Although I am nearing the end of only my first month with the World Social Forum, I already feel as if I have been working here for several months. I have had so many new experiences and opportunities since moving to Quebec at the beginning of July, and I truly feel as if I am a part of the WSF team.
My first few days in Montréal were a little overwhelming. I had just moved to a new country where I knew nobody, and having never been to Montréal or even read much about it before, I had no idea just how much I would be using my French here! Having (mostly) mastered the public transportation system between Verdun (the residential neighborhood about an hour from my work) and La Petite Italie, however, I felt fairly confident when I first arrived at L’Esplanade, the vibrant and collaborative working space where the WSF has taken residence.
On my first day, I met with Etienne, who facilitates the Welcome working group, and he gave me an introduction to the World Social Forum. Although I had researched the Forum on my own before arriving in Canada, speaking with Etienne showed me just how much history and work has gone into this international collaborative process which gathers tens of thousands of activists from around the globe who are dedicated to building a sustainable and inclusive world. After a brief orientation to the WSF and the work space, Etienne and I met with Ruchika Arora, a blogger and researcher who is interested in becoming involved with the Mobilization working group. The conversation was enlightening, and her questions regarding the types of individuals and organizations who would be invited to the Forum allowed me to better understand the questions those who are not a part of the process might have.
Many of my questions were answered during my first week of work. I spent time becoming acquainted with the history, mission, constitutive charter, and organizational process of the WSF by reading reports from previous forums, ideological texts, and minutes from past meetings of the various working groups. I got in touch with Asma Ghali, who facilitates the Translation team, and I began translating the WSF 2016 Constitutive Charter and documents outlining the organization of the process from French to English. Translating these documents was a great way for me to increase my administrative vocabulary in French, and it also lent me a better understanding of the Forum as an event and a process. This has been equally helpful during the Facilitation Collective meetings, which take place entirely in French. These are a great way for me to test my comprehension skills, and while I need to practice much more to be able to keep up with rapid-fire, passionate conversations in French, with each meeting I attend, my understanding of both spoken French and the WSF process itself grows.
Although I met many members of the World Social Forum at the Facilitation Collective meeting that first week, I did not get a chance to speak with them at length until I took a trip to Toronto with several members of the team that weekend. This was also the first time I met Carminda Mac Lorin, one of the co-coordinators of the WSF, in person, since she had been out of town in Brazil during my first week in Montréal. The drive to Toronto took six hours, which gave me the chance to get to know the other members of the team (and practice my French!) before we arrived at the Peoples’ Social Forum. The PSF, which has links to the first WSF held in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2001, was the first forum I had ever attended, and it was an amazing experience. When we arrived in Toronto that Friday night, we went straight to St. James Park for the Peoples’ Picnic Block Party. We settled down in the grass with some delicious chili and listened to performances by talented activist poets and musicians.
What was so striking about these performances was the pure passion of everyone present. The performers dealt with issues that were close to their heart; the environment, oppression, war, government corruption, socioeconomic inequality, and several other topics were faced with honesty and vulnerability. These performers were not afraid to say that they had been hurt, because they were not resigned to losing. They were not afraid to say they were weary of the struggle, but they refused to give up. They were fighting for their rights, and not only through protests or marches, but through the power of the arts. As a writer who aspires to make a positive impact on the world with my words, this was incredibly powerful and inspiring to see, and the energetic applause from the audience after each performance was proof that everyone there cared deeply about the issues raised.
The next day, we registered for the Peoples’ Social Forum and set up our own space for the World Social Forum nearby. In order to start a conversation about the necessity and benefits of holding social forums, we invited passersby to answer a question—“Social Forums: What can they do for you?” People wrote their answers on colorful sheets of paper, which we then strung up so everyone could read what others had to say. The arrangement was very much like a social forum; everyone had the chance to make their voice heard and let us know what they thought. For those who did not know what the World Social Forum was, we began a conversation with them and gave them information, and some of these people then wrote their ideas about what a social forum should be. This was a great way for me to learn more about the WSF and to practice explaining it to people unfamiliar with these types of processes, as I was before I started working here!
We spoke to old and young, indigenous people, Toronto natives, visitors to Canada, people who had been involved in previous World Social Forums, and people who had never heard of a social forum in their life. As a person who has never attended a forum, the experience was also very informative for me. Speaking with people and reading what was written gave me a diverse view of what a social forum can be, and I know that I want to live in a world where these forums exist and these conversations are happening.
On our final day in Toronto, we woke up bright and early to attend a meeting with representatives of activist groups and social forums from across Canada. The main topic of the meeting was the proper allocation of funds for social forums. The meeting lasted over eight hours, and it seemed that we would never be able to reach an agreement, but finally, an accord that almost everyone was content with was found. Although people occasionally became frustrated, this experience showed me yet again just how passionate the people involved in these processes are. They are so concerned about the issues facing today’s world, and they want to create alternatives by bringing people together in the most inclusive and effective way possible. Listening to everyone speak, it became clear to me that we all share the same goal, and as long as people continue to meet and share their ideas openly and respectfully, we will be able to build a better world for future generations.
After we got back from Toronto, I sat down with Carminda and we discussed the best way to utilize the three months I will be in Montréal. From experience, I know that three months of work goes by very quickly, and we wanted to be sure that I would be able to reach attainable goals during my time with the WSF. We created some objectives and goals for my time here, and I have spent this past month working on building a framework for my tasks. I began by creating a list of individuals, organizations, and networks across North America who might be interested in creating a WSF extension or taking part in the mobilization efforts of the process. As of now, I have a list of over 50 contacts. I then drafted an introductory email to send to these organizations and individuals with information on the WSF 2016 and a call for involvement. The research involved in finding these potential participants led me to the discovery of several inspirational people and projects that I was unfamiliar with before. I am extremely excited to contact these potential participants in the near future and begin building a relationship between them and the World Social Forum. With such diversity in the WSF process, I know that the Forum will be a tremendous success, and I am proud to be able to take part in the building of tomorrow’s world.