The Spirit of Brazil Works Magic in Toronto, 1 February 2003
This week at the World Social Forum (WSF) in Porto Alegre, Brazil, delegates from Quebec and Canada discussed the idea of a Canada-Quebec social forum. Alternatives, as well as other groups, will propose that we organize a Canada-Quebec Social Forum sometime this year.
The new methods of organizing introduced by the WSF provide a hopeful basis for organizing dialogue and common strategies between Quebec and Canada. This difficult task has never been more important as we face monumental common battles against the War on Iraq and the Free Trade Area of the Americas.
Successful local social forums have already taken place in Quebec City and Victoria and one is being planned in Ottawa for May. The social forum process worked its magic in Toronto when 400 people gathered for the kick-off event of the Toronto Social Forum (TSF) on January 11th. A diverse crowd from a wide array of social movements and organizations interacted in a way that was respectful, interested and energetic. "The turnout was stunning," said Janet Conway, one of the organizers. "The culture of respect, dialogue and pluralism was exactly what we had hoped to create and sets a really good tone for movement building in Toronto."
The plenary focused on linking global and local struggles. Walter Belik, a newly appointed official in Brazil’s Ministry of Hunger, made a special appearance to outline a government three-year plan to eliminate hunger. Brazil will dedicate four percent of its GDP to the task of making sure every person in their country has good and plentiful food. Leaders of local struggles then explained how they had won victories against privatization of water, hydro, and medicare. In these difficult days, it was good to hear that victories are not only possible but are being realized. Amina Sherazee of the Canadian Arab Federation spoke on the importance of acting against an attack on Iraq.
The workshops that covered a wide range of issues. In the spirit of the social forum, different groups organized these workshops. Forum organizers provided space and promotion, but the content and organization of the workshop was determined by each group. Interactive sessions explored concrete alternatives on topics such as participatory budgeting, narrowing the gap in income, wealth and power, and food security. The event wrapped up with a discussion on the relationship of social movements to political power.
At a roundtable discussion a wide spectrum of views was shared and debated over experiences in Canada and in Latin America. Though viewpoints were divided, people were respectful of differing points of view. Feedback after the meeting was that overall it was "wonderful." Toronto has always been a difficult city for unifying different political currents and social movements. The social forum process is off to a good start in changing that culture.
The Toronto Social Forum was the first of three events this year. The next event is scheduled for February 15th at 7:30 p.m. at OISE, University of Toronto. This will include reports from the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, which took place from January 23th to 28th.
The Toronto Social Forum culminates in events to be held between the 28th and 31st of March in and around Ryerson University. The organizing is, itself, a participatory democratic process and is open to anyone who is interested in alternatives to corporate globalization.
Judy Rebick, Columnist, Alternatives Newspaper
The author is also publisher of rabble.ca
For more information about the Toronto Social Forum: