What location could be better for this year’s European Social Forum (ESF) than historic Istanbul – where, in tourist-brochure lingo, ‘East meets West in spectacular style’. What a fantastic opportunity to explore Turkey’s domestic issues: the Kurds, relations with Greece and the Turkish military presence in Cyprus – and perhaps, most crucially, how the people of Europe should respond to the financial crisis and get the P.I.G.S out of the IMF/EU pen?
The opening ceremony on the Wednesday 30 June certainly showed that some of this initial optimism was not unfounded, featuring a large Kurdish delegation performing a traditional dance. Under normal conditions, that action would have resulted in the swift and heavy-handed arrest of those involved. What’s more, the 2010 European Social Forum took place just five weeks after Israeli soldiers shot dead nine Turkish activists on board the flotilla bound for Gaza. Surely Istanbul would be the place to unite those wishiing to work together to end the siege of Gaza and challenge Israel’s impunity?
Although workshops and seminars on Palestine cropped up (with some inevitability) in the ESF programme, they tended to cover old ground rather than harnessing the opportunity to agree a forceful post-flotilla where-do-we-go-from-here? What’s more, the pro-Palestinian demo that we planned to attend on Friday at 8:30pm (as advertised in the booklet we were given on registration) actually took place 24 hours earlier, with no warning or advert of the change. By word of mouth alone, around 60 people show up. Not exactly a healthy number for a solidarity march at an event that – in theory – represents a dynamic international meeting of like-minded activists and organisations.
Sadly, the lack of organisation around the Palestine demo was far from a one-off. Of course, criticising the organisation of a social forum is a favourite pastime of many participants but that the Istanbul ESF was organised on a shoestring doesn’t entirely excuse the Turkish and English programmes advertising different schedules, that the demonstrations weren’t advertised properly, or that they ran out of food for the paltry number of participants. We spent hours on hot streets and crowded trams trying to find the forum’s main venue, which was particularly difficult in the absence of directions or signs. We were mildly encouraged by other red-faced delegates, equally lost. Finally we registered late on the Thursday morning. Our lanyards suggested we were only the 36th and 37th people to do so.
Cropping up in the conversations of the more disgruntled participants of these things, since Porto Alegre in 2001 is: ‘What’s the point of social forums anyway?’ A kind of lefty existential ‘why are we here’ from those who’ve taken the time to show up in the first place. It’s certainly a struggle to find a definitive answer to that question, at an event supposedly characterised by plurality and diversity. Nevertheless, forums certainly seem to work best when they operate as an opportunity to share ideas, establish networks and agree strategies for action between activists or organisations working on similar issues.
For us the greatest criticism of this forum was its failure to provide non-hierarchical, participative, polycentric spaces in the meetings themselves. With notable exceptions, every seminar or workshop (there seemed little difference between the formats) was conducted in the same way: the ‘experts’ sat at the front, the floor listened to them reciting what they already knew. This series of laborious, monotonous monologues would come to an end, after two and a half hours, to allow for ‘questions’ – and a further 30 minutes of non-sequiturs. Even when direct questions were asked, the sessions were so poorly facilitated that those asked the questions were rarely given the opportunity to answer. All this made engaging and productive dialogue a practical impossibility.
These kinds of problems have been evident at previous European Social Forums, and in any case the hosts cannot necessarily be blamed. In the spirit of the forum we must all take collective responsibility for injecting creativity, passion, flair and excitement into the process. Nevertheless, when groups like Climate Justice Action or the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation attempted to break down these front-loaded sessions by creating smaller discussion groups, they were not unilaterally welcomed. Where was the New Economics Foundation with their dynamic ‘Fink Club’ debate format when we needed them?
This said, sessions such as ATTAC’s workshop, exploring people’s proposals to deal with the European debt and social crisises, provided proof that forums like these can still, at times, work effectively. Activists from Austria, France, Germany, the UK and Italy converged to agree a strategy for resisting EU governments’ coordinated attacks on social and welfare systems in EU countries.
War on Want was one of only a handful of UK-based organisations at this year’s ESF. One of their delegates, David Tucker, reminded us that the success of social forums should be measured not by what happens during them, but by what happens after. Such things are undeniably hard to quantify.
However, with its great potential squandered and the stakes so high in Europe, what should happen now that the ESF 2010 is over is a thorough assessment of social forums as a means of actually transforming opportunity in to reality.
Yasmin Gunaratnam reflects on John Berger’s gut solidarity with the stranger
Charlie Clarke and Heather Mendick discuss how to work through the tensions within Momentum
As man-made global warming gets closer to the tipping point, Andrew Simms finds reasons to be positive about averting catastrophic climate change
In this extract from his new book The Candidate, Alex Nunns tells the inside story of how Jeremy Corbyn scraped onto the Labour leadership ballot in 2015
Graham Jones proposes a framework for a diverse movement to flourish
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion
Musician Eliane Correa reflects on the fading revolution
Trump's victory is another sign of the failure of the centre-left's narrative on climate change. A new message is needed, and new politicians to deliver it, writes Alex Randall
Siobhán McGuirk says the question we are too afraid to ask is simple - what kind of society leads to Donald Trump as President?
The battle lines are clear. Democracy is in peril and the left must take itself seriously electorally and politically. Ruth Potts speaks to Gary Younge, who was based in Muncie, Indiana, for the US election, about the implications of Donald Trump’s victory
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History
Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.
A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas
Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn
From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'
The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.
Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.
Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism
What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry
Airport expansion is a racist policy
Climate change is a colonial crisis, writes Jo Ram
Momentum Kids: the parental is political
Momentum Kids is not about indoctrinating children, but rather the more radical idea that children have an important role to play in shaping the future, writes Kristen Hope