- Annual anti-globalization forum with anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiment
- Featured speakers have included Noam Chomsky, Medea Benjamin, and Arundhati Roy
- Forums have drawn terrorists from FARC and ETA
The World Social Forum (WSF) is convened annually as a rejoinder to the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, a yearly symposium of top business leaders, eminent political figures, journalists, and pundits. In contrast to the WEF whose concern is wealth generation, the WSF concerns itself with "how to better distribute wealth." The WSF mission statement condemns "neo-liberalism" (i.e., capitalism) and "domination of the world by capital and any form of imperialism."
The roots of WSF can be traced back to the 1999 street protests and riots that took place in Seattle, Washington during a World Trade Organization meeting.
Held for the first time on January 30, 2001 in Porto Alegre, Brazil's industrial hub, the WSF brought together an array of anti-globalization NGOs, trade unions, and leftist activists and politicians from over 120 countries, most prominently France. The WSF was the brainchild of members of the Association for the Taxation of Financial Transactions for the Aid of Citizens, a socialist-leaning group that extols protectionism and assails free trade. Bernard Cassen, Editor of Le Monde, served on the organizing committee of the first Forum, whose chief aim, he explained, was "to prove that another world is possible."
The first WSF featured numerous overtures of support for Fidel Castro's communist regime in Cuba. In attendance were representatives of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC), a communist guerrilla force classified (as of November 2001) as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department.
Excoriating corporate executives attending the World Economic Forum, some WSF participants expressed hope of a leftist takeover of corporations. Olivio Dutra, a governor from the Brazilian city of Rio Grande do Sul and a member of Brazil's leading leftist party, the Party of Workers, condemned what he called the tendency of globalization "to accumulate and concentrate wealth." A parallel argument was advanced by Cándido Grzybowski, a Director-General of the Brazilian Institute of Socio-Economic Analysis, an NGO that helped organize the Forum, who called for participants "to be bold enough to think, to create an affirmative wave of action and a different kind of globalization."
This demand for "a different kind of globalization" was again aired at the second WSF, which also took place in Porto Alegre between January and February of 2002. Its chief exponent was Noam Chomsky, who characterized the Forum as a confrontation between the righteous activists in Porto Alegre on the one hand, and corrupt government and corporate interests in Davos (at the WEF) on the other. "Such confrontations are major themes of history," Chomsky explained. "And fortunately, popular forces have won many victories over the centuries, overcoming illegitimate and unaccountable concentrations of power, such as those gathering in Davos." Similarly praising the militancy of the WSF protestors was columnist Naomi Klein.
Despite its pledge to bar terrorist groups from participation in WSF activities, the 2002 Forum included two members of ETA, the Basque Separatist Movement terror group. By contrast, World Bank President James Wolfensohn was denied his request to speak at the WSF because, organizers maintained, the "atmosphere would not be favorable."
The 2003 World Social Forum, because of the looming war against Iraq, evolved into a massive anti-war rally and a referendum on American "imperialism." Noam Chomsky, having once more been granted a prime speaking role, said, "The September 11 terrorist atrocities provided an opportunity and pretext to implement longstanding plans to take control of Iraq's immense oil wealth." Other speakers at the 2003 WSF included Medea Benjamin, the pro-Castro communist who founded Global Exchange; Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez; Brazil's socialist President Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva; Argentina's Nobel laureate Adolfo Perez Esquival; actor Danny Glover; Indian novelist Arundhati Roy; and Cuba's gold medalist boxer Teofilo Stevenson. More than 100,000 people participated in scores of panel discussions and more than 1,500 seminars, debates and workshops on the alleged evils of globalization.
The 2004 WSF took place in Mumbai (Bombay), India. Arundhati Roy characterized the U.S.-led war against Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime as a duel between serial killers. "To applaud the U.S. army's capture of Saddam Hussein and therefore, in retrospect, justify its invasion and occupation of Iraq is like deifying Jack the Ripper for disemboweling the Boston Strangler," she said. "If all of us gathered here and at the Mumbai resistance are really against imperialism," she added "if we are really against neo-liberalism, then I think we should turn our gaze on Iraq, because Iraq is the culmination of both imperialism and neo-liberalism. So, I think if we are against imperialism, if we are against neo-liberalism, then we must not just support the resistance in Iraq, we must become the resistance in Iraq."
Both American and Israeli flags were set ablaze at the 2004 WSF. Some 60 WSF seminars were devoted to the subject of Israeli "crimes" against Palestinians and the Arab world. Groups like the U.S.-based Jewish Voice for Peace lobbied for a halt of American aid to Israel.
WSF's many funders include the Ford Foundation, which contributed $100,000 to the 2001 WSF and $500,000 to the 2003 event, and Oxfam, which held several workshops at the 2004 Forum. Among the sponsors of the 2005 WSF were Christian Aid and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. The labor union lobby Jobs With Justice is an American sponsor of the WSF, and unions like the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America have in the past dispatched delegations to the Forum.
In January 2012, some 40,000 people attended WSF's five-day meeting in Brazil and called for people to "take to the streets on June 5" for a global demonstration on behalf of of social and environmental justice. Further, the Forum announced that a "peoples' summit" of social movements would be held parallel with a major United Nations conference on sustainable development scheduled for June 20-22 in Rio; the UN event was slated to push world leaders to work toward creating a "green economy," with a priority on eradicating hunger.
By this time, WSF had emerged as the brain center of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Said Chico Whitaker, one of the Forum's founders: "The political and economic elites are the one percent who control the world and we are the one percent seeking to change it. Where are the [other] 98 percent?"