10 years of the WSF, from Porto Alegre to Dakar

the longest edition of the World Social Forum – Published on Ciranda, by Rita Freire, Monday 21 December 2009. Translated by Hilde Stephansen, from portugues do Brasil: 10 anos de FSM. See this article also in portugues do Brasil on Teoria e Debate.

The Brazilian desire to mark, in Porto Alegre, ten years of the World Social Forum in 2010, when there will have been ten anti-Davos Januarys, helped inspire the format that the process will have this year. Beginning in the capital of Rio Grande do Sul, with an event taking political stock of the WSF at the turn of the decade, it will be followed by a trail of Forums, event after event, on the way to Africa.

Another way of looking at it is that the first 10 years of the WSF, which was conceived in 2001, will conclude with a birthday party in January 2011 in the city of Dakar, where the next global edition of the Forum will be held. This event will be the realization in Senegal of the African desire again to organize a WSF on the continent. 

From one event to another, the WSF will take the longest journey in its history. The diversity of encounters already scheduled around the world in this period was not conceived in order to celebrate, but to participate in a historic edition of the Forum in movement, bringing together the contributions of distinct processes and cultures towards a future that contains solutions to the various crises which are currently converging: the financial crisis, the environmental crisis, the energy crisis, the food crisis, the crisis of models of social organisation – or even a single civilizational crisis.

This agenda is capable of connecting, in one year, activities across America with events in the Middle East, interspersed with others in Europe, in Asia or in Africa, demonstrating that the World Social Forum has truly ‘globalized’ in these ten years and continues to expand. Since the Forum left Porto Alegre for Mumbai in 2004, there have been editions in Caracas, Bamako and Karachi (as part of the 2006 polycentric edition), in addition to Nairobi in 2007. There was a Global Day of Action in 2008 and a global edition in Belém, in the Amazon, in 2009.

If global events mark the continuity of the WSF process, it is the continental, national and local forums that signal its expansion and diversity. Before Mumbai, Asia held its first continental forum in Hyderabad. Before Nairobi there was Bamako and the regional social forums in Africa. Before Belém in 2009, the Pan-Amazon social forums.

For members of the Brazilian Group of Reflection and Support for the WSF Process, formed by activists involved in the Forum since the beginning, the WSF has, wherever it has gone, incorporated new themes and reflections without losing its pluralism, and managed to construct, in a collaborative manner, a political agenda which is “vigorous, innovative and indispensable in order to confront the civilizational dilemmas of the world we live in”.


When the WSF emerged, campaigning for Another Possible World, it attracted inspirational ideas against what was called ‘single thought’. United voices arose against patents while Africa was plagued by AIDS. Its participants embraced the struggles for land and access to the commons of humanity, and the world armed itself in the competition for trade in water and oil. The Forum made visible humble experiences of solidarity economy in times dominated by the dictatorship of global finance. It defended the free movement of people imprisoned by borders which are at the same time completely open to the free transit of goods … //


Improving the WSF as an open space of encounter and articulation of alternatives, whether in a geographical or virtual territory, can be the task of the decade to come. Because of this some forums will be focused on specific aspects of the global crises and need to connect, through shared communication practices, to other forums, other themes, other reflections.

For example, in Detroit the second United States Social Forum will debate non-capitalist solutions to the economic crises, from the point of view of those who never benefited from the wealth accumulated by the empire even though they live within it. This regional forum was initiated in Atlanta in 2008, after the disaster of Hurricane Katrina and the abandonment of its victims to their own devices, victims of a country that is not equally concerned to rescue all its citizens.

In Palestine, another example, the World Forum of Education will debate the education of generations who have grown up surrounded by wars and walls and who have on their hands the task of constructing a world free of invasions and occupations. It will be a novel event, especially because the intention is to bring the free, rebellious and open space of the WSF inside the fences erected and controlled by Israel. The boldness of today is the product of previous efforts to expand the Forum in the Arab world.

In Brazil only there will be at least three forums in 2010, with different purposes. In Porto Alegre and surrounding cities the event will be especially guided by the debate about the history and perspectives of the forum process. In Salvador, in Bahia, the city with the largest black population in Brazil, participants want to debate the process towards Dakar from the point of view of their identity as part of the African diaspora. And in Santarem, Para, organizations, communities and movements from Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Venezuela, Surinam, Guyana, French Guyana and Brazil will address proposals to protect natural resources, territories and traditional cultures during their fifth Pan-Amazon Social Forum.

Expanding regional processes, there will be forums organized in continents where annual editions have already become tradition. The European Social Forum, which has previously passed through Italy, France, London, Greece and Sweden, is going to Turkey; the Social Forum of the Americas, which has already spanned Equador, Venezuela and Guatemala, now moves on to Paraguay.

The agenda on the road to Africa remains open, including bold proposals such as that of holding a forum about the civilizational crisis, and other more fragile ones like that of the Indians and Pakistanis who want to organize a forum in Nepal.

Rita Freire is a journalist and represents Ciranda International of Independent Information in the Communications Commission of the International Council of the World Social Forum. (full long text).

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