age and militarism are creating the conditions for developing the consciousness, vision, and strategy for a popular movement that is locally grounded, nationally networked, and globally connected. The realities of 21st century globalization challenge all to build a deeper, broader, and more unified movement. The WSF process and the U.S.-based GGJ network offer an opportunity to assess where the movement around the world is and ways of connecting with it to make it happen.