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Reflection on a Training at the World Social Forum

Posted by Ryan Hall

By Veronica Pelicaric // Veronica is a Pace e Bene nonviolence trainer and co-author of Engage: Exploring Nonviolent Living.  She recently led a nonviolence workshop at the Montreal World Social Forum.

This year it happened in Montreal! Yupee, I don’t have to travel and it is actually walking distance from my home.  What privilege –  this is the first time the World Social Forum was held in the Global North.  It was hosted in the grounds of McGill University and Universite de Quebec a Montreal (UQUAM), so very accessible, very urban and reachable by public transportation. (Visitors had to deal with construction work which this year is over the top in Montreal). The big issue however, was that visas were denied to more than 100 activists,  among them Aminata Traore, from Mali and candidate to succeed Ban Ki-moon as UN Secretary General.  Very strange. Also,  key Palestinian nonviolent activist Omar Barghouti,  was denied travel by the Israeli Government.  Both these absences were sorely felt.

My presentation, on The Four Roles of Social Activism, took place on August 11 and it lasted three hours.  The people who attended, mostly from the US,  were very enthusiastic about the content – taken from Bill Moyer’s book “Doing Democracy” – and they kept wondering how come they had never heard of the Map Theory of Social Movements before and promised to spread the word and use it.

This was very encouraging to me.  The overall feeling was that they were very happy with the workshop as they kept saying “excellent, excellent”.  I believe that this word honors Bill Moyer’s insightful and painstaking work  on how social movements evolve and flourish.  If more people knew and had access  to this book and studied it,  we would be seeing greater progress and faith in this crucial area for paradigm shifts.

I also reminded people who believe that “they” (high profile activists) do not include minorities and the “invisible ones”, that Paul Hawken, who wrote in an amazing book called “Blessed Unrest” (2007), speaks about how thousands of small groups of committed ordinary citizens around the planet are creating the largest social movement in history.  This is not to be overlooked and definitely must be revisited.

Among the conferences and presentations that stood out for me, the one on privatization of water was among the most striking.  We know that in twenty years time, if the present trend continues, three to four billion people on earth will lack access to sufficient drinkable water for preventable reasons.  We are not taking care of the future for our children, as we know.   I also learned how this is a sensitive and urgent problem in Detroit and Flint.  I was stunned to hear that when water is cut in a household due to failure to pay bills,  the children are liable to be separated from their parents because the conditions are deemed insalubrious.  How can this be?

A presentation by Italian Political Analyst, Riccardo Petrella reminded me how important and relevant is the work we are doing with Campaign Nonviolence.  His conference was on education, environment and eco-citizenship, The Art of Living Together.  He stressed that inequality is the biggest issue of our current world and that we have monetized life which does not honor or dignify our humanity.  He proposed three basic courses of action:

1) To declare the present financial system “outlawed” because it is fundamentally outdated, criminal and detached from the true economy.

2) To declare poverty illegal and to battle to eradicate it.

3) To banish war. We have to stop allowing the production of weapons for economic reasons.

I believe this is completely aligned with the wake up call that CNV continues to fervently resound and for which we trust 500 actions will be held in September 2016.

Finally, something wonderful happened.  As I was standing in line with hundreds of people to get a ticket for the conference on Israeli Apartheid and BDS (Boycott,  Divestment, Sanctions –,  I turned my head and who was standing right next to me with her usual casual attire?  Medea Benjamin herself!  What a lovely surprise and a moment of rejoicing for both of us.  The conference was very enlightening and emotional, as we saw Omar Barghouti on a large screen speaking from Palestine and urging the world to support BDS.  It is a movement which Naomi Kline describes as one of the few nonviolent tactics to protest that Palestinians still have at their disposal.  It is in line with the Gandhian theory and what was used to fight injustice during the Civil Rights Movement.

Summarizing, I believe that despite all its glitches and imperfections, this was a meaningful event that supports and cares about the disfranchised peoples of the world,  making them visible and real.  We should definitely support future World Social Forums for we all need them.  They are a voice in the wilderness for true justice and social change.

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