Worlds - Rainbow
Alliances at Social Forum
By Anuradha M
16 January, 2004
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.
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.
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.
issues like the height of dams or the impact of uranium mining, once
the research of scientific laboratories, now constitute public debates
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 womens court on crimes against women
or a peoples 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
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.
in India by the womens 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.
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