Thousands will gather in Montreal the second week of August for the World Social Forum (WSF), a large-scale summit of “civil society” from all over the world. The first to be held in the northern hemisphere, the Montreal forum follows a long line of forums that have been held since 2001.
Originally, the WSF was organized to counter the World Economic Forum held yearly in Davos, Switzerland. The WSF aimed to create a space where activists from international social movements could gather and strengthen their connections and struggles. It inherently represents the early stages of the anti/alter corporate globalization movement. The WSF originated in Brazil where social and democratic movements thrived after the overthrow of the country’s dictatorship.
While the first few forums got a lot of public funding and support, later iterations began to lose touch with their initial intent. In 2007, the social forum in Nairobi, Kenya was widely criticized for showcasing the world’s richest international development NGO’s, while providing little space for social movements and locals to organize. As a result, no global social forum was held the following year.
This year’s forum is being held in Montreal, but continues with the problematic focus established in Kenya. Being held in Canada means that many people from the Global South may be prevented from coming because of the great difficulty accessing visas and securing the funding needed to travel so far. Access to the physical venue of the World Social Forum is not a new issue, but having it in the Global North exposes the conflict between the theory and the practice driving these events. North-South solidarity means little if activists from across the South are not present at the WSF.
However, even as forums progressively became distorted and removed from any socialist roots, the main narrative remains the same: another world is possible, and indeed it is necessary. And, since the World Social Forum is an international gathering of progressive forces, there will still be many opportunities to debate and establish connections with local movements around the world.
Part of the struggle for justice and equality is building spaces for international solidarity. These spaces are necessary, but it must be remembered that social activism is local first. So, for those attending the WSF this year, remember to always bring the conversation back to how the discussion can actualize progressive work in your own workplaces and communities.