MUMBAI, India – “Imagine all the people living life in peace …”

The voices of many continents mingled in a song that has become an anthem of the worldwide peace movement, as Brazilian singer and minister of culture Gilberto Gil sang John Lennon’s “Imagine” to thousands gathered in this vast Indian metropolis for the closing ceremony of the World Social Forum, Jan. 21.

Voicing a dominant theme of the global event, which brought 100,000 participants here under the banner “Another World Is Possible,” Pakistani human rights activist Asma Jehangir delivered an emotional, stinging indictment of George W. Bush’s war policies. Like many others, she called for the U.S. to end its occupation of Iraq and to dismantle its military bases around the world.

Winding up the Forum’s five days of meetings, parades and performances, peace, labor, social justice, and environmental activists from throughout India and 130 other countries headed home pledging to build a more powerful united global movement against the Bush administration’s policies of militarism and aggression.

First on their “to-do” list will be mobilizing for mass demonstrations around the globe on March 20, the one-year anniversary of the U.S. attack on Iraq.

Danielle Aurol, a French Green Party member of the European parliament, said, “I will be out there demonstrating in Paris, because we don’t accept the way Bush is acting.” Gulbadan Azam, a Pakistani women’s rights activist, carried a poster throughout the Forum that said, “When Bush comes to shove – resist!” Azam said, “The planned demonstrations on March 20 are very important for peace. We have to challenge the U.S. agenda in so many ways, through dance, art and powerful protests.”

American Friends Service Committee representative Joe Gerson told a reporter at the Forum that he was not surprised by the unanimous anti-Bush sentiments expressed at the World Social Forum. “But these people are our allies,” said Gerson, who also represented the national U.S. peace coalition United for Peace and Justice, which initiated the call for global antiwar actions on March 20. “The plans under way for March 20 will add to the pressure Bush is under since Iraq was invaded,” he said, adding, “You cannot let this first anniversary of the war go unmarked. It will demonstrate that there is a moral and political force opposed to the [U.S.] government.”

Also coming up is a heightened international campaign to abolish nuclear weapons. At a session on the threat of nuclear war, participants mapped plans for a May 1 demonstration in New York City as the United Nations meets on the issue of nuclear proliferation. This campaign has been initiated by Mayors for Peace representing some 560 cities around the world, spearheaded by the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Another well-attended strategy meeting including representatives from Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Asian-Pacific region and other areas projected an international campaign against the 702 U.S. military bases and facilities circling the globe.

The planning for these international campaigns marks a significant new phase for the four-year-old World Social Forum phenomenon. WSF activists say the Forum, which has now become a recognized global people’s gathering point, is ready to expand from meeting place to mobilizer. At a panel titled “Neoliberalism and war and the significance of the World Social Forum,” WSF international council members agreed that, while the Forum should continue its open, pluralistic character, it’s also time to build a movement.

Michael Warshawski, director of the Alternative Information Center in Jerusalem, said last year’s massive Feb. 15 worldwide antiwar protests showed the WSF has the power to build global campaigns involving major social forces such as unions, farmers, and church activists. The World Social Forum, he said, must be “not only a place of discussion but action oriented.”

“We need to keep maximum unity and diversity, but at the same time give expression to the most important social forces,” he said. “We can’t ignore the politics of power and simply be a love-in.”

Simon Bushielo, national secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, said, “We need a solid program of action,” carried out by national movements in their own countries.

At the WSF closing ceremony, in a huge field in the center of Mumbai, former president of India K.R. Narayanan hailed the World Social Forum’s “struggle against imperialism and globalization.” Noting that the site of the Forum’s closing ceremony was the spot where the last battle of Indian independence was launched, Narayanan said, “Now, we are seeing a new struggle against the power of corporations and militarism.”

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Susan Webb
Susan Webb

Susan Webb is a retired co-editor of People's World. She has written on a range of topics both international - the Iraq war, World Social Forums in Brazil and India, the Israel-Palestinian conflict and controversy over the U.S. role in Okinawa - and domestic - including the meaning of socialism for Americans, attacks on Planned Parenthood, the U.S. as top weapons merchant, and more.