As this issue of Global Governance goes into circulation, the World Social Forum (WSF) will mark its fifth anniversary. A novel experiment in global citizenship, these gatherings have grown from 10,000 at the inaugural meeting in January 2001 to over 150,000 at the 2005 meeting. In addition to its annual global sessions, the WSF process has also involved a host of regional, national, local, and thematic initiatives. After three convocations in Porto Alegre, Brazil, and one in Mumbai, India, the fifth global WSF in 2006 will take a polycentric form, with meetings in Bamako, Caracas, Karachi, and Athens.
Since its first edition in 2001, the WSF has been an important space for meeting and mobilizing diverse social movements that oppose the dominant strains in contemporary economic and financial globalization. This dominant globalization is treating the majority of humankind as discardable surplus. The particular significance of the WSF lies in its capacity to make a heterogeneous group of actors--from across social, cultural, and geographical spectrums--believe in themselves and in the possibility of transforming and reconstructing the world. Through the WSF, ordinary people rediscover their fundamental value as members of the human community and as citizens who build societies, cultures, polities, and economies. The WSF meets the challenge of repoliticizing life to make another world possible in the face of the homogenization of a globalization carried out by, and at the service of, big corporations--a globalization that concentrates wealth, is socially exclusionary, and destroys the environment.
My view of the WSF stems from my own social and political insertion in its promotion. I therefore offer a mix of testimony and strategic reflection on the possible courses that we, as diverse and plural participants, can take with the WSF, and the impacts that we can make on states and multilateral institutions. My focus is not on existing economic and political power, but on the process and conditions for the world's citizens to be at center stage, controlling global markets and global power.
At its inception, the WSF was built as a counterpoint to the World Economic Forum (WEF), which met concurrently at Davos, Switzerland. The WSF and the WEF are opposing forums in terms of time and place. One has existed for over thirty years; the other is newly emergent. One meets in a luxurious ski resort cordoned off by the police; the other gathers in Porto Alegre, a city steeped in grassroots participation in public management.
These opposing forces express today's globalized world. The dominant globalization has transformed our living conditions and created an interdependent planetary society of the worst possible kind. It is not enough (and indeed impossible) to democratize this globalization, to give it a more humane and sustainable face. The challenge we must face is wholesale reconstruction of an interdependent world. This process of transformation must operate from people to people, sharing common goods among all peoples, ensuring human rights for all human beings, and respecting social and...