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ESF according to those who attended

Jonathan Ward and Elisabeth Hersoug | 03.11.2004 18:13 | European Social Forum

The media seemed to have certain preconceptions about the ESF participants. Having personally experienced the ESF we felt the picture painted by mainstream media was inaccurate and set out to find out for ourselves just what kind of people were here and what they’re reasons for coming here were. The article is a summary of the interviews done at the ESF.

The media seemed to have certain preconceptions about the ESF participants. Having personally experienced the ESF we felt the picture painted by mainstream media was inaccurate and set out to find out for ourselves just what kind of people were here and what they’re reasons for coming here were. What we found was that unlike what a lot of mainstream media portrayed, the ESF participants were not all the same kind of people. We met people from different countries of all ages who were here for a variety of reasons – though they had one thing in common; they were level-headed people eager to get involved and make changes to the world. We also found that the vast majority of participants were calm and wished to promote their causes in a peaceful manner – unlike the peace-disturbing rebels who seemed to get all the media attention. Here is a short presentation of some of the people we met at the ESF in London.

Age: 30
Nationality: British

Reasons for being here: Volunteered as she could not afford to come otherwise. She had really wanted to come since the World Social Forum was inaugurated

Affiliations: Described herself as apolitical but politically interested.

Best thing about ESF: The overwhelming diversity as well as the opportunity to meet like-minded people, real people talking about real experiences as opposed to 2nd hand from media and politicians.

Worst thing about ESF: Nothing

What she would like to come
out of the ESF: She is just here for personal reasons, to learn

Name: Laura
Age: 28
Nationality: British

Reasons for being here: Interested to see different groups and the issues they represented
Affiliations: Refugee Council

Best thing about ESF: Asylum rights talks

Worst thing about ESF: Nothing

What she would like to come
out of the ESF: Media recognition of issues at the ESF and the extent to which they are supported. She also wishes for the media to reflect more accurately the size and scale of the movement.

Name: Leon
Age: 52
Nationality: French

Affiliation: French Union Solidaire

Reasons for being here: To promote the cause of the movement he is here with.

Best experience: The experience of a gathering of so many like-minded people in common action

Worst experience: Nothing specific

Message: He wishes to organise a struggle against the EU and promote and encourage equal rights at European level

Name: Zdenek
Age: 29
Nationality: Czech

Affiliation: Czech Social Forum

Reasons for being here: General interest in social issues in Europe. Believes it is very important to participate. Eager to see the social forum develop into a medium of action rather than allowing it to remain nothing more than a forum for discussion

Best experience: It has all been good, but he felt the social forum in Paris was better at providing information

Worst experience: To see that there had been so little development of the movement. The speeches were up to the same standards as previous social forums, but the ESF had not shown any development towards a movement more capable of action. In many speeches it shone through that the ESF is still at an early stage of its development

Message: To change the world we must change ourselves. It is possible to change the world but only by changing the basic principles of our societies

Name: Sheila
Age: 67
Nationality: British

Affiliation: The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom
Reasons for being here: Here to promote the role of women and take part in high-lighting gender-related issues. In all societies, whether poor or rich, one thing remains the same; women are the first to lose out under neo-liberal policies. She had not been to any of the previous ESF gatherings but had heard from others that they were exciting and wanted to take part and help with seminars

Best experience: The fact that she managed to bring on board Women in Black, as well as the experience of great support from her own organisation and meeting interesting and good people from various networks

Worst experience: Organisational difficulties - getting here was a difficult process where she feels it shouldn’t have been as everyone ideally should be working towards a common goal

Message: The idea behind the social forum is good. It’s an enormous opportunity that everyone should try to take hold of; then no one can push this movement aside. It’s a worthwhile struggle when one sees all the different organisations that are in the programme

Name: Daniel
Age: 21
Nationality: Danish

Reasons for being here: To see and participate in discussions and subjects relevant to his volunteer work.

Affiliations: Operation Dayswork

Best thing about ESF: The feeling of solidarity and the excitement of seeing other work going on.

Worst thing about ESF: Catering - too few outlets. Accommodation, the millennium dome was fun but cold.

What he would like to come out of the ESF: To show that we can fight together, show solidarity.

Name: Jürgen
Age: 35
Nationality: Belgian

Affiliation: Involved in many things such as the Belgian Attac, officially here with the socialist trade union

Reasons for being here: Keen to work against the forces of globalisation and resist forces of authority within one’s country. He is here to promote those causes

Best experience: The informal contacts one can make in a setting like this, as well as the variety of seminars one can attend. Though he has enjoyed the forum he thinks ahead and says it might be a good idea not to organise a European social forum each year given the effort it takes to prepare and organise it, and instead focus on mobilising within one’s own country

Worst experience: Chaotic compared to the social forums in Paris and Florence. He also concerned that the central acts have been on the Iraq war. Though he recognises the importance of this issue he feels it has hijacked this forum and dominated it to too large an extent. It is an international social forum so the dominance should not be on the war, Blair or other issues that are more specific to Britain than Europe as a whole. The social issues have not been given as much attention here as they deserve, so he feels there’s been a lack of balance regarding what issues were on the agenda

Message: It is promising for the future to see so many young people here; it allows for optimism

Name: Valeria
Age: 37
Nationality: Italian

Affiliation: None

Reasons for being here: General interest in the issues raised here, particularly international development and then specifically in Latin-America

Best experience: The seminars she’s attended were very interesting with good speakers. It has also been uplifting to see so many like-minded people gathered here

Worst experience: Nothing specific

Message: She hopes the issues raised and discussed here will have a lasting effect and that they can help alleviate social problems

Name: Matteo and Carlo
Age: 23 and 22
Nationality: Both Italian

Affiliation: A group from the University of Bologna

Reasons for being here: General interest in the issues raised here; they have followed all the events the ESF

Best experience: Good seminars

Worst experience: They feel this year’s ESF was not very well organised. They also thought that from Florence to Paris to London there would have been some development but they say they are left disappointed

Message: Tomorrow is always better than today

Name: Paula
Age: 29
Nationality: Colombian

Affiliation: None

Reasons for being here: She is concerned with social issues, in particular the issues relating to poverty after having worked for two years with alleviating poverty in Colombia

Best experience: Good seminars, though the film about Hugo Chavez and Venezuela was the highlight

Worst experience: The fact that there were three different venues far apart. This meant it was hard to access and find time for all the things she wanted to take part in

Message: Don’t stop fighting for our rights – there will always be a place for equality

Name: Will
Age: 34
Nationality: British

Reasons for being here: delegated by Union

Affiliations: RMT ( a sponsor)

Best thing about ESF: Bringing movements together to Britain, as well as the widening of the movement and the fact that the union embraces it and gets people involved

Worst thing about ESF: Lack of childcare facilities and the mess.

What he would like to come out of the ESF: The vote in Spain for an anti-war candidate gives hope; it shows another world is possible. It is vital something peaceful and constructive emerges for the sake of the children growing up with images of war and executions like that of Ken Bigley.


What we have presented here is what was told to us during our interviews. The first names are genuine but surnames have been left out. In conclusion it seems many people were concerned that there had not been enough development of the movement since the first ESF event, and also that this year’s ESF gathering in London was somewhat disorganised and chaotic. Despite this the people we met were excited to be here, and commended the number of people attending and the diversity of issues that were raised. They wished to bring about positive changes, not cause unnecessary trouble. These people strengthened the impression we had of the forum; that it was a place for like-minded people to exchange ideas and opinions, learn from each other and promote change – and that the mere trouble-making faction present at the forum was a hardly noticeable minority.

Jonathan Ward and Elisabeth Hersoug


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03.11.2004 23:21

Hi folks,

Firstly thanks for that report, it is nice to see other peoples impressions of the ESF. To me that is the point of the ESF. It should act as an encounter between diverse peoples who can find common ground and network with each other, without authority,leaders and hierarchy, in order to build a better world. One made of many worlds.

I am one of the 'trouble-making' minority that you referred to. I really hope that there will come a time when we dont rush to condemn people for taking direct-action, or for causing some trouble etc. But instead we can encounter, look in a mirror and attempt to learn from each other?

You condemn it as 'unnecessary trouble'. You also refer to 'like-minded' people coming together to learn etc. And you speak of building a better world.

I believe this comes down to question about two things, the world we want to see and the current world order.
We are aiming for a world that recognises the full dignity of all human beings (as well as animals and the world around us), and respects everybodies right to self-determination. We see this as being possible if the creation of this world is carried out by EVERYONE. Therefore it is not simply about 'like minded' people coming together to build mass movements, but more about different and diverse peoples building networks between our communities. And in this way, many different worlds could be created, diverse because the people at their core are diverse. No hierarchies, leaders, authority. These things are the opposite of our dreams, they automaticaly reflect the interests of those at the top, not at the bottom.
Sometimes authority is necessary, for instance if my kid runs into a road, Ill use authority (in the form of physical coercion) to get her back. BUT I maintain that ALL authority/heirarchy must be questioned and challenged, and if it is proved unjustifiable and no-longer necessary, then it should be dissolved.

Here's where the question over the current world order comes up. It is basically a disagreement over what we think it takes to rid ourselves of this system, and to defend the new world WE ALL(not our parties or leaders) are creating. I dont think power dissolves easily. I dont think it gives up its hold voluntarily. Sometimes it doesnt even agree that it exists! Power usually exists not because it is people who have 'evil' intentions, it usually develops because people believe they have good intentions, the 'right' answers and want to see those visions come to fruition. (This is what I believe of most Socialists and other authoritarian ideologues). Indeed these power structures are often created as a positive thing, without even realising it. And those gaining power often dont recognise it, therefore being shocked and appalled when it is confronted (such as at the ESF). Due to the nature of power, the onus is not upon the powerful to voluntarily give it up (that would be lovely, but unlikely!), the onus is upon the powerful to dissolve it amongst themselves (notice I dont say, 'let their leaders take it'). This will often take force, and the networking and self-organisation of all. I entirely respect a diversity of tactics, never condemning marches or carnivals (in fact I love the pink n silver canivals!). But I think it is this diversity of tactics which allows us to evolve, stay unpredictable, and also deal with different situations in the best ways.

In hindsight, I think it is a shame it was an anti-racist plenary, and if Weyman Bennet was hurt this is also unfortunate. BUT I do not for a moment regret the action as 'unnessery' (or even particularly 'violent'). It was disruptive and confrontational, but then what the heck is the point of being activists if we are not going to be disruptive and confrontational, when we think things are wrong?

Even the bastion of left/liberal activist writing George Monbiot proclaims he is a 'trouble-maker' and 'proud to be a trouble-maker'. This action is possible even more important if it is to avoid the hierarchies within our own movementS that will destroy our chances of creating new free, diverse worlds.

And before Im told I should have come to the ESF to discuss it instead of 'storming' it, Im sorry but I couldnt afford to! (and I didnt volunteer because I knew that there would be a lot of work (to do) for ALL participants at Beyond ESF, because we didnt EMPLOY (exploit) workers nor ask people to specifically 'volunteer'. Instead we are self-organised, each and all who attended putting in some work to make it a success.)

Self-organised, non-hierarchic, anti-capitalist.
In solidarity, love and rage.

Trouble - maker.

trouble maker.