World Social Forum Comes to Nepal

ACORN International India

             Katmandu       Initially, the World Social Forum was touted as the antidote to the Davos, Switzerland lollapalooza of the corporates and rich.  Meetings in Brazil were huge, chaotic, and for a while a must for many social movements.  Largely on hiatus in recent years as attendance plummeted in the Mexico edition of the WSF and then stalled over the pandemic, an organizing committee came together to try to revive the Forum with an Asian addition now going full steam in Katmandu, Nepal.  Vinod Shetty, director of ACORN’s work in Mumbai, was part of the steering and planning committee meeting over the last year in Bangkok and Nepal.  Having been to several of these events in the past, I hoped it was an opportunity for our India directors and several of ACORN’s head organizers from national affiliates to start building a larger network in this part of the world, while getting a better grasp of our work in India at the same time.

The scene at first glance was familiar.  Temporary tents were constructed to house large workshops.  There was a huge stage for big events and plenaries.  Stalls lined all available space as various organizations, local and national nonprofits, and issue campaigns made literature available and stood ready to answer questions and get support.  The agenda is complex and overwhelming, with more than 300 workshops over the several days of the Forum spread over the property and nearby university classrooms.  The codes identifying the locations and other information were often defeating.  Language can be challenging, as some of our delegation found in an eviction workshop.  People adapt though and go with the flow, often running from workshop to workshop to get a drink from as many fountains as possible.

Our team gave our first session, organized by Dharmendra Kumar, our ACORN India director in Delhi, on the Platform Economy highlighting our work in organizing Amazon workers and gig workers.  We had about 50 participants ranging from unions to activists to workers themselves, with lots of discussions and something of an open mic which allowed many to jump in.  It was fascinating to hear the struggles of garment workers and their nascent unions in Bangladesh.  We have more workshops scheduled on housing and tenants’ rights as well as organizing informal workers.

The attendance in general seemed largely from Nepal, India, and Bangladesh.  The hopes of broader attendance from other countries seems not to have happened.  There were certainly some from Indonesia, Japan, and Thailand, but like those from the US, Canada, and Europe, really hardly more than a smattering.  For example, I’ve yet to see delegations from the Brazilian MST which has been a mainstay of so many WSF events or much of anyone from Latin America.  Nepal seems to have been a bridge too far for too many and a tough ticket to afford, even though the country is not expensive once on the ground.  The next Forum is said to be back in Brazil, and with Lula back in power and likely government support, it may be able to rise up again.

The idea of getting social movements and organizations together is outstanding and with work, there are rewards.  The special, often exciting, blend of chaos and content is not for everyone, and the lack of any follow-up from all the time and money spent is always an issue.  The World Social Forums are an opportunity everyone should have, but it’s hard to make it a habit.