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World Social Forum, Mumbai: Opening Thoughts

January 2004

It has been quite overwhelming to be in India and at the WSF. The past 24 hours here have been humbling and eye-opening to say the least. I have never felt more first world and priveleged than here partly because I don’t speak Hindi and have so little knowledge of the grassroots movements from India that are represented here. It is hard to know where to begin. It is incredible to see people from all over the world connected to grassroots movements and organizations fighting for justice.

Tens of thousands of people gathered for the opening ceremony yesterday which was opened by Lakshmi Sehgal a 90 year old Indian woman and freedom fighter ( She was involved in the Indian struggle for independence from the British). To give you a visual picture. She talked about the importance of continuing the struggle for freedom and globalising it in the face of imperialism and neoliberalism and as she spoke her face was broadcast on large screens all over the premises while people clapped and chanted. It was a really uplifting, hopeful way to start the WSF as part of crowd of people who were really representative of the world’s majority. (It’s never felt better to be 3 10, brownskinned and small than here =)). Shirin Ebadi (Recent Nobel Peace Laureate Iran) then took it from there and talked about globalizing human relationships, Arundhathi Roy (Author and Activist India) about fighting imperialism by uniting and taking on corporate powers and Mustafa Barghouthi ( Activist, Palestine) talked about mobilizing in solidarity with Palestinians. Asking Palestinians he said “not to resist against injustice is like a asking a woman who is being raped not to scream.”

Before I get kicked off my computer here I want to share some thoughts from people that I met or interviewed on the first day of the forum. Wei Chen (New Voices fellow works at Chinese Workers Staff Association in New York organizing garment workers) and I spent most of the day together talking to people and at some point realized that no water was being sold on the premise. Because many delegates are currently fighting against the privatization of water (like in the Narmada valley) no bottles were sold. Wei had an interesting perspective which is that not selling water gives the consumer too much power at the expense of disempowering those fighting privitization. Just like focusing on boycotting sweatshop garments from the consumers perspective instead of focusing on mobilizing workers against manufacturers to gain decent wages, benefits and livelihoods misses the point. Wei and I managed to meet the three representatives from Sudan who were at the WSF (directly coming from the Sudan Social Forum) (more on them later) and interviewed two people from Senegal who were chilling under the shade near the registration booth: Msr. Sall, African Network for Regional Development: ” We work with poor people who are fighting to get access to clean water, health care and for food security. As an alternative development group we also promote self-sufficiency by setting up microcredit systems. Why are we here? 30% of the world controls 80% of the world’s resources and 80% of the world lives in poverty. There is a big indifference to this at the international level because rich nations benefit from our poverty. Solidarity in Africa and the Third world has to become a reality for this to change. As a philosopher once said “If justice is not shared in an equal way then injustice will be distributed in an equal way.” Neo-terrorism is a phenomenon that stems from our frustrations in poor countries with the way we are being treated by industrialized countries. We are here to share of our struggle and to build solidarity across borders so that we can coordinate a local, regional and international movement against neoliberal policies.”

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