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People's social forum planning begins

Jessica Squires

February 3, 2013

Reports are already circulating about the meeting that took place in Ottawa on January 26 and 27 to plan a Canada-Quebec-Indigenous peoples social forum (renamed the peoples social forum during the weekend). About 150 people participated during the meeting, most representing a social justice group of some kind, with a high proportion from labour and a significant participation by about a dozen individual First Nations.

The social forum is part of a global process initiated in 2001 in Brazil, on the heels of the historic 1999 demonstrations in Seattle against the World Trade Organization, and having deep roots in Latin American activism and their critiques of neoliberalism from the perspective of the global south. The first forum saw 15,000 people gather, and developed a parallel process called the assembly of the social movements from which issued a call for action. 

Since then, there have been social fora around the world in individual cities, states, and continents, with each one taking on the shape the movement in its specific location chooses and needs--the next one being this March in Tunisia, where the Arab Spring began. There have also been fora around specific issue, such as the World Social Forum Free Palestine held late last year in Brazil.

Critics have suggested the social forum is limited in what it can achieve because of its allergy to political parties and because the action-building aspect is held apart from the forum itself. It is it sometimes criticized because of its lack of a shared focus and strategy. It laos receives criticism for becoming too top-down and not representative enough of all groups and movements. On the other hand, the assembly of the social movements has allowed for huge movements to coalesce, even if only temporarily. for example, the 2002 social forum called for a global day of action against war to take place on February 15, 2003 - a day that turned out to be the largest coordinated action for social justice in human history. It is this aspect of the social forum movement that can best show the collective strength of progressive forces.

Whatever else it is, the social forum movement has created occasions on which people can gather and discuss and debate about strategy and long-term goals. The peoples' social forum in what is called Canada (Turtle Island), planned for late 2014, will be another such occasion. The entire left and all movements for social justice in Canada should be there to make it as strong and effective as possible. The meeting in Ottawa was a promising beginning; while sharing all of the aspects, both positive and negative, described above, it was also a very good place to start to build towards what may be a historic opportunity for strengthening resistance to neoliberalism on Turtle Island.

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