Alternative Social Forum: voices from the left
* In Caracas, Venezuela between the 23rd and 29th of January 2006, 10 local socio-political organizations offered an alternative forum and critique of national politics in response to the World Social Forum. The result was a smaller-scale event but self-directed and reflective of current self-organizing capacity. The alternative forum was independent, self-managed and borne out of years of experience of organizing in the Venezuelan context.
The Foro Social Alternativo (Alternative Social Forum - ASF) confronted the progressive institutionalization of the World Social Forum that has spelled its degeneration over half a decade of development. This bureaucratization of the WSF is contrary to its genesis and original principles, which spoke of a convergence of diverse and contradictory movements, a "movement of movements". At its current stage, the WSF is serving to catapult and legitimize a series of leaders, governments, institutions, NGOs and leftist political parties with relatively large economic power and resources; this has the effect of furthering these interests and marginalizing more radical and "minority" movements. One of the priorities of the Alternative Social Forum was to generate an autonomous space to develop and interrelate various local movements, whose diverse subjectivities offer alternative visions to the imposed discourse and Manichaeism that has characterized Venezuela in recent years.
The ASF took place in three venues in the city of Caracas: the Universidad Central de Venezuela - UCV, the Colegio de Ingenieros and the Organizacion Nelson Garrido - ONG, and involved three types of activities: conferences, practical workshops and an independent film series. Activities were diverse and kaleidoscopic. The conferences involved a diversity of international speakers who shared their experiences and visions. Among these speakers was John Holloway who directed a talk on "Changing the World Without Taking Power" to an enthusiastic audience whose subsequent debate lasted over 4 hours. Other talks included: Daniel Barret (Uruguay) on "Horizons of Change in Latin America", Ezequiel Adamovsky (Argentina) on "New Social Movements and Anti-Capitalism in the 21st Century", Frank Fernandez (Cuba) on "Anarquism in Cuba", Christian Guerrero (USA) on "Radical Ecology in the USA", Javier Garate (Chile) and Andreas Speck (UK) on "The Relationship Between the Arms Race and Transnational Corporations", Radical Critique (Brazil) on "Leftist Politics in Latin America", Ricardo Garcia (Mexico) on "Autonomy and Magonismo in Mexico", Rob Block (USA) on "The Anti-Prison Movement in the USA" and Kristina Dunaeva (Russia) on"The Chechnyan War and Anti-Militarism in Russia".
The local contribution was no less impressive, opening events included a conference with Domingo Alberto Rangel on "Islamic Fundamentalism and Globalization". Humberto Decarli conducted a discussion on "Militarism and Social Change in Venezuela". Maria Pilar Garcia and the Amigransa collective hosted an eclectic day-long panel discussion on current ecological and indigenous struggles in Venezuela and the world. The Anarchist Black Cross of Venezuela organized a forum on prisons in the country. Others included: Francisco Prada on "External Invasion and the Integrationist Response", Ricardo Benaim on "Xenophobia and Anti-semitism", Lenin Ovalles on "Urban Culture" and Alfredo Vallota on "Foundations of Socialism in the 21st Century". Participants lamented the absence of Douglas Bravo, whose dialogue on "Proposals for Today and the Future" had to be suspended due to family tragedy.
º Workshops for Activists
The workshops of the ASF shared a variety of tools for change among social movements and were realized by volunteer efforts by a variety of organizations. A two-day long "Introduction to Videoactivism" workshop was repeated on demand of enthusiasts; it was facilitated by Sonya Angelica Diehn and co-funded by Indymedia Arizona and Pan Left Productions (USA). This workshop developed basic knowledge and skills needed to actualize an independent audiovisual project. Carlos Nieto & the Venezuelan Anarchist Black Cross facilitated a workshop on "Human Rights in Times of Crisis", elaborating judicial and legal strategies for defending Human Rights. Fabian Unlogistic, of the French band Unlogistic gave a workshop on "Basic Sound-Tech" teaching amplifying/ recording art and skill for musicians. Two other workshops were given by the International War Resisters, one of the oldest anti-militarism groups in the world. The first of these was on "Non-Violent Direct Action" and taught practical skills related to civil-disobedience as well as steps necessary to organizing actions and mounting campaigns. The second was on "Conscientious Objection and Anti-Militarism".
All week long, the film series held showings in the university (UCV) and every night as of 7 pm in the Organizacion Nelson Garrido, where films were projected simultaneously in two different rooms. Among the many films presented, coming from over 8 different countries, the one to provoke the most commentary and enthusiasm was "Nuestro Petroleo y Otros Cuentos" [Our Petroleum and Other Stories], a film that has been censured by the Venezuelan government. It was shown at three different times to enthusiastic audiences in rooms at top capacity.
º Weaving Connections, Constructing Autonomy
The Organizacion Nelson Garrido was effectively converted into an epicenter of dissidence and counterculture all week long. Initial planning provided for breakfast and lunch to be served to over 60 people per day; water had to be added to the soup! in order to feed the crowds numbering over 100 who arrived at the ASF disenchanted with the official WSF and seeking a few hours of refuge from the discrimination and militarization of the official event. The menu provided both meat and vegetarian meals, coffee from peasant cooperatives from Portuguesa and cookies bought from small family businesses. Many groups held planned and spontaneous meetings at the ONG during the week, such as the Peoples Global Action Assembly and the International Anarchist Encounter that involved over 60 activists from 18 countries who designed the "Declaracion Libertaria de Caracas" or Caracas Libertarian Declaration.
Over the course of the 7 days, the ONG was also host to an independent material/media fair that sold books, publications, zines, T-shirts and music, resulting in 2 million Bolivares (800$ USD) in sales that financed and supported the self-managed nature of the event. The autonomous and independent nature of the ASF was also made possible by countless volunteer contributions such as the donation of publications for sale by the Fundacion Era Ecologica, Federacion Libertaria Argentina (FLA), and Colectivo Autonomo Magonista (Mexico) as well as the donation of T-shirts and video-projector by Brennan Wauters (Canada). Earth First! (USA) donated a percentage of vending sales. The Federación Anarquista Iberica (FAI), the anarcopunk band Los Dolares (Venezuelans in Catalonia) and the Montreal Anarchist Bookfair/Salon de livres anarchiste de Montreal, among others, organized activities in their respective countries to help fund the event. Added to the 4 months of fundraising previous to the event, these actions covered the organizing expense of over 7 million Bolivares (a little over 3000$ USD). Almost a third of these expenses went to the printing costs of the publication "Alterforo". Over 10 000 copies of this FSA program and magazine were distributed, having an impact that surpassed the most optimistic expectations.
Funds also supported a mobilization organized by indigenous and environmental groups of the state of Zulia in the west of Venezuela. This march against the exploitation of coal and for indigeneous autonomy in Zulia was held on Friday Jan. 27th, despite the aggression and disturbances caused by Chavista [pro-government] groups. This counter-agitation was due to the fact that the march was denouncing not just the activities of the government coal company Carbozulia, but the entire government development policy regarding mining. This unsustainable development policy involves the oppression and dislocation of many indigenous peoples and is congruent with the planned IIRSA [Iniciativa para la Integración de la Infraestructura Regional Suramericana, a Latin American free-trade-treaty not unlike the FTAA]. These Chavista counter-actions were not the only instance of government intimidations against the Alternative Social Forum; political-police vehicles were circling the ONG all week long.
The objective of creating a week-long space fermenting dissidence against the Venezuelan government, the state-centric left, traditional political parties and Capital was achieved with success beyond expectation. The goal of spreading a multiplicity of political visions and strategies was achieved without the logistical support of the Venezuelan army and without any promotion or funding weighted with bureaucracy. The second objective, reconstructing a grassroots network of autonomous social movements, inspiring new ways of doing politics and building a transformational movement, is a project that transcends the time-span of a week. For this reason, each one of the organizations that convened at the ASF is driving forward with diverse programs at a variety of levels. The recovery of various movement agendas is critical: ecologists, students, neighborhood organizations, feminists, indigenous peoples' movements, youth, citizens and campesin@s form an emancipatory challenge to our stagnant political system characterized by redundant electoral cycles and agendas imposed from above.
More information (in spanish & english) at www.fsa.contrapoder.org.ve and www.nodo50.org/ellibertario
ASF Media Team // Caracas, February 2, 2006
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