THE EUROPEAN Social Forum (ESF) is coming to London between Thursday 14 and Sunday 17 October. The ESF is a festival of resistance to capitalism and war—part of the movement that has come out of the great demonstrations at Seattle and Genoa.
It’s happened twice before. Two years ago 40,000 people met in Florence, Italy, and a million demonstrated against the looming war in Iraq. The next day thousands attended a meeting to call for the worldwide demonstrations against war on 15 February 2003.
Last year 50,000 came to the ESF in Paris, France. This year it’s in London. There will be hundreds of meetings, with speakers from all over the world, theatre, films, music, art, and a massive march on the Sunday.
More important at these events are the millions of conversations that happen between the people who come. In an hour you can talk to an environmental campaigner from Siberia, a hospital shop steward from Italy and a feminist from Macedonia—and feel we’re all in the same fight.
But the movement that’s coming to London is changing fast. On the demonstrations in Seattle four years ago and Genoa three years ago we were protesting. We felt good.
But we didn’t really expect to stop the evil. In the last two years the movement has spread outwards in three ways.
The anti-war movement in Europe mostly started with anti-capitalist activists, and we wouldn’t have had 15 February without the ESF. But the anti-war movements were a lot bigger than the anti-capitalists had ever been.
We weren’t just protesting against the war—we were trying to stop it. At the same time the ideas of the movement were spreading to the unions.
There were general strikes in Greece, Spain and Italy, and massive union demonstrations against the government in Austria and Germany.
But when workers strike, they don’t do it just to show they’re pissed off. Victory and defeat matter.
And then there are the elections and new parties across Europe. Everywhere people are asking, what’s the alternative? With elections you don’t just want a protest vote. You want to win.
So now suddenly the questions in the movements are more acute, and the answers can’t be glib or feelgood. They have to be honest and complex. The movement is changing. Some activists are loving it. Some find it hard to relate to larger movements, and facing ever tougher questions and bigger tasks.
No one knows where this movement will be in two or three years.
The possibility of really changing the world is in the air. So is the possibility of defeat.
This means the debates at the London ESF will be sharper and more exciting.
There will be hundreds of these meetings, organised by groups from all over Europe and beyond—on trade union fights, climate change, oil depletion, taxation reform, disability struggles, anti-racism, history, writing fiction for the struggle, Palestine, scientific research and hundreds more.
We will debate the hard questions. Will development in China and Africa create global warming?
Do we support the UN in Iraq or the armed resistance? Is Europe an alternative to Bush’s America? And many more.
We will be working hard to make sure these debates strengthen the movement.
We’re all agreed we’re against privatisation, war, environmental crisis, racism—and for another world.
Come. Argue. Listen. Dance. Bring your mates and your family.
Put up some posters. Hand out some leaflets. Bring some people you never met before. Change the world. See you there.
Jonathan Neale is a leading activist and author. His new book, 'What’s Wrong With America?', is available from Bookmarks—phone 020 7637 1848 or go to www.bookmarks.uk.com