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The World Social Forum : A Giant Tapestry For Social Justice

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By Kelly Di Domenico

The best way I can describe being a participant in the recent 2016 World Social Forum (WSF) in Montreal, is feeling like a piece in a tapestry that has interconnected with all the other pieces necessary to build a new world.

Many pieces are needed to build global justice. First there are the issues themselves: human rights; democracy; gender equality; respect of Indigenous rights; climate and mining justice; peace, and so much more. Then there is the research, analysis, actions and mobilization required to make change happen. And finally of course, the people themselves who tirelessly make it all happen. These pieces come together at different moments, but rare are the occasions to have them all come together, and the WSF provided the perfect platform for this synergy to happen.

An estimated 35,000 participants and over one thousand activities were at the heart of the World Social Forum, united under the theme Another World is Needed, Together, it is Possible! It was the first time that the WSF was held in the "North" and some questioned if having it in a wealthy country like Canada would diminish the resonance of this space that has traditionally been one for groups in the "South" to exchange, plan and imagine a different world. But one just had to look at the temperatures in Montreal the week of the WSF to realize that "business as usual" no longer applies in every way.

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As the thermometer hit 34C that week, it was the 15th day in Montreal to hit above 30C. Normally, we get six. Toronto has seen 26 days instead of the usual 11. We are in a climate crisis of global proportions; holding the WSF in Montreal was a way to acknowledge that the paradigm shift required to ensure justice for all and save the planet needs to happen in the "North" more than anywhere else, and that more work needs to be done in the "North" to make that happen.

This is a significant shift in the way we perceive international development and the actions we take as NGOs. As one participant said, "We always speak of poverty reduction, but why not wealth reduction?" I couldn't help but ask myself, could an NGO ever launch a "wealth reduction" program here in Canada in the same way we launch "poverty eradication" programs in the Global South? What would the logical framework even look like?!

The various pieces needed for this critical shift to take place could be seen coming together through the panels, workshops, and convergence assemblies that took place throughout the week. Victims of the Mariana mining tragedy in Brazil, where a burst dam launched millions of tonnes of toxic mud on a 500 km path of destruction, spoke side-by-side with members of the Xat'sull First Nations community in British Columbia whose waters have been contaminated by the Mount Polley tailings dam breach.

Farmers from Canada, Burundi, Norway and Honduras shared their experiences of using agroecology all while expressing concern over urban migration of youth and abandoned fields. Our problems and solutions are increasingly becoming one and the same.

The beauty of the WSF was seeing all these communities coming together and to begin to envision the arresting and brilliant portrait that is emerging.

Unfortunately, over 200 would-be participants were denied visas to enter Canada. Although this sadly limited the participation of activists from the Global South, it precisely highlighted the stringent and exclusionary policies and structures that we are facing here in the "North" and must struggle to change.

The work that needs to take place here is profound and challenging, as we come to realize that we can no longer simply focus on the foreign policies of "northern" countries, but must look closely at local ones that dictate how we live and organize our societies if we are to truly have a global impact.

By having the WSF in Canada, it also gave global coverage to the struggles of Canada's Indigenous communities, who have been mobilizing around the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, calling for the implementation of the UN Declaration of Indigenous Rights and defending their ancestral lands in inspiring ways against pipelines, mines and other projects that only contribute to destroying our planet.

Development and Peace, like most NGOs in Canada, is made of several diverse and colourful tapestry pieces. We foster solidarity between Canadians and communities experiencing injustice in the Global South through partnerships with local grassroots organizations and education campaigns in Canada. At the WSF, we invited several of our partners from the Global South, as well as members, including a youth delegation from across Canada, so that they could contribute to, and benefit from, the WSF.

The beauty of the WSF was seeing all these communities coming together and to begin to envision the arresting and brilliant portrait that is emerging. The networks, alliances, groups, committees and coalitions that we are all a part of took shape in a way that revealed the vast reach of our work and the exciting possibilities that exist for another world.

There was something magical about being one of those tapestry pieces at the WSF. Now, we must work to bring in those in society who are still the missing pieces and invite them to become part of this global movement for change. Surely at the next WSF, the tapestry will be even larger!

Kelly Di Domenico is Communications Officer at Development and Peace.

The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of CCIC or its members.

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