The World Social Forum took place in Porto Alegre, in the south of Brazil, for the first three years, 2001, 2002 and 2003. Then it moved to Bombaim in 2004. And went back to Porto Alegre in 2005. This year, for its sixth edition, the event will take place almost simultaneously on three continents: South America, Africa and Asia.
Between January 24 and 29, the forum will be in Caracas, Venezuela. A few days later it will open in Bamako, Mali. And a few months later, the final stage will take place in Karachi, Pakistan.
The idea is to make the forum more democratic, participatory – especially for the local people near the venues – and horizontal, explains Gustavo Codas, a labor leader from Paraguay, who is a member of the forum organizing committee.
The change to the so-called polycentric summit is driven in part by the organizers’ conviction that the social summit is getting too big and too mainstream and too difficult financially for people in distant countries to attend.
Past WSFs have been billed as the largest anti-globalization gathering in the world, partly a response to the organizers/ celebrated "hands off" attitude to the format and agenda.
Participant numbers for the 2006 event will be big, but smaller than the some 100,000 individuals who can be expected to attend the single country events.
The organizers of the annual gathering of some 1000 organizations from 130 countries are loosely united in their opposition to the survival-of-the-fittest economic model that is celebrated each year on the same dates at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
The anti-globalization umbrella at the WSF lightly covers most branches of protest politics. It attracts warriors against AIDS, the Iraq war, third-world debt, capitalism, genetically-modified food, World Trade Organization, IMF and World Bank, Israel’s wall, arms sales, poverty, discrimination and most of the other issues that appear on banners at demonstrations and picket lines.
It will be interesting to see if there is any movement at the WSF either against or for terrorism as a means of bringing about change.
It also attracts heroes of the protest movement. Previous guests include Noam Chomsky, the author of books and articles on international affairs and human rights, and French anti-GM activist José Bové.
Chomsky recently noted that world public opinion is acting as a "second super power." Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, elected in Jan 2003, is a vocal apostle of economic fair play, and he and Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez are likely to participate at the Venezuela WSF. Many people will be interested to see if Cuban leader Fidel Castro attends.