[This article originally appeared in The Nation, available here.]
The recently concluded World Social Forum is a good gauge for assessing the state of the world's alternative social, economic and political movements. Organized in 2001 as a counterpoint to the World Economic Forum, the annual meeting of global and corporate elites held in Davos, Switzerland, the WSF brings social movement organizations and activists from around the world together around the idea that "another world is possible." If Davos represents a failed globalization from above, the WSF represents an emerging globalization from below. It's a massive affair--this year more than 100,000 people gathered here for the five-day event. Part political convention, part carnival, part countercultural happening, the WSF serves as the center of gravity for the global justice movement that emerged in the late 1990s to contest corporate globalization.
The question on the minds of many was how to respond to what some call the "crisis of crises"--the economic, climate, political and cultural catastrophes that have engulfed the planet--and whether social movements can provide a unifying alternative vision for a better world. Economist Walden Bello of Focus on the Global South summed it up: "There is a sense of urgency and seriousness combining both pragmatism and principle. There is much less rhetoric. Things are taking place very fast outstripping what many predicted. There is a clear collapse of neo-liberalism. We have been triumphant over Davos.... Now we need alternatives and must get down to the hard work of creating them."