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<nettime> George Katsiaficas: The World Social Forum and the Internet So
Geert Lovink on Wed, 22 Apr 2015 03:33:23 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> George Katsiaficas: The World Social Forum and the Internet Social Forum


(were there any nettimers in Tunis for this? /geert)

From: http://www.slguardian.org/?p=27563

The World Social Forum and the Internet Social Forum

One promising event in Tunis was a meeting to form an Internet Social
Forum. Many people attended the meeting and expressed hope that the
group could go beyond the limitations of the WSF. Yet, some of those
present were key organizers of the World Social Forum, and they insisted
that the structure and content of the ISF be similar to the amorphous
politics of the WSF. Arguing against any manifesto or statement of
principles beyond the charter of the WSF, they hope to depoliticize and
keep amorphous the ISF.

by George Katsiaficas writes from Athens 

(April 21, 2015, Athens, Sri Lanka Guardian) I write from Greece, after
a disappointing WSF in Tunis. Although I met many fine folks, especially
from Morocco, Tunisia, Syria, Turkey and Egypt, I felt the amorphous
structure of the WSF let it be something other than a driving force for
a new world. The failure to engage with political issues meant that
dynamics such as involvement of governments and overt homophobia were
never discussed formally.

Governments played not-so-behind the scenes roles in Tunisia, and their
machinations went unquestioned. As an example of overt government
intervention, supporters of Syrian president Assad disrupted the first
hour of a workshop on the Syrian revolution. Entering the room, they
tore down flags and posters and created a near fistfight among a few
dozen people. After some time, youthful WSF security arrived wearing
orange vests, and they succeeded in separating the two groups and
corralling the interlopers to an outside square. The session continued,
but at the end, a passionate supporter of the king of Morocco disrupted
the closing remarks of a Palestinian speaker from Camp Yarmouk in
Damascus, who finished his responses to questions by expressing support
for the people of the western Sahara. (As a stateless people oppressed
by occupiers, is it any surprise that Palestinians support others like
themselves?) Apparently this Moroccan had been sent by his government to
prevent any reasoned discussion of Morocco???s occupation. Several
people told me that the man who disrupted the end of the session was a
paid agent of the government of Morocco, as apparently were dozens of
others. Of the 800 or so Moroccans in attendance, I was told by reliable
sources that all but about 200 were sent by the government???and that
the same proportion held for the equally large Algerian contingent.

A session claiming to be about continuing struggles in China consisted
of a well-organized group of Chinese people who offered little more than
the government???s official version of contemporary Chinese history from
the Great Leap Forward to the present. Insisting that the Communist
Party???s leadership was more skilled than Western elites, the group
essentially gave the government???s views while pretending to be an NGO.

Less overt government involvement may perhaps have accounted for the
sudden power failure in our session on the internet and revolution.
Arriving several hours early, we had a projector and connection to the
Ecuadorian embassy in London all ready, yet as soon as it came time for
Julian Assange to talk via internet, the lights went out. We used the
computer???s battery to run his talk and a Q&A with only a PC as the
monitor. Although a few of the nearly 100 people in attendance left in
frustration because they could not hear well, the event nonetheless
inspired us and, as we subsequently learned, energized him. No sooner
had the battery expired and Assange vanished, the lights came back on.
The rest of our talks were also quite engaged, particularly from
bloggers in Tunisia and Morocco who were behind the Arab Spring.
(Assange???s talk and others can be heard at
http://yachana.org/reports/wsf2015/assange.html).

As for overt homophobia, I witnessed gay people who were told to leave
by security, whom they had called after being taunted by some
participants. As the small contingent carrying rainbow flags marched out
of the main gate, they were energetic but shocked and saddened by their
expulsion. Over the next 2 days as the WSF International Committee met
continually, they were apparently too busy to even discuss this
transgression of their own charter (which explicitly mentions
???genders???).

Although I have been a very optimistic supporter of the WSF in my
writing and speaking, my first-time attendance made me much more
critical. If there are not serious adjustments made in the WSF???s
orientation and informal structures of power, I am afraid it will not
amount to more than an annual (or biannual) networking event for those
able to get visas and who have money to attend. The decision, for
example, to hold the 2016 in Canada certainly means that many people
from the global South will not receive visas.

One promising event in Tunis was a meeting to form an Internet Social
Forum. Many people attended the meeting and expressed hope that the
group could go beyond the limitations of the WSF. Yet, some of those
present were key organizers of the World Social Forum, and they insisted
that the structure and content of the ISF be similar to the amorphous
politics of the WSF. Arguing against any manifesto or statement of
principles beyond the charter of the WSF, they hope to depoliticize and
keep amorphous the ISF.

The promise of the ISF is that it could be a tool to envision concretely
the kind of new world which we believe is possible. We could develop an
online plan for how such a world would look and how it might function.
Economists could be enrolled to create mechanisms for participatory
regional investment bodies; political scientists in conjunction with
tech folks might design mechanisms (such as exist in Iceland) for online
participatory decision-making bodies; scientists and engineers could
discuss with workers better production techniques and less polluting
technologies, and so on.

If we allow the ISF to be an amorphous body that Google, Microsoft and
their proxies use like governments used the Tunis WSF, we limit its
possibilities in advance. That is why the ISF needs a strong political
manifesto stressing that all participants must be committed to building
a new world and to developing a vision for such a world.


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