Brief Reflection on World Social Forum 2007 (Kenya, Nairobi)
It is incredibly important for people involved in struggles of different kinds to have space to share and learn from one another ways and strategies to strengthen their struggles. Women’s groups, youth groups, land rights activists, environmental activists, etc., all have unique ways of expressing their disgust of multinational corporations’ dictatorship over the world’s wealth and people’s livelihood. In Nairobi, Kenya we were again reminded of the strength of this space and the contribution it offers to each of these groups, reinforcing once again that “another world is possible.”
I went to Kenya with a delegation of Abahlali and Land Matters Rural Network. Part of it was to expose the delegation to this space. More importantly, was to consciously commit to the idea that this is the space for grassroots comrades who are involved in these struggles to meet their counterparts from other countries to share their experiences. Since these comrades have been part of the workshop series “connecting to the WSF” that Mark Butler was chairing, it was very important to see the connections between what they thought WSF is or should be and what it really is.
I had been in one WSF before (2005 in Brazil) and a couple conferences of a similar type. The feeling of being part of a movement that actually believes that neo-liberal globalization can be overthrown is just unbelievably overwhelming. At the WSF people are not afraid to say what they think of Bush, Blair, Israeli occupation of Palestine, World Bank, IMF, unjust agrarian reforms, destruction of natural resources for more profit, etc.
I really thought it is much more powerful when this is shared by people who are actually involved in these sort of struggles, who will not have powerpoint presentations, but speak from the bottom of their hearts about hardships they endure under neo-liberal globalization in all its forms. It made me feel so angry all over again about the way our governments buy into the deals with multinationals, masking it as ways and means to improve people’s livelihoods. I heard women from La Via Campesina saying it, also people of Kenya who live in shacks of Kiberia and Korokocho, the Anti Eviction Campaign, Abahlali, women from the LM Rural Network, etc.
It also made me realize that every time the organized poor start speaking for themselves it creates a serious crisis. NGOs overtly and or covertly try by all means to undermine movements of the poor. Some South African NGOs would literally compete for space and activities with the movements of the poor. With justice in reign, efforts of the organized poor always got rewarded. This was seen as hungry children of Nairobi demanded food from one of the stalls, and got it; ABM and AEC occupied one stall for the whole week; poor people of Kenya got into the WSF for free without paying any shilling; ABM and AEC co-hosting a session with CLP in one of the rooms. Abahlali screening their own film at the Slum Theatre.
In the final analysis, I say, WSF is indeed a space for struggles. It is a space for struggles of the marginalized groups and formations. It is itself a place to struggle, as struggles of the marginalized come face to face with the struggles of their oppressors if not sideliners. It is for struggles against loneliness and ridicule by vanguardists. It is an awkward space where there is always a ferocious clash of fundamentals, between right and left, but more increasingly between the NGO left and the grassroots left.
Overall it was an excellent experience of being with comrades whose struggle I really respect. To know more about people, to get confused together about the currency, to share meals and really rely on each other for safety, and to fight together for what we believe is just.
I guess now that I am away from WSF I will find time and means to support committed comrades in their struggles to connect to the rich experience shared and discovered in Nairobi. I will journey with the formations of the marginalized as they search and discover meanings for their struggles. It will be difficult of course to learn the culture of being led, since with all resources of an NGO it is very easy to join the struggle from the front.
Thanks to CLP for their commitment to justice, it is not going to be easy but its worth doing.