WSF 2015: Reflections on media activism and looking ahead for the WSF 2016 (in Montreal)

Fri, 2015-05-22 01:34
Submitted by gbayou

The World Social Forum, established in 2001, offers a global convergence space for social movement actors and organizations. I attended the recent gathering in Tunis, Tunisia, held in March 2015 as part of the Media@McGill delegation and this was my first experience participating in the WSF. This text offers my reflections on participating in the WSF as a media activist.

During the WSF as part of the World Forum on Free Media (WFFM), I participated in processes developing the World Charter of Free Media (http://media.mcgill.ca/en/content/world-charter-free-media). I also attended a workshop on MESH networks, interviewing participants about this autonomous communication infrastructure. The workshop presenters explained the TRANSMESH initiative and demonstrated how to install a MESH network. This technology allows for the sharing content digitally over community networks that are independent of corporation or government control. For more information on TRANSMESH – email transmesh@forums.fmml.net to get on a mailing list and learn more about this initiative. You can find out more about the World Forum on Free Media online at www.fmml.net.

Based on my experiences during the WSF and WFFM, I prepared three audio report that are available here: http://media.mcgill.ca/en/content/audio-reports-world-social-forum-tunis

During my time in Tunis, I also networked with activists from the Independent Media Center (IMC) of Africa and members of the Association mondiale des radiodiffuseurs communautaires (AMARC). As a co-founder of Indymedia.org and participant in the first IMC in Seattle more than fifteen years ago, being able to connect with Indymedia activists in Africa asserted the value of the IMC project for the continent. This affirmed for me the importance for independent multimedia convergence spaces that cross borders and linguistic boundaries.

My experiences as a media activist during my first WSF were productive and transformative. While I connected with media movements gathering in Tunis, I noted a lack of media infrastructure and participatory production opportunities available for WSF participants in Tunis. Looking ahead to the WSF 2016, I hope to participate in preparing a convergence in the lead up to the WSF 2016 for media activists to share skills and build infrastructure that will facilitate autonomous communication and media production during the WSF, thereby creating a participatory space for cultivating social movement media and technology.

Another observation evident in the WSF 2015 program was a majority of presentations and events hosted by non-governmental organizations (or NGOs). The prevalence of NGO participants contrasted with my understanding of the WSF being a space for social movements. Where critical activists and scholar-activists have defined “NGOization” as the “professionalization and institutionalization of social action” (Choudry and Kapoor, 2014, back cover), there was a noticeable lack of debate in Tunis on the role of NGOs in the WSF processes. This pertinent reflection should be addressed within the WSF by participants. Where the WSF offers an alternative space for social movements, WSF participants must consider the ways in which “state and capital seek to fully exploit the ambivalent and accommodating position of NGOs to crush peoples’ movements” (Choudry and Kapoor, 2014, p. xi). Thus, how can WSF participants ensure the convergence provides a space independent of the interests of state and capital?

The coming WSF 2016 scheduled for Montreal offers multiple opportunities for media activists. We can build a space for autonomous media and technology, critically reflect on the inclusion of NGOs, and prioritize the participation of social movements, including those led by indigenous peoples. Quebec and Canada have been the site of a fight back against austerity, a movement that is increasingly foregrounding of the struggles of Canada’s First Nations (LINK to more info). Quebec has the honour of hosting the first WSF in the “global North” and now faces the challenge to organize a solidarity space, independent of state and capital interests, for 50-80,000 participants that is inclusive of a broad representation of social movement actors and organizations.

For more information on the WSF 2016, visit http://www.fsm2016.org.