Report from the World Social Forum

I had the great fortune to be able to attend the WSF in January 2004, and afterwards wrote the following for a local magazine.

For six days this month, a sprawling industrial complex in Mumbai became the site of the fourth World Social Forum, as community activists, NGO workers, and fellow travelers from all over gathered to celebrate and organize under the banner “another world is possible”. Over 100,000 registered delegates from 132 countries came together to participate in more than a thousand scheduled seminars, workshops, and presentations that were translated into as many as thirteen languages. The forum grounds themselves were transformed into ebullient chaos as films, plays, photo exhibitions, and at least a dozen parades competed for our attention and space within the grounds. Somehow, once we were all here in India, smiles and hand gestures managed to bridge the mere cultural and linguistic gaps that were left between us.

You couldn’t possibly fail to be inspired by the opportunity to meet heroes from liberation struggles all over the world and observe truly grassroots international organizing - at no other gathering could a workshop like the one on Coca-Cola attract activists from Colombia, where the company has been implicated in the assassination of union organizers, Africa, where its bottling plants have left village wells dry, and India, where courts last year found traces of pesticides in its products, to work together towards their common goal. People fighting corporate power have realized that they need to globalize their own struggles, and there’s nowhere better to do this than here.

From its start in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2001, the forum has attracted an ever-growing assembly of people with a common goal and hope for progressive social and environmental change. I have never been a witness to such a diverse collection of the world’s humanity, and it was truly humbling. A world in which people from so many places can so easily strike up friendships and form bonds gives me hope that our shrinking world will survive despite the shortsightedness of whoever’s been making the decisions lately. As Arundhati Roy said during the opening session, “In Brazil I said, another world is possible and she is on her way… if we listen carefully we can hear her breathing. In Mumbai I say, look around — it seems another world is already here!”

See also Arundhati Roy’s remarks at the opening session.