We have succeeded in translating meetings, conferences, and even celebrations to virtual. However, how can we move international activism online?
Since Saturday until January 31, the World Social Forum (WSF) celebrates its twentieth anniversary. Like other collective activities, this international event, which usually brings together thousands of people, will go virtual. While it promises to be less festive than in the past—pandemic obliges—its relevance remains undeniable.
The COVID-19 crisis has worsened the conditions of already vulnerable populations without social safety nets worldwide. It also reminded us of how gaping the flaws are in a globalized and liberalized capitalist system that deepens inequalities, violates and undermines fundamental rights, and weakens our ecosystems.
A story of face-to-face mobilizations
Since its first edition in 2001, the WSF has welcomed millions of people from different origins and social conditions sharing the deep conviction that there are alternatives to neoliberalism.
Over the years, this great alterglobalization rally has developed into a multitude of national, regional, and thematic forums aimed at amplifying the struggles and resistance waged in the South and at articulating collective strategies for the defense and protection, in particular of oppressed peoples, the environment, and human dignity. In 2014, the Peoples Social Forum in Ottawa opened up a space of convergence of unprecedented diversity in Canada. Two years later, the WSF moved to Montreal.
A place of global exchanges and convergences, these social forums have contributed to the creation and consolidation of transnational networks that have mobilized civil society around various issues, such as food sovereignty, climate justice, and countries’ debt in the Global South. In 2003, its assembly called for a massive demonstration against the US invasion of Iraq, echoing in some 600 cities worldwide. The WSF is also a space for creating collective transnational identities as well as a laboratory for democratic and non-hierarchical practices, notably through the use of free software and horizontal organizational structures. This state of work, still in co-construction, makes it so rich.
How to be a virtual activist?
Against the backdrop of a global crisis, the WSF organizing committee proposes a renewed and creative formula that will allow thousands of people to participate in the construction of new solidarities and collectively draw the horizons of another possible world, far from the identitarian closure and neoliberal logic. If going online sometimes represents a barrier to participation, it also makes it possible to welcome other people who have never had the opportunity to enter this arena of international solidarity.
According to Hamouda Soubhi, member of the board of directors of Alternatives and secretary of the international council of the WSF:
The deep crises which paralyze the world today require greater involvement of civil society and social movements. Our challenges to build a fairer world together are colossal, but the future is ours. This virtual forum will prepare the next edition, which will take place in Mexico at the end of 2021 or the beginning of 2022.
For the moment, nearly 500 self-managed activities are planned around several major themes: peace and war, economic justice, education, communication and culture, society and diversity, indigenous and ancestral peoples, social justice and democracy, climate, ecology, and environment.
Despite the fatigue that has marked the alterglobalization movement over the last decade, especially in the absence of real victories against the rise of the extreme-right, the pandemic reminds us of the urgency to change a fundamentally unjust system; because if there is only one thing to take away from this crisis is that the status quo will lead to our downfall.
For more information, please visit the World Social Forum website.