ESF2 – Another step forward

Nov 20, 2003

The second European Social Forum
Paris, Saint Denis, Bobigny, Ivry 12-15th November 2003.

After the enormous success last year of the first ever European Social Forum in Florence, Italy, where tens of thousands of activists from all over Europe gathered to discuss the way forward for the social movements against war and neoliberalism, and almost a million people demonstrated against war, the excitement for ESF2 was huge. On the 12-15th of november more than 50 000 delegates from all over the continent gathered in Paris to participate in the hundreds of meetings discussing the way forward against neoliberalism and war and for a better Europe.


Women’s assembly
The Forum started on wednesday november 12th with the European assembly for women’s rights, with a full room of about 3000 people discussing different topics, for example women and war, reproductive rights, violence etc.. A manifesto was signed that called for actions on various campaigns like stopping the european constituition which will undermine equality and against war, especially the wars in Iraq, Palestine and in Cheznya. Unfortunately the women’s assembly didn’t seem to be viewed as being fully part of the rest of ESF, since the opening of ESF was not until that evening, and you had to register and pay separately for the women’s assembly. It’s good that issues about women’s rights are getting more space and attention -during the rest of ESF there were also more meetings dealing with women’s rights this year -but the women’s assembly should definitely be seen fully as a part of ESF, otherwise it gives a feeling that the struggle for women’s rights is somehow something separate from the rest of the movement for a better world. I think that equality is an obvious demand for all anticapitalists and not a separate struggle.

Debates and action
This year the social forum was held in four different places in and around Paris. This meant that there was a lot of local participation in the forum which is very good. There was also a geographical widening, with more representation from different parts of Europe than last year, for example over over 1000 delegates from eastern Europe and many more activists from the Scandinavian countries came to this year’s ESF. The representation of very young activists was also very high.

The debates circled around every issue you can imagine, from lesbian&gay rights to GM food or dropping the debt. The most central things was how to continue the anti-war struggle, especially stopping the occupations in Iraq and Palestine, but also the war in Cheznya, which is something that up until now has not had a lot of attention, and building a process of mobilisation across Europe against the new European constitution, which will set in stone the neoliberal policies and make them irreversible. On Sunday 16 in the assembly of the social movements calls for actions on these and other issues were made. On March 20, a date proposed by the american anti-war movement, there will be widescale mobilisation against war. The actions against the European constitution will centre on May 9 as the European mass action day for a different Europe.

Problems and solutions
The few critiques that can be made on this years ESF mainly comes from the fact that the movement is growing, and it’s very hard to arrange an event of this scale.If there are problems these are things that we are here to recognize and deal with so that we can move on. One thing i thought about is that is was geographically too wide spread, so there wasn’t the same atmosphere as in Florence when everyone was together in the same place, and it meant a lot of time travelling between meetings. Some of the meetings themselves were also a bit heavy, three hours long with up to seven or eight speakers and hardly any time for contributions from the floor is sometimes a bit much if you’re not an expert on the subject. Also, if you think people are necessary to change the world, it’s important to try to involve as many activists as possible in the discussions.

But even if there are small problems, we are here to work together to solve them to be able to fight together for a world without oppression and war. An example of how to do this and include as many as possible, is the debate arranged by Globalise Resistance between Alex Callinicos and Toni Negri – Working class vs. Multitude.

The room the debate was supposed to take place in was far too small – it only had capacity to take 200 people, while up to a 1000 people was trying to get into the meeting. When the room was full the doors were closed. I was one of the people who were early enough to get a seat- but didn’t feel very lucky for that. All the people outside were banging the doors and chanting slogans demanding to be let into the meeting. It would have been impossible to fit everyone in the small room, so what could we do? The solution was that the meeting had to come to the people. Everyone went outside and the loudspeakers were set up on the street. The interpretation might have suffered a bit and whatever, but I think this is a great example on how we can and must work together to make sure we include as many as possible, both in practical details like this but also in the bigger picture when decisions are taken, and show how we can work towards a society where people have control over their lives and the majority is not excluded in favour of a few selected ones.

Mass demonstration
The movement is defintely growing, and growing fast, and has become a force that cannot be ignored. On Saturday the ESF was celebrated with a brilliant demonstration through the streets of Paris. Half a million of anticapitalists, trade unionists, environmentalists, you name it- the ”altermondialistas” which they are called in France – marched together for a better Europe. The English section with Globalise Resistance in front, had a loud and colourful block in the demo with different anticapitalist slogans and chants.During the year that has gone the movement has taken great steps forward, most importantly in the mobilisation against the war on Iraq, with millions and millions of people marching against Bush and Blairs disgusting warmongering.

The antiwar movement has helped draw in lots of new activists, especially young people, to see that another kind of world is possible. Even if we didn’t stop the war, we stopped Bush to take it to other parts of the Middle east and it’s thanks to the antiwarmovement that the lies in the run-up to the war have been exposed I think the future is looking great, with the movement growing stronger and stronger every day and Paris proving that the ESF is here to stay. Next year, when it is held in London, I believe it will be bigger, better and more diverse than ever!

Paris ESF 2003 - Simon WellingsThe second European Social Forum
Paris, Saint Denis, Bobigny, Ivry 12-15th November 2003.

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