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“Shared communication is strategic for the WSF”

(by Terezinha Vicente, Ciranda)

Never has information and communication been the focus of such disputes in the world. The discussion of new technologies and their strategic role have occupied a central place at the WSF in Dakar. The political power of the new tools, the communication networks that became big business, and the various ways in which we can deal with all of these to democratize communications and transform the current reality were under debate, with the presence of the Portuguese sociologist Boaventura de Sousa Santos. To participants, it is necessary that social movements and organizations understand communication as an element of strategic priority to be incorporated in all struggles.

“I think the great problem we have is knowing who will gain from Wikileaks, because imperialism always learns faster than anti-capitalistic forces” the professor states. He cites as a paradigmatic example the Cuban revolution; while Latin American leftists debated the revolution, imperialism created the “alliance for progress” to fight it. “Wikileaks is a metaphor for insurgent communication, because it violates the secrets of the State and corporations, and secrets are fundamental to them. I think we must have access to the information in Wikileaks before they are spread by the usual means, because there is important information to social movements that is not being transmitted.”

To Jamie MccLelland, from May First/People Link, an associative organization that focuses on discussions about the internet located in New York, the recognition of the work of Wikileaks, the attacks they received after they divulged the secret information and the resistance and mobilization generated around the world, “show this discussion is complicated and that we are not protected against this type of attack, but it also shows the frailty of capitalism, which uses the same tools, and that internet activism is very representative today.”

As stated by Prof. Boaventura, in 2003 rapid information was fundamental in the reasoning for the US to invade Iraq, but the fight was not effective. Now, we saw a couple of weeks ago how information can be quick and effective, in the case of Tunisia and Egypt. “We don’t want global Cairos, but various Cairos at the same time. I think the challenge is to synchronize our movements to create convergent pressure.” To the intellectual, connected to the WSF since its beginnings, this is our great challenge. “We are capable of synchronizing action in the national level, but we are not yet able to synchronize action in the international level to destabilize governments against another possible world.”

It is necessary to synchronize action

“How can we obtain information that has not been divulged by Wikileaks?” Boaventura asks. “For this the WSF needs to change, I challenge the International Counsel, in the sense of giving more capabilities to the communication committee, because there is information useful to the movements, and when we have this information it will be possible to process it, we should form an investigative committee. This is my great challenge, so we could benefit from all the information in Wikileaks.”

How the information was divulged, the roles of journalists, mediation from big media, are aspects questioned by Hilde Stephansen, communication activist from Goldsmith, University of London. “We need to reflect on how big media was responsible for the mediation, and how alternative media can work with Wikileaks in a similar way, because communication involves this dialogue, it comes and goes, we need to talk about the process, it is not enough to talk about the technology.” This aspect, along with the lack of privacy in using these tools, was questioned by various present.

A political tool, powerful on its own, “the internet and the use of technology is in the context of world disputes between the world we have and the world we want to have,” states Rita Freire, coordinator for Ciranda, which has covered the WSF since its first meeting in Porto Alegre. The concept of shared communication “was coined by the WSF, when an agreement between communicators and alternative medias was introduced, focusing on how to use technologies in a collective and collaborative way - a proposal that has followed the 10 years of the WSF, incorporating new communication initiatives”.

“There is no joy in virtual dancing”

Another prominent aspect is the question of mobilizations in North Africa, which begun and passed off the political parties and social movements, showing there is fertile terrain for insurgencies against antidemocratic states. “All virtual communication is a great challenge for social movements, because I think that this division we make between movements and non-organized citizens has to be overcome, since they can mobilize and engage on a determined moment.” “These manifestations, for example, are very effective to overthrow dictators, as was the case in Tunisia, but I am afraid that they want to change the system to another pro-American, pro-Israel, anti-Palestinian and anti-Hamas dictatorship”, Boaventura construes. “I think we should have a different relation between the virtual and social movement, this forum is a fundamental face to face, even with the organizational problems, we need another connection between the virtual and the real world.”

We hope these new technologies can arrive quickly to all people, but the majority of people and organizations has not yet achieved direct contact with information, and do not manage to communicate with everyone. “We struggle for infrastructure and we act for collaboration, for solidarity,” states Rita Freire. “We do not understand shared communication as shared internet access, our expectation was to be working harder with community radio stations, in partnerships that would allow those who produce content to distribute it to those who speak directly to the communities, through the available means.”

To the professor, it is necessary to develop the proposal for a Popular University of Social Movements, which emerged in 2003, so we can gather the diverse social movements and discuss the problems and prejudices that keep us from real joint action. “Between the movements, communication should be horizontal,” continues the professor, “and that is not due to an existing hierarchy.” Another problem is the cultural differences that generate different concepts; for example, “the concept of a diaspora is one thing in North America, another in Asia, and another still in Africa; socialism, a concept supported by a number of people, is considered a trap for Indians made by white people.”

“Real contact, the face to face, will always be fundamental, there is no joy in dancing virtually,” concludes Boaventura. “We continue to make a difference in communicating and acting, and this is the great problem. Because of this I think that the Communication Commission has to be central to the WSF, we have to change the communication paradigm. Shared communication is the great challenge.”

(Translated by Ricardo Piccolo Daher)


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