The World Social Forum 2016: Dialogue Between Cultures

Padre Dario Bossi is a Comboni Missionary based in Brazil. Amongst other activities, he is involved in the ecumenical network ‘Iglesias y Mineria’, which assesses the impact of large-scale mining on local communities. He recently participated in the World Social Forum (WSF) 2016 in Canada.

The question I heard most often during the World Social Forum is: “What can we do from here?”. Organising the forum in the global North for the first time highlighted the distance that still exists from the global South.

In Montreal, a rich city in Quebec, during high season, we found ourselves missing words and thoughts from the South, especially from Africa and Asia. Canadian immigration policy has not granted some people the right to travel and meet. It is known that at least 250 entry visas requested from foreign participants to the Forum have been rejected. “We are carrying ideas, not bombs”, said the human rights activist Aminata Traoré, who was previously Minister of Culture in Mali and a candidate to succeed Ban Ki-Moon as Secretary General of the United Nations.

The gathering has framed the World Social Forum differently – with less South-South exchange and fewer ideas about bottom-up resistance (“Crear para crer”, as we say in Latin America). But with good reflections on political influence, the connection with international institutions, and different lifestyles. Additionally, in many debates it appeared quite clear that we cannot treat each form of resistance individually, because the crisis is one: a crisis of the entire system and its values – and in some moments, also of hope.

In several countries, a wind of instability has been blowing across democratic values lately. At the global level, it seems that some essential reference points on which to build solid and just agreements for living together are crumbling. The crazy violence and the fanatic madness of terrorism lessen confidence in dialogue and the conviviality of differences in many people. The seductive language of multinational corporations and governments, and their double standards, lead many to the illusion that something is changing, that there is a growing sensitivity to social and ecological justice. We have to say, rather, that what is growing is the capacity to camouflage interests and stay ambiguous, to ensure the usual profits with a greener and friendlier facade.

In this context, the World Social Forum is increasingly important, even if it needs to evolve in its strategies. Some suggest that we should organise some thematic meetings (one in the pipeline is on governance and alternative forms of popular power, analysing the situation in Latin America as a starting point). Others insist that the Forum should make better use of the great power of influence that hundreds of organisations and social movements together can have. Others feel that it is necessary to strengthen and consolidate the relationship with the newer social movements.

For those working from the bottom up, the Forum is always a valuable opportunity to enlarge your network and strategise around actions. It’s like meeting in a large square, under the “tent” of dialogue between cultures, including the debate on climate change and alternative energy, and on the resistance to the superpower of transnational corporations. I like to call this square by the same name that Pope Francis used: the “globalisation of solidarity”.

In Montreal I’ve worked extensively under the “tent” of the communities who suffer the impacts of extractive industries, especially in Latin America. We have gathered a good group of people to reflect, through four seminars, on the violations caused by mining industries, the promiscuous relationship between corporations and states, the criminalisation of community leaders and the rise, beyond any control, of the killings of trade unionists and members of social movements. We called a meeting with Canadian bishops to strengthen the relationship of the Latin American ecumenical network Iglesias y Mineria with this Bishops’ conference, and get their formal support for some of our initiatives. We re-launched the pan-Amazon Church Network REPAM as a key tool that replicates, in a religious context, the approach of the World Social Forum.

Unfortunately, the “square” of the World Social Forum and all the public spaces where people who dream of a more just world gather, often turn into places without an identity, like a metro station, where the majority of people pass without even looking, each with their own itinerary, busy with their own lives.

A huge challenge to fight the serious violations of social and environmental rights today is to get the support of disinterested and distant people. That’s not something you achieve by insisting on the “duty” of social commitment, but by showing that taking care of life gives meaning and flavour to the life of each of us. If capitalism is a religion, its rite is consumption, and its mystique is the induced desire. We need a new imaginary, fuelling more profound dreams – more human ones.

One way to follow this path is to tell stories. Stories of people who act with enthusiasm; of the communities that defend themselves and protect their way of life, their dreams. To learn to tell stories means to write a new history. It happened like this even with the Gospel, which still inspires the gift of life in many people even today.

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