Hub delegates bring agenda of cooperation to Social Forum

Yawu Miller, The Bay State Banner

Boston - 1/14/06 -- From his cramped Chinatown office, Suren Moodliar coordinates efforts to better the working conditions of part-time workers across the country.

With businesses and universities cutting back on full-time positions, contingent positions are becoming more common and the rights of the workers who hold the jobs are becoming an issue for organizations like Moodliar’s North American Alliance for Fair Employment.

While Moodliar currently works with a coalition of like-minded organizations in the United States come January 24, his organization will have a chance to broaden its horizons. Moodliar and more than 50 other Boston-area activists will be among the 80,000 to 100,000 delegates expected at this year’s World Social Forum in Caracas, Venezuela.

“Our organization sees the social forum as an opportunity to meet with groups dealing with the same issues — corporate globalization and the work of groups that resist corporate globalization.”

The first World Social Forum was organized by a global coalition of members of social movements, nonprofit organizations and other civil society organizations, partly in response to the World Economic Forum — in which representatives of wealthy industrial nations hammer out international trade agreements on behalf of multinational corporations.

Much of what is discussed at the WSF events centers around strategies for resisting the neo-liberal policies imposed on developing nations by Europe and North America. At the forum, representatives of social movements in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas are able to meet and strategize together.

“My expectation is to learn from what’s going on in Latin America and then apply to Boston the strategies,” said Roberto Torres during a party for Boston delegates held in Moodliar’s Chinatown office. “We want to learn how to organize the community. How to organize immigrant groups. How do we deal with housing issues.”

Marginalized people from around the world find strength in numbers during the forums. Dalits, the so-called untouchables of India, were able to network with other tribal groups from Thailand, Korea and Japan in recent years to globalize their struggle against discrimination and government neglect.

“The net result is that they’re better able to coordinate their struggle and show that they’re not viewed by the rest of the world as isolated groups who can be oppressed with impunity.”

Anti-war activists have also benefited from the forum. The largest protest ever — the 15 million-strong international anti-war demonstrations of Feb. 2003, came out of that year’s social forum.

Activists in Boston are hoping for more outcomes from this year’s meeting in Caracas. The Boston delegates are planning to propose joint actions against U.S. military expansion in Latin America and the Caribbean, increased coordination between anti-war organizations in different countries and the development of an International Immigrant Workers Rights Act, which would protect the rights of immigrant workers.

“We want to work to end the criminalization of immigrant workers, not only in the United States, but in Latin America and everywhere,” said Sergio Reyes, who works with the Martin Luther King Bolivaran Circle, a locally-based Venezuelan solidarity organization.

Unlike the social forum held in previous years, this year’s event will be held in three cities during January —Caracas; Bamako, Mali and Karachi, Pakistan.

With Hugo Chavez in the president’s office, Venezuela offers this hemisphere’s social forum a sympathetic venue. Chavez and Brazilian president Ignacio “Lula” DaSilva will address the gathering. Many Venezuelan citizens will make their homes available to the delegates for lodging.

“Even though this event is not being organized by the government of Venezuela, they’re giving this the support it needs to make sure it goes well,” said Venezuelan Consul General Martin Pacheco.

Pacheco said the Venezuelan government is urging attendees to visit sites that showcase Chavez administration’s social programs in health care, education and civic participation.

The Caracas forum will be one of the largest gatherings of progressives from the United States in one city, with 3,000 to 5,000 U.S. activists expected.

Torres says it’s crucial that members of the Boston delegation stay in touch after the event.

“The most important thing is follow-up,” he said. “This is not a vacation time. This is not a holiday trip. It’s a political trip.”


In the picture: Enjoying a moment with Venezuelan Consul General for Boston Martin Pacheco are Boston delegates to this year’s World Social Forum in Caracas Roberto Torres, Dorothea Manuela and Jorge Marin.