By Ashley Pinkerton, March 13, 2013. Source: Food First
In Tunisia, March 26-30th, the World Social Forum (WSF) will take place in the city of Tunis, on the El Manar University campus. Activists around the world look to the international, bi-annual meeting as an important space for building solidarity and creating an alternative globalization. Tunis – the place that sparked the ‘Arab Spring’ – seems particularly fitting for discussing justice, peace and democracy at this year’s WSF.
The inaugural WSF was held in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2001, promoted by French and Brazilian NGOs, trade unions, and individuals as a counterpoint to the annual “Davos” meeting in the Swiss Alps where the world’s most powerful political figures and corporate heads meet to discuss global affairs – and ski, apparently. However, the initial WSF was also a manifestation of mounting global tensions: the 1980s saw food riots in the South provoked by the IMF-imposed end of food subsidies, as well as protests by indigenous and environmental groups against dam projects promoted by the World Bank. Throughout the 1990s, there were protests against Structural Adjustment Programs in South countries, as well as the Zapatista movement in response to NAFTA, and major protests in the global North such as Seattle 1999 and Prague 2000 .
This year’s event, held in Tunis, is particularly meaningful. Nearly two years ago, 200 miles south of the capital city, Mohammed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old fruit vendor set himself on fire in front of a local municipal office, sparking the wave of revolutionary social movements that spread throughout the Arab world in 2011. Police confiscated Bouazizi’s produce cart because he lacked a permit, beat him when he resisted, and after local officials refused to hear his complaint, Bouazizi committed the act that would be seen around the world. Bouazizi’s self immolation was an act of desperation and humiliation after having lost his means to support his family – feelings that resonated with the public’s frustration over high unemployment, police brutality, and low living standards. Protests began the same day, spreading throughout the country and then the region .
Lasting just over a month, the uprising ended with the ousting of the president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Two years later, however, Tunisia’s revolution still hangs in the balance. Last month, the assassination of a secular opposition leader Chokri Belaid sparked renewed protest in the country where Islamist factions have taken charge of the government since the expulsion of Ben Ali. Protestors accuse the new Islamist government of betraying the pro-democratic sentiments of the revolution, of making little economic progress, and of jeopardizing women’s rights .
Participants at the WSF will consist of trade unions, indigenous activists, women’s organizations, climate justice advocates and a host of other syndicates and individuals from around the world. Various thematic spaces such as the Climate Village, Women’s Village, Migrations and so on, will host collectively organized activities. Peasant organizations including La Via Campesina and affiliates will host several activities including: ‘Struggle Against Land Grabbing: strengthening of international alliances’; ‘Farmers, Seeds, and Struggle against GMOs, AGRA-2nd Green Revolution’; ‘For Food Sovereignty: Stop Free Trade Agreements between Africa and Europe’; ‘Climate Change – Small Farmers Cool Down the Earth’; and others. The full list of activities can be foundhere.
You can register as an organization or individual by visiting the World Social Forum site, though the deadline to propose activities has passed. Payment is accepted online or at the location. To subscribe to the WSF newsletter, click here.
The occasion is sure to be a fantastic display of global solidarity and grassroots initiative, and no site could be more fitting than Tunisia – where one heroic fruit vendor captured a global audience and sparked a revolution that will not quit.