WSF Report Back—(Notes from May 12 2015 INoSA Conference Call)
7 graduate students along with Liz Smythe and Jay Smith–observed and collected notes over 92 workshops using shared observation protocol (French version) that is based on an earlier protocol that INoSA folks developed in previous USSF observations in Atlanta and Detroit.
The observer team covered all six themes, about 10% of all sessions listed in the program. Also attended a significant number of sessions on issues related to MENA region.

  • Contact Jay and Liz if you have additional questions (EMAIL) Jay Smith jays[at]athabascau [dot]ca; Elizabeth Smythe elizabeth[dot]smythe[at]concordia[dot]ab[dot]ca

Context—Bardo Museum attack caused very evident emotional trauma on the population. Opening march demonstrated international solidarity. Most people did not change their plans to attend WSF after the attack.

Estimated 45,000 people attended 2015 from XXX Countries.

Most from MENA
Strong Southern European contingents

Six themes on the program—used to organize panels and physical spaces
Citizenship-democracy
Alternatives to neoliberalism
Dignity/ human rights/ rights of women/ racism–largest block of events and workshops
Racism is a big problem in Tunisa- Black Africans and Indigenous experience discrimination
People and the Planet—extractive economy
Borders/ Migration
Justice- Arab Spring protesters who were arrested/detained; surveillance and restrictions of freedom/counter-terrorism

Liz attended sessions on international trade and food
Notes the ways issues are being connected in new ways and across places: Land grabbing- increasingly linked to forced migration, access to water and land, austerity/debt—reframed in N-S dimension “illegitimate debt”

Jay:
Notes that WSF host country often pretends they don’t have problems with racism/ human rights, and when forum arrives, these problems are exposed and confronted in the Forum space.

Youth- very active in the Tunisian revolution, especially in use of social media. See revolution being ‘stolen’ by Islamic radicals.
Very high youth unemployment. Young graduates unemployment rate > 30%. Youth were very present at the forum and pushing on issues of recognition and inclusion. Unemployment was very visible in the country, particularly in the south. Many unemployed are traveling to join ISIS for lack of opportunities at home. There were connections between young European activists and Tunisians on employment/social inclusion theme.

Discussion of public space/ defending and keeping democracy and citizenship alive was also prevalent in Jay’s observations.

Precariousness of women’s lives. Domestic violence is a pervasive issue there affecting women, and this was addressed on panels on women . Panels stressed importance of fair and effective state institutions to protect vulnerable/women. Violence occurs both within the home and outside. Sexual harassment is ‘rampant’particularly in Egypt.Panels addressed question of how to get more and better/ more effective laws. Jackie, re: religion, a number of panels on gender issues were attended to see if issues regarding the intersection of women and religion were evident. Religion was, in fact, rather muted but violence against women was clearly voiced as an issue.
In Tunisia, women have access to education. But there are many obstacles to their advancement.

People and Planet- Discussions oriented around preparations for Conference of the Parties on Climate Change Negotiations happening in Paris next December. Intention is not to watch states bring negotiations to another dead end—calling for transnational mobilizing on scale beyond Seattle WTO protest. Many panels on the extractive industries and their impacts on communities. Indigenous peoples' centrality in conflicts related to extraction. So growing connection struggles of Indigenous peoples human rights and climate justice. Recognition of race/class/environment interconnections.
Grassroots Global Justice played a visible role in panels on climate justice. Idle no more activists from Canada were there.


Migration-EU forcing African countries to police their borders—bear the costs of the disruption to populations that the global economy and war are imposing on them. Perspective of Africans on migration issues challenged the dominant narratives familiar to WSF participants from the global North.
Land grabbing was another big theme here- as a factor that contributes to out-migrations from African countries, showing the links between global economy and experiences in the region.

Attention to anti-racist struggles in the U.S. and the ways it parallels racist violence/exclusion elsewhere.


One key take away point is that these issues are becoming more closely linked in the analyses of participants in the WSF. Jay and Liz saw evidence of the emergence of shared identity of movement—emerging from multiple identities/issues when comparing discourse across the years of the forum.

Future of the Forum: There are discussions of possibility of Quebec as host the 2016 WSF in August. This would be the first in the global North. Some concerns of whether the election of a right-wing government might affect the ability of people to get across border. But this could help expand fruitful dialogue between Americans and others from around the world- pushing folks in the U.S. to address/confront the issues being raised in the WSF.
There was a strong presence of Quebec activists in Tunisia. They had built ties with groups in north Africa.
Labor in Canada was very visible and has been very active in supporting the push to bring WSF to Montreal. Indigenous peoples from Canada were also very visible.