The 2013 World Social Forum: Report from the U.S. Social Forum Delegation

Tue, 2013-04-30 14:11

Tunisian World Social Forum Continues Arab Revolutions & Demands “Dignity”


The following report summarizes some of what US Social Forum delegates learned at the recent World Social Forum in Tunis. We will host national informational calls to share the delegation’s stories from the WSF and answer questions. Join us on Thursday May 2nd at 12:00 Noon EST /11 Central/10 Mountain/ 9AM Pacific or Monday, May 13th at 7:00 PM EST (Call in # (712) 432-0075 code 388105#) Both calls will cover the same agenda. Pick the time that works best for you.

As 50,000 people from 5,000 organizations (1,700 Tunisian) and 127 countries gathered in Tunis for WSF 2013, the political context was one of deepening crisis of global capitalism – economic, social, political and ecological – and the growing collective response. This crisis is also expressed in the growing polarization in society over which way forward – can we reform global capitalism or must our movements fundamentally transform the system? This raises questions of the place of political struggle within the revolutionary process sweeping the globe, the place of social movements in this overall process, and the place of revolutionary forces within social movements and the Forum process. This polarization is seen in the reality on the ground throughout North Africa (e.g., Tunisia, Egypt, Libya) where dictators have been overthrown and have been replaced by the political forces of conservative Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood, often with ties to local and global capitalist interests.

But the reality in these countries, including in Tunisia, is that capitalism remains intact, social and economic deterioration are pervasive, and poverty, crime, unemployment and social and economic insecurity are growing. Many Tunisians fear losses of rights, especially for women, in their traditionally socially liberal society, as the forces of political Islam collaborate with Tunisian capitalists, the United States, the IMF, and other representatives of global capital to oppose fundamental systemic change. They seek to ensure that capitalism stays in place while introducing harsh austerity measures. As in other countries in the region, this union of political Islam and capital is actively being supported by the United States and its allies in Tunisia and elsewhere to prevent more revolutionary, anti-capitalist forces from gaining power in the new democracies.

In this context, the social movements, unions, opposition political parties, and other forces committed to systemic change in Tunisia are struggling to unite across various differences. Together, they are in the midst of a deep struggle over which direction society will go and which social, economic, and political forces will dominate. Will the revolution of 2011 result in some political change, but with capitalism remaining in place? Or will the revolution succeed in bringing about not just a change in name, but fundamental political and socioeconomic change?

The hosting of the World Social Forum in Tunisia was therefore a strategic move by the Tunisian social movements, labor unions and other forces on the Left to ensure the success of the revolution in bringing about fundamental socioeconomic change, while ensuring political and social rights for all.


The USSF delegation at the WSF was made up of representatives from some of the organizations that form the National Planning Committee of the United States Social Forum (USSF), organizations that planned and hosted the 2nd U.S. Social Forum in Detroit, Michigan in 2010, and that are actively working towards the 3rd USSF. We also attended as social movements that have been active in the People's Movement Assembly process of the USSF.

Our delegation was organized by the International Committee of the USSF National Planning Committee, and we represented the following organizations and bodies: Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign (PPEHRC); Michigan Welfare Rights Organization (hosts of the 2010 USSF in Detroit); USA-Canada Alliance of Inhabitants (USACAI); League of Revolutionaries for a New America; United for Peace and Justice; Assembly to End Poverty; International Network of Scholar Activists; and the Poverty and Gender Justice Working Groups.

We traveled to the World Social Forum to witness and to be in solidarity with the Tunisian revolution, and with the social movements of Tunisia. We came to dialogue, strategize, and unite with social movements, WSF organizers, and organizers of regional, national, and thematic forums from Tunisia, other parts of the Maghreb and Mashrek, and around the world, as we organize toward the 3
rd United States Social Forum.  

In the context of the growing crises in capitalism that demonstrate the absolute necessity of fighting for
Another World, we came to the WSF with a deep sense of urgency. As in the rest of the world, social movements and communities across the United States are experiencing wholesale economic, cultural, and social destruction and dispossession. At the same time, we are witnessing the rise of fascism in the United States as the state's response to the growing movements of those who have no future under capitalism.

Sessions and Workshops

USSF Delegation Workshop

In the USSF delegation sponsored session, “From the Belly of the Beast – What is really happening in US social movements?” USSF presenters and participants included Rose, Jerome, Walda, Sylvia, George M, Jen, and Alessandro and Christian (UC-Riverside graduate students who joined our delegation). We shared conditions of the crisis and urgency of the moment on the ground in the U.S. and for U.S. social struggles, a brief history of the USSF (its intentionality, PMAs, and local and national dynamics, and moving forward toward USSF III), the struggle for political education, going from the defensive to the offensive, and emphasized working for political unity with global movements for transformation and reconstruction of another world and another U.S.

Roughly 50 to 60 very diverse folks participated in the discussion – coming from the U.S., Tunisia, Morocco, Senegal, Argentina, and several European countries. We also had a wonderful interpreter from Brussels. U.S. participants included some just learning about the USSF and others already involved, including folks from the recent Philadelphia meeting. Tunisian participants included college and high school youth, who were all very politically inquisitive and engaged. Several El Manar University students were part of the WSF team handling the extension and live-streaming of our session. We distributed all of the USSF 2010 t-shirts and bags we brought.

What was strikingly clear was the commonality of crisis across all of our countries and the commitment to struggle.

World Courts of Women

The World Courts of Women are public hearings that exist to share voices of survival and resistance from the margins. The mother organization of the World Courts of Women, El Taller, held multiple sessions throughout the Forum, but one roundtable in particular traced the history and the methodology of the Courts. Several representatives from the more than 38 Courts that have been held around the world discussed the history of the Courts, two of our delegates, Rose and Brittany, participated. This very informative session set the frame of the Courts and explored its methodology. Corinne Kumar, founder of the World Courts of Women, led the discussion and clearly articulated the distinctive features of the process.

Later in the week, the U.S. delegation involved in US Court planning with the Assembly to End Poverty (Rose, Jen, Brittany, Walda, and Jerome) met with Corinne. The group had a rich discussion of how the upcoming U.S. Court of Women, scheduled for October in Philadelphia, might unfold.

Other Workshops

The delegates attended and presented in a number of other workshops, which focused on topics ranging from housing rights (with the International Alliance of Inhabitants/World Assembly of Inhabitants) to food sovereignty to crises of capitalism to health care and more. We also met with representatives from the European Parliamentary Left and the Tunisian Popular Front. A more in-depth discussion of these workshops (along with other documentation from the Forum) will be available on the US Social Forum wiki site,, if you would like to find out more.

The Success and Future of the Forum

The WSF 2013 came to Tunis to visibly show the relevance of the social forum process and to ensure a role for social movements in the ongoing struggles in Tunisia and North Africa. There was a large Tunisian presence at the WSF – roughly one quarter of the participants – including many youth and college students who enthusiastically welcomed the WSF to their home and their struggle. This reflects a higher level of consciousness and activity coming from the 2011 uprising and the reaction to it.

Meanwhile, intense struggles and debates are occurring over the political purpose of the World Social Forum, leadership, and representation. This heated debate occurred during several events at the forum itself on the future of the World Social Forum (WSF), as well as among the Social Movements Assembly (SMA) and in the International Council (IC) of the World Social Forum, which met once during the forum and for two days after the WSF. Before the Forum, a proposal was circulated that advocated dissolving the IC as is and replacing it with individuals rather than organizations’ representatives. Many groups, especially those central to the SMA, strongly opposed this proposal, and the discussion brought to the fore many of the deep divisions that have characterized the WSF process since the beginning. There are tensions between reformist and revolutionary approaches, around the methodology of the IC, and around the role of the IC.

Post-forum reports call the WSF 2013 a “success.” In this context success is the defense of the relevance and continuity of the world social forum process; the IC will continue in some form, and the SMA will carry the process forward as a convergence with global declarations and global days of action. The question of what it means to go on the offensive – to develop the analysis, vision and strategy for political independence and for economic, social, political, and ecological systemic transformation – remains to be answered, as does the question of how this becomes an integral aspect of the Social Forum and social movements processes.

What does the Forum have to contribute to U.S. movements?

Internationalism is more critical than ever for social movement and revolutionary forces. This period of crisis makes it clear that the U.S. social movement can only move forward if we are part of a global movement. And, the U.S. movements must play our role, particularly at home, if the global movement is to be successful in its long term vision and goals for systemic transformation. At the same time, the U.S. movement is far behind, so we must use these opportunities to learn and must prepare ourselves politically for emerging and complex realities in the U.S. and especially globally. Thus, the U.S. Social Forum, including the Peoples Movement Assembly process, becomes an essential tool in taking up this political work.

For more information on the 2013 World Social Forum

  • Links to various news reports and analyses of the World Social Forum 2013

  • Grassroots Global Justice, a leading force in the US Social Forum process, reports from its work in the Climate Space at the WSF. NOTE: Join Grassroots Global Justice Alliance for a report back via conference call and online slideshow from the World Social Forum held in Tunis, Tunisia March 26th – 30th. Wednesday, May 8th at 7 pm ET / 6pm CT / 5pm MT / 4pm PT
    Thursday, May 9
    th at 2 pm EST / 1pm CT / 12pm MT / 11am PT . Both calls will cover the same agenda. Pick the time that works best for you. Contact with questions or to RSVP

  • Occupy Wall Street, Indignados, and Arab Revolution activists from around the world met in the Global Square. Read their reports and analyses here.