World Social Forum 2016–10 Places to B

Cathedrals were never built on quicksands.

dominique bel
Aug 5, 2016 · 13 min read

Montreal will make history this week as host of the World Social Forum 2016. World Social Forums offer an open space for the plural society to explore and promote alternative answers to world economic problems in opposition to the World Economic Forum. For the first time ever, the World Social Forum 2016 will be held in a developed country.

Co-coordinators Carminda Mac Lorin and Raphael Canet won Montreal’s bid with an audacious pitch: suffering and inequalities are not just a thing of the South + it’s about time we switch the narrative from protest to solutions + with its creative, open and artistic vibe, Montreal may very well offer the perfect environment to foster a shift of narratives and focus on the hatching of new creative ways forward.

Thousands of change-makers are flying in from over 120 countries to take part in over 1000 solution seeking workshops, various cultural activities and 22 keynote conferences with the likes of Canadian activist Naomi Klein, Italien economist Ricardo Petrella, French philosopher Edgar Morin, Bolivian Vice-President Álvaro García Linera and McGill University management professor Henry Mintzberg.

If you are in Montreal or within driving distance (Hello New York, Boston, Toronto, Ottawa, Quebec City…), you should seriously consider attending. As Henry Mintzberg recently put it: “We promise you a low conference fee: at $40 it comes to .00056 that of Davos (finally a chance to join the 0.1 per cent!). We can also guarantee a lot more fun… Who knows, we might even move the Earth!”

My 10 picks:

3 ways you can take part if you cannot make it to Montreal.

1 — Take a step back to look at the Earth Heels Over Head.

As a reminder to take better care of Space Ship Earth, Blueturn will provide projections of the Earth in rotation in various locations during the event. To capture minds and encourage a constructive dialogue between the North and the South, Blueturn will flip the NASA/DSCOVR images upside-down this week.

Past the initial feeling of disorientation, the change of perspective will get your mind ticking. Is Africa really that big? Where has North America gone? Is it that cool to feel on “top of the world”? How about feeling home “within” the world? A powerful, symbolic and though provoking visual message.

If you can’t make it to Montreal, you can make it anywhere: The Earth Heels Over Head.

When he is off the clock as an energy expert, Blueturn’s founder Jean-Pierre Goux he is a novelist and a poet with a sweet spot for science and technology. His mission is to spread this unique view of Earth across all possible screens and enable the next stage of planetary consciousness.

2 — Take a step in with Clouds Over Sidra, a Virtual Reality film by Gabo Arora and Chris Milk.

2015 saw the highest number of refugees and displaced people since World War II. Stepping up to the crisis is not an easy task. For Westerners, it requires a move from apathy to empathy. With Clouds Over Sidra, the first Virtual Reality film produced by the United Nations, filmmakers Gabo Arora and Chris Milk let us discover with sensibility the life inside the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan through the eyes of a 12-year-old girl named Sidra. There will be viewings of Clouds Over Sidra for World Social Forum participants at Centre Phi and Place to B Canada.

If you can’t make it to Montreal, you can make it anywhere: Clouds Over Sidra.

This coming Fall, the United Nations will join forces with Toronto based Non-profit Artscape to launch The Sidra Project: a new community engagement approach that aims to build empathy and support for refugees and resettlement, inviting citizens to invest one hour of time to build support for refugee resettlement efforts.

The first iteration of The Sidra Project will be staged in Toronto from September — December 2016 with a launch as part of Toronto International Film Festival. In the months following TIFF, more than 500 screenings of Clouds Over Sidra will be held for more than 10,000 participants in Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver.

3 — Take a step forward and tell filmmaker Jason Rodi if you are FREE.

Moment Factory founder Jason Rodi is a well known Montreal storyteller. He once embarked on an adventure with his father to summit Mount Everest and documented the journey with his first film: The Eye of the Son.

Jason is inviting you to join him on a new quest: a road trip from Montreal to Los Angeles and back to revisit the notion of freedom and ask Americans what it means to be free. The documentary NOMAD Freedom will be edited just in time to be released before the American upcoming presidential election.

Filming will start this week with the World Social Forum 2016 as an opening set for the movie. Among many, Jason hopes to interview Karl Widerquist, who sees basic income as a key to freedom, Richard Stallman, the voice for free software, and Ali Abunimah, who has a lot to share about freedom in Palestine. He hopes to hear from you too: are you FREE?

The film is yours to make, there is no script and the itinerary is not set in stone: a crowd-scripted, crowed-curated, crowd-directed and crowd-funded documentary. Filming will be livestreamed and video capsules will be posted daily at 11:11.

If you can’t make it to Montreal, you can make it anywhere: NOMAD Freedom.

3 places you and I can meet if you can make it to town.

Place to B COP21 — On camera: activist Vandana Shiva + Montreal singer Tara Baswani | Holding the cameras: HatchExperience Founder Yarrow Kraner + Discovery Channel Doc North | Co-creating in the background: French artists Yacine Ait Kaci + Laurie Thinot.

4 — Place to B: “Change the Talk—Walk the New Talk”.

A very good place to hang out: Place to B Canada @ SAT, Society of Arts and Technology, August 8–12.

An initiative by French journalist Anne-Sophie Novel who turned a dream into reality with the help of producer Nicolas Bienvenu, strategic curator Joe Ross and hundreds of volunteers, Place to B made a mark as a base-camp for storytellers for change during COP21 Climate Change Negotiations last year in Paris.

In two weeks 15,000 participants of 70 different nationalities checked in, 200 creative workshops were facilitated, 200 renowned change-makers and influencers either took the microphone or mingled, all of this with a cumulated audience of 323 millions.

A cool place to B? When the COP21 insufficient but historic deal was sealed, Place to B is where presumed 2017 presidential candidate for France Nicolas Hulot — a French David Suzuki of sorts — rushed to celebrate.

The Place to B recipee? Don’t ask the French, they have a speech filled with concepts ready for delivery: you may get dizzy. I’ll chew it up for you, this is the recipe: “Change the Talk — Walk the New Talk”. Time for a new novel.

The rumour is that World Social Forum founders frowned upon the fact that the French telecommunications giant Orange was listed as one of Place to B’s original sponsors. Truth be told, Orange — formely France Telecom — made the headlines in 2009 with the suicide of burnt out and over pressured employees. A very serious case questionning the nature of work itself, for the way we are working is obviously not working: be it with oil or with nerves, we see and feel the limits inherent to extractive models and mindsets.

Place to B’s answer? Time to be “not against but for”. With an open mind, everyone is welcome to join the conversation.

My personal take: all parties are indeed needed at the table, but turning a blind eye on the pain points may hold us back. A difficult but liberating process of reconciliation may be a pre-requisite in order to move forward. Cathedrals were never built on quicksands.

Doors will be open from sun rise to beyond sun set next week at Place to B, with workshops all day, key notes between 5 and 7 and cultural activities at night. Behind the scenes since January: Montrealers Julie Vilain, Blandine Milleville and Bruno Demers.

Moe Clark — I Find Grace — Within

5— From Opening Concert to Openness Concert

August 9, 6:30, Quartier des Spectacles. An event open to all, and for all to open up both minds and hearts.

The line up of artists is impressive: Moe Clark + Nina Segalowitz, David Rovics, Karen Young + Coral Egan, Mélisande, Tara Baswani, Collectif Créart, Mission FSM 2016, Ivy, Meryem Saci, Face-T, Universal Empress , ILAM, Flo & the House of the Rising Sun, Tomas Jensen, Bïa, Mamselle Ruiz, Marco, Calliari, Sébastien Lacombe, gypsykumbiaorchestra.

I am looking foward to another one of Moe Clark’s performances. Moe is a Montrealer from the Prairies whose days in town aren’t many, for she travels the world relentlessly on a mission of poetic transformation. Last I saw her was a year ago with Transcestral, a memorable collaborative performance with indigeneous artists from Canada and North Africa she co-created and co-directed. Since the very first time I heard Moe’s I Find Grace, I catch myself humming her piece daily. As a poet she knows where to search for answers, and for us printed clues on her album cover: Within.

It will be lovely to reconnect with Tara Baswani. Formally with Cirque du Soleil, Tara released her debut solo project QUEST ORIGINS as an “ode to every woman’s journey in search of her identity, autonomy and empowerment.” Her first single, My Kind, was released on International Women’s Day 2015 “in the hope of increasing awareness about the issue of sexual violence worldwide.” With grace and beauty as both means and ends, Tara takes her voice were it needs to be heard most. Every year she travels to her homeland of India. She performed in Paris during COP21. Always on a quest for the right note, she stayed in town for the World Social Forum to extend her invitation for harmony.

I am not in the know of why the Gipsy Kumbia Orchestra was scheduled to perform last, but my bet is: they can take encores until dawn. Can you?

Answer: it takes 1.6 earths to sustain the current level of planetary consumption.

6 — On the Earth For The Earth

Today August 8, 2016 is overshoot day: the day we have used as much from nature as our planet can renew in the whole year.

Hundreds of us will hit the ground on Wednesday August 10 from 9:15–15h in the Molson stadium to take part in Mc Gill’s self-organizing workshop, entitled “On the earth, for the Earth: acting together for a cool planet.” We will meet each other and form small groups, each to focus on one issue, such as:

  • What can we do in our personal lives to reverse climate change?
  • How can we get creative about challenging the most destructive environmental practices?
  • What can we do to make our city energy friendly?
  • How can we build societies of better and better instead of economies of more and more?

Climate change can be tackled from different angles. Activists do their part in toppling giant polluters: Greenpeace succeeded in deterring Shell from drilling in the Arctic and Canadian activist Naomi Klein takes a radical stance and leads the charge against capitalism. Entrepreneurs and engineers develop clean technologies: in Chile, electricity is now for free. The McGill team is taking a different route and participants to the one day workshop will be invited to imagine and propose concrete actions for immediate implementation.

When it comes to climate change, mobilizing citizens is an uphill battle with objections standing in the way such as: “not in my backyard” or “I am just a drop in the ocean”. I will be entering the stadium on Wednesday with three thoughts in mind:

First: every single smile matters. For many of us, behaviours are the construct of what psychologists call social learning. Once aware of this, the choice between living under influence or being an influencer is entirely ours. Skeptical? See for yourself with the social learning experiment video below:

Second: think heroin. In spite of ample scientific evidence, heroin addiction is being treated the very wrong way by isolating and reprimanding addicts. The Vietnam war provided a nation wide validation of this: the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, the opposite of addiction is connection. Social dis-connection is a root cause and social re-connection a sure route to tackle addictive over consumption. Not convinced? For your eyes not only:

Third: Seek beauty. “They want to get busy in order to forget. We should not talk in terms of what they should do, what they should not do, for the sake of the future. We should talk to them in such a way that touches their hearts, that helps them to engage on the path that will bring them true happiness; the path of love and understanding, the courage to let go. When they have tasted a little bit of peace and love, they may wake up.” — Thich Nha Han.

And when it comes to beauty, yours, theirs or that of nature, might as well consider Moe Clark’s invitation for poetic transformation: start within.

“On The Earth For the Earth” was imagined by Mc Gill management professor Henry Mintzberg.

3 sets of activities for you to chose from.

7 — Pick your workshops

Over 1000 daytime workshops to choose from around the following themes: Economic, Social and Solidarity Alternatives facing the Capitalist Crisis | Democratization of Knowledge and Right to Communication | Culture of Peace and Struggle for Justice and Demilitarization | Decolonization and Self-Determination of Peoples | Rights of Nature and Environmental Justice | Global Struggles and International Solidarity | Human and Social Rights, Dignity and Fights against Inequalities | Struggles against Racism, Xenophobia, Patriarchy and Fundamentalism | Fight against the dictatorship of Finance and for Resource Distribution | Migration, Refugees and Citizenship without Borders | Democracy, Social and Citizen Movements | Workers against Neoliberalism | Cultural, Artistic and Philosophical Expressions for Another Possible World.

8 —Pick your conferences

22 conferences with 80 worldclass speakers sharing the stage.

Wednesday, August 10: People and the Planet before profit! Voices of Resistance and Alternatives, Stand up for social justice!, Tax Havens at the Centre of the Inequalities Crisis., Beyond the private sector: How can the plural sector get its collective act together?, Education for All: From Dream to Reality., Impact of neoliberalism on social inequality and health, Defeating War: Syria under siege.

Thursday, August 11: Education, environment and eco-citizenship :
the art of living together., Palestinians under Apartheid,
Occupation and Siege., The Age of Humanity : Let’s Build a Political
Community of Humanity United in its Diversity., Another digital world is needed: with free software, it is possible!, Change the system, not the climate !, Stronger than hate: the struggles and achievements
of the LGBT community., Truths and lies on public debt., From Global to Local: The Importance of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to Reconciliation in Canada.

Friday, August 12: Confronting Israeli Apartheid : The role and goals of BDS., Creation and Resilience. The Precious Power of the Inconsolable, From Africa to the Americas Women fight for their rights, Arab Spring, 5 years later Egypt as an example., Audism et ableism : two “isms” too often forgotten., Basic Income, a Major Social Innovation for the 21st Century.

9 — Commit to solutions

On Saturday and Sunday, all participants will migrate from downtown Quartier des Spectacles to Jarry Parc to fuse with Ecosphere, a two day event showcasing solutions for eco-friendly and sustainable living.

Following a week of conversations, debates and creative & collaborative thinking, it will be time to commit to solutions and actions.


10 — Get the big picture

Wisdom tells us that “we age not by age but by stories”, and when comes the time to close our eyes, we look at the photo albums.

One one the memorable pictures of COP21 was the 100% Renewable Aerial Art photography by photographer Yann Arthus Bertrand, Aerial artist John Quigley and creative producer Magalie Bonneau Marcil from Quebec city, now living in the Bay area.

Magalie and John will be with us this week to orchestrate another memorable moment of collective magic with aerial art, in partnership with The LEAP Manifesto and The Climate Action Network.

Wednesday 3 pm at the foot of Mount Royal, by the gazebo, corner Park and Duluth.

Will you be part of that memorable story?

“One more thing”

Portraits of Reconciliation — Rwanda

The World Economic Forum and the World Social Forum originally intended to entertain a constructive dialogue. In 2002, following a debate that went south between billionaire George Soros and World Social Forum founder Chico Whitaker, the lines went silent.

Today, whatever roof we were raised under, world challenging issues are front and center. I recently took part in a World Economic Forum conference to address the future of cities and felt encouraged by some of the case studies that were discussed: curbing violence with urban development in Medellin-Columbia, tackling food safety with urban farming or revolutionizing urban transportation with MIT’s revolutionary Copenhagen bicycle wheel. In a recent social media post, the World Economic Forum made a strong argument for peace: war costs tallied up to 13 trillions in 2015, or 13% of global GDP.

Will Montreal see a re-opening of the dialogue between the two Forums? Which of the two will make the courageous first steps?

Many currents will flow to town this week: topplers will challenge neoliberalism, rebalancers will seek ways to stenghten the voice of the plural society, innovators will search for practical solutions, artists will invite us to harmony, beauty and self realization.

I am longing to meet the reconciliators. Without reconciliation, equilibriums may be fragile at best, never stable. For reconciliation to happen, victims, perpetrators and perpetuators need to show up. If Rwandans were able to confront the pain, reconcile and recreate the conditions and the possibility of a bright future, what are we waiting for today to heal our wounds, reconnect with our humanity and build the foundation for a desirable future?

Cathedrals were never built on quicksands.


Next on Medium: Bill, you, me and the birth of a poetic economy.

Disclosure: almost every individual cited in this post is either a friend or a friend of a friend. 1+1=11.

Below: at Momument National during World Social Forum 2016, portraits of and poems by Michel Pepin, photographs by Mikael Thiemer.