The World Social Forum: not that cool. Yep, in three words, that's it. It started Saturday with a march from Kibera, one of Nairobi's worst slums, to Uhuru Park in downtown. There was a minute where it was me and a bunch of Kenyans, and we were all jamming to Bob and everybody was waving Palestinian flags where I thought "this is pretty cool," but the feeling didn't last very long, because the woman with the mic kept screeching "Another world is possible" over and over and over again.
Starting Sunday I spent three days at Moi International Sports Stadium going to seminars and watching documentaries. There were at least 80 different seminars going on at any given time, and I always found numerous things that interested me. Discussions like "UN Peacekeeping: Force or Farce?" "The World Bank in Africa: What it's up to, why you should care, and what you can do about it," meetings on the future of the DRC, cattle rustling in Eastern Uganda, giving electricity and public services to Africa, how agricultural subsidies have affected Ethiopian coffee growers, how Wal-Mart is the poster-child for everything that's wrong with transnational corporations, the article of the Japanese constitution forbidding a military, the similarity between the wall in Palestine and the Southwest USA, using the Nordic model of Socialist government worldwide, women under occupation in the Arab world, why 50% of all internationally signed peace agreements fail within five years of the end of the conflict, moving beyond the ivory tower to make university research more socially responsible, Hurricane Katrina and global warming, the Iranian nuclear crisis, Jerusalem under Israeli occupation, a website wikileaks.org to create a wikipedia-like outlet for government leaks to help create open and good government, rolling back the power of transnational corporations, boycott and divestment from Israel, and Gandhi's role in the politics of today. Sounds fascinating, no? You'd like to think that, wouldn't you?
So socialists are cool for a couple reasons. They obviously care about the plight of the poor, and they're for open borders and some sort of world government. But the Forum wasn't a bunch of people talking about specific ways in which we could motivate rich-country governments to end farm farm subsidies that destroy the income of poor-country farmers, nor was it a discussion of ways we could modify specific structural adjustment policies of the WTO, World Bank, and IMF that are hypocritical and unfair (such as making poor countries eliminate their own farm subsidies and privatize education and services that have never been private in any rich country). It was more just buzzwords like "down with neo-liberalism," and "challenge the power structure." Great, but how and maybe even why might be good to know.
In addition to the lack of specifics,I was frustrated by the lack of reasoned moderation. I consider myself pretty pro-Palestinian, but the Palestinian organization's poster they put all over the place said "It's either return...or return." Argggh! Are you kidding me? There's no other possibilities? There's no hope for compromise? (It was pretty clear that "return" didn't just mean a return to pre-1967 borders.) And the head-honcho of one the organizations, after listening to a couple first-hand accounts from Iraqi women that had been held in Abu Ghraib, said, "I encourage Iraqis to kill as many Americans as they can to get them out of their country as soon as possible."
I could also complain about how very poorly organized the events were, how half of the events I was interested in didn't even happen, and then by the time I finally found a real event on the other side of the huge complex, it was mostly over, or I could mention my bad luck in not really running into many people that I could talk about things socially with, but I won't spend too much time on that because thinking about the guy that thinks more violence is the solution has made me too angry.
So there were a few good notes. I saw a couple decent documentaries (one on Ethiopian coffee growers and one on Canadian UN commander in Rwanda Romeo Dallaire), I saw a "Guns & Cameras" store in Nairobi (that might not actually be allowed to sell guns but just magazines and photos of guns, but does sell real cameras), as well as the "Stomach Clinic Restaurant," I hung out and ate really good apple pie with some cool Peace Corps that I met when I ran the marathon, I read a fun spy book, I bought the tourist-obligatory Tusker beer t-shirt, and I found part two of the bootleg James Bond DVD collection (19 of the movies on 3 discs). In conclusion, if you're ever in a country when the WSF happens to come through, I highly doubt that the event will have security, so there's no need to pay the $106. Just show up and enjoy or not-enjoy, and maybe pay if you thinks it's a worthwhile thing to do. Me, I'd rather deliberately get three parking tickets in Berkeley and spend the money on that. OK, it wasn't that bad.
Or maybe it was. I thought the "International Feminists for a Gift Economy" seminar was the funniest/least likely to occur thing I saw there, but this poster was pretty cool in a ridiculous sort of way.