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Some Reflections on Social Forum

Thursday 31 January 2013, by Kaveh Boveiri

On the 26th and 27th of January an unprecedented launch of People’s Social Forum was held in Ottawa. In its brochure it is introduced as “A grassroots approach to a Canada-Québec-Indigenous People’s Social Forum”. In the following you will find some reflections on what a Social Forum is or can be. They are neither inclusive nor fully developed, or genuine. Such as they are, however, I hope, they would shed some light on the issue and entice some hope for its further development.

Social Forum is oriented towards the realization of an ontic truth. This needs further explication. The participants of the initial meeting of the Social Forum already know that it is not a matter of cognitive truth that they are going to be merely aware of. They gather with an initial orientation that is to be honed through social action. Initially it should be pointed out that three different types of disagreements can be held regarding social phenomena. The first is the disagreement that can be reconciled through argumentation and persuasion. The second happens when you and I do not agree on something, and neither of us is convinced by the other’s argumentation. For instance, before the U.S. results of elections were known we too might not have agreed on the proposition that “If Obama is elected there will be significant changes in the situation of people”. Now that he is elected we too have the opportunity to see whether we were right or not. This is the level of disagreement that will be reconciled by reality. But there is still another disagreement. This one is an antagonistic conflict that cannot be reconciled at all between the two sides of the disagreement. The opposition between the 1% and the 99% is of this kind. There can be no dialog between the two sides simply because there is no common logic. In the same line, there is not a common ground regarding the reality. For the 99% the fact that every few seconds a child dies on this planet, because of this dominant system, named capitalism, is the most crucial problem that should be answered right at this moment. For the 1% it is the last problem, if at all. The main goal of a social forum then is action towards truth in this sense: something that does not exist and it must. Then your mere presence of the forum most probably entails that you are against the TINA (There is no alternative).

Social Forum is not myopic. Not every betterment in our life situation does worth it. If you are on strike for higher wages and that is achieved through importing the goods or raw materials from other parts of the world where people are suffering because of the policies of your government, you will turn it down. You are not happy with having a better car if it is manufactured in a country where the wage of the workers in a week is much less than what you earn in a day. People of colour do not celebrate Obama’s being black, nor do women participating in the Social Forum are happy that Condoleezza Rice’s is black and a woman. If the 1% is to be substituted by the women or by the indigenous people or people of colour, this does not turn things better in any sense for the 99%. That world would be even worse than the current world. Put differently, the root of the problems not their superficial appearance is targeted by the Social Forum.

Social forum aims at problems impersonally. What is in a name after all? A Harper under any name will be as terrible! Yes! The Social Forum is conscious of the future that he is substituted by another representative of Neoliberalism. Not even that. It realises that neoliberalism can be substituted by another system that reproduces the capitalist system. Now that capitalism is systemic, fighting against it is also systemic. This is done through reaching for the roots of the problems in the following manner.

Social forum is non-sectarian. One of the difficulties social activists have always had is to bridge the gap between social movements that usually have a strong spontaneous characteristic and some sectarian organizations which owing to their hierarchical structure, or ideological barriers, or owing to limiting themselves to some specific demands, or because of other reasons have not been successful in reaching the grass roots of the society. Social forum can bridge this gap. And this is done by its being overarching: people of colour, indigenous people, and the working class including but not limited to factory workers, service workers, nurses, teachers, the unemployed, the housewives and students all are included in the Social Forum.

In a recent article in Forbes, Canada was ranked the sixth happy country in the world. But “what does happiness mean to you?” We read in a part of the article “at its CORE it consists of being healthy, having enough food to feed yourself and your family and enough money to do what you want and buy what you want. For most people that entails a nice home, decent clothes, a car or two, cable TV, good times with family and friends.” Participants of the Social Forum have a different definition of happiness in its CORE. They want to realise another world, and they know that it is a herculean task.

As Jacob Wawatie, the Founder and Director of Kokomville Academy, said in the end of the Social Forum meeting on 27th of January: “This is just a seed that is beginning to grow”.