I was privileged to be one of the thousands of participants and presenters who converged in Montreal from 9-16 August 2016. We received a ‘telephone directory-like’ book of events, seminars, workshops, symposia, to choose from – the venues were distributed throughout a part of the city. The area of the city designated for the WSF was punctuated with large marquees, information stands, meeting points, where T-shirts were sold, pamphlets and other paraphernalia distributed, meeting areas designated, street theatre performers prepared. The scale of the event was overwhelming – how to use time effectively, efficiently, with purpose, with fun, with friends, with political intent? How to find your own venue where you were to be one of the presenters or performers or participants? Navigating the geographical, the intellectual, the political, the social spaces was challenging. It took planning, focus, and determination, while not losing sight of the importance of connecting socially with friends, comrades, colleagues.
The WSF started in a big park where thousands gathered to begin to connect, to mobilise people to engage with ‘their’ issues – there was need to mobilise interest otherwise no people would find their way at the right time and place – those with the most marketing savvy could more easily grab the attention. We heard of at least 2000 comrades who had been refused visas by the Canadian government – there was rage and indignation. Behind our respective banners with drums rolling, chants and songs, we took over several streets of Montreal. The idea was to bring to the attention of the citizens of Montreal that the WSF was alive and well and about to take over their city!
The thirteen organising streams for conversations, debates and actions, as listed by Alession Surian, indicate the complexities, the divergences and the spread of intellectual and political engagement. These mirror many of the fault lines in society. They are overwhelming and impossible to embrace with any depth – each person therefore, as in life, specialises in an area of particular interest. The streams ran in parallel, with each person mainly staying within their particular area of interest. There were few places where everyone came together, so that the heartbeat of the whole community could be felt – so there was no sense of the whole – there was no visible leadership. Leadership was decentralised and dispersed. This is positive on the one hand, but on the other, how is some cohesion and common vision built? How is ‘an alternative world’ envisaged collectively?
The last day of the WSF was literally rained out – where everyone was invited to join together, reading out and engaging with the resolutions emanating from each of the streams, few turned up. Most people left with no sense of a bigger picture of ‘where to from here’. I left with an overwhelming sense of how complex it is to create any cohesion or sense of common purpose, amongst disparate groups. What the future will be of the WSF is uncertain – it’s a noble idea, but what can it really achieve? What do you think its role is, if any, in helping build an alternative world? How possible is it to achieve common purpose putting into action the ‘relational and meaning making skills’ which Surian points to, across different discursive, disciplinary, or other communities of practice, who have different understandings of knowledge? How are different ‘raced’, gendered, classed, religious, language, geographical etc. communities able to ‘share’ with one another when hierarchies of power and privilege are so entrenched? Should the WSF survive, why and how?
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