World Social Forum in Montreal gets mixed reviews

Many blame Canadian government’s visa denials for limiting participation
Zacharie Goudreault

If a convergence of movements was the theme of the 13th World Social Forum, which assembled more than 30,000 global participants in Montreal last week, it wasn’t achieved as completely as some — including the organizing committee — would have hoped.

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Editors’ note: This article originally appeared in Ricochet’s French edition and has been translated into English.

Fatoumata Chérif, a feminist activist from Guinea, couldn’t help but feel a little alone as she took part in the closing ceremonies of the WSF this weekend in Parc Jarry.

“Many of our African colleagues were not able to make it,” said the director of the NGO Femmes — Pouvoir et Développement. “This was collateral damage from the fact that the forum was held in Canada. If our friends had been able to come, the exchanges would have been much richer.”

Palestinian-American activist Ali Abunimah sounded a similar note. “One of the advantages of this forum is to be able to speak in person with people that I know from afar. But many were prevented from coming, due to the discriminatory politics of the Canadian government.”

Carminda Mac Lorin, WSF co-organizer, had anticipated this problem.

“We supported approximately 2,000 people during the visa application process, and following a survey of about 300 people we found there was a 60 per cent refusal rate,” Mac Lorin explained. “We find this absurd that commercial goods can move about more freely than people who are activists for human rights.”

The International Council of the Forum may issue a resolution denouncing the Trudeau government for these refusals, indicated WSF co-organizer Raphaël Canet.

The organizers also faced some criticism with respect to the relative absence of Black activists, including those from the Black Lives Matter movement.

Mac Lorin noted that a parallel forum on issues of race, Hoodstock, took place in Montréal-Nord during the WSF. Hoodstock was not included in the official list of parallel events, however, because collaboration had not been established in time, according to the organizing group. “If other groups were not included, it is because they did not propose themselves,” added Mac Lorin.

Many conferences organized by autonomous committees were cancelled without notice, notably a session of the Green Party USA’s presidential candidate Jill Stein, which was scheduled for the first morning of the WSF.

“It’s too bad that many planned workshops did not take place,” said Heather, an environmental activist from Victoria, B.C. “However, after one of my workshops was cancelled, I discovered another conference on First Nations land claims, and it was really interesting.”

Convergence of struggles

Despite the hiccups and the disagreements, a great many delegates said they found exactly what they were looking for at the WSF, which brought together activists from dozens of different milieus, notably anti-extractivist groups, Indigenous rights organizers, feminists, and Palestine solidarity activists, among others.

“The World Social Forum is very important for the way it facilitates the convergence of struggles,” said Massa Koné, who was attending from Mali.

“In my country, I’m fighting for the rights of people who have lost their land to profiteering multinational mining corporations. Here, I was able to take part in a conference put on by the brothers and sisters of Front d’action populaire en réaménagement urbain [a Quebec collective for housing rights], which gave me hope and reassured me of the fact that it’s possible to demand the right to housing.”

Back to the future

The dates and location of the next WSF will be determined in the near future by the International Council of the Forum. Just as the cities of Tunis and Porto Alegre have hosted more than one Forum, it’s not out of the question for Montreal to play host a second time.

In the meantime, local struggles have been reinforced, according to Raphaël Canet.

“Groups were able to talk and make larger coalitions than what would have been possible to do otherwise, creating links between environmental struggles and the struggles of workers, and so forth. The Forum reinforced civil society in Quebec and encouraged the participation of Quebecers.”

A final assessment of the work accomplished by the WSF will be published online in the next month.

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