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Its name signals the conspicuous absence from the WSF of the EZLN (or Zapatistas), a common reference point for groups involved in the alternative globalisation movements. This year the reference was strengthened by the addition of a new name, Caracol, alluding to the local governments in Chiapas. The space hoped to capture some of their spirit of autonomy and self-management. It was planned accordingly, with an open, internet-based process starting as early as June 2004 and involving activists from countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Chile, Peru, Uruguay, UK, USA, Italy and Spain.
Instead of the traditional WSF workshop-panel framework or a loose assembly-based structure, the Caracol offered one-off workshops, ‘micro-processes’ (a succession of workshops and/or meetings on the same issue), large debates and open everyday meetings to evaluate and organise the process as a whole, as well as video sessions and performances most nights. The ‘micro-processes’ proved to be great tools for networking: three days of debates produced tighter coordination between activists organising the resistance to the G8, FTAA and WTO summits in 2005, as well as the creation of a European/ Latin American network of research activists and a call for a Global Day of Action against Intellectual Property. The Caracol also provided space for the birth of the anti-consumerist Yomango Brazil, as well as the first joint action between Yomango groups of three countries, Argentina, Mexico and Chile; it enabled a full day of organising and planning for the Brazilian Free Public Transport Campaign, and, following various theoretical and practical debates on clowning led by the UK’s Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army, the appearance of clown armies in three different Brazilian cities.
This year’s edition made some progress towards overcoming the limits of the essentially urban, young and white profile of previous years. This was evident in the workshops of Brazilian homeless and Bolivian peasant movements, as well as in a session on Zapatismo and Militarism. Moreover, the theory of autonomous politics and horizontality was made so much more real and urgent by the moving accounts of daily struggle in conversations with the Unemployed Workers’ Movements (MTDs) of Solano and La Matanza and the Situaciones Collective, both from Argentina.
The Caracol inhabited the border between the Youth Camp and the ‘main’ WSF site, placing itself in a position not only to criticise but also to physically embody the critical tensions inside the social forum process. This position was perhaps made most visible in an open-mic session with members of the WSF International Council (Virginia Vargas, Christophe Aguiton, Teivo Teivanen, Immanuel Wallerstein) and the Brazilian Organising Committee (Moema Miranda, Fatima Mello, Chico Whitaker).
The debate challenged the WSF process from the perspective of autonomous spaces and the horizontal groups involved in them, as well as other ‘marginal’ experiences such as the Youth Camp and the Argentinean Social Forum. Although the changes in the methodology and the overall organisation of the WSF 2005 were applauded, many issues remained: the lack of transparency and openness of the Forum’s International Council and the critique of their representative logic; the sources of the funds for the event; the focus on size rather than quality of the political process; the preference given to corporate instead of community and alternative media; the hijacking of the political capital of the WSF by self-appointed ‘representatives’, or President Lula, who had a few days earlier announced he was going to Davos to speak ‘on behalf’ of the WSF. The intervention of a Mapuche woman complaining about her own exclusion even in the indigenous space was particularly harsh, as was her criticism of the fact that Grupo Santander, a Spanish Bank that has been investing aggressively in Argentina, had contributed funds to the WSF.
More generally, the Caracol showed the advantages of decentralised, horizontal, networked organisation. It sought to substitute a logic of accumulation and linearity by one of connection, with no ready-made answers but rather a sentiment of, as the Zapatistas say, ‘Asking as we walk’. The Caracol did not have to contend with the unmanageable size of the ‘official’ WSF: its attempt to root politics in human relations and the quotidien struggle of communities on a level that necessitates direct engagement with each other, was made easier by the smaller number of participants in this space. Critics might still argue that the process was not rooted enough in real practical alternatives, and that it did not really overcome its White Middle Class Urban identity at its core. Nevertheless, as participants, we came away with a real sense of having established new connections. In contrast to today’s alienated capitalist social relations, it was refreshing to enter a space that put affective relations at the heart of network-building and political struggle.