European Social Forum : a huge lack of inclusiveness at the 2004 edition in London
Exclusion was the most striking and shocking feature of the third edition of the European Social Forum (ESF), held in London in October 2004. Feminist organisations and a number of other groups found it difficult to get involved because of a lack of transparency and openness from the organizing body. New spaces for dialogue and confrontation are still needed to demonstrate that another world is indeed possible.
he decision-making process leading to the London ESF was marked by intense debate, controversies, disagreements and obstacles, which also shaded the very event. The Forum took place at the spectacular Alexandra Palace in London on October 14-17 ; it gathered about 20.000 participants, which is 2 to 3 times less than its previous editions in Florence (60,000) and Paris (50,000). In a way, such numbers reflect how difficult attending the London ESF was, especially for those who are not members of the European Union like activists from Central and Eastern Europe, those without papers, asylum seekers, vulnerable workers, and a number of women (who make up 70 % of the world's poors). Not to mention travel expenses and the cost of life in London for a few days, the 30 pounds fee to enter the forum was prohibitive for many.
The absence of inclusiveness was already a major issue in the planning process, during which many organisations found it difficult to get involved because of the lack of transparency, openness, diversity and democracy that plagued the entire process. More than 1000 proposals were made from a wide range of activist organisations in order to make the ESF more open, inclusive and imaginative. Yet most of them were rejected by the organisers, reducing the number of proposals to 120, without allowing any space for discussion, consultation or dialogue. The themes were reduced to those that carried more interest for the British organisers. At the centre of which was the war in Iraq and the question of additional British troops deployment after the assassination of two hostages. The European dimension and the social rights were unfortunately given very little attention. Burning topics in the rest of Europe such as the European Constitution and the struggle for a more social Europe received little consideration. Also, the slogan of the closing demonstration, "Stop the war, no to racism, end privatisation - For a Europe of peace and social justice", yet decided on after several meetings, was replaced without discussion in the last minute by the English committee who chose to focus on opposition to American warmongering.
No other world without women !
The blockade of the feminist movement was one of the unfortunate constants of the organisation of the London ESF. Women's rights were marginalised and reduced to insignificance within the entire framework of the forum. Last year's massive Women's Assembly in Bobigny-Paris, which brought together more than 3,000 women and lasted a whole day, was replaced in London by a mere three hours session in a small space with the participation of only 300 women.
And what sweat and tears it cost ! Days before the celebration of the ESF, the event was not confirmed yet, and even worse, it had disappeared on the programme. "At the end we got it after a hard struggle" said Nelly Martin from Women's World March. But at what price ? They had to accept the cancellation of several women's seminars - on women and globalisation, women and poverty, etc - in order to obtain the three-hour Assembly. The result was not very encouraging. The Assembly was organised as a series of consecutive presentations on a wide variety of subject matters, without engaging more deeply with any of them, without any common aim and without any space to participate and debate among feminists. Nadia de Monde, speaker of the panel "Alterglobalist Feminists" put the emphasis in her presentation on the difficulty of elaborately reflecting on strategies and of developing common actions in this sort of context : "it is difficult to establish networks in this circumstances, they are not adapted to our needs".
The Women's Assembly was far from being a vehicle to boost joint strategies for action that could have an impact in the European struggle. In spite of that, various calls to establish joint strategies and actions for a common resistance in Europe were voiced. The relations between different feminist networks are a potential tool of transformation in the international area. Spaces of exchange, debate and creation are necessary to establish a strong link between feminist movements and the alterglobalisation movement. "Subjects that lead transformation are bodies, they are not abstract, they have their sexual orientation, etc…" reflected Nadia de Monde. Feminist voices that put forward critical questions and create debate are necessary in an environment in which the political presence of men is often debated at assemblies in the dynamic of might is right : "to imagine the militant (to be) without body, without family, without sexuality, only intellectual in the assembly, is wrong !" added Nadia de Monde.
Integration or resistance ?
Thousands of people, organisations and networks decided to move away from the tedious vertical debates dominated by some media stars at the official ESF, and organised alternative and autonomous spaces to the ESF. Were these trenches of survival or real alternatives ? Their common denominator was the space created for horizontal debate and confrontation, in which activists questioned methodologies, analysis and political positions that could lead to making the global slogan of "Another world is possible" into reality. The problem consists now in how to go forward and make these goals tangible. The experience of the ESF continues to be a field of construction and consolidation of relations, personal and political, that contribute to a wide spectrum of collective experience and knowledge from which we can invent new forms of resistance, confrontation and social transformation.