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Alternative Worlds - Rainbow Alliances at Social Forum

sexta-feira 16 de janeiro de 2004, por ,

In the contest of ideas, civil society is the battleground. It is this space that states attempt to capture, political parties seek to influence and business corporations try to control.

This is the place of organisations, where alternative ideologies also have to explain their worldview, because it is here that ideas get their legitimacy and where hegemonies are countered and lost.

In a context where globalisation based on a singular neo-liberal approach is being universalised and fundamentalism aspires to colonise the minds of people, a collection of social movements are attempting to engage in a public discourse that opposes such policies and develop an alternative paradigm.

This social movement organised in Brazil since 2001 has come in the form of the World Social Forum to Mumbai. It engages thousands of individuals, NGOs and social movements from all over the world in a dialogue under the focal theme: Another World is Possible.

Official policy-makers tend to take the people they make policies for as granted. There is thus a narrow and elitist consul-tation on issues that can impact the lives of millions.

Whether it is the decision to go to war, change the constitution or alter economic policies, governments believe that once they are voted into power they have free reign for the next few years.

Social movements, NGOs and autonomous individuals are increasingly challenging such decisions. Social movements like the World Social Forum popularise key concepts in the public sphere.

Take, for example, concepts such as neo-liberalism, imperialism or property rights and patents. Not long ago these were terms of specialised lectures in exalted universities or part of some debate among Left party newspapers.

Similarly, environmental issues like the height of dams or the impact of uranium mining, once the research of scientific laboratories, now constitute public debates in villages.

Since the attempt of a movement as the social forum is to move people out of the tunnel of dogma into the domain of critical thinking, the best atmosphere is that of an open space.

Since the argument is that there is no one way, the alternative too must have multiple strategies and methodologies. Those who are committed to the goals of democracy, secularism, peace with justice, gender equality and social and economic equity are welcome to share this open space.

And if they support neo-liberal globali- sation, war, patriarchy, communalism, or chauvinist and militarist ideologies, they can stand on the other side of the debate, till they are convinced that a better world is based on ethics rather than real politics.

Would an ordinary citizen gain by learning about the nature of the state, the value of human rights, or how patriarchy and militarism intersect? Would it interest her to know that there is a women’s court on crimes against women or a people’s tribunal against American war crimes in Iraq ? The answer is yes, even if she disagrees.

Hearing the voices of noble laureates Shirin Abadi, Joseph Stiglitz, internationally known theoreticians and activists like Walden Bello, Samir Amin, Emannuel Wallerstein and others at the social forum will be part of a memory that can be recalled at times of adversity, when there seem to be no answers.

Cynics will dismiss the event on counts of impracticality or idealism and ask if NGOs and social movements have any impact? After all, there was a war in Iraq despite the millions who protested.

But look deeper and the results are clearer. The peace movements prevented dozens of countries from supporting America ’s aggressive policies. Europe got divided, most Asian countries remained firm about not sending their forces despite pressure and Washington lost international legitimacy as its urge for empire was exposed.

Some have questioned the expediency of spending large funds on events like these, but compare it to the price of a combat helicopter that each state possesses, or the cost of fighter aircraft, and the WSF with all its costs will be a mere fraction of each of these.

Others have questioned the foreign-funded events and foreign-aided NGOs. But no agency has laid out an agenda that opposes the broad aims of this forum.

And if these funds help social movements and NGOs come together to discuss strategies to mobilise civil society and promote social cohesion, it is better than funding movements that promote sectarianism, fundamentalism and violence. After all, the cost of debate is always less than that of conflict.

Being organised in India by the women’s labour, dalit, tribal and environmentalist groups together with individuals from the Left and socialist parties and hundreds of NGOs, allowed these groups to clarify some of the doubts that they had about each other and highlighted the necessity and trials of such rainbow alliances.

This experiment had its own logic. Many smaller social forums were held in cities all over India to mobilise for this larger event. Similarly, social forums were held in other countries in Europe , Latin America and Asia that generated their own discussions.

In a situation where alternative politics is being sidelined, the World Social Forum questions globalisation, war and sectarian politics as part of an ongoing effort to look for a viable alternative and contest current policies.

No one-time effort can offer solutions, but it can throw up ideas that ultimately change our realities.

Ver online : By Anuradha M Chenoy , Times Of India, 16 January, 2004