Are other worlds possible? More open, just peaceful and joyful would than what we know today; less violent, divided, and exploitative worlds?
These questions formed the central concerns of a series of seminars that took place at the University of Delhi, India between August-December 2003. Conceived as a set of discussions, the Open Space Series' as it was called addressed itself to the overall theme: 'Are Other Worlds Possible? Cultures of Politics and the world social forum, and acted as a run-up to the World social Forum, held in Mumbai in social Forum', and acted as a run-up to the World Social to provide information about the forum, to develop a critical engagement with it and the ideas it professes, and to encourage and build a culture of critical engagement with our own lives. In the way they were structured the seminars also attempted to be what the Forum says it wants to be, an open space' for the free expression and exchange of ideas.
As organisers, we were pleasantly surprised by the response to the seminars. Each session had large numbers of students attending and actively participating the speakers brought both and quality to the debate, people said good things about the discussions; and we hoped that in some measure we had succeeded in extending the boundaries of the Forum in India. These were boundaries that had been threatening to close in (for instance, through the unfortunate fact of the growth of manipulative power politics, a lack of transparency with the organising committee, and the progressive introduction of restrictive rules of participation, as I also elucidate below). We heard, too of similar initiatives being taken up in universities elsewhere in India and abroad. It was these responses that convinced us that it was important to take the idea further, and to give it more permanent shape, which the reader will find in these books, collectively titled are other Worlds Possible?
This introduction attempts to place the seminar series and this series of books in some perspective.
The world Social forum was initiated in Braxil in January 2001 as a challenge to the World Economic Forum in order to put forward another view of the world and its possibilities. It is now widely seen as being a highly significant world initiative. The motto the World social Forum has coined for itself is 'Another world is possible But; are other worlds rally possible? What would be involved what kinds of changes would we have to bring about to make these other worlds a reality? Is this merely a utopian idea, or is there something that the World Social Forum can bring to the task of building other worlds? If so, what can be learnt from it?
These questions, that lay at the heart of the process that created the WSF, were precisely the ones that we wanted to explore in our seminars. In particular, we hoped to be able to critically examine and interrogate the culture of politics that the Forum has formulated and posited, and that it is professedly practising in other words, not merely the what of politics, but the how. And through this we also proposed to interrogate and critically reflect on the cultures of politics that all of us practise every day, in our daily lives, in the institutions and organisations and movements we ourselves work in.
In the Charter of Principles that is said to be its guiding philosophy the Forum has declared itself to be an open space' for the free exchange of ideas amongst those who are opposed to neo-liberal globalisation and its impacts. (This is the letter of the Charter; in reality, this has been interpreted to also include those who are not necessarily opposed to it but critical of and/or concerned with it, and about the social Economic, and political order more generally). In this relatively undirected 'open space' people from a wide range of streams of through and action can meet can interact, without feeling that they have to agree with the view of the organisers or that they have to subscribe to particular ideas or prescriptions. Beyond this and consistent with the idea of an open space, any formulations and statements that emerge from the Forum come out of this interaction. They appear in the names of the participants and not of the world Social forum, which itself takes no positions or 'leadership' on any issues beyond what is given in its Charter of Principles.
Both these propositions are, in many senses and at many levels, very different from conventional organisational culture, and contain and constitute and deep challenges to all those take part in the process. But what is the actual experience of the Forum in this area? And how do these propositions address questions of actually existing social structure and power in society in different contexts across the world at this point in history and in transnational, 'global' space?
In many ways, the answers to these questions are contained in the evolving history and shape of the Forum. From being a single and then a regular, major event each year, (in Porto Alegre in Brazil, and timed to challenge the annual world Economic forum at Davos, Switzerland), the forum has become an efflorescence of protest, reflective analysis, and the celebration of alternatives across the world.
In November 2002, the first European social forum was held in Florence, Italy, and some 500,000 – one million people marched in a peace rally to protest the threat of the US-led war on Iraq. In early 2003, before the third world social Forum in Porto Alegre in late January, four regional fora were held in various parts of the world the Asian social Forum in Hyderabad, India, the Palestine Social Forum, an African Social Forum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and a Pan – Amazonian Social forum in Belem, Brazil. This is aside from several thematic national, and also city and college fora in many countries of the world. This extraordinary efflorescence has continued through 2003 and 2004 and affirms both the need and the importance of creating such a space, locally, regionally and internationally.
There are also several side or peripheral events that take place during the Forum, some planned, many unplanned. These peripheral spaces play very important roles in defining the overall culture of the Forum, and in preserving (and elaborating) its openness. These include, for example the youth Forum and parallel events by civil and political entities hat wish to relate to the Forum but prefer to maintain a little distance, as well as more formal 'paralle' events such as the world Parliamentary forum, the World Forum of Mayors and Local Authorities, and the World Education Forum.
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